How to be a better teacher
October 6, 2010 6:38 AM   Subscribe

How can I become an awesome English teacher to a foreign child?

I've moved to a foreign city, and have recently started acting as an English tutor to a child for one hour per week.

My role is to talk to them in English, and to run through the exercises his school English teachers go over - in short, to consolidate and help with pronunciation, not to necessarily teach new things (although if new vocab etc. comes up in the course of conversation, I will of course explain it).

A lot of the school work is based on learning phonetics, and the parents would like me to make sure that this is learnt well, and irregular verbs also.

I'm not TEFL qualified (and the parents know this - my role is purely to help confidence and to aid repetition).

So, what sorts of ways can I try and make this hour instructive and fun for a child who is easily bored and prone to distraction? Any exercises that people think would work really well? And which irregular verbs after "to be" and "to have" should I work on?

The reason I ask is because it doesn't take nearly as long to go over the exercises done in school as it probably did to initially teach them, so I want to be able to use all of the time well, rather than just doing boring repetition for an hour.

Any thoughts/comments welcome!
posted by djgh to Education (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There was possibly a MeFi post about this a while ago, but there was this TEFL teacher who printed out Penny Arcade cartoon strips with the speech bubbles blanked out, then got his students to fill in the speech bubbles. Works as creative writing/"come up with a conversation in English" exercise but is a bit more fun when they have to fit the conversation to the cartoon strip and maybe come up with a joke/punchline. You could do this with something other than Penny Arcade of course, or maybe vary the cartoon strip each time or something.

Ah, here we go.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:58 AM on October 6, 2010

I tutored English to some kids who were 6 - 9 years old in Japan, and also a few classes for adults. In general, I put a spin on the lesson that includes things that interests them. For kids, sometimes video games or popular tv show characters (etc.) are what they'll respond to, so I spend time getting to know them and what their interests are each class, and use that to help guide me in our lesson. Start the lesson off asking them about themselves, their favourite hobbies and tv shows and videogames, what fun things they did last week, and generally taking an interest in them - kids love talking about themselves! Keep drawing materials on hand to help him communicate what he's trying to say - becomes a fun guessing game :)
posted by lizbunny at 7:06 AM on October 6, 2010

Best answer: As far as irregular verbs in the present tense, "to do" is a big one (and you can do "to go") along with it. Modals like "can" and "will" are also tricky with respect to the 3rd-person -s.

A lot depends on the kid's personality. Humor often helps a lot (making up ridiculous sentences, doing pronunciation exercises in different or exaggerated voices, etc.) And if there's some subject that really interests your student, incorporating it into your exercises can help them pay attention. Messi the football player has been incredibly useful for teaching 3rd-person forms this year, for example.

Also, think about the syllabus the school is following. Some language classes for kids take a sort of immersion approach, where they throw a lot of material at the students but don't necessarily explain the whys or hows until years later. I guess the idea is to introduce patterns and vocabulary. One thing you can do with your time is to think of ways to tie together the different ideas the syllabus has so far introduced, or to explain things more deeply. I like helping students to build complex sentences out of simple components they already know. For example, if they've learned how to say "I like broccoli" then they can learn "I like to eat" and "I don't like to eat broccoli" and "Do I have to eat broccoli?" and "Why do I have to eat broccoli?" and "I think that Superman really really likes broccoli" and so on.
posted by people? I ain't people! at 9:38 AM on October 6, 2010

Also consider addressing common figures of speech & idioms like "raining cats and dogs".
posted by smirkette at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2010

Best answer: You don't say how old your student is, or exactly how much English he has, that would be helpful.

Here are some ideas:

- Make flashcards with the words you are using. Have him draw the meaning on the back of the card. Use cards to practice spelling (flash the card, then hide it, he says "camp! c-a-m-p, camp", you correct pronunciation of letters and or word. See how fast you can go through all the cards, etc etc. Or flash the drawing, and he has to call out the correct word. You can use flash cards for everything...

- Write simple two person dialogues. Use the vocab he already has, plus you can insert some new vocab. First have him repeat the dialogue, so he can start learning correct intonation for English sentences and questions, then read the dialogue through together, then ask him to scan the words quickly and then look at you as he says them, then finally he should be able produce the dialogue without reading.

- When EFL teachers talk about irregular verbs, we mean all the verbs that are irregular in the past tenses, like forget/forgot/forgotten, take/took/taken, etc. Students need to learn these verbs by memorization, otherwise they will say things like "I have maked a cake." More flash cards.

- Get really excited when he is right or when he is working well. Lay on the approval till you feel ridiculous. OMIGOSH YOU'RE RIGHT!!! YOU REALLY KNOW YOUR STUFF!! THAT'S SO GREAT!!! etc etc. That makes the class much more interesting. (use often!!)

- Pretend to be angry. Really. Use a stern voice and make an angry face "You need to stop playing around and focus. NOW!" (use sparingly)

- You can find short kids stories on the internet, print them out in a 14 or 16 pt font, and read them together.

- You can also search for "English idioms" to find lists of idioms to teach.

- Search for jokes. There are tons of silly fun jokes out there, all exposure to language is counts and jokes frequently have plays on words or pronunciations gags that need to be explained, but then are learned.

-Make everything and anything a game.

Well, that should keep you going for awhile! Once you start doing more activities with this child, you should suggest two hours a week. The thing is, even though your role is not to "teach", the kid is learning from you without even trying. Two or three hours with a native speaking tutor is really going to do wonders for his fluency. And don't underestimate yourself, just the example of your pronunciation and natural intonation will be immensely helpful. Have fun!
posted by Locochona at 6:58 PM on October 6, 2010

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