Tips for conducting English lessons to starters

How to teach English to beginners

How to teach English to beginners

07.07.2023

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  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

To those who are just starting their TEFL  journey, working with beginners may appear to be much easier than working with students of higher levels. However, this is a false impression. The beginner level can be even more of a challenge because sometimes it requires more thorough preparation for the lesson.

In this blog, we will look at some effective tips, techniques, and activities for teaching beginner students: how to create the right environment in the classroom, what to pay attention to, how to behave, and what to avoid. We hope that our recommendations will be helpful and that you will introduce the English language to beginners with joy and inspiration. So, let’s get started!

Tips for the start of new school year

First impression

Undoubtedly, first impressions matter. A smile and a warm greeting always work. By smiling, you nonverbally signal to students that the classroom is safe and prepare them for positive interactions.

Be sure to learn the names and surnames of the learners and pronounce them correctly. So they will understand that they are valued. For example, at the beginning of your acquaintanceship, you can play games and “icebreakers” to remember names and nicknames.

No complications

Teachers often forget and use too much English vocabulary in classes for beginners. You’d better not do this because your students will not understand anything. Simplify your directions, instructions, praise, and feedback to the shortest possible forms, such as: “Good job!” “Take out your workbooks” or “Listen, please”.

Support each statement with gestures. They will help your learners understand the request even if they don’t understand the words.

Structure the lesson and vocabulary

The logical division of information into parts will significantly improve its perception and assimilation. Structure the lesson plan; break it down into small tasks and clear steps.

Beginners will remember new vocabulary better if words are categorised, for example, “Travel,” “Home,” “Restaurant,” “Space,” and others. Additional free resources will help you plan your lesson and make it even more interesting.

Repeat = remember

At the beginning of language learning, it is important for students to get used to the classroom environment and the learning process. Use a simple greeting: “Hello, how are you?”

…as well as instructions in common language:

  • stand up, 
  • sit down,
  • read, 
  • write,
  • look.

Repeating the same phrases and gestures often will help your students understand the task faster and remember key phrases and words.

You can also begin each lesson with a review of vocabulary from previous lessons or grammar rules and end with a game or a review of the next homework assignment.

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Props

Using words to explain any concept to learners who do not possess any foreign vocabulary is unlikely to be effective. Instead, you can use pictures or drawings on the board. Then, for example, when students hear the word “train” and see its image, they will immediately understand what it is about.

You can also print pictures of items that are often mentioned in the class or write questions on the board that students can use during a lesson, for example:

  • Can I ask a question, please?
  • Can you repeat, please?
  • Can I go to the dressing room, please?

Memorising basic concepts and sentences will be much easier this way.

Don’t tell, just show

If you don’t have pictures or a place to draw at hand, then turn on the internal mime and “show” the word “train”: how the wheels move, how the steam goes, and what sounds it makes. Yes, it can be funny. However, laughter and humour, on the contrary, will set students in a positive mood, and the imitation will immerse them in the context and help them understand the meaning.

Charades are actually very popular, and it is highly likely your students have already practiced this game and will be eager to play it with each other. This will be a great way to consolidate new words. And outside the game, gestures will help them express their thoughts and feelings more easily.

More ideas for a fun lesson!

Do you understand?

Always check how well your students have understood the lesson material. They are frequently too shy to inquire or clarify information.

The way out of this situation is with CCQs, or concept-checking questions. These are the questions that will help determine whether all students have understood what is being said. For example, you might assign the task of filling in the blanks in the sentences with the options provided. Then your CCQs might sound like this:

  • Do you have to talk or to write in this task?
  • How many variants do you have to choose for one sentence?
  • Will you work alone or in pairs?

Student responses will give you an idea of ​​whether everyone is attentive and knows what to do next.

Encouragement

Encouragement is extremely important at this stage of learning. When you’re just starting to learn a language, mistakes happen at every step, which is, of course, frustrating.

However, there is no progress without mistakes. Be sure to encourage your students to try again and again. And praise them for even the smallest achievements, such as correct pronunciation, using a new word in a sentence, or not making mistakes in a sentence.

You can encourage students with the words “Good job!” or “Well done!” or simply by showing a thumbs up or a high five!

Don’t be boring!

Teaching only from a textbook limits the imagination. At the initial stage, it is especially important to keep the attention and curiosity of learners. Use games, images, videos, exercises, and ideas from the Internet.

Ask about your students’ interests and focus on them. Involve students in the context, implement role-playing games, and change the pace of the lesson and the nature of the tasks. Bring learning conditions closer to real life!

Games

Here are some ideas for games that you can incorporate into your lesson plan in the early stages of teaching elementary students. The games are simple and well-known, so they will not cause difficulties but will create the right atmosphere in the classroom and help practise the language.

Play & recycle vocabulary!

Chinese Whispers

In addition to the well-known “Charades,” “Stop the Bus,” and “Simon Says,” try “Chinese Whispers,” also called “Telephone,” “Gossip,” or “Pronunciation Whispers.” The game is good for beginners to practice pronunciation and listening comprehension.

Divide the group into two teams. Ask students to line up. Whisper one word to the first student in each team. Students have to take turns saying the word they heard to each other until the end of the row. The last student says the word out loud. If this word and its pronunciation are correct, the team gets a point.

With each round, change the order of the students in the row. You can complicate the conditions by writing a keyword on paper. For the game, words that you have recently learned or words with a specific pronunciation, such as those that do not pronounce the letter “k”, are suitable: “knife,” “knee,” and “knowledge”.

Shiritori

“Shiritori” is a word game of Japanese origin that means “to take the buttocks.” In fact, it’s the word endings that matter in the game.

Such a game can be played by teams on the board. The teacher writes the first word, and the students continue one by one. Each word must begin with the last letter of the previous word. Train—notebook—knee—enjoy, for example. The game can be made more difficult depending on the level of your students. For instance, the first line can contain optional words, the second only nouns, the third only adjectives, and so on.

Impove vocabulary by playing!

Find someone who

This is an active game that practices communication skills, including listening, writing, and reading. “Find someone who” is most appropriate for teenagers and adults. You will need to prepare sheets with categories. They can be very diverse, depending on what vocabulary and language structure you want to practice. For example, practising state verbs:

  • Someone who hates washing dishes;
  • Someone who owns a car;
  • Someone who admires horror movies;
  • Someone who seems to be upset;
  • Someone who smells nice;
  • Someone who cares for animals.

For each category, students must find at least one groupmate and write down his name. The winner is the first person to complete all categories or find the most people for each.

If you have any questions…

1. How should you act if, after giving instructions, students still do not understand what to do?

To begin, your instructions should be simple and brief. Key terms and directions can be written on the board. You can check whether students have understood the task with the help of several CCQs. 

2. How to explain concepts if students do not have sufficient vocabulary?

Use images, videos, and drawings on the board, and show the word using gestures, sounds, and facial expressions. 

3. How should you motivate shy students?

Beginners need more time to practise new words and rules. Provide the proper conditions for this. Allow students to practice first in groups or pairs, then individually.

Also, be sure to cheer them on and encourage any attempt, even a failure. Come up with small rewards for certain successes. Establish classroom rules that allow students to feel safe and supported by each other.

Become a motivation guard!

Last but not least: Don’t be afraid of new challenges, and try to teach for both beginner and advanced levels! To do this, continue to develop yourself, improve your knowledge and skills, find new resources, diversify your lessons, and strive to be the best at what you do. 

The Grade Education Centre will help you with this and, in particular, the TKT preparation course for teachers. It will definitely suit those who want to learn more about the communicative technique, what materials to use, and how to implement it in lessons. All information can be obtained on the website. Let’s change the education system together!

“Do you understand?” is a simple and good question to ask.

Article authors & editors
  • Veronika Syrotkina

    Veronika Syrotkina

    Author

    CELTA certified teacher of General English

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