I have been teaching English as a second language for about five years. I’m a freelancer and I’m constantly forced to design tailored courses to suit the needs of my clients/students. Courses vary substantially depending on the context (who you are teaching, where, for how long, etc). Still, I would have found it useful when I started if someone had given me a few tips based on experience, so as to have something to draw from. So here are a few pieces of hands on advice for teaching English as a foreign language.
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1) Make sure you are actually teaching something
This might sound too obvious but it is helpful to bear this in mind, particularly with intermediate groups who want “only speaking”. Be it a role play, a board game or an information gap, for a speaking practice to be useful you first need to teach the vocabulary and structures that students will require during the exercise. You can teach/recycle these in many ways (with a listening, a text, an ad, a sign, a facebook post…anything that is in English and uses the vocabulary/grammatical structures that you want your students to learn/consolidate/practice).
2) Organize your material
If you prepare an adapted “Who is who board game”, or a memory, or even role play cards, it is essential that you file them orderly so that you can reuse them in other sessions/courses, and also, to be able to go back to what you taught, after a while, and have your students consolidate and expand it.
3) Have an overall planning of the whole course
I usually have an idea of what I want to teach in every lesson, at least for the following month. Not that I have all the classes prepared beforehand, but I do know more or less what topics I will be covering (what function, vocabulary area, grammatical structure)
4) …but then keep track of the lessons you actually taught
Very frequently I end up not teaching exactly the contents I wanted to teach in a particular session. If you have many groups, it can be a nightmare if you do not keep track of what you actually taught in each. Take one minute at the end of the class to jot it down!
5) Present a variety of practices
Mainly verbal, physical, visual, auditive, etc.
6) Remember the 4 skills:
Oral and written production and understanding
Every now and then, go back to what you’ve already taught and practice it. If you pass from one thing to the next and never go back, students will forget. Ideal courses are cumulative, because that’s how you best learn a language. However, you might not have material that accumulates everything you are teaching. If that’s the case, go back to previous contents form time to time and have students revise and fix (for example, don’t be afraid to play the same game after a month, but adding an extra challenge).
8) Try to establish 2 weekly sessions at least
Many students will tell you they cannot “sacrifice” more than one day per week to English. Bang! People forget everything within 7 days! Do try to have 2 sessions. Let’s avoid those frequent cases in which a student has been studying English for 3 years and still is unable to formulate a question in Present Simple.
Last but not least: Enjoy!
We humans take great pleasure in all growing things. There is something captivating about watching a plant or a child grow. The same happens with skills. If you are able to help somebody (child or adult) to improve their skills in English, you will experience that joy. Or maybe not, I don’t know. It certainly happens to me.