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Controlling Your Classroom Through Enthusiasm, not Fear

In this guest blog, Tom Fitton explains how to approach teaching so that the students – and you – get the most out of the experience.

The basic rules of human motivation tell us that everything we do is in the pursuit of something enjoyable or the avoidance of something unpleasant and children attending ESL classes are certainly no exception to this rule.

While it is certainly possible to motivate a group of students to pay attention to you by keeping them perpetually worried and afraid that you might reprimand them or call their parents, the long-term effect will be very different than if you were to approach the teaching experience from a more proactive perspective.

What to Remember About ESL Children

Like most of the other decisions on their lives, children have little control over whether they are in your class or not. Regardless, you are there to do a job, and your income depends upon your ability to produce results in even the most disinterested of ESL students.

One way or another, you have to get them to pay attention long enough to what you are saying to be able to repeat the words you teach them (and hopefully actually start to understand the principles of good English). You can either maintain this engagement through the threat of disciplinary action, or by getting your students legitimately excited about learning.

Different Types of Students

Some students will be enthusiastic learners by default, and they will be a major boon to the learning environment of your classroom. Others will seem defiant in every opportunity possible.

Always start by assuming the best about your students.

Give the benefit of the doubt that each of them is perfectly capable of transforming into an amazing learner if given the right encouragement and opportunity. This may not prove to be true for each of them in the long run, but granting them this basic courtesy will maximize your chances for making bright and enthusiastic students out of them.

Construct an Environment of Engagement

When you teach, understand that the classroom environment will ultimately be shaped by the energy you put into your lessons.

Every student plays a part in contributing to the overall atmosphere of the class, but the teacher is by far the most powerful influencer over the emotional tone in the room. You have in your hands the power to make the class fun and invigorating for all but the most stubborn and disinterested of students. To harness this ability, you need to move beyond some teachers’ conceptions of being a strict and dull disciplinarian just waiting for bad students to step out of line. Remember that learning English can be an exciting and profound process, even for children.

Understanding the Learning Process

The learning process can only best occur when students are genuinely interested in understanding the subject they are being taught. This is usually the case when adult students sign up for ESL classes, as they are frequently eager to increase their English ability for many professional and personal reasons. Very often though, children who are enrolled by their parents into an ESL class or sessions with a private English tutor are done so without any initial interest in learning to speaking English. It is up to the teacher to figure out how to plant and harvest this sprouting enthusiasm for learning English. This is the art of teaching that so many mediocre educators ignore.


Guest Author Bio: Tom Fitton is currently working for LAL Schools, providing advice for ESL learners and helping other language students to pick up techniques to improve their learning.

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