Teaching beginners can seem like a very daunting experience. At first you might ask yourself “how on earth am I going to communicate with people who know next to nothing of English?” Nowadays it is rare to meet a complete beginner but often in the elementary class you will have an assortment of false beginners, those students who have learned some English in the past but didn’t grasp much or who have forgotten what they learned. Occasionally you might have a student who did badly in the placement test but reveals he/she knows more. Therefore, it is rare that there is a beginners’ class in a language school and usually the elementary class is a mixture of low ability students. The genuine complete beginners are usually children/teenagers who are receiving their first taste of English.
Effective learning needs to take place in pleasant, relaxed surroundings with a friendly, helpful teacher.
To teach beginners successfully it is essential to be outgoing and call on your powers for dramatization! You will need to use your body, gestures, and facial expressions to help back up what you are saying in English. It is a good idea to enter the classroom in such a way as to catch the students’ attention, maybe by just being attractively dressed, smiling and friendly. Remember that you have a group of people focused on you, the star, for some hours! Don’t forget the students will be feeling more nervous than yourself and may need to be put at ease!
Arranging the classroom
It is a good idea if you have time beforehand toto arrange the chairs and desks in a circle or U shape rather than the more formal set up of rows. You may find that it is worthwhile setting up seating arrangements to suit the activities you have in mind. Human beings are creatures of habit and you will observe that where the student sits the first time will be the place she/he sits forever after! It’s like a comfort zone. However, it is a good idea to get students into the habit of sitting in different places so that they can get to know all the students and work with them in pairs or small groups.
Make sure, if you can, that there is plenty of useful visual material on the walls to brighten up the room and to attract the attention of the student to look and read.
A quiet relaxing background music can be played and you can experiment with the Mozart Effect , music which helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work together and accelerate learning
Begin by introducing yourself pronouncing your name clearly and writing it up on the board (a clear “My name is…” will do) After that you can go round the class asking “What’s your name?” and writing it on the board to help you and the other students remember the names. You’ll be surprised how many students don’t pay particular attention to other students’ names. For extra speaking practice you can also use a ball and throw it to a student after asking a specific question. You may choose to do this outside or in the classroom with the desks rearranged in a more open format. You may encourage the students to follow through with the same or related question until everyone has a turn participating. For a more challenging twist on the game you can have the students pass the ball much quicker and if someone drops the ball or answers a question incorrectly, they are out of the game. This can encourage quick thinking and a bit of competitive participation.
Always be sure to give feedback and corrections:
Try not to correct your students individually as this can make them nervous and sometimes suffer a loss of self-esteem; instead make a note of mispronunciations and then later get all the students together to pronounce the words correctly.
Listening, Speaking, Seeing, and Doing
Remember that we all learned our mother tongue without knowing how to read and write so with beginners we should find activities that have to do with Listening, speaking, seeing, and doing.
For example, maybe you wish to teach some basic classroom vocabulary related to furniture such as: desk, chair, white board, door, etc. Point these things out, name them clearly and get the students to repeat what you’ve said back to you. By doing this, shyness can be hidden within the group and each individual will gain confidence so they can later say the word on their own. It’s a good idea to also use post it notes or labels and adapt them to activities that involve a more hands-on approach. Make sure to get creative and allow your students to move around the classroom from time to time.
You may find some resistance from students when asked to move around and mingle. Remember that certain school systems focus on having students sitting tight in their desk, being quiet or being told to be quiet. However, it is a good idea to get students used to other activities and playing games right from the beginning while creating a fun environment. A good English class will be noisy at times with all the students talking and practising!
Classroom instructions can be done in words and gestures, but make sure you use the same gesture each time. For example you may use hand gestures to indicate that the students should listen, write, work in pairs, or you can even link gestures to expressions such as “repeat please” and “be quiet”. A simple hand to the ear, crossing of arms, or a finger close to the lips can all get certain messages across without having to use one’s words.
What if the students speak in their own language?
This is a difficult matter to deal with in a monolingual class as the natural tendency is to talk in one’s mother tongue. You need to be firm from the beginning and encourage the students to speak in English or to listen and be quiet. But a degree of tolerance will have to be exercised as inevitably the mother tongue will be used especially amongst younger learners.
In a multi-lingual groups it is easier to mix students up and get them to sit next to a variety of students from different nationalities to discourage (but not forbid) working with the same nationality.
At all times try and make the learning as relaxed as possible since the mind is distracted by tension, tiredness or fear, it takes attention away from the actual learning experience.
Sometimes a less outgoing student can be placed with a another from the same nationality who is more confident.This should not be a constant pairing, but more of an occasional method. Mixing students up can sometimes be a delicate thing because of cultural or personal differences so you will have to play this by ear and encourage mixing freely and being tolerant.
It is important to have a lot of short activities and not introduce too many new words or skills at once. It is important to constantly go back and revise trying to think of a different activity each time. The student who has grasped some new language by the end of the first lesson will be pleased and encouraged and will want to come back and learn more.
Learning a language is mentally tiring so try and alternate input with quieter periods, maybe copying words down, art activities, and listening exercise. At all times try and make the learning as relaxed as possible; since the mind is distracted by tension, tiredness or fear, it takes attention away from the actual learning experience.
Teaching a beginners’ class is also tiring for the teacher who needs to be constantly “in the fore” and coordinating the exercises. With this said, quiet time for the teacher is also good and it is smart to take advantage of those moments where students are writing, listening, or copying things down. Allow yourself to take short breaks and use this time organize yourself and relax for just a moment.
Effective learning needs to take place in pleasant, relaxed surroundings with a friendly, helpful teacher. By the end of the first lesson, the teacher and students will have begun bonding, getting to know each other, and actively learning.
Do you have any other tips to add to this list? If so please let us know in the section below!