The most important aspect of teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESL) is whether the students are engaged or not. This is more true for tutoring than standard classroom teaching because the student can only focus on the tutor; there are no other students to distract the child, and there aren’t as many independent activities in tutoring as there are in group teaching. The key to keeping the student engaged is to interact with him or her – play games, sing songs, and, most importantly, practice and test their conversation skills.
English Teaching Games
Games are a big hit regardless of a student’s age. Some teachers have expressed surprise at the fact that even adults prefer to play games than to be lectured at or do bookwork – this surprise is unwarranted, as everyone loves moving around and competing.
The key to a successful game is how well it incorporates physicality. Games are more fun when the players are moving around. What’s more, people encode knowledge better if they associate a movement or set of movements with that knowledge.
There is no need for complexity. On the contrary, simpler games are far better as complex instructions in English can be difficult for ESL learners to comprehend. So, for example, you can lay a series of pictures on the floor and then write the corresponding words on some notecards. Shuffle them, then flip one over – whoever can grab the picture that matches it wins.
If you are tutoring one-on-one, you need to make sure you play enthusiastically, even if the game is easy and not very exciting for you. Students feed off their teachers’ energy, so if your energy is high so too will the student’s be; the same, unfortunately, applies if your energy is low.
English Teaching Songs
A great way for people to remember English words is through songs as they stimulate two parts of the brain, just like physical games do. Small children can be taught children’s songs like “Do Your Ears Hang Low” while adults can study the lyrics of popular songs.
Popular songs are a good choice for adults because people listen to America, Canadian, and British music around the world. By going over the lyrics of a popular song you are relating English to your student’s actual life and engaging him or her with it more effectively.
Music is also good for pronunciation. Hip-hop is the best example of this; by playing a rap song and having your student try to rap along with the artist you can make him really think about his pronunciation. Because hip-hop rhymes, your student will learn pronunciation more effectively as the rhyme scheme will iron home how each word needs to be pronounced to fit in the rap.
The best way for advanced learners to improve is with practice. This is great for confident students and tutors because it’s just talking. All you need to do to practice conversation is to write some topics on pieces of paper. Draw one out of a hat and talk about it for awhile; ask some leading questions and correct your students’ pronunciation as needed.
The best thing about conversation is that preparing a lesson is easy. Write down some topics and take them to class – it’s a total of maybe 15 minutes. Don’t worry about the fact that the students are doing more talking than you. After all, you learn English by speaking it, not by listening to someone else.