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Top 18 things an ESL/EFL teacher should not do in the classroom

New school year is starting very soon and I was thinking about my previous year. I am quite happy with what I accomplished but it could be better. Always, before the new school year, I make plans for the next one and I try to be a better teacher, not only for my students but also for my future as a teacher. I put together a list of 18 things that I should and I shouldn’t DO.

  1. Be tough at the beginning
    You don’t have to be a monster in order to be tough, but you should show to your students that you are serious about teaching them English. Young learners are masters of manipulation; they figure out your weak points immediately. Show them that you have rules and they have to be respected. Once things are clear you can continue softer but maintain the line between tough and soft teacher.
  2. Personalize the topic and adapt it
    Here I give you an example. Probably you know the book called “American Inspiration”. It is all about a TV show, topic that is totally uninteresting for Vietnamese learners (at least for my learners). You should pick up a Vietnamese TV show that is popular among them. The lesson will flow differently. Try to use local names instead of John and Ben. People in Asia have different interests than people in your country. Try to find a connection between the book’s topic and the county you teach in. A task like “make a list of 5 places you would like to visit in United States and say why” will be more likely “make a list of 5 places you would like to visit in your country and say why”.
  3. Use the same structure for your lesson
    Create a routine, many times this is a good thing. Students know what to expect and the lesson flow will be highly improved. You can change the type of tasks used in the lesson to keep them interested. Creating such a routine helps you to prepare the lesson easier and more effective; you can replace parts that don’t work very well for your students.
  4. Pay attention to your language – your students are not native speakers
    Why should I speak if my students don’t understand? Speak slowly, use simple words, and use gestures. You might think that you speak slowly but what is slowly for you could be fast for your students.
  5. Make it funny but don’t be a clown
    The biggest requirement for an English teacher, at least here in Vietnam, is to be funny. That doesn’t mean you have to be a clown. Create a “relaxing” learning environment, show them your smile and use jokes. Don’t act like a clown, they will think you are crazy.
  6. Good behavior should be rewarded
    I use this technique for kids and it works. I usually give them stickers if they have good behavior in the class. For adults might be a little bit more difficult but even a “Great, a very good answer, thank you!” can be a great reward for your students.
  7. Ask students to bring dictionaries in the class
    Dictionary exists because there is a need for them. Most of the students won’t ask you “Excuse me, what does this word mean?”, instead they will open the dictionary and check the meaning. It saves you a lot of time, they will remember the word easier and the phonemic transcription is placed next to the word. Regular English lesson or test time, the dictionary usage is always welcome in my class.
  8. Speaking to other students before speaking to you
    The automate goal of any learner is to be able to speak with the teacher but unfortunately they avoid it. All learners of English have the same problem. They are not fluent, they can’t find the proper words to use in speaking, they need time to think and time to develop an idea. There are lots of pair work speaking tasks which are very useful for the learners to build their fluency. Once they talk in pairs and have the idea well implemented in their mind, they will definitely be more than happy to talk with the teacher (or answer the teacher’s questions). A good practice is to point to the good students first, their answer is a source of inspiration for others.
  9. Have a student reading aloud the instruction of the task
    First of all, my students like to listen to their classmates. Second, you can fix some pronunciation mistakes.
  10. Always give the feedback
    I have always said feedback is the most important. Every task must be followed by feedback. Have the students check their answers in pairs then give them the correct answers. Without feedback, any task is useless.
  11. Don’t translate vocabulary unless it is absolutely necessary
    The teacher is not a dictionary, the teacher should give the students example of usage and let the translation to be done by dictionaries. Sometimes it’s very hard to translate words like modal verbs or “get”, but a “how to use” explanation is always welcome.
  12. Don’t act like you are on vacation
    Don’t tell to your students “I’m in vacation and I just want to earn some extra money.”. You will be dis-considered and your students will lose their trust in you. In Asia, teachers are highly respected and people have high expectations from teachers.
  13. Don’t overdo grammar – it is not the most important thing in the world
    Grammar is important, but not the most important. Teach students to use simple vocabulary, one sentence per idea and soon your students will communicate in English better.
  14. Don’t party all night then teach English
    There is nothing worst than a “still drunk” teacher in the class. Your students will know and teaching after a big party will be a big minus in front of your name.
  15. Don’t over-correct pronunciation
    Your students are not native speakers, they will never pronounce like a native American. Learners of English produce the English sounds differently; this gives them the specific accent. Not producing a sound or producing a wrong sound should be pointed and corrected. Depending on their mother tongue, learners of English make different pronunciation mistakes. Over-correcting pronunciation mistakes leads to loosing confidence. Nobody wants that!
  16. Don’t criticize, give them better alternatives
    Usually, your students are not wrong, but there is a better alternative. Instead of “No, that’s not right!”, a better approach will be “You are not wrong, but I will say ...”. Many of the ESL learners lose their confidence if they are criticized. Don’t get me wrong, the mistakes should be pointed out but the way you do it is far more important.
  17. Don’t ask “Do you understand?”
    Nobody will answer “No”, everybody will say “yes”. Nobody wants to be considered stupid “look at that guy, he didn’t understand ... hahaha”. Give instructions then ask the class “... so, what do we have to do?”; it always works for me. Adults learners are more likely to answer “Sorry, I didn’t understand! Could you explain again?”; but this will happen after the teacher build a relation with the class and the students feel more confident to communicate with the teacher.
  18. Don’t talk too much in the class
    Don’t talk much in the class because the time runs out and your students won’t have opportunity to speak English. Students have to speak, not the teacher. All of us have the tendency to explain as much as possible in order to make the things clear for our students. Choose a task and let them work in pairs or groups, they learn from each other.

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