Tips to teach ESL beginners

The extremes are usually the most difficult. How do I teach students who know nothing or the students who know everything? What kind of activities to choose? What are the tricks?

Probably the biggest fear of all teachers, who are just starting to teach, are absolute beginners. The questions that teachers usually ask are ¨what if they don´t understand me?¨ or ¨what if the lesson is too easy?¨. And these two are really valuable questions, because normally there is a huge variety within the level, some students already know how to conjugate the verb ¨to be¨ and some of them barely know how to say ¨hello¨. Being a TEFL certified teacher at TtMadrid, I have had to teach a lot of beginner classes and I have to say that not all of them were particularly successful, but I learnt from my mistakes and worked out some kind of a formula to work with the A1 students.

Rule number one would be ¨practice makes perfect¨, start your ESL classes with the same thing and stick to it, such as starting your English lesson from the word “hello” and following it up with “how are you”, keep asking it every single class until your students get used to it and know the answer. Also, it usually relaxes your students when you ask them something they absolutely know the answer to. Then, I ask my students to spell their name, many English vowels can be confusing for the Spanish students and if they have to pronounce and hear the vowels of their own name, they are more likely to retain the correct pronunciation.

Another huge rule would be pre-teaching the vocabulary for listening or reading, make sure that you pick out the words that you think are going to be new to your students and teach them before the actual listening. You can leave those words on the board for the students to use as a reference and drill the pronunciation (if they pronounce the words correctly, they will be more likely to hear them in the listening). Another great tool is creating strong connections to the vocabulary. How can we do that? Pictures! If you can draw – great! The alternative for drawing would be printing out the pictures and sticking them next to the words, which will allow you to refer back to those words whenever needed.

When you teach ESL beginners you will also need a lot of repetition, don´t be afraid of going over the conjugation of the verb “to be” every time it comes up. Information that is completely new to us doesn´t stick that quickly. Asking your students the same question to check their understanding is the way to go for beginners, plus it makes them feel safe and prepare mentally if they are not sure about the answer.

And the last but by no means the least are gestures and mimicry; you can´t just sit there with your hands down, you have to be smiley to encourage your students and move your hands towards your ears or eyes when instructing to look or listen. If your students don´t understand your verbal instructions they will always have the gestures and with time they will link the words to the gestures. In addition to your smile, don´t forget to praise, because learning a new language from the very beginning is quite a daunting experience and your students need to know that they are always supported. Try to choose just one praise word which your students will be able to identify easily, like ¨excellent¨ or ¨good¨.

By following all of the above tips, you will be able to create a safe and interactive atmosphere for your students.

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