TEFL Tips for New Teachers

July 3, 2019
TEFL Teacher with class

Are you new to teaching English as a foreign language, or thinking of getting certified? We remember being in your shoes. And while your TEFL course will teach you how to lesson plan, answer tough grammar questions, and manage students’ behavior, we’ve got a few insider TEFL tips that will help you get off on the right foot as you teach your first classes.

Start with the basics. Are you seen and heard?  

This sounds like common sense, but how would you feel if you were at the movies and the sound was so low loud that you could just barely make out the words or see the screen? Would you complain to the manager? Would you try to get your money back?

In order for learning to take place, it’s crucial to make sure that all your students can see and hear you clearly.

  • Remember that when students are learning a new language, they’ll often depend on facial expressions and body language in order to make sense out of what you are saying. Can students sitting at the back of the room see you clearly?
  • Slowly walk around the room as you speak. This will give all of your students (no matter where they sit) the chance to hear you clearly and to pay closer attention to the lesson. 
  • To test if students can hear you properly, ask them to repeat simple words or phrases after you. Tune your ear to those farthest from you to know if they’re correctly repeating your words and look for facial cues that will give you the best indication as to whether or not you are being understood.
  • Minimize the time you spend with your back to your class. When writing on the whiteboard, this can be unavoidable. However, when possible, turn your head towards your students to let them know that you’re paying attention to them. Or, have your students read along with you as you write on the board.

Putting your back to the board is one teaching habit to break. Watch this video to learn about some others: 

Mind your tone of voice.

Once you’re sure your students can hear you, take it a step further. What does your tone of voice convey? Do you sound happy and easy-going? Or do you sound tired or speak in a boring monotone voice?

Your voice can create an atmosphere of confidence and acceptance for your class. 

If your tone of voice is light and receptive, your students will automatically feel that it’s easier to approach you with questions they have about a lesson.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a dull or listless voice can make a class well… dull and listless.  This doesn’t mean that we must entertain our students by doing cartwheels, but as teachers, we’re responsible for keeping an energy level that will encourage students to participate.

Resist the urge to be sarcastic.

As teachers, we sometimes become frustrated with our students’ progress and after a while, we may use sarcasm because we think it’ll help us make our point. Unfortunately, a sarcastic tone of voice will more often be perceived as a form of judgment. Moreover, sarcasm will work against you because you will inevitably lose your students’ trust and break down the learning process.

Talk less.  

Do you like having the spotlight on you? Do you love the sound of your own voice? Unfortunately, these qualities do not always make for a good learning experience for your students.

When teaching English, remember that it’s your students who should do most of the talking, so look for any opportunity to reduce Teacher Talk Time (TTT) and for students to speak:

  • Have students take roll or read activity instructions, instead of you.
  • Have your students ask and answer each other’s questions instead of you asking.
  • If a student asks you a question, see if another student can answer it before you jump to do so.

The less you speak, the better it is for your class as you’ll be giving them the opportunity to put their verbal skills to use. That’s what they’re there for!

Be aware of your body language.

How you enter the room matters. Do you smile? Are you confident? Or are you hunched over and in a bad mood?

Project positivity

Because students want to please the teacher, they’re usually aware of your mood, so use your teaching time to give yourself a break of any worries or problems that may be irritating you and might affect both your teaching and your students. (Whatever problems you have will not be resolved while you’re in the classroom, anyway!) So, stand tall, lift your head, and open your chest! You will more than likely leave class feeling better than when you went in.

Be human

If you don’t feel well on a particular day, you can let your students know that you’re a little under the weather (and teach the expression while you’re at it!), without going into too much detail. You’d be surprised how caring they can be, and the added bonus is that when students realize that you are just as human as they are, shields can be dropped, minds will be more open, and learning will flow.

TEFL teacher

Make eye contact 

Did you know that eye contact is often your best tool for getting your point across? Eye contact can improve student performance and help them to know that they’re in a safe space. So, whether you’re teaching the alphabet or a complicated grammar lesson, eye contact can make a difference as to how your students receive and grasp new information.

A couple of warnings, though:

  • Be sure to make equal visual contact with all of your class. Keeping your gaze too long on a single person can make him or her feel uncomfortable in any situation!
  • Visual contact can express attention, respect, and other positive qualities, but can sometimes also be interpreted as a challenge or confrontation, creating unintended problems for you and your students. This can be especially true in certain cultures. Learn the rules of eye contact for the country you are in so as to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

Correct mistakes – but with care.

You may feel strange when correcting the errors of people you hardly know; however, you’ll be less hesitant to point out mistakes when you understand that your students are looking to you for guidance. By correcting them, they’re assured that you’re paying attention to both their verbal and written work.

  • Remind the class that certain mistakes are common and that everyone makes them. By doing so, you’ll help them understand that slip-ups are normal, and they shouldn’t be afraid to participate for fear of getting something wrong.
  • Let your students know that it’s always better to speak loud and clear even if they make a mistake, rather than speak perfect English in a barely audible whisper. This will also help to eliminate feelings of shyness which often get in the way of speaking English outside the classroom.
  • If you don’t speak the native language where you’re teaching, it can be helpful to attempt the students’ language once in a while, to show them you’re learning, too. This also gives them the chance to correct you!
  • When you verbally correct a particular student, be sure to let the rest of the class know that your words are meant for everyone.
  • When making corrections, be sure to remind your students of the things they are doing right. Positive reinforcement can run the gamut from, “I really like your handwriting,” to “Your pronunciation is excellent.” But be aware that when giving a compliment, it must be done with genuine sincerity; otherwise, your students will not believe you and it’ll be difficult to develop trust.
  • Take advantage of the mistakes you make in class by giving your students the security they need to correct you. If you misspell something on the board and your students point this out to you, take this opportunity to praise them for being attentive. If possible, make a joke about it and laugh along with your class. When students can kid with you and mistakes are understood to be something we all make, the emotional atmosphere in the classroom lightens up and learning, as well as laughter, increase.

Learn more about effective correction techniques by taking Bridge’s tuition-free Micro-Credential course: Error Correction in the EFL Classroom.

Nobody likes a red X.

When you were in school and your teacher used her red pen to put an ‘x’ next to a wrong answer, how did you feel– ashamed, embarrassed or even angry? What if your teacher had instead circled your answer and given you the opportunity to correct it and be given credit for it?

  • When correcting written work, try using a simple arrow to indicate that a mistake has been made and encourage your students to correct the problem. You can also circle or underline incorrect use of verbs or spelling mistakes instead of marking papers with that unpleasant ‘x’ mark.
  • Instead of red ink, try using pink, purple or green ink pens. Red has a connotation of things gone wrong, so take every opportunity possible to help students correct their mistakes. This will give them the self-confidence they need to stay on the right path.

For more teaching tips, join the community of teachers on our Facebook page or sign up below to receive the BridgeTEFL Universe newsletter and we’ll send the ideas to you!

Take your teaching skills up a notch through Bridge’s short, tuition-free Micro-credential courses that provide targeted training to experienced teachers.