Three mistakes EFL teachers make & how to overcome them

Three mistakes EFL teachers make & how to overcome them

I’ve been teaching online for a number of years and realise I’ve fallen into some bad teaching habits.

I think the main reason for these issues is that once you qualify to teach English, you are often on your own with no oversight. This means you have to be the one to critique your own classes if you want to grow as a teacher and improve the learning experience for your students.

So, having taken a long, hard look at my own classes recently, I’ve identified three main problem areas, outlining them below, as well as describing what I am doing to overcome them. Here they are:

Mistake 1. Speaking too much

I admit I am a bit of a talker anyway. I also realise I tend to over-explain and am quite wordy in instructions and corrections. Online classes tend to be shorter, around 30 minutes, and so my over-indulgence here can really eat into student practice time.

What I’m doing about it:

I’m getting better at using a range of open questions in discussions to prompt students to speak for longer, only stepping in to assist, correct and help with pronunciation. I’m listening out for ways to say less overall. For example, will a raised eyebrow do instead of: “That wasn’t quite right there, we more typically say.…”?

My advice: Think: could you be more direct and also let students do more of the talking?

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Mistake 2: Not allowing pauses

Outside the classroom we tend to fill in any awkward gaps in conversation with more talking so that there is no lull. However, this kind of thinking in the EFL classroom isn’t helpful and again, we can speak too much just to avoid the silence. Is the following scenario familiar to you as a teacher?

You ask a question, your class doesn’t reply immediately, so you re-phrase the question in the gap.

Phew. Not just me, then.

What I’m doing about it:

Non-native English speakers often need a beat longer to think and reply. I’m realising that the ‘awkward’ silence that occurs after you’ve asked a question can actually be valuable processing time for them. I’m learning to ask a question and then wait.

My advice: Don’t jump in to fill the gap. Give students space to answer.

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Mistake 3: being too neutral and 'bland’

So, we want to avoid highly controversial subjects but ‘safe’ topics like health and fitness, past holidays and the environment where there is mostly a consensus can be a little dull and unstimulating. I’m also guilty of asking rather generic questions that could be applied to any theme, such as:
“What are the disadvantages/advantages of…?”
“What was your favourite/best…?”

What I’m doing about it:

I’ve found it motivating to talk about more adventurous themes which may have ethical issues attached. How far we should go to upgrade ourselves as humans using microchips, for example. In terms of questions, I may ask about the worst holiday they’ve had rather than the best. As a result, I’m finding that students are more engaged with the class and more motivated to use the English they need in order to express their opinions.

My advice: Think outside the box and use some interesting new topic areas

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Whether you teach online or in the classroom, perhaps you can relate to the above issues. However long we’ve been teaching, I can highly recommend an honest look at our own classes and a bit of tune-up.  

Why not share your self-improvement teaching tips below or join in the conversation in our Facebook group

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Three mistakes EFL teachers make & how to overcome them