This is the second part of our teacher communication series. In this article we are going to cover the following points:
1. How to pitch your language at the right level.
2. Body language to fill in the gaps.
3. Grading language context for intermediate and more advanced students.
The classroom can be a wonderful place to work but for the untrained, the new and the unprepared it can be frightening prospect. To face your students in the aforementioned conditions would test the metal of even the most naturally confident people. While sometimes we don’t want to have our students get too out of hand with excitement the opposite is even more true “total silence and blank stares”. Silence is the enemy of all teachers and there are many reasons why this can happen and here are some common ones.
– students don’t understand either what the teacher is saying or expecting
– the students are not really interested in what task they have been assigned (this is less common)
– if the teaching assistant is just as confused the translation may be not quite what the students were expecting and an unexpected task could disrupt the perceived flow of a class.
In any case the main crux is the actual misunderstanding of the teacher by the students and the results are usually students looking left and right at each other to see if anyone actually knows what is going on.
1. How to pitch your language at the right level
For smaller classes the logistics of this is not so difficult because of the numbers. The “OPT” or oral placement test, is a really useful tool to use to gauge the spoken English level of an individual. There is no one set test or standard and many companies use OPT’s to suit their own standardized materials, however there are many good generic tests which can identify students English abilities and gives them a easy to understand English rating which sets out students “can do” statements. No matter the international standardizing “can do” statements can at least tell the teacher what the students can say and understand giving the teacher some guidelines as to the level of language they can and can’t use in the classroom. With a small class have someone test all the students while with a big class give OPT’s to 10-20% of the students to get a good cross section of abilities. Once you know their levels adjust your lesson plans accordingly.
Remember that language learners know quantifiable chunks of language in set “vocabulary sets” the more vocabulary a student knows the more complex you can pitch your own in class’s language level. As an ESL teacher our job is to help our student’s language grow by:
– Teaching new language and language forms
– Understand new concepts
– Apply new language and concepts through practical use.
They say that practice make perfect, but I totally disagree with this statement. (PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT).
2. Body language to fill in the gaps
Body language is great and its use is not limited to just showing how excited you are by throwing your arms in the air when your football team wins the world cup. In some studies they have said that 38% of communication is in the voice and intonation, only 7% of communication are in the words we use and around 55% of communication is in body language, so you can see that non verbal communication is both important and useful. This is especially true in the
classroom, when communicating to young learners body language can solidify the context of something new through demonstration.
A good example is when trying to explain something like “how much” for something, the undisputed international gesture for this is rubbing your thumb over the inner side of the index finger. This kind of reinforcement of understanding fills in the gaps for the lack of second language knowledge and also becomes a very useful teaching technique. Also when expressing your feelings with body language while you talk helps students to follow topics and subjects like expressing moods.
Gestures can help with all aspects of communication from nodding, smiling, shaking your head, thumb/s up, patting the back, clapping and the obligatory counting down with your fingers are all effective forms of generically and universally understood ways to communicate non verbally and very transferable from the classroom to everyday life, as well as being quite readily seen in all forms of visual media such as TV and even (emoticons or emojis) on your phones. When body language is used effectively it really does cut through the language barrier and help you teach English.
Body language can also help your person-ability in the classroom. Our biggest draw as foreign Teachers is that we sometimes provide a welcome relief to our Chinese students who have quite a tough and focused school life and for that 1 hour English class they have with their international teacher, it is a time where they have the opportunity come out of their shells, have a bit of fun, self expression and watch something completely different to the norm. Our actions and teaching methods must be amplified to extend the level of communication and personal expression.
As foreign teachers especially with younger learners our own personal concepts of embarrassment and self consciousness need to be thrown out the window, because each day we as educators may need to be singers, animals, slapstick comedians, clowns and a little crazy to get through our lesson plans. Something I learned very early in my teaching time in China, on my very first day on the job in fact. So I learned very quickly the importance of effective body language.
My advice though is never use body language without an accompanying voice over in tandem, it helps to get the students to listen to the dialogue and not just look at the teacher be a mime wannabe to be laughed at. Before you know it you will have the expressive hand skills of an Italian grandmother.
3. Grading language context for intermediate and advanced students
This is one of the most fun ways for students to raise their fluency and accuracy levels of English. When we speak English at native level we contextualize our language automatically and naturally. Grading our language is where we give a strength or weakness rating to what we mean. For example (ecstatic would be a No#10 Happy) where No#1 is the weakest form and No#10 is the strongest form. Grading
language is a big jump in a language learners growth and changes their responses from set and standardized to how they actually want to express themselves, with the correct use of vocabulary and intensity.
There is a big jump from beginners level to pre-intermediate level and an even greater jump from intermediate to pre-advanced levels and one of the main reasons it is such a jump, is students are starting to grade their language in order to effectively and accurately express themselves in comprehensive terms not in memorized generic pharasals. While this may not sound difficult, it really is because the learner must decide in their mind the appropriate expression, then put it into the context of the sentence and then grade the expression for its relevant strength so that the listener can understand exactly how the speaker is trying to express themselves.
There are two main ways to grade language for fluency.
– First is to choose the correct adjective that is suitable for the intended strength
– Second is to add a suitable adverb or intensifier to your expression.
Here is a useful activity you can use for helping your students expressive English grow.
– First get a good list of adverbs and adjectives that are broken up into categories
Categorization and classification of word groups helps with eventual intrinsic understanding by directing the student’s attention towards correct language context. With these lists you can choose smaller chunks of useful words as per your lesson plans requirements. When going through the new words and their definitions with your students grade each word’s strength rating from 1-10 as previously mentioned. Then set up dialogue situations where your students must choose appropriate responses from the word list supplied with the correct language grading.
This is a great way to get your students to use their new more complicated vocabulary in real situations and in turn help build their fluency towards native like (in due time, of course). While most ESL teachers don’t get too many classes where the student’s level is much higher than beginner, for those of us who do, raising our student’s English fluency and accuracy is our primary goal and it is quite rewarding to facilitate this.
When teaching it is important to understand that in each class there will nearly always be a broad range of abilities and levels. While this is the case we need to pitch our lessons towards the middle so that as many students as possible can benefit from the lesson. Then best teachers I have come across over the years are the ones who always have a plan B,C,D etc.
They will know their students and levels and try to accommodate all of them by planning, using or making extra resources and materials for the students who have the lowest levels and in turn the highest levels as well. These are the consummate professionals who take pride in their work and have the respect of their peers and student alike.
Keep up the good work, Teachers.