Create respectable and friendly relationship in your class

Building rapport in ESL/EFL classroom

Building rapport in ESL/EFL classroom


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Finding mutual understanding with students can become one of the most challenging tasks for an English teacher. Nothing can be sadder than the fact that what you had prepared and thought was a great lesson was faced with silence in the classroom and blank stares from your students.

It is very important for an English teacher to establish a connection with his students because each of them has a certain fear of speaking a foreign language. And who, if not us, should help them overcome this feeling?

Think back to your favourite subjects from when you were at school or university. What made these classes so special? Why are they so memorable? For example, I remember my English teacher. He was strict but very fair, always made a good joke, and also found some ways to get along with everyone. Perhaps, thanks to him, I am now in this profession.

Good rapport

According to British Council, rapport is

a relationship built on trust and respect between teachers and students. It is one of the fundamental factors leading to students’ feeling capable, competent, and creative so that they can reach their potential in studying English.

Hence, rapport describes the positive relationship that develops between teachers and students. We can say that a teacher has a “good rapport” with his students if we see evidence that the students like the teacher and respect his professionalism.

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Authors of various materials for English teachers identify several factors that, in their opinion, help build mutual understanding between teachers and students. For example, Scott Thornbury, in his book The New A—Z of ELT, says that you should:

  • recognize students including their names;
  • show respect;
  • be fair and unbiased;
  • listen to your students;
  • give clear and positive feedback;
  • be yourself.

Scott Thornbury also notes that the ability to establish good communication is a necessary condition for effective learning, but cannot replace it.


Some teachers manage to build and maintain positive relationships with their students more quickly and naturally, while others find it more difficult.

However, most teachers can improve the situation if they apply a few simple strategies in their classes. We suggest trying the following:

1. Remember students’ names

This can be quite easy or very difficult depending on your teaching situation. When I was teaching English in Thailand, I had to learn quite difficult and unfamiliar Thai names . The first thing I thought was “I will never remember these names!”.

According to Neil Fleming’s theory of learning styles, I am a “visual learner”. That is why I first taught my students to write their names. Next, each of them had to place a name card on their desk.

By the end of the first week, I knew every child’s name. When I met one of them outside or in the canteen, I easily remembered their names.

Remembering names requires a little extra effort on your part, but it’s possible. And above all, it shows students that you really don’t care. So do whatever you want, but learn these names!

By the way, some of my colleagues could not remember the names. For such a case, the Thais, as well as my colleague who works in China, assign a number to each student. For example, the teacher simply calls the child’s number if he wants to ask this student a question.

Learn more about teaching in China

It is important not only to call children by their names, but also to introduce them to each other. This can be done through games. If they are younger students, we sit in a circle and say the name of the person sitting on the left and so on clockwise, clapping our hands.

2. Structure your teaching

Most students respond positively to well-structured lessons. This gives them a sense of security and leads to better learning. Teachers who do not have a clear plan not only waste valuable time but often fail to gain the respect of their students.

  • It's important to set the tone from the start, letting students know your expectations and next steps.
  • Set rules and show students that you enforce them if someone crosses the line.
  • Finally, a structured lesson means a minimum of downtime. Each day should be filled with exciting learning activities, and downtime should be kept to a minimum.

Creating a lesson plan is a kind of proof for students that the teacher has devoted time to thinking about them. Let me remind you that earlier I talked about how to effectively plan English lessons.

Why is lesson planning important?

3. Add more personality

You don’t have to be best friends with your students, but you definitely need to maintain an atmosphere of professionalism. Telling a little more about yourself is a great way to encourage rapport with your students and give them a further understanding of the culture and language they are learning.

You can create a slideshow of photos from your travels and talk about some of your favourite destinations, or maybe share some of your favourite music with your students. Let your students ask you questions — in English, of course.

  • Divide the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to write three questions they would like to ask you.
  • After that, each pair / group asks you a question, and you answer only if the question is grammatically correct.
  • Students should listen carefully, as questions cannot be repeated.

You can also show photos that tell about your life. Example:

  • photo of the countries where you worked / lived / travelled,
  • photos of your favorite food or one that you know how to cook,
  • numbers that correspond to the number of countries visited, your siblings, or the number of pairs of shoes you have.

Students then work in groups to guess how these images relate to you. They may ask you questions to see if their guesses are correct. Whatever it is, if you talk about what’s important to you, it will make your students feel comfortable and do the same, and it’s a way to build two-way interaction.

One teacher, for example, made a video for his students when they were studying the topic “My daily routines”:

4. Learn about and from your students

Every student has a passion for something. Why not use these interests and passions to your advantage by incorporating them into your lessons? A great way to find out about these interests is to ask. Once you know what your class is interested in, you need to find creative ways to integrate it into your lessons.

Learn more about authentic materials

Teachers who take the time to do this see increased participation, greater engagement, and overall improvement in learning. Students will appreciate the extra effort you make to include their interests in the learning process.

Pay attention to:

  • activities,
  • texts,
  • exercises,
  • topics

which capture them and which force them to put their heads down on the desk. Take note of what they do after school or what music they listen to.

I often ask my students:

  • How was your day?
  • What did you do at the weekend?


These questions help me guide them to specific topics. For example:

  • Have you seen the latest Marvel film?
  • What did you think of it?

Schedule five minutes at the beginning of each lesson for a discussion using the following questions. This will help students feel comfortable and give them an opportunity to learn more about each other and you.

5. Laugh…and at yourself too

We are used to a rather strict and traditional education system, where respect for the teacher is automatic and where there is very little time left to somehow colour the gray routine.

Learning doesn’t have to be boring. Most people like to laugh. Why not add some humour to your daily lessons? For example, use an appropriate joke related to the topic you will be teaching that day.

And how about transforming into a hero — wearing a fancy costume? Maybe laugh at yourself when you make a stupid mistake. Humour can be different, and students will respond to it. They will enjoy coming to your classes because they love to laugh and learn.

Make your lessons funnier!

At first glance, it seems that these simple steps cannot help a teacher build comfortable communication, but in fact, try it and you will be surprised that your students really don’t need much to be happy. In order to study more deeply the issue of effective teaching of the English language, we recommend the course from Grade University.

And now let's go through some main tips on how to create postive atmosphere in your classroom.

Student's interests have nothing to do with the lesson.

Sharing some personal experience is a nice way to encourage students to be more engaged.

Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna


    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English



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