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Top 5 Strategies to Engage Beginning ESL Students
Admin - Sep 05 2017
When working with students beginning to learn English as a Second Language, especially when they are young students, engagement is key to overall success. Whether you are teaching online and working one-on-one with a student, or teaching a full class, maintaining your student(s) attention is crucial to successful teaching. They say that education is part theatrics and the other part knowledge, and that is especially true here! In order to successfully engage beginning ESL students, be sure to incorporate one or more of the following strategies into you teaching practice:
1. Use of Visuals
Visual aids are incredibly important when working with non-native speakers. Images and videos allow students to connect what they are learning to their prior knowledge. While they do not have a significant grasp on English, they can recognize the picture and make a more permanent connection to it. Visuals are also great because they add a splash of color and focal point outside of the traditional classroom setting. Visuals do not have to be solely pictures or videos, but could also be flash cards.
You do not need anything fancy, so running out to stock up on a ton of high quality pictures and videos isn’t necessary. You can use magazine photos, YouTube videos, etc. And if you don’t have time to get a set of flash cards, you could also use a white board which is great for modeling (more on that later!) Your visual can also come in the form of a rewards’ system to help keep the student on task and maintain their attention.
2. Use of Props
Props are a great way to keep your student(s) attention because they are a fun, interactive way to get your students involved in what they are learning. Whether it’s a stuffed animal or puppet, a white board, a point system, etc. any kind of prop to help showcase what you’re teaching helps to bring the subject to life. Older students may not appreciate this approach, but having concrete objects to interact with builds a connection from prior to new knowledge.
For example, if you are teaching the word, “dog,” having a stuffed dog can be a fun way to get and keep the child’s attention. This can also be used as a reward system as you can have “treats” and students can earn a “treat” to feed to the stuffed dog. The dog can be sad if it’s not getting treats, or excited if it is! It can even pop up from time to time to make sure that they student is paying attention. Props are a fun way to engage your student, especially at the younger ages.
A great tool for any age or ability level, but especially at a beginning level, modeling is something you’ll want to be comfortable with. If you’re not familiar with it, modeling is literally the process of demonstrating to a student how to do something. Whether it’s modeling how to say something, or how to write the term, etc. modeling asks a student to copy what you do so that they can practice and demonstrate their understanding.
White boards, writing things out in any form, copying gestures, and mimicking mouth shape are all ways that a teacher and student can model. More creative approaches are spelling using clay which appeals to tactile learners as well. For beginning ESL students, modeling how to speak and write is crucial since they are unfamiliar in how English words are pronounced. Also, because of the differing rules for the English language, it is crucial to model writing and spelling the words since that will be more beneficial than memorizing rules.
One person will swear that repeating (or doing) something seven times engrains it in your mind, while another person will say it’s three times. Everyone’s number will be different, but the key is repetition. Practice and consistency are the tools to cusses when learning any new skill. Students today, especially in this technology age, are familiar with instant gratification and need to practice repeating (rather than the “one and done” philosophy.)
The more a student practices saying a new word, the more likely they will say it correctly. Similarly, the more they practice writing the word, the more they are likely to write it correctly. Older students will be hesitant to repeat, but continue to encourage them to do so. More importantly, the more that you repeat the term you are teaching, the easier it will be for your student(s) to pick up on the subtle nuances used in pronouncing the word.
5. Total Physical Response
A newer approach is called Total Physical Response where an action accompanies the word or phrase being taught, particularly something that is associated with the subject. For example, touching your nose when teaching the word nose. Using your hands to gesture to your mouth when wanting a student to speak, or cupping your hand to your ear when you want to hear them speak. Because their vocabulary and understanding of the language is limited, the simple gestures help to break down the language barrier.
Because you are moving students will stay engaged in the lesson. Asking them to copy the gesture that accompanies the word makes them interact with you. Research has shown that when new material is coupled with movement students are more likely to retain the information being taught. On top of that, for young learners, it makes what they’re learning more fun and exciting.
Each of these tools are effective on their own, but are even more effective when used together. It is not important to do them all at once – try incorporating one at a time into your teaching. Once you are comfortable with one, then try adding in more. You may find that there are some that don’t feel comfortable when you’re doing them, or that they don’t work as well with that particular student. In the end, you have to find what works for you. If you’re not having fun while teaching, they won’t have fun while learning!