One of the first things i remember learning about, when I was training to become a teacher in China, was how to present myself in the classroom and talk to the students. You can have the best idea in the whole world, and you can have a great game lined up, but if you do not know how to communicate with your students in a way that makes sense to THEM, you are not going to get very far. And I have learned this, the hard way, many times over. Sometimes it is easy to get carried away when you are teaching, and when you are explaining something to the students, it makes perfect sense to you, but not necessarily to them. In the following articles I am going to talk briefly about 4 key topics. Language grading, Instructions, Your position in the classroom and Projecting your Voice.
How you talk to the students (Language Grading)
When you are teaching in China, the first, and maybe the most obvious thing, to remember is that the students in your classroom are NOT native speakers of English. This means that there is a chance that some of your students have never studied English before. This is something you have to take into consideration when you are teaching and planning for your lesson. Students will not understand you, if you talk to them like you would native speakers, your friends or even your grandparents. Their vocabulary is very limited unless they are advanced students and English Majors, so make sure you choose your presentation and language accordingly.
Try to use simple words when you talk to your students. Try and be as brief and precise as possible. When you were learning a new language, you could probably understand short bursts of simple language but would struggle with longer sentences and complicated words. The same goes for your students. Key phrases, simple instructions, short and precise. Try and find out what words your students already know, and make use of them as much as possible.
When you are talking, pause more frequently than you normally would. The students need time to digest whatever you have just told them. Give them one or two instructions, pause and check that they all understand, and continue.
Stress key words more. In the classroom, you do not always have to speak perfectly and naturally. It is okay for you, as a teacher, to over-articulate and over-stress words to make sure that the students know what to articulate and where the stress should be. You can always adjust their stress with practice, but make sure that they get the right syllable in a word stressed.
Try to avoid complex sentences but maintain a somewhat natural and correct grammar when you are speaking. Try and find the simplest and easiest way to explain what you are doing. But use short and simple sentences (even if it takes longer) instead of complex ones. You wouldn’t understand them in Chinese, they will not understand them in English, either.
Adjusting the way you speak, especially to young ESL students can be quite tricky and for me it took a long time to learn to speak to students in a natural way that they could actually understand. I was fresh out of college when I came to China to teach and I was used to speaking fast and with long and complicated words. For the first month or so of my teaching, I don’t think any student understood more than a few words at a time, which is not very conductive to them learning from me. So, try to keep this in mind. Try and work with things you think you’d say in the classroom, and how to can simplify it, make it easy for a 6-year-old to understand, who has maybe no English vocabulary. Hint, your body gestures will often make them understand more than your words.