/ Lesson tips, New to ELT, Teachers

ESL teachers are always supposed to write a lesson plan, to know what they are going to do in their lesson. However, the biggest part of the job is ‘on the stage’. Your authentic interest in your students, your skill to improvise, your sense of humor, your problem-solving skills will weigh more in your evaluation than the perfection of your lesson plan. However, to be good at problem-solving and improvisation, you need to prepare mentally (anticipating problems). Here are some ‘What to do…’ questions for you:

What to do if you don’t know the answer to a question?

It might happen even after 20 years of teaching experience. Students ask tricky questions. Rule number 1: keep cool. Avoid coming up with some random answer and end up making a mistake. Admit that this question came unexpected (even with some sense of humor: Good question, Nick. Nick-Teacher: 1-0). Jot down the question for yourself and promise the student to get back to them with an answer in the next lesson. Important that you do so! Students forgive teachers for not knowing everything, but they never forget if you lie to them.

What to do if your ESL student asks you a question which is not in your syllabus at that level?

Some students might have studied English for many years, but end up in a lower level because they are trained in grammar and vocabulary, but are weaker in their listening skills, for example. These students often feel frustrated and try to show that they are good by asking questions that are due at higher levels. The thing is that they might confuse the other students and you might get tangled up in explanations that are time-consuming and often need more pre-knowledge.
The best thing to do is not to answer to these questions in the class, but give the student a chance to discuss it with you: in your open office hours or via email. Explain it to them, though, that the question will be answered at A2/B1/etc. level, so they might just want to wait for a while. Most students don’t even bother writing an email or visit you, since the question was more for their peers and not for you.

What to do if one of your students provide extensive grammar explanation to the other students in their first language?

Happened to me, they even commented on my ‘poor Italian’ (we were not supposed to use Italian in the classroom, obviously).
Classroom rules are very useful to avoid these situations, but more importantly, you need to insist on these rules:
Only English in the classroom;
– Try to explain it in English (for example, a word you are looking for);
– Listen to your peers;
– Put up your hands before speaking,
Praise students who respect the rules and make nice, but firm comments after any disrespect. For example, as my dear colleague from Oxford did after reminding the students three times of letting him explain the grammar: ‘You – Student. Me – Teacher. Me – Boss.’ It worked and he even got high scores in the customer feedback…

What to do if you have to teach a book the first time?

Read the Teacher’s book. It gives a detailed proposal for your lessons. You can always add your ideas to it and leave many little tasks out. You only need to understand which points are essential for the syllabus points (what grammar vs. vocabulary you need to teach and which reading vs. listening task pre-teaches or activates these).


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