5 Reasons Why Your English Lessons Suck

Have you ever planned an English lesson that you thought would be a real cracker, one you were sure was going to set the class afire, only to find it fizzled like a wet fart when you actually tried it out? You’ve seen the looks on your students’ faces: boredom, indifference, perhaps even disgust as the stench of your own ineptitude wafts around the room. English lessons aren’t easy.

To make matters worse, whilst wallowing in failure, perhaps you blamed the students for their unresponsiveness, or the lesson topic itself for being a real dud. Not your fault, right?

Your Fault

One of the main struggles teachers face early on in their careers is a lack of English activities outside the book that remain relevant to the teaching points. It’s not enough to play a meaningless, time-killing game for half an hour when your students are paying to actually learn the language. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

To make things even more difficult, much of a teacher’s success hinges on making the lesson not just productive, but engaging, entertaining if you will. It’s not easy.  Students are demanding. They don’t just want to learn English, they want to have fun doing it. That’s a tall order, especially for someone as boring as you.

What can be done?

Perhaps it is indeed your activities fault. Some activities and lessons just aren’t that great. Some are flat out boring. The same goes for classes. That said, I’d mortgage the house I don’t have to bet that the common denominator in all your failed lessons is you. Yes, you are probably the one mucking everything up.

So, with all that in mind, let’s look at 5 reasons why your lessons suck.

1. Your students don’t understand you.

Communicating with people of limited English ability is an art that takes a long time to master. It’s hard growing up in a world where language is taken for granted and then being thrust into a situation where this is taken away. Frustration often takes over for those teachers fortunate enough to recognize what’s happening. Many teachers never get to that realization. Most overestimate how much their students understand.

don't understand

Fixing this means concentrating on three things: grade, pace and brevity.

  • Grade — the appropriate level of vocabulary and grammar. You can’t use the same words and constructions for elementary students that you would for advanced students. Now’s not the time to show off your erudition with million-dollar words.
  • Pace — the speed at which you’re talking. Have you ever heard someone speak in a language you’re not familiar with and it sounded as if they were auctioneers? Slow down. If you’re speaking slow enough that it starts to feel condescending, you’re probably at the right pace.
  • Brevity — expressing things concisely. See the next point.

2. You talk too much.

No surprise there. You’ve probably been hearing it your whole life. It practically goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway and make it bold. The more you talk, the less your students understand.

talk too much

More bad news —  you’re not that interesting. Just because your meditation retreat in Chiang Mai was a real eye-opener doesn’t mean it has to be a mouth-opener too. Wasn’t it silent meditation? That’s a noble, if obviously difficult, objective. Take a page out of the Buddhist monk’s playbook and consider the value of an unexpressed thought.

This cascades into the next point:

3. The more you talk, the less your students do.

Higher Teacher Talking Time = Less Student Talking Time

student talking time

I suck at math, but even I get that the more time you spend talking in class, the less time your students have. I don’t know if there’s an ideal ratio of TTT to STT, but the best I’ve seen was probably 40:60.

Many students have little chance to communicate in English outside of class, so facilitating opportunities for them to speak isn’t just a goal, it’s the goal. Creating these chances is of paramount importance in your English lessons.

It does take some time to give instructions and check for understanding. Often the actual practice time given to students is not much longer than what it takes to set up the activity.

Activities shouldn’t drag on and on. It can be difficult to sustain English-only communication for longer than five minutes at the lower levels.

With this in mind, using TTT for anything other than facilitating student production of English becomes superfluous. You simply don’t have time to waste by yapping away irrelevantly about your last vacation.

4. Your activities aren’t connected to the lesson

A lot of teachers assume that playing a game in class instantly relieves the boredom of the book and that having fun is what students really want anyway. Students do want to have fun, but throwing in a game that has no relevance to the lesson smacks of an unprepared teacher who is just making things up as he or she goes along.

what's relevant

It takes very little effort to connect an activities to the English lessons. Look no further than the lesson’s theme or grammar point. Are you teaching about food? Make sure your game or activity features food somehow. Are you teaching Simple Past? Use it!

Students aren’t stupid. Activities purely for the sake of entertainment are transparent and will eventually alienate the students who are there to learn.

5. Your activities are inefficient.

Too many games consist of two teams with only one student of either team involved at any given point while the rest of the class looks on idly, twiddling their thumbs, or worse, becoming distractions and thus a classroom management problem. Don’t complain when students start checking their phones or pulling hair or speaking their native language when your activity hasn’t given them a chance to do anything.

When you’re planning your English lessons, keep an eye out for ‘efficient’ activities– anything that has all the students communicating at once. These will almost by necessity be activities that are done in pairs or groups of three.

Larger groups = less ‘Student Talking Time’

large group

Once the group size reaches four or larger, it’s too easy for weaker or shyer students to get lost in the mix. Keeping groups to three or fewer affords more speaking opportunities per student.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth remembering that the first three points all relate to ‘Teacher Talking Time’. Most English lessons become disasters when the teacher makes the lesson more about him/herself than the students. Use your talking time to set up an activity, then shut up and let your students take over.

Supporting ESL Student’s Writing — educational research techniques

ESL students usually need to learn to write in the second language. This is especially true for those who have academic goals. Learning to write is difficult even in one’s mother tongue let alone in a second language. In this post, we will look at several practical ways to help students to learn to write […]

via Supporting ESL Student’s Writing — educational research techniques

The Most Likely Reason You Suck at Teaching and 7 Not-So-Easy nor Immediate Ways of Improving It

Are you a budding new teacher, so fresh from your training course that the certificate is still hot off the press? Then first, let’s address the ten-ton pachyderm in the room — you suck at teaching. That’s why you clicked on the link, right? You don’t like your classes, and they most certainly don’t like you. Why would they? You’re not particularly attractive. You’ve got the personality of a cow. Spittle gathers in the corners of your mouth when you talk and your breath smells like rancid onions. If you think that’s bad, you should hear what your students say about you behind your back.

Perhaps you think this is overly direct. Hyperbolic. Even insulting. And you’d be right, but unfortunately it doesn’t make the point above any less true. If you’re new, you’re just not good. It’s okay. A good proportion of experienced teachers aren’t that good either, so don’t feel that you’re alone. Awareness is the first step.

‘But wait,’ you say. ‘Not me. I’m different. I paid attention during the training course and took notes. I’m going to set the class on fire with my English-teaching prowess.’

If this is you, it’s time for an ice-cold bath with Dunning and Kruger:

Dunning Kruger

If, having perused this graph, you identify with the ‘Valley of Depair’, pat yourself on the back as you’re already ahead of the curve. This is precisely where you should be.

If, on the other hand, you feel confident you know what you’re doing, look closely at the summit of Mt. Stupid. That’s you up there, the Edmund Hilary of TEFL. The best advice I can give you is to reiterate the simple observation above, that if you’re a new teacher, you suck. But that advice will fall on deaf ears because not only do you suck at teaching, you don’t even know that you suck. Nobody at the top of Mount Stupid knows where they are. At least the people in the Valley of Despair are aware of their own suckitude. Not you. You’re special. You’re on the wrong side of the Dunning-Kruger effect. And you’re not alone — the slope is littered with the carcasses of teachers who glimpsed their own inadequacies and didn’t survive the fall.

So this post is only for those lying there helplessly in the Valley of Despair. If that’s where you started out, congratulations. If you’ve fallen there from the lofty heights of stupidity,  welcome back to Earth. Let me help you claw your way out of this hole you’ve landed in.

But first, more bad news. Becoming a better teacher, like everything else, requires hours and hours of repetition, hard work, and trial and error before achieving anything close to mastery, if there is such a thing. If you came here for a quick-fix guide to being awesome in a classroom, you’ll have to kindly look elsewhere. The only thing I can do is point out the weaknesses most new teachers have at the outset, and perhaps provide some signposts to keep you moving in the right direction whilst avoiding some of the obstacles and pitfalls you’ll likely encounter.

So, without further ado, let me introduce the most likely reason you suck as a teacher:

You’re boring. 

There. I said it. I know that’s tough to hear, especially after your mom’s told you your whole life how special you are. You’re some kind of special, alright, just not the kind that works in a classroom. Think back to when you were a student. Who was your favorite teacher? Why? Who was your least favorite teacher? Why? Chances are the word boring is going to crop up somewhere in your thoughts.

As a student, nothing is more deflating than walking into a class knowing you have to endure hours of your teacher’s limp dishrag of a personality. A good question to ask yourself is whether you would want to attend one of your own classes as a student. I know I wouldn’t.

But aren’t we fighting DNA here? Aren’t boring people irrevocably boring? To some extent, perhaps. Not everyone can be Gordon Ramsey, but we can certainly learn something from the more charismatic people we’re jealous of.

Here are 7 useful guidelines to ensure your lesson isn’t one long drool-pooling snooze-fest:

1. Be energetic.

Seriously. Bring. The. Energy. Chug a coffee or mainline a Red Bull or snort a pile of sugar if you have to. Do whatever it takes. You can’t expect your students to bring energy into the classroom; you have to provide it for them. At the end of your class, you should be pinging and so should your students.

If you’re teaching in a private language school, your students may have been at work or school the whole day and they’re studying on top of an already busy schedule. You’re fighting nature, here. People are going to be exhausted and reluctant to put in more than the minimum amount of effort required. It’s up to you to snap them out of their malaise.

2. Have a sense of humor.

How could you, yes you, possibly be funny? I was wondering the exact same thing. But you don’t need to be Jerry Seinfeld; you need to be Rowan Atkinson. Remember that if you’re teaching EFL, your students won’t get your witty repartee or observational brilliance (lol). What they will get is physical humor. Slapstick. Mr. Bean doesn’t need to say a word to get people to understand and laugh at his shtick.

The point is that students will be reluctant to contribute if the they’re learning in an oppressively serious environment. Students need to see mistakes not just as inevitable, but necessary for learning. This is especially important in cultures where mistakes are considered a loss of face. Students need to overcome this fear, and humor is possibly the best way. Be self-deprecating. Laugh at your own mistakes.

3. Be entertaining.

If you stick around long enough in the biz, you’ll hear the term ‘edutainment’ bandied around in disparaging terms. It typically refers to teachers who do nothing more than play stupid, education-less games in their class with the sole objective of killing time or garnering positive reviews from students. While this does happen, students typically see through teachers who offer nothing more than an hour’s worth of hangman. That leaves the ‘edu’ out of edutainment.

Edutainment, to me at least , is the art of generating interest in something that’s not inherently interesting. Perhaps the theme of your lesson is clothes. Yawn.  Edutainment means taking a boring book exercise and acting like it’s the most interesting thing they could possibly be doing. You have to sell your lesson and the activities within it through the sheer power of your own enthusiasm.

What if you’re neither a naturally enthusiastic or entertaining person? What if you’re introverted?

4. Develop an alter ego.

You can’t be introverted in the classroom. You just can’t. It’s boring. It’s embarrassing. It reminds everyone of their own insecurities. You need a split personality. Take every quality you wish you were (start with good-looking and intelligent) and make it your classroom persona. Develop a Superman to your Clark Kent. Project confidence, even if you feel none. Fake it til you make it.

5. Give a shit, or at least pretend to.

Nothing is worse than a teacher who looks like he or she would rather be somewhere else. Teaching isn’t your calling? No problem. Act like it is. Why would your students care about a lesson when it’s painfully obvious that the teacher doesn’t? The classroom isn’t the place to be sullen, brooding ruefully over pathetic life choices. You have the rest of your sorry existence for that.

6. Develop fun, engaging and educational activities.

Here’s the best part. Perhaps you are an indolent, ill-humored and uncaring introvert. There is still hope. Not much, mind you, but some. What you lack in personality you can make up for in content. What you need is to acquire and stockpile weapons of mass instruction — activities. Ask your colleagues. Read books. Scour the Internet for foolproof activities that even you couldn’t screw up. You don’t have to be entertaining or interesting if your activities are. It certainly helps, but it isn’t absolutely essential.

Have some fun activities? Great. My final point.

7. Keep activities short and sweet.

What do Lost, The Office, Happy Days and the Simpsons all have in common? They all went on way too long. If you want to maintain interest in activities, they can’t drag. Aim for no more than five minutes. Break up longer activities into shorter, more manageable activities.

You don’t want your students to feel totally settled at any one point. Keep them on their toes. And just because they’re enjoying the activity doesn’t mean it’s the wrong time to end it. Remember the true secret to showmanship — always keep them wanting more.

7 Ways to Spice Up Boring Listening Activities in the Book

I hated listening activities when I first started teaching. I had no idea what to do with them besides just listening and answering the questions. That’s the point of listening, right? You hear it or you don’t. Check the answers and move on.

My students’ weaknesses in this particular skill discouraged me more than it did them. Only a few of the students were able to hear or understand anything. The gap between their abilities and what was being taught in the book seemed insurmountable. I got through the exercises as fast as possible and moved on to speaking activities which were far more manageable, productive, but most of all, fun.

I was slow to learn the answer to this problem, and we both know you’re lost in the weeds, so I humbly offer my hard-earned lesson as a bit of direction out of the morass:

Make your listening activities speaking activities.

Let’s be honest, listening is boring. Few of us in everyday life can listen for more than a few seconds before we have to commence our own blathering, particularly you, as if you had something interesting to say. So you can imagine how difficult it it is when you’re attempting a three-minute-long listening activity about a boring topic in a language that isn’t your own.

Break it up.

If you ever hear of the term ‘scaffolding’ in an EFL context, just know that it’s a stupid word that was invented by an armchair academic to make himself feel smart. It means nothing more than breaking difficult tasks into small, more manageable parts.

Have a look at the following listening activity:

listening activities

The coolest thing about this exercise is that it’s made for pairs; students A and B listen for different information in the same conversation. This instantly turns into a Q&A speaking activity, but more on that later.

What you don’t want to do is just play the audio and have students start filling in blanks. That is precisely the opposite of scaffolding. Start small and simple and go slow. Let’s see how many different mini-activities we can make out of this one listening exercise.

Activity 1: Pre-teaching vocabulary

Vocabulary is always a good lead-in. Don’t assume your students will know every word in the recording or even the questions in the book. Identify a few of the more difficult ones you think your students will struggle with and teach them the meaning beforehand, remembering of course to show rather than tell. For more advanced classes, this activity can be done first in pairs by asking if the partner knows the meaning of a particular word.

Activity 2: Predicting Answer Types

Newer teachers give predictions short shrift, if any notice at all, yet this is one of the few ways students can actually improve exam-style listening activities. Even elementary students can begin learning this all-important skill.

Start with Student A.  Ask them what they can predict about the answer. Given that this is from an elementary book and skills are weak, they’ll need a lot of modeling and prompting.

  1. He works for a ____________ company.

Ask them if the answer will be a noun, verb or adjective. Here, it could be an adjective or a noun collocation with ‘company’. Perhaps write a few examples on the board. (e.g. ‘big’ company; ‘insurance’ company etc.).

2. He has ___________ daughters.

Ask them what the answer could be. A number, perhaps. Or an adjective.

For lower-level or weaker classes, you may need to walk through each question with them as a class, making predictions together. Pre-intermediate students and above, though, should be able to work in pairs, making predictions together. A minute or two should suffice.

Activity 3: Predicting the Language

In listening activities such as this, each of the statements appears to be the answer to a question. Why not try to anticipate what those questions will be? Again, for pre-intermediate and above, this is another pair activity. Give them five minutes to write out the questions together (writing alone is boring and uncommunicative.) For beginners, do the activity together as a class.

1.  He works for a ____________ company.

A question might be, “What kind of company does he work for?” Write it on the board.

2.  He has ___________ daughters. “How many daughters does he have?”

And so on.

Activity 4: Drill

Don’t let a good drilling opportunity go to waste. You’ve just written some questions on the board. Drill them chorally and individually and in groups. Clap or tap the stressed words. Above all, make it quick and keep it natural.

Take notice — students haven’t yet begun the book exercise and we’ve already done four activities. Boom, scaffolding.

Activity 5: Listening

We’re finally at the objective — listening and filling in the blanks. Listen twice, minimum. Be responsive to students who may want another crack at it.

Activity 6: Checking Answers

After your students have listened and completed the gap fill, you check the answers as a class and move on, right? Of course not. That’s just what new (i.e. bad at teaching) teachers do, like you. You’re missing another short speaking activity. Why not have students check their answers together in pairs? This is a bit harder to do in activities like the one above where students A and B listen for different information, but we’re not so unimaginative we can’t make it work, are we? I’ll speak for myself I guess.

One easy way to do it is to swap listenings. Just trade books and listen again. Student A now listens and checks B’s information and vice versa. They discuss together for a minute and then you can check it as a class.

But wait. Rather than just having students call out the answers, listen again and have them tell you to stop when they hear the answer. You stop the recording, then they tell you what the answer is.

Activity 7: Q & A

Remember those questions you had your students write in Activity 3? Let’s come back to those. Have students swap questions, so that Student B is asking about Student A’s information and vice versa.

For example:

Student B: What kind of company does he work for?

Student A: A marketing company. Where does he work?

Student B: In London.

At this point we’ve squeezed seven listening activities out of one, and our short little book exercise is all of a sudden at least half an hour long. Of course, not all of this needs to be done for each listening, but some does, otherwise picture your students perched atop rickety scaffolding, holding on for dear life in your disaster of a lesson.

Scaffolding Listening Activities

Grammar for Beginners

The ‘beginners’ in the title refers more to you, rookie teacher, than your students. We both know that you know absolute dick when it comes to grammar. You know when it’s right or wrong because you’ve been using it your whole life, but can you explain to elementary students exactly why ‘you suck at teach’ is wrong? Hint: gerunds after prepositions. You do know what those are, don’t you?

All snark aside, grammar scares the hell out of a lot of budding new teachers. They don’t remember learning the rules (if they learned them at all), and their greatest fear is being put on the spot: ‘Teacher, what is simple past?” Imposter syndrome runs deep in the veins of noobs, as it should, because let’s be honest, that piddling TEFL certificate didn’t make you a teacher.

Imposter syndrome

The good news is that rules have very little place in the classroom when it comes to actual teaching. Nothing is more yawn-inducing or drool-congealing than seeing a board filled with rules. Students aren’t going to remember them, at least not in the time you have to teach. What will likely happen is they grab their pencil and start mindlessly writing down what doesn’t need to be written down. That’s what their books are for.

So, all of this is to say that, yet again, the enemy here are words and explanations.

Here’s the dictionary definition of simple past: “The simple past tense, sometimes called the preterite, is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now. The simple past is the basic form of past tense in English. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past and action duration is not important.”

Yeah, fuck that noise.

So how do you teach it? Here comes a dead horse to beat…

beat a dead horse ‘Do you like that, Ed?’ ‘Nay.’

Show. Don’t tell.

Write this on the board: “Yesterday, I go to a restaurant and eat rice.”

Ask your students what’s wrong with it. Typically there will be one or two or even more that already know the rules anyway. Elicit from them. Use your students’ collective knowledge. It’s more memorable than explanation.

Now fix the mistake. “Yesterday, I went to a restaurant and ate rice.”

T: “Why ‘went’ and ‘ate’?”

Ss: “Because ‘yesterday'”

T: “Yesterday is past, present or future?”

Ss: “Past.”

T: “Very good. We have to change the verbs for the past.”

Now show them a timeline. Ask them to identify where our sentence should go.

simple past timeline

Now elicit a few more past time expressions and write them on the board. “Yesterday, last night, two days ago, last week, in June.” Start using these time expressions wrongly and have them correct you. “Last year I fly to Thailand on holiday.” “I have eggs for breakfast this morning.”

Students should begin recognizing that verbs in the past much change. They didn’t need a rule to tell them this. They came up with the rule themselves through pattern recognition. This is the difference between ‘revealing’ them the answer and ‘telling’ it to them. Again, show. Don’t tell.

Think they got it? Awesome. Now reinforce it with an activity. Tennis, anyone?

Embracing your Inner Neanderthal

Verbose. Loquacious. Garrulous. Long-winded. Discursive. Concisely-challenged. All those beautiful synonyms describe you, a purveyor of verbal diarrhea, perfectly. I could talk forever about how you talk too much. Having flogged this dead horse, I hope by now you get the point — words are the enemy of understanding.

The perceptive reader will note the irony of me talking at length about how talking is a bad thing. You, on the other hand, probably didn’t notice a damn thing. Fair enough. I guess I’ll have to show you how this works.

Let’s start with a real classroom example of why words — those beautiful, delicious nouns and adjectives that make English so great — have no place in the classroom.

“Teacher, what does *** mean?”

You, the word puker, say, “Oh, alright, well let’s crack open the dictionary and see what it has to say.” Your fat fingers fumble the pages until you finally get there. “A domesticated carnivorous mammal occurring as a wide variety of breeds, many of which are traditionally used for hunting, herding, drawing sleds, and other tasks, and are kept as pets.”

Native speakers of English might even take a second or two to move from the definition to the concept it’s trying to relate. So imagine the wide eyes and arched brows and what-the-fuck faces of your poor elementary students who didn’t understand a single word of  the definition, let alone the concept of ‘dog’ you were trying to teach.

No, you don’t need to open your mouth to teach the word ‘dog’. You don’t need to say anything for the majority of words you teach at elementary levels. You simply have to show them. Let’s try this again.

“Teacher, what’s a dog?”

You find a picture online. “This is a dog.”

dog

No Internet in the classroom? Use your phone you troglodyte. No phone? You do have a whiteboard, right? Get your marker.

“This is a dog.”

Dog Doodle

You don’t need to be Picasso, but perhaps you’re even more challenged than I thought. Then I guess you have no choice.

“This is a dog.”

Gay pride dog costume.

That’s right. Get down on your hands and knees and say bow wow. Take a dump on the floor and sniff it if you have to. Anything is better than opening a dictionary and blathering on about the canine genus. And guess which one your students will remember.

Humans are visual creatures. It’s no coincidence that the first attempts at written communication were images and verbal communication was little more than grunting and gesturing. The larger irony here, probably lost on you of course, is that we’re not relying on language to teach language. Instead, we’re reverting back to our caveman instincts when concepts were shown rather than told. So embrace your inner Neanderthal and go spear a mammoth or dance naked around a fire, but whatever you do, don’t say what can’t be understood.

 

 

Show and Tell

Remember when you were a snot-nosed third grader that brought in some bullshit toy that no one else cared about? And since showing it off wasn’t boring enough, you had to open your yapper and tell your classmates about it, as if your blathering would add any degree of interest. Not much has changed.

The whole appeal of show and tell is the showing, of course, not the telling. Would kids rather be shown a new video game or told about it? Would you rather be shown the Mona Lisa or told about it? Why would I tell you how much I hate you when I could just do this?

Middle Finger

Words simply don’t have the same impact as images.  Yes, there are exceptions. We will always remember ‘I have a dream…’ and ‘…one small step for man…’, and we probably won’t forget ‘I’m in love with someone else’ or ‘you’re not the father.’ But by and large, our brains don’t remember this way.

Pop Quiz: What do the following all have in common?

“Life is like a box of chocolate…”

“Do you feel lucky, punk?”

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“Mirror mirror on the wall…”

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

“Luke, I am your father.”

“Hello, Clarise.”

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Famous movie quotes, right? Can you name the movies? You can probably picture all of them. Forrest Gump sitting at the bus stop. Dirty Harry standing in front of a mirror. Dorothy holding Toto. The only thing is, no one ever said these oft-attributed quotes. They’re all (famous) misquotes.

It’s dangerous to attach percentages to how much we learn via any particular sensory input, but research consistently shows a higher degree of retention through visual stimulus rather than aural. If you spend enough time in the field of learning and retention, you’ll eventually come upon Edgar Dale’s ‘Cone of Experience’. I could tell you about it, but you probably wouldn’t get it. Better show you instead.

Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience

The first thing to notice is that this looks a lot more like a triangle than a cone. What the fuck, Dale? The important thing is that verbal symbols (a bullshit expression that just means ‘spoken words’) occupies the least amount of learning retention. The quality of learning then grows with seeing written words, pictures and motion pictures to doing demonstrations to finally experiencing.

But don’t take my word for it. Old Ben can say it far better than I ever could.

Benjamin Franklin Quote

They wouldn’t put just anyone on the hundred dollar bill. And money talks, folks, but as we’ve just seen, people don’t learn from talking. So I don’t expect you to actually learn anything from what I’ve just told you. We both know how slow you are on the uptake to begin with.  I’m going to have to show you, aren’t I?

Pace, Grade, Brevity. (What we talk about when we talk about talking.)

As fun (and accurate) as it is, it isn’t enough to merely say that you talk too much. That only hits one third of the equation — brevity. There are still two other factors, namely pace and grade, to be conscious of whenever you’re addressing your class.

Pace (peɪs) n. rate or style of proceeding at some activity

teacher talking time (stfu)

Have you ever listened to Eminem and had to rewind because he was rapping too fast to be understood? Me neither. He whines too much. It was probably about his mom, anyway.

The point is that  what seems like a completely normal pace of speech to us can sound like an auctioneer’s sale to beginning-level students. So how slow do you need to speak? Slow. Painfully slow. Slow to the point where it feels awkward and patronizing because it’s as if you’re talking to small children.

Grade(grād) n. an accepted level or standard.

POTC quote

Generally speaking, most new teachers are given beginner-level classes. Just as students in these levels are severely limited in vocabulary, so too must the teacher restrict him/herself to language that the students can understand. It’s not as easy as it sounds. How do you know how much vocabulary your students know? Often you don’t, at least not until you get into the classroom. A good rule of thumb is to assume they know nothing. Aim for the same level of vocabulary you’d use when talking to a toddler and adjust accordingly only when you’re positive most of the students can understand you.

Brevity: (brĕv′ĭ-tē) n. concise expression; terseness

the dude

Brevity isn’t just the soul of wit, it’s the essence of understanding in an EFL classroom. To put it simply, the shorter you can keep your expressions, the more likely you are to be understood. To put it even more simply, talk less.

A Case Study

The following instruction was taken verbatim from a teacher addressing an elementary class:

“Okay. Alright guys. Let’s open our books to page 98 and let’s review the different aspects of hotels which we’ve been studying for the last two weeks.”

Even if this had been delivered at an appropriate pace, which it wasn’t, there is approximately zero chance of elementary students understanding this sentence.

Check out the grade. Many elementary students won’t know ‘alright, guys, page, review, aspects’. ‘…which we’ve been studying…’ is grammar they won’t have encountered yet.

How about the brevity? More like, what brevity? That’s the opposite of brevity. That’s longwindness, garrulousness and verboseness all wrapped into one big travesty of an instruction.

What is the essential information the teacher was trying to convey? ‘Open your books to page 98.’ That’s it. That’s all you need, and you don’t even need that. Could you get your students to open their books to page 98 without saying anything? Sure. Just write page 98 on the board and mime opening a book. The rest is extraneous verbiage you needn’t waste your breath on.

Learning to speak with grade and brevity at a slower than normal pace is a crucial aspect of TTT, a skill that some experienced teachers struggle with (often without even being aware of it). But how are you supposed to teach if you can barely talk to your students? There’s the rub.

Time for some show and tell.