When you Teach English to Beginners you should work on the basic principle that everything should be given in short, simple, steps. Then everything should be totally relevant and interesting to your students.
This is likely their first time learning English so you want to make it a positive, interesting, and useful experience. You don’t want to put them off for life!
Oh, and before going on let’s bust a myth. A lot of people who aren’t teachers say you should start off teaching the ABC and move on from there. This is rubbish. It’s wrong. Just think about when a baby first learns to speak. It doesn’t sit down and get a formal lesson on how to write from its parents! No, it listens to the language used around it and slowly copies…
So forget the ABCs for now!
Meanwhile, if you want to teach beginners properly, here are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling…
To begin with, start off with a needs analysis to find out what your students need to know. Ask yourself this: why are they in your class and why are they learning English?
- Because they have just arrived in your country and need Survival English to live there?
- Because they need to learn English to pass an exam?
- Because they want to start dealing with customers from overseas?
And so on.
Why do this? Well we want to know what kind of English your students need. Do they need to learn how to go into a shop and buy some food? Do they need to learn some general English so one day they can take an exam and get a good job? Depending on what they want will change your lesson.
You also need to make sure you understand their age and interests. This is so you give them relevant and interesting activities to work on and a needs analysis will give you all this…
After the needs analysis tells you what you need to teach, you then to learn how to teach it. No doubt you will want to take a proper TEFL course which will teach you but in the meantime, here are a few basic ideas you should always bear in mind:
- As with all learners, but especially with beginners, keep things slow and simple.
- Give plenty of practice. And then some more practice.
- Only introduce language which is relevant (don’t teach them language which they’ll never use)
- Keep it simple. This can’t be said too often. Keep it simple.
- Talk about everyday things familiar to the student; don’t try to introduce new concepts but concentrate on what they already know.
- Keep things interesting; make sure the topic you are talking about is of interest to them.
- No grammar if you can avoid it.
- Introduce just 5 new words maximum per lesson. Then practice them. And practice them again. And again.
- Concentrate on the spoken language to begin with, especially with a class whose mother tongue may not use the same alphabet as English does.
So you will probably start off with just a few basic words and phrases – introducing themselves, names of objects familiar to them, explaining who they are, etc. So let’s suppose your beginner class is older teenagers who are in the US for the first time on a school study trip. Here are a few useful phrases for them:
My name is Manuel.
I am 16 years old.
car, pizza, bread, beer…
Beginner students who learn this kind of language will find it useful from day 1 and that is what you must aim at regardless of who you teach and why they are learning English.
On the subject of vocabulary, try and avoid activities that practice one word over and over. Instead introduce words (or structures) with which your students are already familiar with and add the new element on to develop the practice. There can be nothing more boring for students than to have to do 3 or 4 activities all aimed at practicing the same word or structure.
This is because Learning a language is an ongoing process. We add on new elements one by one, but we need to practice the elements we have already learned and practice them with the new elements we are learning now.
Visual aids are excellent – picture or real things (realia), models or drawings. Models are good, and physical activity by the students themselves can be fun.
Start simple conversations with your students and then get them in pairs or groups to have the conversations among themselves. The first activity may be limited, but it will get them started and you can develop other practical activities for them.
A First Lesson for Beginners – a simple starter for new classes