Teaching ESL Is Not Rocket Science
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Teaching ESL is Not Rocket Science

This title might rile many dedicated, motivated and well qualified English as a Second Language teachers. I make no apologies, for that is my intention. Of course, it's not rocket science, but teaching ESL well, does require experience, a knowledge of the subject and an awareness of differentiation skills (teaching mixed ability within the same class).

Teaching ESL is a breeze.

I maintain that virtually anyone who is fluent in English (not necessarily a native speaker), can teach ESL, especially if they have a decent personality, are engaging and have a few 'chestnut' activities and games within their classroom repertoire. A degree or TEFL/TESL certificate is not necessarily needed, although many 'pseudo' professional schools do ask for either or both as a minimum requirement. I taught English before I graduated, after I graduated (in Music) and with virtually no teaching experience and I did a sterling job; or so I thought. The students had fun and everyone was happy. I swaggered away from my classes with an air of inappropriate smugness and a misguided notion that: 'teaching English is a breeze'. Of course, in hindsight I was sorely mistaken, for I was a true ESL teaching charlatan with a modicum of charm and oodles of conceit.

Teaching ESL well.

I now have a TESL certificate and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and have been teaching for about 20 years. The more I teach, the more difficult it becomes (or so it seems). I arduously consider student needs, constantly thinking about how I can improve my lessons. This all hinges on a variety of factors; from classroom management (young learners) to reflecting on how classes are going, making sure I have strategies in place to tweak future classes; employing thorough assessment techniques to ensure that students are on track; supplementing materials to consolidate the language areas we are covering; creating a positive learning environment where there is overall mutual respect among students and myself; being adaptable and creative, especially in relation to change, whilst still remaining focused on my aims and student objectives. And the most challenging of all, effectively employing decent differentiation techniques so that everyone is making improvement (albeit at different rates and levels). I do my utmost to tick all these boxes, but occasionally I might fall short.

Keep teaching simple.

As a simple, stripped away base, every busy teacher needs to try and keep their lessons simple and ideally follow a three staged format: A quick warm up activity (preferably connected with the language aims of the lesson), exploitation of the lesson, and a short game or filler to end the class. Varying pace is also crucial in order to maintain student interest. I thoroughly recommend 'Source Book for TEFL' (Heinmann), which is supposedly aimed at new teachers, but I have been carrying it around since 1994. It contains practical teaching tips, speaking practice questions, language games, photocopiable materials and tried and tested ideas. Also, Lessons from Nothing (Cambridge Handbooks for Language teachers), especially aimed at teachers with limited resources, which is also packed with decent, workable activities. Click here for more information:

Teaching ESL is a breeze (part 2).

I recall those early days with great fondness, when I could do 30 seconds preparation, turn up and wing it. How I crave that blind naive attitude towards my lessons. Actually, no I don't. But one thing is sure: teaching seemed easier and, dare I say, more fun. If I were able to revert to that erratic, casual style now, there is little doubt that many students would not mind and some might even prefer it. However, I'd worry that a few, mostly more mature students, would rumble my feckless approach. Oh and yes, I would have my conscience to contend with.

Alan Welch is the founder of Easy Call English and gives private one to one lessons to ESL learners and people who wish to improve their English communication skills. Click here for a free trial lesson


Street Talk

good article and respect for all ESL teachers!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thanks and yes, I have respect for ESL teachers, especially those that attempt to do a decent job!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I would have a hard time finding students if I was teaching ESL, being that English is the only language I speak.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Cheers for the comment. You might be surprised it is not necessarily the case that the teacher has a command of the student's mother tongue. Imagine teaching in the US to a multi-lingual (different nationalities in the same group). Of course, if you stay in a country and only teach, e.g. Spanisn speakers, you are likely to learn the language, which can be especially useful if you take on a class of 'beginners/elementary' (though not a pre-requisite)

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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