ESL Teaching Strategies
Try These Ideas
There is nothing terribly difficult or unique about English
Strategies and skills
directly transferable to English teaching could be coaching a
team, directing a school play, if you've had any kind of leadership
experience, or ever taught anything before. Even if you've never had
any such experience you never know what you can do until you try.
With desire, persistence and a
true caring nature a teacher can create a winning classroom environment
that students will appreciate and very much enjoy.
Everyone has had at least one
experience of having an excellent teacher. It's
the kind of person that makes you feel good to be in their classroom,
you look forward to being there, and you learn a lot.
Of course, there are as many
ESL teaching strategies and styles as there are ESL teachers.
But there are certain qualities that go into making a really good
teacher (some I've listed below) and I try in my own way to live up to
Your Mission Statement
I think it's really important
for you to know what your mission is in teaching ESL, I mean, exactly
why are you doing it and what do you hope to accomplish in your life
and the lives of your students.
Writing a mission
statement is a valuable first step in keeping you on top of
your game and focused on your goals. Click Here to
get some suggestions on how to do that.
your students and they in turn inspiring you is a critical
element to being an excellent ESL teacher.
I've heard stories of some
teachers whose particular teaching strategy is that of being ruthless
with their students, appearing mean and unfair, constantly pushing
their students beyond their limits and are sometimes being hated.
But when they come right down
to it their pupils realize in the end they learned a lot. And
they probably learned more from the teacher who
ruthlessly pushed them to go where they had never gone before than from
the teacher who was nice but didn't challenge them.
We hear that a lot about
certain coaches, the ones who never give in, who never let their
charges be any less than they know they can be. One such coach who
comes to mind is the guy who coached the USA hockey team
to win the Olympics against the much better and experienced Russian
His teaching strategy was to be
ruthless, stern, worked his players hard sometimes to the breaking
point and had them accomplish the impossible, something they would
remember the rest of their lives: winning the gold at
the Olympics. Check out the movie Miracle
with Kurt Russell as the coach. It may inspire you.
ESL -- A Fine Line
So can you teach ESL
ruthlessly? Can you use some coaching tactics to get your students to
go beyond their perceived limitations? I say yes.
But ruthless doesn't mean "mean." It just means unwavering,
not giving up.
I'm not saying that you can
necessarily do what the Kurt Russell character did in your particular
ESL teaching strategy. What's important though is his commitment to his
team and his commitment to his work.
Teaching ESL can to be like
walking a fine line between being persistent with
the student and pushing them too hard until they
get frustrated. But sometimes frustration is good because for some
people it only makes them try harder.
One thing I've learned to nip
in the bud is when students get exasperated and whiny (yes,
adults can get whiny) especially when I am trying to have them
pronounce a word that's difficult for them. They stop and cry "Oh,
teacher..." and throw their heads back in frustration and
basically want to stop my pushing them.
They are paying me to have me
teach them English, and my goal is to have them
learn it well. So when they give me that "Oh, teacher" they're telling
themselves "I can't do this", but are usually right on the brink of
getting what I am trying to have them learn.
So one of my ESL teaching
strategies is to just calmly say, "Stop that! Come on, say it again."
And they always stop their whining and continue.
Then I will switch gears and work on something else
and then a few minutes later come back to what we were working on.
It's important to be straight
with them and not pull any punches. Even though they might hate being
pushed I know they appreciate it deep down. And I believe
in them. I know they can accomplish even when they
might not think they can.
It's Important to Gently Maintain Control
As the teacher you have to be in
control of the class at all times, but not a control freak. I
don't care if a cell phone rings and the student has to step out of
class. I don't care about whispered conversations as long as it's not
It's important to be flexible.
Sometimes I'll go into class with something planned but we'll get into
an interesting discussion about something else and my lesson goes out
Also, I think it's important to
have a friendly, calm and relaxed demeanor. And to
always be encouraging. When the student does
something right acknowledge him for it.You want to be relaxed but not
slack, enthusiastic but not hyped up. Genuine but
not wearing your heart on your sleeve.
It also helps to match
your energy level to that of your class. If
you've taught for a while you can begin to get attuned to where the
class is at for the day.
And each class has its
own personality. If you walk in and the mood of the class is
a bit lethargic match yourself at first to their lethargy. This helps
to establish rapport. Then you can gradually, with
a little enthusiasm and persistence, bring them to a level above
"lethargy" which may be "mild interest."
For an example of a really
great teaching style check out the French instruction CDs by Michel
Thomas. His teaching strategy is to be firm and forceful in his style
yet very encouraging and supportive of his students. It's a very
effective technique honed by 50 years of teaching. I recommend it.
Then you have the phenomenon of
the kind of class I call The Black
Hole. This is a group that has one or more
introverted persons that seem to create a vortex of introversion into
which the entire class gets sucked.
Click Here to read
more about this phenomenom.
The Qualities of a Really Good Teacher Are...
Here's a list of what I think
are some of the worthwhile qualities to
develop as a teacher. If I had to pick the one of the utmost importance
it would be "patience." Patience with the students,
patience with yourself.
A good teacher is:
- a good listener
- willing to admit he doesn't
- willing to admit that he is
- continually engaged in
ongoing training and development
- loves teaching
- doesn't complain to his
students about problems at the school or in his life
- tries to hold his students
in the best possible light
- doesn't take personal
problems into the classroom
- always wondering if he is
doing a good job or not (this keeps you from being complacent)
- always in control of the
classroom without being too strict or controlling
- very, very
- loves people
- challenges the student
- always willing to learn new
- alert and energized
- in good health
- willing to go beyond his
petty feelings of being down or tired and deliver the lesson
- walks into class
enthusiastically and with gentle authority and maintains it
- keeps his political and
religious views to a minimum. After all the class is about the students
not about you.
- willing to listen to
suggestions from his students about how the class can be better
I want to add to this that
whenever a student complains about another teacher
or about the school, it's unprofessional and simply looks bad to take
sides and agree or argue with him.
It's OK to have the class have
a discussion along these lines but it's not OK to take sides. Encourage
them to speak (for this is part of English, too) because they
might feel better after they vent.
Then invite them
to direct any complaints they have with the management. It's good to
remember that no school is perfect and it might be useful to remind
them of that.
If you can think of any more
qualities, send it to me in an email. If I
like it I'll add it.
Being flexible, well-read,
open-minded, interested in and a real love of
people are the important qualities an ESL teacher
must have. These traits make English teaching not particularly
difficult and if you really love what you do it's not
Teaching ESL can be lot of fun
and very rewarding. Your own ESL teaching strategies are developed with
time and experience.
But it doesn't hurt to read
some books and pick the brains of experienced ESL teachers to help
speed up the process.
When it's all said and
done I believe the best of the ESL teaching strategies is to
absolutely love teaching English.