ESL teaching is such a deep ocean that every time you plunge into it, you come out possessing something new. That possession could totally be a new teaching approach, or it could be the same approach but with a newer perspective. Every individual does not experience similar things, but every learner can have a similar interpretation of his/her learning experience as I have.
Effective ESL teaching refers to building good learning habits in ESL learners that further promote their literacy skills.
The journey from an ordinary teacher to a Cambridge-certified teacher
I cannot discuss about everything from my Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course in this teaching article, but I would like to share a few teaching tips that have been important in my transitional phase from an ordinary English language teacher to a CELTA graduate. Such a transition marked my journey from a CELTA graduate to a CELTA-qualified teacher by applying CELTA teaching skills into my teaching profession. Therefore, I believe that “fewer changes is better to start” in our ESL classrooms than believing in ‘no change’ at all.
I am very thankful to my mentor, Jo Gakonga, whose videos initially helped me to understand the different CELTA concepts. Moreover, I appreciate the efforts of my CELTA tutors, Missy Blanchard, Esther Ibrahim, and Hareem Arif, who had given me a hands-on experience of ESL teaching during my CELTA course in July 2019. I spent six months collecting data from my classroom to conclude my CELTA experience for this teaching article.
Traditionally speaking, beginning an ESL class with the topic in hand followed by an explicit explanation on the whiteboard, no doubt saves teachers’ classroom time, but it neither generates any kind of interest nor does it develop the critical thinking skills in ESL learners. There are a few good teaching habits that I have added to my teacher’s identity upon the completion of my CELTA course. I would like to share them with you now.
Setting the context
The very first tip is to set the context before teaching any chapter or unit from a coursebook. Setting a context builds a relationship between what we teach (topics) and whom we teach (learners). It is not exactly about the topic, but it works as a stimulus that can imprint the topic in hand on to the long-term memory of the learners. It raises students’ interest or generates conversation among them about the topic. Such interest can be developed by:
- Talking about something relevant to the topic.
- Getting hold of some relevant pictures.
- Asking questions about the topic.
Setting the context will let students relate the topic with their lives, and it will provide them with something that they could share with their peers. This 2-4-minute activity at the beginning of every lesson is not at all a daunting task for a teacher, but this small activity can create a big difference in the learning process. It does encourage distracted ESL learners to focus on the lesson ahead. Connecting the dots between the pictures and the question in the ‘setting the context’ stage not only sharpens the learners’ critical thinking skills but leaves them curious for knowing more about the topic.
After setting the context, the very next thing which is mostly overlooked by ESL teachers while preparing a lesson on receptive (reading and listening) or productive (speaking and writing) skills is the ‘pre-teach vocabulary.’ This stage is basically to teach the blocking words that may cause hindrance for the learners to better understand the text. The traditional way of teaching vocabulary is to provide the learners with the list of words along with their meanings that they need to visualize without any context as well as memorize without an understanding. But the CELTA course has given me a different approach to deal with vocabulary-teaching in an ESL class. Earlier, I did not feel at ease while teaching new words to the learners, but now I can successfully teach even the most difficult vocabulary to my fourth graders with the help of visuals. It can be taught as:
- Bring pictures along with the words imprinted on the flashcards. Paste the pictures on the whiteboard and let the ESL learners make a connection between the pictures and the words. This task leaves a long-lasting impact on their long-term memory because they actually struggle to build a relationship between the words that they might have never heard before and the visuals they have seldom seen. To get all the possible answers, they connect these dots with the help of their prior knowledge by using the ‘hit and trial’ method. Teaching blocking vocabulary through this activity facilitates the visual and kinesthetic kinds of learners since it allows them to come out of their seats and get involved in the meaning-making process.
- MFP (meaning, form, and pronunciation) lays the foundation of vocabulary teaching in an ESL class. Description of the pictures by the learners can shape the next level of understanding with the help of higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). To check their understanding of the newer vocabulary, concept-check questions (CCQs) are used. CCQs are formed by finding the correct, specific meaning from the dictionary and turning those meanings into easy and short questions. The questions must not carry the target language in them; otherwise, it cannot be answered by the learners at ease who do not have sufficient vocabulary with them. Moreover, they must not be framed in simple yes/no statements because such statements cannot show the learners’ understanding.
After meanings of the words are explained, the form has structural importance. The form stands for different language concepts such as parts of speech, spellings, word-inflection, etc. Pronunciation of the words is made clear with the help of drills, which can follow the ‘choral-choral-individual’ sequence. Starting from the group to individual learning will help the ESL instructor to give extra support to the below-average learners.
There are a few steps that I usually follow to execute an interactive activity for teaching pre-teach vocabulary at the start of every new lesson. Teaching four to five words, instead of assigning them a list of words, from every new lesson with the help of this strategy can build the learners’ vocabulary in a meaningful and constructive way. If an ESL instructor has five units to cover in a term, he/she can easily achieve the target of teaching twenty-five new words at the end of every term. Moreover, this activity can have 100 percent student participation in this meaning-making process in the class.
Steps to be followed:
- Find 4-5 blocking words from the lesson to teach and get their pictures printed.
- Paste the pictures on WB and give the learners the flashcards with the words written on them.
- Encourage the learners to match the words with their relevant pictures. If their answer is wrong, it can be corrected by their peers.
- Get the learners to elicit the definitions of the words.
- Ask CCQs to check their understanding of the new words.
- Encourage them to guess the form of the new words.
- Get the learners to drill the word for pronunciation.
Using Instruction Check Questions (ICQs)
Traditional ways of giving lengthy instructions before starting a task are always confusing for ESL learners. They ask similar things repeatedly during the task, which wastes their learning time and answering the same thing, again and again, frustrate an ESL teacher too. Using ICQs after giving instructions is the best solution to this problem.
- Get eye-contact with all your learners.
- Divide a task into small steps.
- Give clear instructions for each step using imperatives.
- Demonstrate what you want your learners to do.
- Ask Yes/No questions that carry the same or opposite instructions in them to check the learners’ understanding of each step.
According to Vygotsky, children learn through social interaction. Therefore, the classroom is an ideal place for social interaction. Learners of different age-group, social background, or interest are found in a class. Their classroom experience can be made meaningful for them when they are allowed to collaborate with one another for 45 minutes of a lesson. ESL instructor monitors every kind of interaction among the learners for giving them effective feedback.
To minimize teacher-talk time and build chances for learners’ interaction, classroom activities should be designed for practicing different language skills. The very first kind of interaction is to work in groups that can serve to minimize the learning anxiety among the learners and add to the learning possibilities. The learners feel comfortable when they get help from their peers sitting next to them. This is the moment that results in peer-tutoring. It helps even the shy or below-average learners to gain confidence and get motivated. The second kind of interaction is working in pairs. Sitting in a group will make the learners aware of their interests that help them choose the partner of their sort. When the learners of the same interests are paired, improvement is seen in their work quality. The third kind of interaction is to individually work. Using mini-boards is an engaging way to address individual learning challenges. The learners feel encouraged presenting their work to the whole class for effective feedback. They know that their roles of working on the mini-board, as well as giving feedback, will be switched several times during the activity.
Group-work in quads
Feedback enhances an individual’s learning process. There are different types of feedback that I learned on the CELTA course. One of the ways is to praise the learners. I encourage my learners by giving them the points that can be exchanged with small presents. Collecting points on their efforts mark their improvement in the learning process.
Peer-checking is a part of the feedback cycle. If the learners individually do a task, give the learners the answer-key on the whiteboard, and then they get their work checked in pairs before the teacher’s feedback. Moreover, bringing mini-boards to the front is meant to get the whole-class feedback. This is how the learners think critically about receiving different responses from a different learner.
One of the ways of feedback is to get the learners to complete a task on the whiteboard and then elicit the corrections from the learners. This correction stage starts from the below-average learners and leads to the brighter ones. Learners develop confidence when they monitor their own learning.
CELTA course not only improved my teaching skills but also developed empathy in me for the learners. Learners never want a teacher who is so much information, they want a teacher whose every word or practice in the classroom is to empower them. Getting control over my teacher’s talk time has made me an active listener for the learners. I have created such a comfort zone for the learners that they feel safe with me.