20 Ways To Be A Better English Language Teacher (Part 1)

English language teaching can be a challenging and difficult process, especially if you are seeking for new ideas and thoughts on improving your day-to-day teaching.  Much of the challenge is learning to develop yourself, especially once you have found your place in this career and feel settled.  You must continuously strive to improve your own teaching day in and day out.  Here are some ideas to consider when you want to improve and develop your own teaching or if you want to be a better teacher overall.

1. Reflect on your lessons

It seems like commonsense but for some teachers that I have observed, they have difficulty reflecting and improving their own lessons.  If you have observed or a teacher has taught a lesson which didn’t go as expected, most would have the knowledge that their lesson could have been improved.  So, next time you teach a prepared lesson, reflect on the lesson afterwards and try to learn or improve it for next time.  When reflecting on lessons, consider the following:

  • Did the students enjoy the lesson?
  • Did I achieve my personal aims at the end of the class?  Why/why not?
  • Were all students engaged?
  • Was I interesting?

2. Record your lessons with video

If you have any difficulty on reflecting your lessons, or you wish to consider studying your lesson in more detail, you could record your own lesson to analyse afterwards.  You will be able to see your own habits, become more aware of where you are usually placed in the classroom as well as see your own instructions or pick up any things that could be lost during the process of teaching.  It is a really useful activity and I would highly recommend doing this at least once every six months.

3. Consider your aims

When you are preparing your lessons, think about the following: “By the end of the lesson, students will be able to …”.  If you follow this mantra, you will be able to improve your aims/objectives of the lesson and the lesson itself.  For example, if you want to get students to practice reviewing/remembering irregular verbs, you could think about how you could students to review or remember the verbs.  Do you want to create a pelmanism game or do you want to create a bingo game?  It seems so simple but the number of times that I have seen teachers struggling to prepare a lesson for their learners is surprising.

4. Incorporate the phonemic chart in lessons

Newly certified teachers have little confidence in using the phonemic chart in class but it takes a short amount of time to become more comfortable with this.  Try to incorporate a little but often.  Watch the phonemic video on YouTube with Adrian Underhill and you will find opportunities to include during the lesson.  If you are pre-teaching vocabulary, look up or try to guess the phonemic spelling in an English dictionary and then be prepared to include phonemic spelling in one section of the lesson.

5. Use flashcards in lessons

Teachers don’t often use flashcards as much as they could, especially for young learner classes.  Try to create some flashcards for use in a lesson, so if you are teaching parts of the body, create some flashcards on this lexical area and use some flashcard teaching ideas to include in lessons.  Learners will be more engaged and you will have less classroom management issues if you are dealing with the whole class during drilling or pronunciation activities with the flashcards.

More ideas for teaching flashcards available here.

6. Observe your peers

If you are keen to improve your lessons, try to observe your peers.  Ask your Director of Studies or line manager whether you are able to observe other teachers and focus on one area whilst observing: instructions, classroom management, drilling, etc.  You will pick up new ideas for teaching and find yourself more confident after observing your colleagues.  However, it is incredibly important that you have time to have a chat with your observed teacher afterwards so you can share ideas, opinions and general views of the lesson.

7. Being observed

If you are keen to observe other teachers, it is natural to open your classroom to your colleagues.  Furthermore, it is always important to be observed as well as observe your peers.  You could ask your colleagues if they are able to look at one aspect of the lesson if you are concerned about it.  Just like observing other classes, it is important to chat with the observer to find out any further information about your class.

8. Expect more from your students

If you are putting in the effort with your classes but the students remain limited or passive with their response to this, tell them to be more active in class.  Obviously, you won’t be able to change the dynamics of the classroom but you can gently remind them that it is in their best interest to be more involved in their learning.  Praise students who do make the effort to participate and are more active during the lesson and students will change accordingly.

9. Experiment during lessons

When teaching, you may often find yourself repeating or organising lessons with a similar format, try something new.  If you have not taught much grammar, try to cover this area of language, if you are keen teach a bit of pronunciation include it or if you haven’t included any form of technology, try using it.  You will learn something if you experiment or push yourself to try new things in the classroom.  However, should you decide not to experiment during lessons, your classes will be affected.

10. Become less coursebook reliant

There are two distinct types of teachers, those that follow the coursebook religiously and those that like to trek off the well trodden path while taking the most advantage from exploratory teaching techniques.  Try to create lessons with your aims in mind and use your coursebook to springboard ideas.  Refer to other supplementary worksheets or exercises to assist in the development of becoming less reliant on the coursebook.

11. Read books on ELT

You have finished your CELTA and you are constantly referring to “Learning Teaching” (Scrivener) or “The Practice of English Language Teaching” (Harmer) but you haven’t read anything else since.  Visit some online book shops (Amazon or BEBC) and order some additional books on ELT or specific areas of interest (teaching young learners, technology, listening, role-play, etc).  The majority of these books will often contain various lesson ideas which you could incorporate in the classroom.

12. Start an ELT blog

If you have started your career in ELT, it is often a difficult to take on board everything when you start teaching.  One way around this is to get your thoughts, ideas and views written down and to share these with other teachers.  You will retain a lot more if you read and reflect what you consider important in ELT and you will also get to know more about other ELT bloggers.

13. Follow ELT blogs

You have made your first step of creating your very own ELT blog, as recommended before, but you want to connect with other ELT bloggers, so what is the best way?  It is very simple.  Follow some other ELT bloggers, add some comments, connect with other bloggers and respond to what you have read – whether you write up your own blog post as a response or comment in the comment’s section is up to you.  When you connect with other English language teachers, you will be able to share like-minded ideas or opinions.

14. Consider yourself a learner

When planning your lessons, try to put yourself in the learner’s shoes and consider what you think would work well in your learner’s opinion.  Forget what you believe is important and appropriate, but try to teach what your learners expect.  When you are able to deliver lessons that your learners want, you will have no trouble at all finding work in the future.

15. Attend a conference

Setting up your own website or blog could be a great chance to connect with and share ideas with other English language teachers but it is not the same as meeting ELT professionals face-to-face.  One place to meet other English language teachers could be at an arranged ELT-related conference such as the annual IATEFL Conference held each year, or more regular events arranged by English UK or the Teaching English Seminars.  You will be able to attend a conference, learn a bit more about the profession as well as meet other attendees.

16. Give a talk at a conference

So you are attending all these conferences but you feel that you have the desire to share your experiences or ideas, then giving a talk at a conference is an ideal suggestion.  Naturally, you will feel slightly nervous the first talk that you give at a national or international conference but the more practice and experience you gain at an event, the more you feel better placed to train other teachers.  You will have some teachers at the end of the talk share their experiences or request that you give a talk at another venue and opportunities will develop.

17. Use authentic material

Whether you want to move away from the coursebook or you have a desire to bring in the real world to the classroom, for the benefit of your learners, authentic material has a place in the language classroom.  Try to, at least once per week, bring in some authentic material to the classroom: a clip from a radio show, a video from YouTube or newspapers.  You may find that you are intrinsically motivated to push your students further and expose them to natural and less artificial English, which may be the case with some graded coursebooks.

You don’t just have to restrict yourself to the authentic material and may find yourself seeking for authentic and natural contexts to prepare learners for the topic in the coursebook.  For example, if your topic for the lesson is about pets and animals, you may find a clip from a TV or radio show appropriate to develop interest, but there is a little preparation required.  However, students will recognise the effort you put into your lessons and, hopefully, appreciate it.

Example of Context Building:

  • What is the name of the cat?
  • Why is the cat at the vet?
  • Do you think vets are cheap or expensive?
  • Are vets cheap or expensive in your country?
  • Has this surgery with a cat been done before?
  • What is the vet’s opinion of the surgery?
  • Where do you think this surgery is located?

18. Try out different methods of teaching

You are slowly becoming aware of the different methods of teaching due to continued reading and reflection but you are stuck with incorporating your very own communicative approach in the classroom, but you feel that you would like to push the boundaries or your knowledge and try something new in the classroom.  One way to do this is to try a more traditional approach, such as drilling or a less student centred approach.  You will learn that there is a place for various methods and approaches in the language classroom and that they will also inform your very own teaching.

19. Write a journal article

When you are teaching and you notice something that other teachers or educationalists do not initially recognise, a good approach to inform those is to write an article for a respectable journal such as IATEFL Voices or for another publication such as one of the Special Interest Groups in ELT.  You will learn more about language teaching and you shall have the chance to share your experiences, opinions or views with potential readers.  One possible opportunity which may come from this could be being invited to give a talk on the article that you had written.

20. Read a journal article

If you are writing an article for a respected journal, you may as well read other articles and respond to these articles by getting in touch with the contributor and sharing your very own ideas, opinions or views.  You will extend your subject knowledge of ELT and acquire more information about teaching in various other contexts such as South East Asia, Europe, etc.  Furthermore, you may discover some teaching ideas from the various journals that you are reading and this could be incorporated into your future lessons.

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