Questions from ESL Teachers
Q: We must help our students prepare for exams. How can we give them practical speaking experience at the same time?
A: It is possible to "kill two birds with one stone". Try adapting exam-type questions into speaking exercises. (For example, use pair practice or speaking games which will not only get students speaking, but will also help them remember better. This kind of practice may be better for students' test results than if you focus solely on the test!
Q: Some students are too shy to speak out in class. How can I get them to speak out?
A: The first thing you can try is group repetition. See "Shadow Speaking" for tips. Teacher Joe also has tips on motivation which can help you get everyone involved in your class.
Q: Students repeat sentences correctly when we practice but go back to making the same mistakes later. How can we prevent this?
A: We have to be patient when students make mistakes. Even little children learning their first language go through long periods of making mistakes before they finally learn. Let students make mistakes, but continue to help them by recycling language. It's not enough to teach a lesson once, we have to bring things back, repeat, and review in order to reinforce what we teach.
Q: How can I help my students who are falling behind or who don't understand well?
A: One thing you can do is use different types of activities in every class. Teacher Joe begins almost every new lesson with some kind of mechanical practice such as a dictation, a grammar exercise, or group repetition. This helps even the weakest students join in. Later, to both help the better students and to show the weaker students their future goal, Teacher Joe uses "right brain activities" which are more like real communication.
Q: Students like playing English games too much. How can I get them to study seriously?
A: Games are dangerous! If a game doesn't fit in with your lesson and only provides fun, then students hope for more fun and prefer to AVOID learning English. Some games are very useful, others are not. Teacher Joe has advice for using games in the ESL classroom.
Q: How can I make sure students use the target language, English, rather than their first language when working in groups?
A: Teacher Joe's simple answer is: don't put students in groups! Except for certain tasks and with students who already know Teacher Joe's style well, group work is rarely as good as pair practice. In pairs, students must respond to their partner and put much more focus on using English. Also, whether in pairs or in groups, every student must have a clear role and a clear goal to pursue. This is harder to do in groups than in pairs. (Groups are much better, though, for big projects where each member can contribute. Groups are also good when you want students to work together for several weeks or even for a whole term, as a team spirit has time to develop.)
Q: How can I encourage students to give more than just short, quick answers?
A: At first, short, quick answers are very good. If all of your students can do this, that's wonderful! To move forward, try teaching students to use follow-up questions to keep conversations going. And to go even further, try the previously-mentioned right brain activities to give students the chance to practice real communication.
Q: Our textbook has too much content to cover in one term. What can I do?
A: Teachers are often given too much to do. When that happens, you have to prioritize. Find the key points for each chapter or unit of the textbook and introduce those first. Then go back to the sections of the textbook that help teach those points. If you have two or three exercises that cover one point, you can cut out one or two to save time. Finding these kinds of short cuts can save more time than if you go through the book steadily from page one to the end.