ESL Alert! Do You Make These Mistakes When Teaching English?

ESL Alert! Do You Make These Mistakes When Teaching English?

Have you ever noticed how some ESL students put their teachers on a pedestal? They seem to think we can do no harm.

But we’re far from perfect, and we make mistakes – though, thankfully most students don’t realize we make them! And since the best way to become a better teacher is to learn from our mistakes, here’s a handy little list to get you started on the road to improvement (because there’s always room for improvement, right?)

7 Mistakes Teachers Make when Teaching English

  1. 1


    You walk up to the board and say, “Class, today we’re going to learn the Present Perfect. The Present Perfect is formed ....” And so the “lecture” continues for several minutes. ESL students have very practical needs: they need to learn to communicate in English. Standing at the board and lecturing is not practical at all. Students want to know how to use the language, and you’ll want to get into that right away.

    TIP: Lead into the new grammar you’re teaching so students see the connection between something they already know and something that’s completely new. Use their previous knowledge and experience. Establish a context. For an example of how to teach a verb tense like the Present Perfect, check out this article.

  2. 2

    Calling for Volunteers

    You start the class by saying, “Who would like to tell us what they did over the summer?...Anyone?.. Anyone?...” (cue the uncomfortable silence and awkward glances between students.) News flash! Most ESL students are self-conscious about their English fluency and will rarely volunteer to speak in front of the entire class. Yes, there are students who always raise their hands and volunteer to supply answers to everything. But you want everyone to have a chance to speak, not just the eager beavers.

    TIP: Call on students, especially those who are self-conscious and shy (how will they ever practice if you don’t?) But, be very careful how you do it. You don’t want to suddenly point a finger at them and put them on the spot. Try to make it sound like a natural part of the conversation: That’s very interesting, Tomás. So what do you think, María? Do you agree with Tomás?

  3. 3

    Failing to Provide Learning Goals

    You start teaching something new, like Reported Speech, out of blue, with no explanation as to why this will be useful for students. Most often, students will respect you and your decisions. If you start class by teaching “Reported Speech”, most will pay attention and try to learn it. They will assume you’re teaching it for a good reason. But that’s not good enough. They should understand exactly how this will be useful for them when communicating in English.

    TIP: Ask your class to give you examples of situations in which they had to “report” to someone what someone else said, like telling a coworker what the boss said. Students will come up with examples, and then you can say, “Well, today you’ll learn how to report what another person said.” They will start learning the grammar, but with this goal in mind and a context they can relate to.

  4. 4

    Either All Group or All Individual Work

    You assign writing, worksheets or crafts and have students work individually. All the time. Or you divide them into groups. For most tasks. Students need to be able to do both: collaborate to produce an end result, like a cartoon, poster or story, and work individually to have the chance to really practice.

    TIP: Try to have different types of activities within the same class period, including pair and group work, as well as quiet individual work. Some students work better by themselves, while others thrive while cooperating and interacting with others, but they must all have different types of experiences.

  5. 5

    Standing or Sitting at the Same Spot

    You stand at the board or sit at your desk for the duration of the class. If you really want to hold your students’ attention and teach a lively, active class, you need to move around!

    TIP: Leave the sitting for when your class in engaged in a quiet, individual task like writing. As you teach, move to the front and the back of the classroom. Don’t be afraid to walk around. Make students feel that there is no part of the classroom where they can “hide”.

  6. 6

    Failing to Course Correct

    You start an activity you had planned, but it’s not going as planned. Students find it boring or too easy. Your gut tells you it won’t be as effective as you thought. Do you stick to the plan, or go with your gut and drop it?

    TIP: Always have a Plan B. The lesson plan is course you’ve mapped, but sometimes you have to course correct. Don’t be afraid to drop an activity if it’s not going well. Replace it with another one.

  7. 7

    Lacking Enthusiasm

    You start the lesson by saying, “Well class, today we’re going to learn the Past Perfect, a grammar point I’m not particularly thrilled to teach because it’s harder than most, but what the heck, we might as well get started.” You probably won’t actually say this, but your attitude, posture and tone might convey this.

    TIP: It may be hard for you to pull it off, but you should try to do everything you do in class with the same level of enthusiasm. If you have to teach a particularly tricky verb tense or grammar point, make it fun! One good way to make boring topics more interesting is to connect them to things students are interested in.

To err is human and to forgive divine – the first person you should forgive is yourself.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve made any of these mistakes. Or if you still make them every now and then. There’s no better time than the present to make the little changes that will make a world of difference in your teaching.

Which of these mistakes do you make most often?

Like it? Tell your friends: