Walking into class and meeting students can be easy, but teaching them can be something of a complex and arduous process. If you’re green to teaching and find it challenging to engage students, then here are some tips to help you the next time you walk into your class. Teaching English to adult learners has never been easier.

1. Nothing is set in stone.

Your lesson plan may be perfect. It may be a beautiful piece of art and you may feel you have this all under control. But often some of us will stand there with deadpan faces staring back at us. Do not fret if things aren’t going according to your plan.  Every lesson is a solution to a problem. Find out what the problem is and you’ll have the solution right in your hands, beginning with the needs of your learners will help you to understand and help you to help them to understand. More often than not, your class of adult learners will comprise students of different levels and ability. Starting with a lead-in to arouse awareness and interest in the subject helps to ease the tension and add more flow as you ease into your stages mapped out in your lesson plan. But how do you find out your students’ needs? This is where the next tip comes in handy.

2. Build rapport.

Rapport is very important for a smooth teacher-student relationship. You want students to expect you not dread you. Your class should not be a pedagogic drudgery, if it is then students will not find nor have the motivation to learn. Ice-breakers and games as such open a pathway to building a positive relationship and they build an equally motivating environment for learning. You should get to know your students just as much as they should get to know you. Start off by learning their names and finding out their reasons for wanting to learn English. You can share your own experiences of learning a foreign language. Learn why they’re in class and the reasons for motivation. Some of the reasons may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Learning why will help you to cater to their needs.

3. Give varied lessons.

Every student is different and every one of their needs is different. The reasons for learning English as an adult may differ from student to student, they may be intrinsic or extrinsic. It is not imperative to establish if it’s the former or latter right away. This can be established in the future as you progress.

I had an adult learner who told me she wouldn’t be attending my classes anymore because my lessons didn’t cater to her needs; she wanted more speaking exercises. That didn’t deter me from asking her to give the classes another chance. See, every week is different and she had attended only one lesson. Speaking exercises weren’t the focus for that particular week. Let your students know which one of the four skills you’ll be covering during that week or for that particular lesson.

Finding out the needs of your students will help you to plan a more holistic lesson. A lesson which touches on every aspect of the four skills allows students to explore their weakness and strength. Also, it allows you to monitor where they need the most help. Finding out their needs as a learner helps you to determine their level and deliver a lesson with the best possible learning experience.

Have you ever thought about using songs with adult students?

4. Be yourself.

Think about how to make the lesson more engaging and interesting. Bringing personal experiences lightens the mood and sets the ambience for an engaging lesson. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You are human, after all. When you show students that you, as a teacher, do make mistakes and acknowledge them it will give them the confidence to speak up in class; it also makes them feel included. Some learners refrain from speaking from fear of making a mistake or not knowing how to structure a sentence. Being empathetic allows room for discussion and learning as a whole class making it a positive environment for learning. Showing that you are human trumps being right and rigid all the time.

5. Use humour.

We’re all bound to have slip-ups here and there, the key is not to feel embarrassed about it or feel the need to be. There is absolutely no need to be uptight and it certainly isn’t about saving face. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and show the students that you’re not there just as a teaching mechanism but also as a tool for learning. Plus, a joke here and there lightens up the mood and make you relatable.

6. Don’t know? That’s OK.

Have you ever asked someone a question and gotten the answer, ‘’I don’t know.’’? As a teacher you’ll be asked a plethora of questions; students have inquisitive minds and that is the best part about teaching. When a student asks a question it allows for an opportunity for others to learn as well. But there will be times when you wouldn’t know the answer or you’re not too sure of the answer. It doesn’t matter.

My course tutor once told me, that if I’m asked a question, by a student, to which I do not know the answer, to simply say ‘’I don’t know.’’

But my personal opinion is that isn’t very helpful to the asker and the other students, is it? It also isn’t about saving face and appearing to be a know-it-all. Yes, at times a teacher is expected to know answers but not all the time. We are not walking dictionaries or the internet. Instead, offer the student help. For instance say, ‘’I’m not sure but how about we find out together?’’ or ‘’I’m not sure but I will find out and get back to you.’’ But don’t just say that and leave it at that, bring your promise to fruition. Find out the answer and share it with the class and not just the student and make good on your promises. This way everyone learns, even you! You can also offer to see the student after class and help the student research.

What to know more about teaching adult language students? Click here.

About the Author

Uma Baduil is an English tutor who has taught in Hong Kong, Paris, and İstanbul. She holds a Cambridge CELTA and is looking to delve into the DELTA programme. She’s currently pursuing a certificate from the University of London in TBLT. She is also an avid reader and traveller. She is now a freelance English tutor who teaches online to students from all over the world. Uma is taking full advantage of her flexible schedule to travel while teaching English. In the summer you can find her rummaging through books at Shakespeare & Company on Rue de la Bûcherie in Paris.

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