You are the teacher. So this means that your students will hang onto your every word as soon as you walk through the door. Right?
Hmm… well… we don’t want to scare you but… (whisper it quickly) they might not.
True, TEFL teachers rarely have to deal with the sorts of behaviour issues you might find in a UK classroom. But it takes more than simply writing your name on the board to get your students’ undivided attention.
Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that the standing-at-the-front-and-trying-to-feel-brave technique will magically work, take a more practical approach. Here are our top five ways of getting your TEFL students ready to learn.
1. First impressions count
Here’s a question for you. If you walked into a classroom, what would make you more excited?
Option 1: Rows of desks, a board full of writing and the teacher slouched over her phone.
Option 2: Chairs in a circle around a table filled with different types of food plus a teacher welcoming you in at the door.
We would go with option 2. You?
It does not take much to make a TEFL space seem more appealing. Try putting pictures or key words up on the wall. Bring along a few everyday objects as props. Even setting out chairs in a different format makes the room look more intriguing. Oh, and plaster on that friendly smile. It really does help.
After all, if you’ve got your students’ attention before you even open your mouth, you are off to a great start.
2. Warm up the lesson
The scene-setting worked. Your students look interested. Now what?
Bring up the energy levels with a quick TEFL warmer. We find a short, fun activity that gets students talking in English (and, if you have the space, moving about) works best.
For example, tell students to find someone else in the room who has seen the same film / been out at the weekend / done their homework (complete as appropriate!). Or why not ask the class to line up in order based on the length of time it took them to get to school that morning – speaking only in English to work it out.
It’s amazing how quickly a fun game can transform even the most bored of teenagers into relaxed, engaged students. Or, to put it another way, a class who is ready to learn.
3. Stay positive
It is scary speaking out loud in front of your peers. Particularly when you don’t really understand the sounds you are making – let alone the order they should be in.
And a scared student is much less likely to learn.
Your job, as a TEFL teacher, is to make each student feel confident enough to open his or her mouth.
Give lots of positive feedback. Use simple, clear words to explain activities. Include pair and small group tasks to make the lesson less intimidating. Make sure your lessons are both fun and challenging. And then give even more positive feedback.
If students understand what they are doing, enjoy what they are doing and are not scared to make mistakes, they are far more likely to want to learn!
4. Make it personal
Here’s another question for you. Would you pay more attention if a lesson was about your favourite song or some abstract grammar rule?
You don’t really need to answer that one!
One of the best ways to make your students eager to learn is to find out about their interests and create lessons based on them.
Of course you can’t always play everyone’s top music choice. But you can get students to talk about their holiday plans or debate how much social media will change over the next three years or imagine what will happen now that their country has scored that winning goal.
All far more likely to get them racing back for their next class than telling them to practice the future continuous tense!
5. Be prepared
Make it your mantra: prepare, prepare, prepare.
Boring as it might sound, the best way to make sure your class runs smoothly is a well-constructed lesson plan packed full of different types of activities that will appeal to your students. Top this off with an organised classroom, where your teaching materials are ready to grab when you need them, and you’ve got a great chance that your lesson will go well.
Say it again: prepare, prepare, prepare.
If you don’t believe us, think back to your own school days. Whose lessons did you turn up to expecting to learn? The teacher who fumbled around looking for the worksheet and spent the first five minutes of every lesson telling you the same thing that he had droned on about the week before? Or the organised one who expected you to arrive on time with your books out ready – because she would do the same?
We may have put it last, but this is actually our number one tip – if you expect your students to be ready to learn, you need to be ready to teach. That way, it just might be possible that one day you will stand at the front of the class and find your students looking back at you in awe. Well, you never know!