Many students are quite shy, especially about their English language abilities. It’s therefore imperative that you make them feel good. Encourage a bit of silliness, and don’t be afraid if students are speaking their own language a little, or even a lot. If they’re talking, it’s good. Here are three easy ways you can do this.
- Comfort: Make your students feel at ease. I find that one of the best ways to do this is through humor. Make fun of yourself, get the students to laugh at stupid jokes, or even use physical humor. Falling out of your little chair is a great way to make young children laugh, and open up. If you can let students talk together during their first class, if only for a few minutes to get to know one another, it’s also a great way to break the ice. Remember, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of your ESL students during your first class, or even your first week or weeks of classes. But if you make them feel comfortable, they’ll slowly begin to open up.
- Environment: This aspect has a lot of similarities to being comfortable, but it’s a little different. You’re always supposed to have an English-only environment, but this is of course impossible, and might do more harm than good. I encourage students that know a lot to tell other students what a word means in Chinese. I’m constantly pulling up Google Translate to show them what a word or sentence is in English and Chinese. If you can give them this kind of environment that’s conducive to learning English as a foreign language, then you’ll be so much farther ahead of other English teachers that create an environment that discourages speaking, if only because the students don’t know how, and aren’t given the tools and encouraged to find out.
- Fun: I remember when I was in middle school, I said to a teacher that school should be fun. He said that was not the case, and I’ve always remembered that. People will do a lot better when they’re having fun, whether at work or in the classroom. Teaching ESL isn’t really about education so much as it’s about entertainment, and if you can mix the two, you’ll be doing great. Encourage the students to make jokes, and let them tell interesting and silly stories. My students love to talk about poop and the WC, and we incorporate these themes a lot into our writing and speaking. And for some reason turtles are just hilarious. I always put a turtle into a story or explanation when I need an animal.