It happens many times during ESL tutorials. You are in a middle of a discussion with your student and the latter seems more comfortable listening to your explanations rather than speaking.

You only hear the expressions “hmmm,” “ahhh,” “okay,” “aha,” (sounds like the song with the lyrics “That’s the way aha aha, I like it aha aha“), or worse, nothing but silence. Chances are you are not doing it right! I have also committed these teaching mistakes before. When you’re in the mood to talk, you tend to forget the purpose of the tutorial. Later on, you may notice that the class seems tedious. Eventually, your tone of voice becomes boring as well. You think the student is too timid to talk. He’s really having a hard time completing a sentence. Listed here are some of the possible reasons why such students are keeping their mouths shut.

Possible Reasons

  1. You may have been strictly following your lesson materials that you tend to forget encouraging the student to talk.
  2. Not being familiar with the capabilities of your student. You’re lingering on your first impressions on him that he is timid and can hardly speak English. You’re not recognizing his small improvements.
  3. You’re too conscious about the time limit of the class and you answer your own questions.
  4. Not being patient. You are a perfectionist. You try to correct all the student’s errors.
  5. The student is afraid of you, or much worse hates you.

Possible Solutions:

  1. Find out more information about the student as long as he allows you to do so. Know his interests, hobbies and favorite areas in relation to his job. However, avoid asking him direct personal questions. Take note of the situations when the student freely expressed his thoughts. As much as possible, incorporate all the information you gathered about him, like his interests and hobbies into your lessons to persuade the student to speak. Encourage the student to ask you questions, especially when he doesn’t understand the expressions in the lesson materials or the ideas you’re discussing. You can use some of the conversation questions for ESL students found on this website –
  2. DO NOT compare. Every student has his own strengths and weaknesses. Language development varies for every individual. Have keen interest in their progress. Repeat a certain portion of the lesson material if necessary. Understand that in every class held, the student learns something new.
  3. DO NOT OVERWHELM the student with many information or questions more than he can handle. If he is merely a beginner, it is okay if you can just let him answer some yes/no questions at first. If you can only tackle one or two points within the allowed time, that is good enough. You need to make sure he understands what you are talking about. For adult students, don’t ask them questions like “Did you understand?” especially if the student is a working professional. Instead, ask them questions like “Do you have a question about this part?” or “Would you like me to help you with this?NEVER ask a question which ONLY YOU can answer.
  4. It is a good practice to build the student’s confidence to speak up during the first few classes you have with him. In order to do that, NEVER interrupt the student while he is talking just to correct his errors. Let him finish what he is saying while taking note of his errors and correct them afterward. When to make corrections? That is up to your student. At times, when a student is timid, perhaps the best time to directly rectify his errors is when you have already built good rapport with him. When correcting, avoid detailing grammar rules he is not familiar with. It will confuse him. Other than that, just help your shy student talk with confidence. Give him a chance to correct his own errors by asking him questions like; “Do you think there is a better way to express that?” or “Would you like to rephrase your sentence?” NEVER forget to commend the student for his good performance. You can use the “Sandwich Method” when giving feedbacks.
The Sandwich Method

This means you start by praising him for the positives he has done followed by your constructive criticism or corrections, and finally the overall good points the student has achieved. Always remember, teachers must be quick to commend and slow to condemn!

5. Use “could you,” and “would you,” to sound more polite when making a request to the student to do something. And yes, don’t forget to say “please,” and “thank you.” It sounds very basic, isn’t it? Well, remember the times when our parents taught us to use polite expressions when we were young? That was a vital part of our language learning!

To sum things up, being patient with your student is one of the best ways to help him achieve his goals. Use simple English words as much as possible. Conduct the lesson in a simple but enjoyable manner. Again, make it simple, DO NOT complicate.


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