How to Keep your ESL or EFL Students!
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How to Keep Your TEFL Students!

by James Parmelee from Module 6 of our TEFL for Target Learner Groups Course

Happy groups of repeat EFL class

As a teacher, you want to do a good instruction job, but you also want to keep y our students long enough to get some permanent improvements!

These two objectives are not only related, but are essential, not only for teaching successfully, but also to ensure that there are students to teach! Let's look at the teaching objective first, and begin with the always popular (oh, sure!) concept of assigning or receiving homework:

Assigning and Processing Homework

  • Consistency is the key. Set up a regular procedure so that students know what to expect and can develop their own rhythm.

  • Don’t overload the students; they have other commitments, too. Spread the workload into regular, manageable pieces. It is easier to do regular sections rather than a single large project.

  • Always relate the assignments to the objectives and overview of the course work. Don’t give unnecessary or non-valid tasks; relevance is important.

  • Marking and processing are very important. The student spends time and energy on homework and it must be properly evaluated by the teacher. Comments and encouragement, positive criticism and feedback will show the student that you value the time that he or she spent in preparation. Again, be consistent and impartial.

  • Keep a good record of all scores. Display results and achievements. Value your students’ work.

  • Self-marking in class is a very valuable form of revision, but make sure to collect answer sheets so that you can add a comment. Don’t make joking, frivolous or negative comments. Be clear and concise in giving instructions for work. It’s a good idea to display a schedule of work as well as the results of it.

Helping Weaker Students

  • There are a number of methods by which to assist weaker students:

  • A private counseling session may be required to determine the source, if applicable, of any problems.

  • If practical (time and money!), it may be advisable to hold additional classes for weak students. Where not possible, extra reading and work assignments can be allocated. This will also impinge on your time, so plan accordingly. Determine the available time you can allow for these extra activities. This will depend on your teaching post as well as personal dedication. Do not overload yourself, but pace it out. Be practical about the time and discuss availability with the student.

  • A further alternative is pairing students so that stronger students can help weaker partners. Ensure that both students are equally involved and monitor closely. Check for personality compatibility.

  • Maintain close progress feedback on a regular basis. This will encourage the students and give them personal recognition.

Teaching a Mixed-Level Group

Undesirable but inevitable, this is a tricky task. Usually the material to be taught cannot easily be separated according to group level. We cannot, however, bore the advanced students by catering only to lower levels, and we cannot ignore the lower levels and teach over their heads.

In some cases, it may be possible to pair up individuals into strong/weak student combinations. It may be necessary to give the stronger level additional or advanced assignments to work on while the actual teaching focuses on the lower level. The extra assignments should also pertain to the work at hand.

Stronger students can be employed for demonstration purposes, more advanced role-plays, etc. – as part of the teaching presentation.

Substitute Teaching and Class Takeover

  • Short notice substitution is a fact of teaching life. Very often, no information may be available. This will have to be gleaned from the students themselves.

  • Maintain the format of a structured lesson plan as closely as possible; practice will make this second nature.

  • Introduce yourself and get the students to do the same; this will give you some indication of their language level.

  • Ascertain the subject matter to be dealt with; this is usually available by way of a course book.

  • If in doubt, set up some simple role plays: shopping, eating out, music and movies.

  • If you have sufficient experience or even copies of favorite lesson plans, this can be used: telling the time, the family tree, etc.

  • Use some old favorite games or time-fillers.

  • Keep a few different exercises in your briefcase; these can be readily copied for immediate use.

  • The students are usually keen to meet new teachers and find out about their experiences, home country and so on — Use this and invite participation in discussion.

  • Remain professional: Taking over a class and meeting new people should be interesting and informative.

  • If taking over the course permanently, collect all of the previous teacher’s records that are available relating to teaching already done, then, after getting acquainted with your class, have the students describe the course up to now and where the teaching left off. This will enable you to prepare lessons suitable for the course objectives and let you cover all the course material that is possible to do within the period of time remaining in the course.

Teaching from Another Teacher's Lesson Plans

All teachers have found themselves in the situation of having to teach a lesson at the last minute — Absences do occur and we need to be ready to gird our loins and face the occupants of the lion’s den. Really, it’s not that bad! Consider the following:

No plans at all! Now what do I do? Talk to the students. Even the most elementary class will have the ability to understand a “ ? ” on the white board with an arrow pointing to the left and the date of the last class. What did you do last? Tell me. Show me. If there is a book in use, have them show you where they left off. If not, they can demonstrate what they worked on last week. Then you, creatively, review it, expand it, or move to another connected topic. Also, always try to have a stock of games ready: Simon Says; I Spy; 20 Questions; Hangman; and Charades are a few examples of “low organizational” games which are fun and interesting.

Sketchy lesson plans! These are the kind normally available when you take over. They include the topics taught last and — if you are lucky — teaching materials for today’s lesson. It’s a good idea to confirm with the class what they did during the last lesson and what they expect to be working on this lesson (in the event that the lesson plans are for what was expected to be covered and not what was actually covered).

Then follow that guidance from the plans and from what students tell you. You can always use the “low organizational” games listed above and others which you know. The best thing to do is to keep your students engaged and active and talking and working; don’t make the mistake of filling the time with constant nervous chatter from you!

Detailed lesson plans! Hah! Dream on! It rarely happens. If it does, you have been blessed. Follow them cheerfully and give the absent teacher a big thank you by note, phone call or in person.

SAMPLE ACTION PLAN. Let’s assume that you are replacing a teacher who has left you only sketchy lesson plans. You and a student partner can take one of the following and present a 5-minute lesson:

A. Intermediate class of car sales executives. TOPIC: Role-play telephone conversation of someone who wants to buy a Mercedes Benz, perhaps — Pair work; model, closed pair example. Production.

B. Beginning class of health product managers. TOPIC: Introduce request business letter format: address, salutation, introductory paragraph, specific request paragraph, closing paragraph; close/signature. Present and practice.

C. Advanced class of dairy product executives. TOPIC: Customer Complaint: A milk order has spoiled early according to an important customer. Get important details and solve the problem. Pair work.

How to Keep 'em
(One-on-Ones and Small Groups)

How can you avoid those “flaky” students that always cancel and how can you keep the ones you like?

  • Preparation should be just as rigorous as for classroom work. Be serious about private students and they’ll recognize your efforts.

  • Establish course objectives with the student(s) at the start of the course.

  • Give each student time to absorb everything you’ve taught him/her. About 4 hours is the maximum a student (and you!) can take in one day.

  • Make sure to have some way of proving to the student the progress that he/she is making under your tutelage. One way is to play a recording of him/her that was done earlier on in the course to show how much he/she has improved. Another is to encourage the student to keep a notebook and use it to note down recurring errors. Make sure he/she dates the errors so that when the notebook is reviewed the progress will be noted.

  • Vary the activities in the lesson. Include activators that the student can do alone (reading or listening texts, preparing to speak, short exercises) in order to lessen the intensity and avoid teacher and student burnout.

  • Keep a class record sheet for each meeting date that you have. Put the date at the top, note down the major points you want to cover and any student errors. This shows the student that you are serious about accomplishing certain goals and that you have a written record of what was covered in order to refer to it for future planning.

Getting Staff Course Renewals
The essential life-blood of any language school is contracts, contracts and contracts.

  • During all liaison, the teacher and sales team must show themselves truly concerned with the aims of the teaching and the individuals themselves.

  • Know the names of your students and be ready to discuss progress. Maintain your records to back this up.

  • Learn and practice the techniques, principles and methods described in Modules 3 and 5 of this course, so that you are able to assist every member of your target learner group in the special and meaningful ways they require.

  • To maintain progress, practice must continue. Make this recommendation: Cite the improvements students have made and stress that, if study were discontinued, the initial effort and expense will have been wasted.

  • Specify your recommendations for individual, as well as group, objectives. This should be communicated to the students with praise for their success and exhortation for further, future studying.

  • During the course discuss this with the company training officers so that they begin to plan ahead for further training.

  • As a last resort, recommend, at the very least, that the study should continue, even if at a reduced intensity (i.e., fewer hours per week) — rather than lose the advantages already gained.

If practice is not maintained, the language will be lost!

In summary, heed the above advice and do a good teaching job. Your students will bond and stay with you for as long as they possibly can!

We hope that the Lesson Guide above is what you were looking for, and that it will help you in your ESL/EFL teaching career. However, if you have not completed your interactive TEFL Course training yet, we recommend that you do your training with TEXT-AND-TALK Academy in Thailand (the Land of Smiles), where the people are friendly, students are respectful and our course trainers are 'people persons' who care about you and will help you with your career in every way.

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