Most jobs have periods of growth and stagnation and the field of online English teaching is no different. After getting hired, most teachers will undergo some form of training with their company before starting. Thereafter, the onus of developing one’s skills is often placed on the experience gained in the classroom as well as on the teacher.
While you are likely to experience a significant improvement in your teaching over the first few months on the job, it is often the case that this development can plateau. This is generally an indication that you have somewhat mastered the materials and approach given to you by your company.
This is of course a good thing, but it begs the question: where do you go from this point? Fortunately, Dux is here to ensure your continual improvement as a teacher and to help you beat your rut! Of course, you can work on developing your skills in terms of utilising the materials you have been given to teach but, in this article, we would like to focus on some general principles which will not only help you develop in your current job, but also help you improve your teaching more broadly.
All successful lessons will usually start well in the sense that the attention of the students is captured and excitement for the lesson ahead is created. As well as introducing the topic in an enticing way, it is also important to introduce the topic in a straightforward manner to give the students a clear idea of where the lesson is going and what they will learn.
In terms of your students’ motivation, this can be a “make or break” point in your lesson. If your introduction can get the students excited to learn, this excitement can often be used to build momentum which can carry them through more challenging or duller periods in the class.
Naturally, the way you start a lesson will of course depend on which topic you are covering but in general, it is a good idea to give them something to go off before requesting output from them.
Some examples of this include: showing them a brief video (related to the topic) and asking them for their thoughts, telling them a joke and asking them to tell jokes of their own (in English of course), and giving them some pictures related to the lesson and asking them to guess the topic, and even incorporating short games like broken telephone, never have I ever, or Simon says.
In each example, notice how the students have first received some form of input/information to stimulate their minds before requesting output from their minds. The information they receive not only builds their enthusiasm but also makes the first stage of the lesson easier for them as they have to undergo less “mental friction” in order to develop ideas related to the topic.
After you introduce your topic, it is important to utilise the momentum you have created effectively. You want to avoid starting strong and then letting the students’ energy go to waste by delaying the learning process. If you compare your lesson to a three-course meal, your presentation stage is the starter and the practice stage is the main course. The produce stage is the dessert, and just like a dessert is sweet, so should the produce stage be more enjoyable and fun for the students.
While the staging of your lessons is important, you also need to ensure that the stages transition smoothly into each other. Ideally, you want each stage to pick up where the previous stage left off and then build, rather than starting each stage with something completely different. Your lessons should follow a logical step by step process that takes the students from little or no knowledge of the topic to meeting the lesson objectives in a way that the students can comprehend.
If your stages are disjointed and do not connect well, then your students will become confused as to the point of each stage as well as the lesson as a whole.
Giving effective feedback is an often-neglected part of ESL classes, but this is one of the most important areas to consider. Whether your lesson is focused on reading, writing, speaking or listening, the students need to receive feedback on what was accomplished and what needs to be improved upon.
One of the main reasons that feedback needs to be given to students is to prevent them from practising bad habits. Errors that are repeated can become solidified in the students’ minds and can be very difficult to unlearn. Teachers should encourage accurate speaking as much as possible.
In terms of the structure of your feedback, using the sandwiching method is a go-to for many teachers. If you were to imagine a sandwich with two slices of bread (on each side) and some form of filling in the centre. Each slice of bread represents positive feedback and the centre of the “sandwich” represents negative feedback.
Essentially, you should start with positive feedback by commending the students on what they have done well, move on to discussing some of the errors they made as well as some ways to prevent them, and then end your feedback on another positive note.
This stops students from getting discouraged, as not only is the amount of positive feedback greater than the negative but by starting and ending on a high note you introduce the students to their errors in a gentle way and leave them feeling content with their efforts.
One other key area related to effective feedback giving is to be pre-emptive in terms of predicting potential problems and addressing them before they occur. This is in line with the idea that you want to avoid letting your students practice bad language habits and one of the best ways to do this is to aid in preventing them from making mistakes at all.
Concept checking questions are a great way of determining potential errors the students may make during activities. Suppose the students are tasked with a survey activity whereby they have to ask their friends which sports they do. One common error could be that the students mismatch the sport with the correct verb. For example, the verbs “play”, “practice” and “do” can often be used with the incorrect activity- “Do you play running?”. Before starting the activity, you can ask them the concept checking question “Do we say ‘Do you play running?” [students] “No!” [teacher] “What should you say?” [students] “Do you play football?” [teacher] “That’s correct!”
Improving the quality of your lessons is something that can be approached in a variety of ways. Essentially, you want to break down your lessons into their constituent elements and improve on each individual aspect. We would recommend trying to improve each element individually rather than trying to improve on everything at once. Give yourself a week or two to focus on one area, move on to the next when you are feeling confident and your lessons will improve in no time!