Maximizing student interaction in class
An important responsibility of an ESL teacher is to create an effective learning environment for learning to take place. This involves both actions and teachers’ decisions. The actions are the things that are done in the classroom, such as rearranging chairs and desks. The decisions concern how and when these actions are implemented. It is important how the ESL classrooms are arranged. Seating arrangements and different classroom options allow students to interact with different people in the classroom as well as allow a variety of different situations to be recreated in the classroom. Try to avoid arranging chairs and tables in the classic classroom format with neat rows. The horseshoe shape or circle arrangement is considered to be more effective for ESL classes. In this configuration, students are able to make eye contact with all students in the class and are therefore able to interact more naturally. This setup creates a greater sense of equality in the classroom. It is more difficult for the weaker students to hide and for the stronger students to dominate. Students also find it easier to hear each other, which removes the teacher’s temptation to repeat students’ answers.
Providing instructions in the ESL classroom is often problematic due to the amount and complexity of the language used. Complex instructions are very difficult for students to follow and can lead to students being unable to perform a task simply because they could not understand what was expected of them.
• It is a good idea to plan your instructions when you first start teaching. This will ensure that you choose a simple and accurate language and omit unnecessary information. Only give students the instructions they need for the immediate task. Giving instructions to every step of a sequence will only lead to confusion.
• Make sure you are aware of the class before giving instruction so that everyone is aware of what is expected of them. This will also save you having to repeat yourself.
• If possible, demonstrate with an example instead of trying a long explanation. Developing movements can be a great way to save yourself from repeating instructions.
• Always check for understanding. An easy way to do this is by asking some of the students to explain to you what they want to do.
Students often know much more than teachers give them credit for. Instead of simply communicating information to the class, it is a good idea for teachers to involve students in the learning process. Teachers can do this through a process of questions and answers to move forward. This is done by inducing or extracting students what they already know. With student engagement in the actual results of the lesson, teachers can work in tandem with students, thereby discovering difficulties.
→ For example: A teacher works with prepositions. The teacher shows the students a book and places it on the table in front of the classroom. The teacher then writes the phrase, ‘The book is the ______ table.’
Correcting errors and feedback:
Students should be encouraged to take risks. Errors show evidence that a student is actually trying to experiment with the use of language. How a teacher goes about correcting mistakes is largely determined by the goals of that activity. If the primary goal of the lesson is to improve the exact use of the English language, immediate correction would be appropriate. If, on the other hand, the primary goal of the lesson is fluid, immediate corrections would interrupt the normal flow of ideas. Various ideas are available to the teacher to correct classroom errors.
It is important for the teacher to get feedback from the students after each assignment. This gives the teacher a clear idea of whether the students have understood the language element and whether further explanation and practice is required. The teacher can simply select different students to answer questions from the set assignment or write the answers on the whiteboard. It is important for the teacher to explain difficult things and ensure that students have a sufficient understanding before moving on to the next assignment. Students should be encouraged to correct their own work and take note if necessary.
Drill and control understanding
Exercises are a form of controlled oral practice of certain language subjects presented by the teacher. Exercises are usually heavily controlled by the teacher, but there may be variations presented with more communicative activities. These may be less controlled, allowing for more student creativity. The Drills philosophy stems directly from the behavioral theory of learning: habits are formed by a stimulation process → response → reinforcement. This is done again and again and is often referred to as the audiolingual method.
The drill is simple repetition:
We cannot simply assume that all students understood all things at all times, no matter how clear the language focus stage was. It is important to check that students understand
the instructions or the task that has been given them. Don’t ask students “Do you understand?” Maybe you could ask, “Is everyone ready?” Most students will say they understand, even if they don’t. Students do not want to appear ‘stupid’ in front of the class, nor do they want to be ‘loose face’ (especially for Asian cultures). If you do not control comprehension, students often work through an exercise or assignment that does not realize they are doing it wrong. In the feedback phase of the lesson, students will realize that they have misunderstood, leading to a loss of confidence. Those students who do not understand are usually convinced that they are the only ones who do not and do not want to openly admit it.
Couple and group work
In English language teaching, we are usually involved in the whole class, individually or in pairs / group work. Pair and group work, when planned and well organized, is an excellent tool for promoting learning. Minimal intervention during couple and group work activities is known as an interactive approach to language learning. Mingling is an activity where the whole class gets up and walks around, like at a party, meeting and talking to different people, moving on when they need to. There are many ways to organize couple and group work in the classroom.
Monitoring classroom activities
Monitoring is not only important, but also important in assessing how students are doing with a particular activity. It also gives you an opportunity to take some notes on all areas
of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar that can cause difficulties. The teacher is only seen as a tutor, facilitator and listener. While monitoring a class activity, walk around the classroom slowly and listen to students’ conversations. Alternatively, you can sit near a couple or group and take care to stay in the background so that students do not direct their conversations to you. Don’t try to intervene, but be ready to add some power to conversations that seem to be petering out and adding some new life. You may want to ensure that certain students do not monopolize the conversation. You may be able to offer praise and encouragement where appropriate. You can write any pronunciation difficulties, vocabulary, and grammar points on the whiteboard for explanation and discussion at the end of the activity.
Managing a class
The teacher’s job is to create a productive learning atmosphere and know their subject. Important to do a good job are:
1. Planning, ie. Think about how you want to manage the class as well as examine what you teach.
2. Sensitivity to what is happening in the classroom. Managing a class successfully involves consideration of the physical environment, relationships with students and the student’s individual sense of belonging to a group and their sense of progress. Asking relevant questions at the planning stage allows a teacher to create a learning environment.
Potential problems in the classroom
There are various ways in which English-language teachers unintentionally limit or hinder the learning process. We are all guilty of a number of these, and it is only with conscious effort and over a period of time that we are able to avoid these common pitfalls.
• Teacher talk time (TTT). Teachers often talk too much, giving fewer opportunities for students. When a student faces a question in class, a student requires time to process what is required of them and to prepare an answer. Give students plenty of time to prepare an answer and do not feel awkward during long periods of silence.
• Echo effects. Teachers often repeat what a student says in class – the echo effect. This can have a negative impact on class interaction. Students in many
case, get used to the teacher repeating everything in the class and therefore stop listening to the other students in the class.
• Teacher finishes sentences. Often, because students may require more time to answer a question, teachers can become impatient when a student pauses in the middle of the sentence. A teacher must resist the temptation to predict what a student is trying to say and thereby complete the sentence for the student. The end of the sentence is extremely opposed to productivity, and students should be allowed to complete their own sentences using their own words where possible and express their own ideas.
• Instructions that are complicated and unclear. Complex instructions are very difficult for students to follow and can lead to students being unable to perform a task simply because they could not understand what was expected of them. Teachers need to plan their instructions.
• Does not check the understanding of the instructions. Always check for understanding. An easy way to do this is by asking some of the students to explain to you what they want to do.
• Ask ‘Do you understand?’ If you ask a student if they understand, in most cases they will answer ‘Yes’. This may be because they do not want to appear stupid in front of the rest of the class. Students must demonstrate their understanding by repeating the instructions or by giving their interpretation of a particular idea.
• Flight with the fastest. Often, they dominate stronger students and are the first people to speak or answer a question. In such a situation, it is easy to assume that everyone in the class has a similar understanding. It is important to get answers from many different students, which will give you a better idea of the overall understanding.
• To weak report. Encourage a friendly, relaxed learning environment. If there is a trusting, positive relationship between students and teachers, there is a much better chance that students will want to take risks.
• Lack of confidence in the students or the materials used. Students can get bored in class if the materials used are too light and therefore do not challenge the students. Teachers must maintain high expectations for their students to get the best from their students.