5 Pitfalls of ESL class management…and how to avoid them

We all want to be our own bosses, right? But being your own boss as an ESL teacher means having to decide how you manage, pace, and plan your own classes. There is no one telling you want to do, so it’s all up to you. Here are some common mistakes ESL teachers make and how to fix them.

1) Don’t be zip through material, just to meet a deadline

Problem: So many schools and academies out there tote a program that lets students learn a language as fast as possible. Students may be able to memorize some vocabulary and phrases, but “get English fast” programs don’t allow them to retain language in the long term, especially if they don’t have enough hours per week devoted to practice.

Solution: Take the time you really believe you need to teach something. If you have a plan that says you should be moving on, but most of your class doesn’t seem ready, then take a couple classes and make sure they are ready. They will thank you in the long run.

Example: If half your class isn’t ready to tackle the past tense, then take some time to reinforce. Always have enough activities up your sleeve to do this. You may not need all of your
activities, but being over prepared is better than being underprepared.

2) Don’t drag the class on for no reason either

Problem: Now on the other hand, you don’t want to drag class on if the class is ready to
advance. You will lose just as many students that way because they are bored and may feel like you are cheating them of their money.

Solution: If you have a two hour class, don’t just plan 2-4 things, plan 6-8 things and keep students moving from one activity to another. This gives you several benefits: students aren’t bored because they are constantly being stimulated by new activities, students practice from a variety of methods and directions which is especially good because different students may need to learn with different ways, and you have other activities to switch to if one particular one just isn’t working out.

Example: To teach the past tense, I may plan the initial introduction, some basic repetition, a writing exercise, a speaking exercise, some conversation practice, some fill in the blanks, maybe a couple different games as time allows. It sounds like a lot, but each activity should only take 5-15 minutes. After 15 minutes, students get bored.

3) Don’t get stuck with repetition

Problem: You’ve all seen it or experienced, a class where the teacher spends all of the time
going one by one and having each student give a sentence with the desired grammar. And it goes on and on and on. It’s boring. Repetition is useful and often necessary, but when not creative, it’s boring.

Solution: Get creative and figure out how to get the students to repeat and repeat and repeat, but through games and other activities. You want them practicing with the desired grammar as much as possible, but in a way that doesn’t feel like quite a chore.

Example: Some examples could be playing normal games like Jenga and Uno, but assigning grammar or vocabulary to different cards so when they play their turn they also have to make a sentence. It’s repetition, but a lot more fun than just sitting around the room and droning on.

4) Don’t be afraid to use their native language, but not too much

Problem: There’s two problems, using too much of the native language to the point where
people listening wouldn’t be sure what language you are teaching. The other problem is being so strict in not using the native language that you spend half the class trying to explain one concept.

Solution: My policy, since I speak Spanish and teach English to Spanish speakers is to first
explain in English, then try to answer their questions in English, then if they still don’t
understand, I’ll fill them in as quick as possible in Spanish, or allow a classmate to. If it is a vocabulary word I can show easily, I’ll show. If it isn’t, then I’ll tell them in Spanish.

Example: “There are three pronunciations for regular verbs in past, the “id”, the “d”, and the “t”. You don’t understand? Ok, here’s an example. Walk in past would be “walked” (wok-t), ect. Show them by saying examples with exaggerated pronunciation. Still don’t get it? Who understands? Ok Maria can you explain the pronunciation rule?” You get the idea.

5) Don’t leave yourself up a river with no paddle

Problem: You get to the end of your plan and prepared materials and there are 20 minutes left in the class. This is the worst. Don’t be caught without anything to do or doing the go-to time-filler every time. It’s always better to over-plan than to under-plan.

Solution: Always plan at least one or two “extras”. These are things that aren’t crucial to do, in case you don’t have time to do them, but are things that are helpful or useful for your students to do. They can either be games that don’t have much to do with what you are currently working on, but at least give practice and some fun to the class. Or they can be extra practice with the themes you are teaching. It’s up to you. Depending on class size, I usually plan two extra activities and pass them on to other classes if I don’t get to them so that I’m never stuck with not enough material to teach.

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