When we think about teaching a new class, the first things that come to mind are all of the curricular aspects: the grammar, structures and vocabulary we’ll cover throughout the course.
How to Proceed
Teaching in Context and with Real-Life Examples
We all have to use a course book, that’s true. But the problem with course books is that they are filled with fictional characters students may have a hard time relating to. Why would they care about a fictional “Mr. Thompson” and how he did in his job interview? Or worse yet…why would they be interested in reading about a town that doesn't exist, when they can read about a real one, one they could possibly even visit some time?
Say you'd like to read about two cities and practice comparatives and superlatives. Use real maps and accurate information you can easily find on the Internet. Use your students' resumes to practice interview questions, not “Mr. Thompson’s”. With the huge royal wedding coming up, wouldn’t your students love to know more about Prince William and Kate Middleton? Whenever possible skip the fictional characters and use real people, real places - and don’t forget to include some realia!
Catering to Your Students’ Needs
Sometimes the course book sets out activities that are not really appropriate to the group you’re teaching. This is frequently the case with teenagers, when some of the material may be either too childish, or too adult. Don't be afraid to make some minor adjustments to make the material work for your students' needs.
This is also particularly useful to remember with students who have really specific needs, for example a group who wishes to improve their Business English writing skills. Imagine you’ve just covered a chapter where the topic was “Hotel English”. Ask your students to write an email to inquire about a hotel's conference facilities for homework, and you’ll have them practicing their email writing skills.
Boosting Their Self-Esteem
Students, particularly adult learners, are often self-conscious, insecure and feel frustrated with their efforts. Corrections are an essential part of the lesson, but don't forget to praise their efforts, as well, no matter how small their achievements may seem.
One great way to give them instant boosts of self-esteem is to end each lesson with a “What have you learned today?” This simple question is a great way for them to review the day’s activities and see just how much they've accomplished. Even if their answer is “We learned the alphabet today”, this is something they should be proud of.
Taking Advantage of Learning Styles or Special Abilities
How many times have you met students with amazing talent and unusual abilities? Whether it is incredible musical or artistic talent, exceptional writing or speaking skills, another wonderful way to make a lesson a huge success is by incorporating some of this talent.
Why play a CD when you have a student who can play the song on his guitar? If you have a group of very artistic youngsters, give them crafts to engage them in their learning.
Using Their Likes and Preferences
Related to the above, but only slightly different, is to use their interests to increase motivation and participation. If most of the class has read the Twilight books, use the characters to practice physical descriptions; talk about the weather in the small town of Forks; practice conditionals – would you become a vampire if you had the choice?; compare different types of supernatural beings, etc… Besides, just knowing who Bella and Edward are will definitely give you some street cred!
Learning English as a second language is not all about the grammar, structures and vocabulary. It’s also about why, how and where it's spoken. What is Thanksgiving and how did it originate? This is something that will surely interest your students. Compare the way things are done in different cultures. Students who are accustomed to having dinner at 8 p.m. might be surprised to find out that Americans usually dine at 6 p.m.
It will take a little bit more of your time to prepare, and you might be tempted to go with the course book materials. But any extra time spent will be well worth it once you see your students fully engaged in the lesson and putting to practice everything they’ve learned. We’re not saying you should throw the course book out the window! Just make these “little" adjustments here and there and you'll see big differences.