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Teaching Beginners in TEFL

Woody Guthrie, American singer-songwriter and musician.

Let’s suppose you are in your beginner level TEFL class and – for the purposes of this explanation – it’s time to introduce them to adjectives‏‎.

You could simply say:

“An adjective is a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun. To modify a word is to describe the word or to make its meaning more definite”

And if you did say that to beginners, you are likely to be met by a classroom full of blank looks and uncomprehending shrugs! Quite frankly, if you spend the next twenty minutes explaining adjectives to them they’re still going to be none the wiser!

No, with beginners you need to do things differently.

Put Yourself in their Place

This is useful if you’re living in a foreign country. Remember the time when you first arrived and barely spoke a word of the local language. Think of how little you understood and how when you listened all you heard was a stream of sound.

That’s what the beginners in your class think of you now.

So you need to break it down. And by this, I mean really break it down!

This means when you teach beginners:

  1. forget grammar – don’t even think about giving them grammatical explanations
  2. build on what they already know
  3. give examples, practice and more practice

A Practical Example

So let’s say you want to introduce adjectives to the class.

Start with what they know:

  1. Show a model of a car to the class, elicit the word car and make sure everyone understands and knows this word.
  2. Show a hat to the class, elicit the word hat and make sure everyone understands and knows this word.
  3. Show an apple to the class, elicit the word apple and make sure everyone understands and knows this word.

Then introduce something new:

  1. Bring out the car and show them the color of the car which in this case is: red.
  2. Bring out the hat and show them the color of the hat which in this case is: red.
  3. Bring out the apple and show them the color of the apple which in this case is: red.

Say the word several times, write it up on the board, get the class to say the word.

Then join the new with the old. Spend time practicing red car, red hat and red apple with the class. Get them used to it. Get them comfortable with it.

When the class is comfortable bring out a variation: a green car, a green hat and a green apple.

And then it’s a matter of moving on very slowly. This means giving the students plenty more practice with the material you’ve introduced.

This means games, activities, practice exercises and so on. It does not mean introducing more new material! No, that only happens when your class is 100% sure of what has already been introduced.

Conclusion

The same principles (with minor tweaking) apply to your classes regardless of what level they are and what you are teaching. When teaching English

  1. forget grammar – this happens on a need-to-know basis only; avoid it if you can.
  2. build on what they already know – always start from the known and move into the unknown
  3. give examples, practice and more practice

Useful Links

Teaching Grammar‏‎ – Should you? And if you must, how?

How to Speak to English Language Students – how you should talk to your class

A First English Lesson for Beginners‏‎ – that very first lesson!

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