UNDERSTANDING YOUR LEARNERS

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A very common saying in the TEFL world is: Teach your students, not the coursebook. It might seem pretty obvious, but in fact it’s very easy to focus too much on the coursebook and forget to monitor your students and assess whether or not your lesson is headed in the right direction. If you have a syllabus to follow and a coursebook to cover, there is a lot of pressure to get everything done within a specified time. This is when TEFL teachers start saying things like “I have to finish Unit 4 today”. While it is understandable that teachers get stuck in this pattern of blindly following the coursebook, teachers need to remember that their goal should not be to cover as much language as possible, but rather to help their EFL students learn as much English as possible.

Bear in mind, we are not saying to ignore the coursebook. EFL coursebooks are valuable sources of material and provide a structure for your lessons which has been tried and tested over many years. However, you need to remember that coursebooks are meant to be applicable to a variety of situations, which means that there are going to be parts which are actually not relevant to your EFL class. Again, this is not a problem; you just need to be aware of this and learn to work around it.

How do you do this?

Well, focus rather on your learners than your coursebook. If Unit 5 is on the Present Perfect and the topic is travelling, think about whether or not your students would be interested in it. If so, great. Now you can think about how you can relate the topic directly to the students themselves. Maybe you could talk about where they’ve been or where they would like to go; if they are backpacker-type travellers or luxury travellers; their best or worst travel journeys. Using the topic to relate directly to the students will make the material (and therefore the language) much more memorable.

If you don’t think the students will be able to relate to the topic, change it. Think of another, more appropriate topic which can be used with the particular language structure. You can still use the exercises and the language reference from the coursebook, but the content of the lesson will just be a bit different. Nothing wrong with that.

Basically, we need to remember that our students are people who walk into the classroom with ideas, opinions and experiences. We need to use these to make our EFL lessons more relevant and interesting. By relating the content of our EFL lessons to the learners themselves, it helps out students conceptualise language better and so they will be able to use the language in more appropriate ways.

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