Teaching English in Thailand as a second language (ESL) is a job that sounds a lot easier than it actually is. ESL teachers do more than just help people understand new vocabulary words. Most teaching positions require a TEFL certificate as a bare minimum requirement. They teach their students to both think and communicate in an entirely new language they are not comfortable with.
Add to that the reality that some students come to the ESL arena without a good grasp of their own languages and you have a recipe for some rather challenges classes. Our job, as teachers, is to come up with effective ESL teaching strategies that enable both us and our students to flourish in the classroom. Below are nine such strategies.
1. Adopt a Holistic Approach
The holistic approach to medicine dictates that doctors treat the whole patient rather than just attempting to alleviate symptoms. A similar approach works very well in the ESL classroom.
Educators should consider a student’s emotional state, and treat ESL as something that will influence every aspect of a student’s life. Understand that language is a form of communication that combines defined vocabulary and grammar with slang, idioms, and a long list of nuances too numerous to list here. Develop a teaching plan that gradually encompasses the entire language rather than just bits and pieces.
2. Teach Students How to Practice
The third strategy in this list is to encourage outside practice. However, a lot of students who struggle with ESL do so because they don’t know how to practice.
The best way to teach students how to practice at home is to practice practicing in class. Show students some of the things they can do to practice, then go through a few examples with them. They will model what you do in the classroom in their own independent practice time.
3. Encourage Independent Practice
You could develop an endless list of strategies for teaching ESL students in your classroom, and you’ll still come up short if your students do not practice on their own. Language is a communication tool. If students aren’t attempting to communicate independently, they are not using the tool they have been given. They will likely never get better at it. Therefore, you have to constantly remind them to practice outside the classroom.
4. Make Grammar Part of Every Lesson
There is a growing tendency among ESL teachers to pay less attention to grammar under the mistaken belief that learning needs to be fun. All languages are built on grammar rules for a reason. Not understanding one simple rule can completely change the meaning of what someone is trying to say.
Make a point of covering grammar in every lesson. This doesn’t necessarily mean introducing a new grammar rule every time your students are together. Sometimes you might only practice something learned in a previous lesson. The point is that students need to be constantly exposed to grammar in order to learn the rules of the language.
5. Utilize a Building Block Method
The building block method of learning dictates that students master one principle before moving on to the next. The opposite of this method is the scatter gun method, a method that prefers teaching small portions of multiple concepts in the hopes of eventually tying them all together. The building block method is more appropriate to learning languages because it makes learning and mastering grammar easier.
6. Make Use of Technology
Today’s ESL students are as familiar with technology as native speakers. Don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage. You can recommend free smartphone apps for practicing vocabulary and sentence structure. For a better learning experience, teachers can recommend a desktop user to seek out online resources on the internet.
In the classroom, you can make use of everything from videos to slide decks. You can teach students how to use certain words and phrases by having them create fictional Facebook posts and tweets.
7. Utilize Cooperative Learning Activities
Although lecture-style teaching is an essential part of the ESL classroom, it doesn’t have to be the exclusive way you impart knowledge to students. Incorporating cooperative learning activities for ESL students gives them an opportunity to practice what they learn under your watchful eye. Cooperative learning also encourages students to learn from one another.
A good example of cooperative learning would be splitting up your class into smaller groups for the purposes of quizzing one another in a vocabulary or grammar concept. Completing a quiz cooperatively encourages individual input and imparts a better understanding of how to communicate with others in a real-world setting. An example of this could be setting the task of completing a crossword puzzle which tests your students’ English abilities. You could use this crossword puzzle maker to make your own custom one.
8. Set a List of Goals to Achieve
In any learning environment, students want to know if they are actually succeeding. The best way to give them that insight is to establish a list of goals the class will work to achieve. For example, let’s say you are working on strategies for teaching writing to ESL students. One of your goals could be getting the class to a point at which every student can write a basic paragraph or two introducing themselves to the rest of the class.
Setting a list of achievable goals gives students a purpose for learning. It also offers them a way of measuring their own success. With each goal achieved comes a sense of pride and accomplishment, both of which are highly motivating to continued learning.
9. Reduce Teacher Talk Time
One of the better strategies for teaching vocabulary to ESL students is to gradually reduce your own talk time. In other words, you gradually reduce the amount of time you spend talking during class. Instead, you want your students to do the majority of the talking. This encourages them to learn new vocabulary words in order to express gradually more complex ideas.
As teacher talk time is reduced, your role becomes more of a coach than a teacher. You can listen to conversations and intervene only when a point of correction needs to be made. You also become a human dictionary, inserting new vocabulary words into conversations where they make sense.
Teaching English as a second language is a rewarding occupation that can truly change lives. If you are already teaching, we hope the nine strategies listed in this post are usable in your classroom. The more strategies you have for effectively teaching English, the better equipped you will be to find succ