Published 23rd July 2021

children and teacher in classroom

One of the biggest fears of any teacher, whether teaching math or science or English, is losing the attention of their students. Few things feel worse than when you catch your students staring into space during a lesson, clearly not focusing on the grammar lesson you had so thoughtfully planned out for the day. Although it can be a tall feat to keep your students engaged for an entire class period, it is important to create lesson plans and activities that get students excited and motivated to learn and participate in, so that they can fully absorb the information. 

Keeping the attention of students in your own country can be difficult, but teaching English in a foreign language classroom can be an entirely different challenge in itself. Educators not only have the responsibility of teaching English to students, but they also have to equip themselves with the tools and knowledge of understanding the cultural values and characteristics that dominate that specific country. This is extremely important in building an open and trusting relationship between teacher and student, as it allows for students to get the most out of their learning experience.

1. Allow Options and Keep it Interactive

Providing options to learn is an effective teaching technique because it allows students to feel as if they are active participants in their learning experience. This is a great motivator to get students to remain interested and gain a sense of independence in the classroom. While the teaching style of lecturing in front of the classroom while students take notes is traditional, it often is not the most effective way for students to learn.

Creating lessons that involve hands-on activities keep students engaged and makes the lessons more interactive. Allowing the student to guide instructions- whether that be by asking them to record themselves explaining and teaching a vocabulary word or topic- creates feelings of connection to class and their fellow students. 

teacher giving a lesson

2. Be Culturally Responsive and Create Trusting Relationships 


Although this should seem obvious, studies have shown that a successful learning environment is one where students feel their voices are heard, respected, and they are comfortable taking intellectual risks. Strong student-teacher relationships create higher student academic engagement, grades, attendance, lower dropout rates, and fewer disruptive behaviours. It is important for students to understand that they are encouraged to embrace their culture and language as a crucial part of their being and that learning a new language is adding to what makes them unique.

Creating a teaching environment where students see their educators incorporating aspects of their culture allows them to feel more comfortable and connected to the lesson. For example, educators can keep culturally appropriate books in their classroom library, or incorporate home visits to get to know student’s family lives and include them in lessons.

students in the classroom

3.  Make it Visual and Incorporate More Group Work

English language learners have a tougher time processing spoken language, which is why it is important for teachers to write down basic things- such as classroom etiquette- on the board whenever possible. Concepts that are harder to understand can be clearly explained through visuals of the step-by-step process or including what the finished product should look like. Showing students how to physically do something helps retain comprehension and grasps concepts better.

Additionally, smaller group-work lessons allow students to learn with their peers in a more personal and low-risk environment, as they often feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in a small group environment. Students can work together to help their peers answer language-specific questions or clarify confusing/tricky English words, encouraging each other to succeed.

students doing group work

4. Maximize students time outside the Classroom

Like many tasks, students learn best by doing. Since they will probably not practise the language at home, make sure your lesson plans involve maximizing student talking time during class. Don’t fill up class time with tasks that students can easily do by themselves- make the most out of each lesson explaining difficult concepts, speaking, and group work. Save the individual work outside the classroom so that students can apply what they learned earlier in class, helping to fully comprehend the information. 

mother helping son with homework

5. Use Positive Reinforcement and Keep it Simple

Students are already hesitant and unsure of themselves in a learning environment, but one rule to help calm those nerves is to avoid embarrassing a student in front of the class, especially when they give a wrong answer. You run the risk of scarring that student and it will make them terrified to participate again. Creating a positive attitude in the classroom by praising students often, even if they make slight mistakes, is a great way to ensure they feel comfortable and safe.

Many newly certified teachers make the mistake of using too much English when instructing, praising, or giving feedback to students, often using over-complicated and redundant language. For example, an instruction such as “Now class, please pay attention and go into your desks to grab your workbooks for today’s lesson,” a shorter phrase like “please take out your workbooks. Okay?” helps beginner students understand the classroom instructions. Along with simple language, appropriate gestures like the OK sign or thumbs up are also great ways to help beginners follow directions. 

children learning

  1. I’m teaching 2 students in China one-on-one. The girl is 8 and the boy is 12. We are off to a good start. I love seeing them each week.
    As we progress, I want to make good progress. My question: should I add curriculum such as geography, math, science in English or simply stay with English lessons—-phonics, vocabulary, grammar, etc.?
    Thank you for your response.
    Diane

    1. Hello, it would be best to stick with English lessons until both students are comfortable with the language and have reached a good level of understanding. 😊

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