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10 Mistakes Every ESL Teacher Makes in the Classroom

Mistakes are unavoidable in the classroom. The truth is, making them will make you a better teacher, as long as you are aware of them. Here are ten very common mistakes to watch out for as you start your ESL career:

1. Don’t talk too much

This, I believe, is the most frequent mistake new ESL teachers make. To put it simply, learning to speak requires your students to speak. If you are talking about what you did last weekend, your students aren’t talking. Instead, encourage your students to launch discussions. If you need to go over the answers to an exercise, allow your students to do it. Making your classes student-focused rather than teacher-focused will take time and practice. But, being aware of the problem is the first step.

2. Don’t let extroverted students dominate the class

It is often easy to let talkative, extroverted students dominate the classroom. At first, their enthusiasm and willingness to contribute can seem like a blessing, but their eagerness can drown out the voices of their quieter classmates. The answer, however, is not just to ignore them or tell them to wait their turn. If they are not answering your questions, their energy may find its way into other more disruptive activities.

3. Don’t pretend you know everything

Your English, just like your students’ English, has its limitations. It won’t be long until one of your students’ asks you a question that you cannot answer. Don’t make it up. Instead, concede your knowledge has its limitations and tell the student you will get back to them.

4. Don’t think you can improvise and teach well

A great lesson always requires planning. As a new teacher in a new place, you might find yourself without time for lesson planning. Teaching a great lesson makes you feel good, gives you confidence and increases motivation. In other words, you will enjoy yourself in class more if you plan beforehand.

5. Don’t stick 100% to the textbook (or abandon it completely)

ESL textbooks are not page-turners. Spice up your textbooks with new activities, skip useless activities and adapt ones that are not quite right. Just remember not to abandon the textbook completely. The students have probably paid for it out of pocket, it gives structure to the class, and knowledge of its contents might prove crucial for your students in future classes.

6. Don’t ask, “Do you understand?”

Here’s a scenario – you are in your new classroom, and you have just given instructions for an activity. Without thinking, “Do you understand?” slips out of your mouth. The students say, “Yes.” in an unenthused chorus. But, when you check on them two minutes later, they are staring blankly at their notebooks. The problem with the question is that the answer will always, unfailingly, be “Yes.” Learn how to use “concept checking questions,” and then use them every day in every class and for every activity to create familiarity.

7. Don’t rely on words alone

When giving instructions, answering questions or giving feedback, your regular speech will likely be too difficult for most students. Changing your intonation, emphasis and pitch can all help. On top of that, you can use physical, visual and written cues to aid comprehension. Communicating in that way will at first appear unnatural, but with time, it will make the lives of both you and your students a lot easier.

8. Don’t blame your students if they don’t understand

If your students do not understand something, nine times out of ten, it is because you have not presented the information in a way they can understand. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to explain, illustrate, and model concepts until your students get it. Only time will allow you to understand your students’ learning styles and preferences, and such experience will help you to present new topics quickly and painlessly.

9. Don’t forget to give feedback

Whatever task you give your students, whether it is a writing assignment, a piece of homework or a word-search, make sure to give them feedback on it. Feedback gives you the opportunity to note and correct errors, gives the students time to ask questions, and acts as a nice way to transition between activities. Feedback on homework and tests will also make you appear more organized and professional.

10. Don’t think of your students as your friends

Striking a balance between being strict and being friendly can be challenging, especially in your first ESL teaching job. If you are overly friendly, students will start to expect you to forgive their endemic lateness, high L1 usage, and turn a blind eye to their Facebook browsing in the classroom. Especially for children, setting clear rules and consequences, and putting a certain distance between you and them will help you to maintain a manageable classroom environment.

Hopefully, these tips will help make your ESL teaching journey easier. To find out about starting this type of adventure, learn more here.

Written by Robin Garnham

Robin GarnhamRobin Garnham originally planned to spend a year teaching in Spain to improve his Spanish, but has now been teaching for five years. He currently teaches ESL in Oakland, California and is an Oxford Seminars instructor in San Jose, California.

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