When you imagine your future TEFL classroom, what do you see? Are students actively engaged in a discussion? Are they creating a project applying vocabulary and grammar structures you taught? Are your students asking questions and correcting their errors? Your imagination paints an ideal situation that does exist but will not always represent your reality. What if you are teaching a class of complete beginners. How can you get your beginners to be actively engaged and interested in learning English? Adult learners and young learners will learn differently so here are 6 tips divided between young learners and adults to help you create fun and anxiety-free lessons.

Here are 3 useful tips for teaching young learners.

Visual aids and L1

If you were trying to teach a simple word like “cat”, you might show a photo of a cute cat and have students repeat the word cat. Providing the English word “cat” next to the photo is not going to help the student remember, especially if the student’s first language uses a completely different writing system.

If possible, spell out the word “cat” phonetically using the characters from the student’s first language. Under each letter in, “cat” place the character of the student’s L1 that corresponds to the sound C, A, T.

Sometimes a sound does not exist in the student’s L1. For example, the “L” sound is not common in Korean so we would use the closest sounding character “ㄹ” which produces the “r” sound. So if we wanted to teach the word, “leg” under the “l” we would place the character, “ㄹ” We would show a photo in addition to the L1 phonetic spelling.

Let’s move and sing.

Young learners will have a difficult time sitting still and repeating, repeating, repeating. Instead of having students sitting and repeating, use TPR to help students learn. TPR means total physical response and incorporates movement with language. You can find many resources and videos online to learn more about TPR.

Let’s take the words “big” and “small”. You would create a gesture for big. Hold your hands far apart in front of you to indicate “big”. Then, bring your hands closer together to indicate, “small”. As you bring your hands together and far apart, you would repeat “big, small, big small”. When you say “big” have your voice rise, “bIG”. When you say small, have your voice fall, “SMall”.
You will have a room full of learners gesturing and saying, “big, small” and they look like they are only having fun but they will remember the words!

To check comprehension, show two items where one is big and one is small. Point to the small item and have the class tell you, “small”. Repeat with the item that is big.

You can teach words using rhythm. SIng the words as opposed to repeating in a robotic voice. Students can repeat the word, “book” or they can say, “book, book, book, book” to the rhythm of Beethoven’s 5th!
Themes and realia
Themes are fun ways to introduce vocabulary. Words are introduced in context and you can bring realia into the lessons. For example, if you want to teach fruits and vegetables, turn your class into a store and bring real items to class. You can play the role of a shop clerk or customer. Applying the let’s move and sing tips above to a theme-based lesson creates a fun and stress-free environment where students feel comfortable producing English even if it only includes repetition!

What about teaching adults? These tips would not apply to adult learners so here are tips for teaching complete beginners who are adults.

Authentic Situations

Adult learners would benefit from themed lessons but you would tailor it to be age-appropriate. Adult learners want to learn an authentic language for real-world situations and communication.
For example, making hotel reservations by phone or online, locating items in a grocery store, asking for directions or visiting the clinic. When teaching adult learners, even beginners, use authentic material and realia. If your adult learners can read, you can provide a script for them to follow during a role-play scenario at the clinic or market.
If your learners are not able to read, you will teach single vocabulary words but you can still create an authentic experience for them too. Turning your classroom into a store with real items and teaching different clothing words is much more engaging than using a PowerPoint presentation.

Keep it simple

You will need to adjust your speech. For example, an instruction like, “Class, I would like you to work with a partner to complete the activity” is too complex for a beginner class.
You can simplify the instructions to, “Work with a friend”. You would actually use two students as an example by pairing them up and repeating, “work with friend” to indicate you would like them to work in pairs.

When teaching beginners, you’ll teach the simplified version of sentences. Instead of teaching “My name is _______”, you can simplify it to, “I’m ______”

Provide your adult learners with opportunities to practice using newly learned words and expressions in order to commit what they learned to memory through the use of pairwork and role play. Avoid worksheets as a way to reinforce learning. Instead of worksheets, encourage your adult learners to keep a notebook where they can write the new words, expressions and sentences they learned.

Games are not just for kids

Games are an effective way to review and consolidate learning. Instead of using a boring worksheet where learners fill in the blank or choose the best answer, play a game. There are many online apps for creating interactive quizzes such as Kahoot, Bamboozle, Quizlet, and Quizzes. Just because they are adults doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a colourful and fun quiz to practice and review what was taught to them.

Learning is effective in a stress-free environment. Both adult and young learners will appreciate feeling comfortable, accommodated and entertained with age and level appropriate content. And everyone loves hearing, “Great Job!”.

Does this sound like your kind of thing? Get qualified with the best online TEFL course to set off on your path.

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