English Teachers who Sing and Dance . . .

When I first started out in TEFL, back in 1992, there were many teachers who thought that they were supposed to be dancing monkeys.

They thought that to play and dance and make your students laugh – even at their own expense – was a priority and perhaps even the sign of a good teacher.

These days that idea is more commonly called edutainment.

But behind all that insecurity and nervousness of those dancing teachers, that lead them to making fools of themselves, was the the fear of boring their students.  The fear of that blank stare that tells you that you just aren’t getting through.

Making Learning Fun and Interesting is not a Bad Idea

Well . . . those were the days when very few EFL “teachers” had any training at all and most of us were, at least initially, shooting in the dark as to the best way to help our students learn English.

And – really – I have nothing against students having a good time in class.  In fact, I usually teach teacher-trainees that the best way to approach a class is to have a fun activity and some good fun at the beginning of the class, work the students hard in the middle and have another enjoyable activity at the end.

With that method, students are eager to enter your classroom and come with a smile on their face and when leaving they are laughing and smiling again, eager to return.

But there is an important difference between a monkey and a teacher and the limited time that a teacher has with her students means that every moment in the classroom needs to be oriented toward learning.

A game is just a game, but a learning activity is – okay I will say it – a game – with a purpose.  That purpose is to review and play with the language that has been studied.   Just playing games to keep students busy and out of trouble is a waste of their time and money.  The person responsible for that is NOT a teacher.

Having fun with an appropriate language activity is a good use of time and reinforces taught language and is intended to increase retention of the the lesson’s target language.   The person responsible for that IS a teacher.

Catch the difference?  Not complicated, but very important.  When so many students have such limited exposure to the language they are studying, it is important to have classes well organized to maximize every learning opportunity.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find some games/activities that you like and enjoy and that your students can have fun with.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Match those games and activities with the target language of the previous class for an enjoyable warm up and at the end of class for a fun review.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Now you can have a laugh and still know that you are doing a good job.

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Teaching Writing can be a lot Easier than you Think

Back up to Move Forward in EFL Writing

Teaching Writing in EFL is often about Teaching Grammar

Writin1If grammar comes up anywhere in EFL, it is in the writing classroom. Most EFL students will have some writing skills when you get them. But they will often have an idea that their writing is quite good and generally it will be quite poor.

Many EFL students will have had some experience with paragraph and essay writing, but, in fact, often will not have even rudimentary writing skills at the sentence level. You will usually need to take them back to sentence level and begin to teach them very basic structure and how to write simply. Run-on and fragmented sentences will be very common until you correct those errors.

The more basic you get with your writing students, the better. Once a good foundation is built, you can move on to basic paragraph writing and on to essays. These skills take time to develop though and you will find that most textbooks will move your students forward too quickly. Don’t be afraid to move slowly so that you students can genuinely acquire the skills they need.  If you move forward too quickly, they often will not retain the skills you had hoped you had taught them.

Two EFL writing manuscripts are available to you free, courtesy of TEFL Teacher Training

Download them and read them and you will see EXACTLY how to go about teaching basic writing skills to EFL students.

Sentence Writing eBook – a draft manuscript for a sentence writing book – you can use this with your students too! Downloads as a PDF file. 1.827Mb

You can also download an Intermediate Writing eBook – a manuscript written for EFL university students who were ready for paragraph writing. The book prepares students for better paragraphs and eventual essay writing. The Intermediate Writing Textbook draft manuscript downloads a PDF file 2.42Mb

Review these Manuscripts Carefully

There is a method to the madness and it is important to look at and understand the progression of skills that are required. If you don’t pay careful attention to the skills progression, you will spend a semester or two reading gibberish and providing no more skills to your students than their previous instructors.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Student egos are fragile things they will often want to write long essays of gibberish to illustrate to you just how proficient they are with their writing skills. It is important to gently take them back to the beginning. Only a lout of a teacher insults their students’ skills.  Do it gently and positively.  Often the best way is to compliment them on their skills and then suggest that a review of the basics will make the skills they have even better.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Writing is an area where you really need to lead students step by step through the required skills. Use the manuscripts provided free here to help your students improve.

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Why TEFL is Different from Teaching English

While it might not seem obvious and up front that teaching English as a FOREIGN language is different than just the regular teaching of English that occurs in your home country, it really is and today’s post is about the how and why.

Recently a reader over at our sister ship TEFL Newbie asked the following question (slightly modified to protect the innocent!):

I will graduate with a BA in English and Secondary Education.  Do I need to get TEFL certified, even though I am certified to teach English and am a native speaker?

What an excellent question! My answer was, Yes, it would be worth your while to take some basic TEFL training. If for no other reason but to get the methodology that is used, which is different than that used teaching English to native speakers.

Why is TEFL Methodology Different?

Mostly because your students are very different.

Remember in first or second grade when the teacher had to keep telling us to stop talking in class?  Because she was trying to teach something to us?  Well . . . in TEFL we are always trying to get our students to talk in class.

Why?  Because EFL students rarely get a chance to talk in English – except in their classroom.   In fact, it might be fair to say that for a good majority of EFL students around the world the ONLY place they ever speak English is in their EFL classroom.

Many Other Reasons Too . . .

EFL students are very different from English native speaker students.  Even just a first grade native speaker probably has a vocabulary that exceeds that of most intermediate EFL students who have been intensively studying the language for years.

An EFL student might get to listen to and speak English only a few hours per week.  And not at all when school is out of session or they are not taking special classes.  Native speakers . . . well – we speak English and hear it constantly – it never stops.

English is Relevant for Native Speakers

We use English to communicate and live our lives.

For many EFL students English often is irrelevant.  They take it only because it is required or because their parents put them in the class.

They often can’t see any reason to get going with English as they never use it.  And any real need is abstract, such as needing English “to get ahead in life” or “to get a good job” or “to get in a good university”.  Usually things later on in life that don’t seem too urgent at the moment.

To start getting a handle on EFL student motivation review the previous post:  How to Have Enthusiastic EFL Students

EFL Teaching Method

There you have it.  Our students don’t have much opportunity to speak, listen or use English, so we have to create a situation in the classroom to get them talking – and talking – and talking some more.

And, English is often not relevant for our students, so we have to work hard to create a link between the language that needs to be learned and a real reason for learning it.  One that has a sense of relevance to NOW and not just to a distant future.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Because you are a native speaker and/or even a teacher of English, don’t assume you will know how to teach EFL students.  Their needs, abilities and motivations are dramatically different than those of native speaker students of English.

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How to Have Enthusiastic EFL Students

Elicitation in the EFL Classroom

It is easier than you might think to have charged-up students in front of you.

Ask your students what they want to talk about.  We all know that, but how you do it makes a big difference.

Today we will talk about one aspect of elicitation as there are too many to do it justice in just one post.

In the last twenty years there has been quite a turnaround in EFL teaching and all for the good.  It used to be that people would tell you as you were heading out to teach that you should take pictures of your family and where you come from and that’s what you can/should/would talk about.

Thankfully, the old days of the teacher-centered classroom are over, because – really – what could be more boring to an EFL student than talking about YOU all the time.  Sorry, most of us just aren’t that interesting.

And, you know what?  If you let the students come up with the topics and guide the content of your class, it is actually much less work and they can even give you many ideas for future classes.

One Thing Students do Love

Students love to talk about themselves, their interests, their town, their country, their family, their dreams and aspirations.

Could this investigation into what students want to talk about even be a specific class?  Why not!   If you use the question as a guide for how to use the language to express what they want to talk about, it is fine for a class.  And you leave the class with a fist full of ideas about what they want to talk about.

Now . . . this doesn’t guarantee happy enthusiastic classes, your method also needs to be spot on and you need to use elicitation in each class as a core of your method. To always be working to pull out of your students what they know, don’t know and if they understand the concepts you are teaching (aka concept checking).

In the warm-up and presentation/engage segments for every class you need to be constantly asking your students about what they know or don’t about the day’s topic and adjust your class as it runs along.

My best example of how this can work well is when I was teaching a hospitality class at a resort about ten years ago.  We were learning how to deal with complaints and – being a know-it-all – I had already created a list of possible complaints guests might make to which these food-and-beverage (F&B) staff would have to respond.  But when I did the elicitation for it in the presentation, I got a whole list of complaints that I had never even thought of.  So we used the new list instead of mine.

These students had to deal with these complaints on a daily basis at work and helping them solve this very real problem got them up and ready to really work on the lesson.  Of course, I was only teaching the structure of people asking and the staff answering complaints – we could plug in anything – no problem.

The number one complaint of guests to the F&B staff?
The mynah birds in the open air restaurant would jump on the table and eat their food while they were away at the buffet!

Would you have thought of that?    I sure didn’t and that is why elicitation works so well.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t be a know-it-all like me.  Ask your students in what areas they need help.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Early in  your time with a group of students try doing a class on “expressing your opinion” and ask them what they would like to/need to talk about during your course.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Elicit, elicit, elicit!

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