Helpful Tips on Teacher Language Use

Qkids Teacher 101-Teacher Talk

Written by: RubyGZ, Annie, MiaGZ, Lucier, Rachael, Hilary
Ideas Contributed by: Mia, RubyGZ, Annie, MiaGZ, Lucier, Rachael, Hilary

Are you just getting started with teaching ESL online? Is it true that you never worked with young ESL learners, and you are trying your best in class but don't know what to do when students stare at you in silence or the other way around - that they are running around without paying attention? Here will be the right place for you to start! 

Most beginner ESL teachers find it challenging to engage students in class, and many times it is because of the way they speak to young ESL students. Teachers may speak in class to young ESL students the same way unconsciously as they would to a native speaker. The first thing to bring to your awareness is that ESL students have unique needs that require specific ways teachers should speak. Let's take a look at some of these needs:

  • Aged from 4-12 years old
  • Little exposure to English
  • Very small vocabulary
  • Limited language skills, such as listening and grammar
  • May need additional support (some at baby-level in level 1)

Imagine when you are six and are just getting started to learn Spanish, and your Spanish teacher tries to talk to you in Spanish like you are a native speaker - Right? Your only reasonable reaction will be total confusion and perhaps playing with your hands and not paying attention.

There are two ways to tailor your language choice for these beginner ESL students: one, adopting the ways of speaking that are TESOL-sensitive; and two, adopting the student-engaging ways of speech. 

The first way is adopting the TESOL-sensitive ways of speaking. In this aspect, we will look at these areas of teacher's language choice: speed and length, enunciation, adding variation based on students' response, and incorporating multi-sensory techniques. 

1) Good speed and length: 

  • Speed: Consider slowing down without dragging your voice, but adding pauses between each word. E.g. Instead of "hhhhhooowww aaaarrrre youuuuu?", saying "how/ are /you?"
  • Length: simple and short sentences (Let's __[look/listen/mix/click]! Are you ready?) 

2) Enunciation: 

Clear pronunciation with articulation and attention to each syllable can help students hear you and repeat the key phrases after you better. Remember to balance the exaggerated version with a more natural version! 

3) Adding variation based on students response:

If students couldn’t respond to your questions in a timely fashion, consider simplifying your questions/instructions, giving specific examples, and use visuals to help students understand when you observe that:

For example:

4) Incorporating multi-sensory techniques:

Multi-sensory teaching involves the use of multiple senses like audio, visual, and experiential. Teachers can use Qkids platform tools and visual aids to make lessons more engaging, motivating, and effective.  

For example:

Besides, TPR (Total Physical Response) will be your best friend as you will be using it over and over again in class. Many students will mirror you or follow your lead if you make your words, gestures, and tone easy to follow, concise and clear. 

The second way is adopting the student-engaging way of talking. Three small tips will help you create a more inviting lesson where your students will be able to participate more. 

1) Transition:

To provide a smooth and effective transition, follow these 3 steps:

  • Always use verbal (eg.  Look! It's Bingo game!) and physical (eg. Point to eyes) cues together to grab students’ attention.
  • Give students effective and concise directions with simple language (eg. Listen and click.)
  • Give students a start signal (eg. Ready? Go!)

2) Active and relevant wait time

  • Teacher's wait time = Students' think time
  • Your active wait time can give students the chance to process the information and boost courage to express themselves. Your active waiting time can be seen as a form of emotional support; it shows students that you care about them which then increases their self-esteem.
  • While waiting for students to respond, teachers should be conscious of why students are not responding (losing interest, struggling with the material, etc.), and offer students relevant support accordingly. 

3) Use relevant questions rather than explanations.

  • Ask inductive questions to break down abstract new words and help students better understand. For example, when teaching "family", you can ask "who is this" while guiding them to observe each of the family members, in order to introduce the ultimate concept.
  • Ask content-based questions to check students' existing understanding of lesson content. For example, after acting out the word  "thirsty", ask students questions like "what do you do when you are thirsty" instead of simply explaining "you need to drink water when you are thirsty".

Try the skills above in your lessons and we hope you are off for a good start to have a TESOL-sensitive and student-engaging way of speaking! Go Qkids teachers!

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