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8 New Teacher Tips From a TEFL Veteran
OK, you’ve earned your TEFL certification and now the world is yours to teach! Then you got your first teaching placement, only to find out that the official teacher training hours you received were basic information and not applicable to the reality of teaching getting students to talk. Also, middle school wants you to pull rabbits out of your hat to keep students happy regardless of learning. Or the learning center requires you to follow their outdated materials, killing any chance of students growing in language proficiency. What to do? Do you toe the line by following the backward ways of teaching given to you to become a “so-so” teacher, or do you make an effort to truly learn your craft? If it’s the latter, then here are 8 tips you might find helpful from an American ESL teacher of 13 years in China, Jiayou!
1. Put the students in a situation to get them talking: You should already know that in Asia, if you ask a student directly for their opinion, you’ll probably get a blank stare. In fact, language learners from any country may also have the same behavior, but perhaps it is more common in homogeneous societies. What to do? Simply, understand their cultural collectivist mindset or, in other words, make them work in a group because that’s what they’re used to. So you might want to put them in a role play scenario where students answer the question in pairs or groups and where their individual opinion is generally heard. The big benefit of this is that the situation dictates their action verses as you directly summon them. Trust me; this will work because they will feel more comfortable seeing others and following the same pattern.
2. Give them the wheel to drive the car: There are passengers in life and then there are drivers. The same goes for language speakers; some students would like to be the lead speaker to steer the conversation. So give them the keys to communication by encouraging them to be facilitators of the discussion. Of course, you should provide the outline for managing the discussion with key phrases, talking points, or dialogue. When you do this, they will love it and will be very motivated and grateful for the opportunity to be the “talker of the day”.
3. Correct only when necessary: Depending on their level, students will make many mistakes related to pronunciation, grammar, and content. But save yourself and them a lot of trouble and learn to hold off on correction unless it’s a serious problem. Also, if your class focuses on fluency, avoid stopping the class because of small problems. The student’s correction depends on the time remaining, the focus of the class, and the repetition of the problem. There are different ways to correct a student, but here are two common ones. First, you as the teacher may look at them quizzically as you repeat the wrong word and the correct word, such as “information or information?” and usually they will give you the correct word. The second way to correct a student is at the end of class. Just briefly point out the mistakes on the board; “one correction, information is the right word.”
4. Create your toolkit of interactive means of communication: If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you’ll know that there’s a lot of processing involved in even simple questions. For Chinese learners, there may be even more challenges. In the learner’s mind, they intuit words or questions, spend some time coming up with the right words, and then try to answer the question in their own logical way. Therefore, their answer is sometimes half right. Or another more common problem learners have is not knowing how to start answering questions. So to save time and inspire confidence, provide them with speaking aids. Use conversation topics, outlines, diagrams, or a lead sentence to get them talking quickly and responding logically. A simple approach I recommend is to turn the question into part of the answer, such as “Is chocolate a health food?” and “Yes, I think chocolate is a health food because…”
5. Time is important: I often hear from teachers that students just don’t want to talk in class. But in my experience this is not the case. They actually want to speak in class, but they need time, confidence and support. As a teacher in Asia, you need to understand the importance of being extra patient and learning to work with learner behavior. Note that the teacher’s role is to find the best way to help a student, sort of like working with a rubric cube. It’s important to be patient while trying different things. You can use scaffolding techniques such as a lead sentence or a pre-writing activity to help yourself. They can then take time to process and where you can get back to them later, giving them another opportunity to speak.
6. Avoid being Einstein on the whiteboard: I can imagine that in some areas endlessly writing or sketching ideas on a board is beneficial. But ESL is more about speaking, so don’t write a lot of words; perhaps over 15. I remember seeing a teacher who was in the habit of wasting ten minutes to write over thirty words on the board to prepare the students in speaking class. Whiteboard should be used as PPT as key wording, outline of ideas or corrections should be presented; and of course sketches are useful too. Depending on the subject I’m teaching, I may write a standard agenda list or create a circle word map to guide the flow of the discussion.
7. Set up your own dining table: Create your own training format that you can use over and over again. Very often in tutoring centers the work is given to the teachers at the last minute or frankly you may not be prepared enough for a class. As a result, you may have a panic attack, quietly having a “what do I do next” moment. To avoid such a headache, develop a framework that you can use routinely, regardless of the topic. With the right format, you can slip the topic into your outline and move through the class without worrying about what to do next, but actually facilitate opportunities for student feedback and corrections. As for me, when I teach a communication skills class, I always go through a pre-set list of six areas in a clockwise direction, which keeps the flow going for fluency purposes.
8. Energize your lessons: In ESL, students get the most out of class when they are active and engaged. This is a reality due to endless educational theories and the fact that the student’s previous experience in language learning has been passive. Essentially, the students had “workbook English” lessons without actually speaking it. Therefore, teachers should contrast the boring experience of previous students and show enthusiasm. To help you do this, you need to bring out the energy either through your personality or class format. Naturally, some teachers are extroverts and have a great rapport, but others are not. So, basically, I recommend expanding your persona to create energy in the classroom for student motivation and engagement in your learning. However, if you are an introverted teacher, then consider getting the energy out through activities to keep students interested. Just plan a variety of activities and be aware of their timing. I am not suggesting that the classroom experience should be a fun endeavor organized by a hyper personality or implementing a quick list of activities. There has to be a balance. But there is a reality that an enthusiastic teacher or when there are many useful activities to do, students are most receptive to learning and it also prevents any problems along the way. Happy teaching!
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