5 Ways to get your TEFL students ready to learn

You’re the teacher. So, this means your students will hang onto your every word as soon as you walk through the door. Right?

Hmm… well… we don’t want to scare you but… (whisper it quickly) they might not.

True, TEFL teachers rarely have to deal with the sorts of behaviour issues you might find in a UK classroom, but it takes more than simply writing your name on the board to get your students’ undivided attention!

Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that the standing-at-the-front-and-trying-to-feel-brave technique will magically work, let’s take a more practical approach. So, how do you get learners ready for a lesson? Here are our top five ways of getting your TEFL students ready to listen and learn!

classroom 2

1. First impressions count

Here’s a question for you. If you walked into a classroom, what would make you more excited?

Option 1: Rows of desks, a board full of writing and the teacher slouched over her phone.

Option 2: Chairs in a circle around a table filled with different types of food plus a teacher welcoming you in at the door.

We would go with option 2. You?

It doesn’t take much to make a TEFL lesson seem more appealing! Try putting pictures or keywords up on the wall. Bring along a few everyday objects as props. Even setting out chairs in a different format makes the room look more intriguing. Oh, and go with your friendliest smile! It really does help.

After all, if you’ve got your students’ attention in a positive way, before you even open your mouth, you’re off to a great start.


2. Warm up the lesson

The scene-setting worked. Your students look interested. Now what?

Bring up the energy levels with a quick TEFL warmer! We find a short, fun activity that gets students speaking in English, and getting rid of any excess energy with movement, works best.

For example, tell students to find someone else in the room who has seen the same film / been out at the weekend / done their homework (complete as appropriate!). Or why not ask the class to line up in order based on the length of time it took them to get to school that morning – speaking only in English to work it out.

It’s amazing how quickly a fun game can transform even the most bored of teenagers into relaxed, engaged students. Or, to put it another way, a class that is ready to learn.

Want some more TEFL warmer activity ideas? Check out our 5 warmers every TEFL teacher should know blog post for some great ones.


3. Keep it positive

The ratio should be 1:5, so for every 1 negative statement you make, you need to balance it out with 5 positive ones, to keep the overall classroom environment positive and learner friendly.

It’s scary speaking out loud in front of your peers. Particularly when you don’t really understand the sounds you are making – let alone the order they should be in.

And a scared student is much less likely to learn.

Your job, as a TEFL teacher, is to make the environment positive and make each student feel confident enough to open his or her mouth.

Give lots of positive feedback. Use simple, clear words to explain activities. Include pair and small group tasks to make the lesson less intimidating. Make sure your lessons are both fun and challenging. And then give even more positive feedback.

If students understand what they are doing, enjoy themselves and aren’t scared to make mistakes, they are far more likely to want to learn!

TEFL students in classroom ready to learn

4. Make it personal


Here’s another question for you. Would you pay more attention if a lesson was about your favourite song or some abstract grammar rule?

You don’t really need to answer that one!

One of the best ways to make your students eager to learn is to find out about their interests and create lessons based on them.

Of course, you can’t always play everyone’s top music choice. But you can get students to talk about their holiday plans or debate how much social media will change over the next three years or imagine what will happen now that their country has scored that winning goal.

All far more likely to get them racing back for their next class than telling them to practice the future continuous tense!


5. Be prepared

Make it your mantra: prepare, prepare, prepare.

Boring as it might sound, the best way to make sure your class runs smoothly is a well-constructed lesson plan packed full of different types of activities that will appeal to your students. Top this off with an organised classroom, where your teaching materials are ready to grab when you need them, and you’ve got a great chance that your lesson will go well.

Say it again: prepare, prepare, prepare.

If you don’t believe us, think back to your own school days. Whose lessons did you turn up to expecting to learn? The teacher who fumbled around looking for the worksheet and spent the first five minutes of every lesson telling you the same thing that he had droned on about the week before? Or the organised one who expected you to arrive on time with your books out ready – because she would do the same?

Enough said.

Need more tips on lesson planning to feel prepared? Check out our Lesson Planning short course, that will take you through everything you need to know.

Just so you know, we may have put this tip last, but it’s actually our most important one! If you expect your students to be ready to learn, you need to be ready to teach them. When you are, you might just find yourself standing in front of a class, with all your students looking back at you in awe. Well, it could happen!

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I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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