The ABC of ELT

How can I help you?

If you are like me I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience.

You are thinking of buying something (new clothes perhaps or something for your computer) but you’re not sure what exactly but you know a few good shops to try. You going into the shop to look around, see what t-shirts they have, or what is new within the large section simply titles computers. However, before you can even look around a man or woman rushes up to you and “offers you help“.

How annoying! I haven’t even had time to look around, I don’t even know if I want anything!

Even in Ukraine which isn’t renown for it customer service I had to quickly learn the expression “I’m just looking” to bat of such “Assistants”. However, I was thinking recently,

Can a classroom be like this too?

The task is set, the students know what sort of exercise it is, they know the grammar/vocab in question, they’re read, the look down at the activity and before they can even finish reading the first line the teacher is upon them! “Can I help?”

Sometimes students need help 

  • They may not have understood the instructions and be doing the task incorrectly
  • They may still be confused about the language/vocabulary but not want to say so in front of the class.

However, in general, like the happy shopper we need to give our students some time to react, take in the exercise, browse the alternatives and then offer help later on [even if they don’t want it] or wait for them to ask for help as they may in a shop.

Sometimes, when I go shopping things are different though, I know what I want, I know how much I can spend. However I don’t know what models the shop sells or if they have some special offers. Again English teaching can be like this. Sometimes students spot a problem and know they need help straight away [though in my experience this usually comes during the clarify stage and can be dealt with open class].

This was my attitude for the first year of my teaching and I was fairly happy with it Until I noticed something strange in my reflective journal.

My students were making some mistakes in their closed practices and then didn’t feel confident with open class feedbacks due to mistakes. I also realised I was being lazy.

Every lesson I could have a nice 5 minute think to myself about the day about life maybe even think of a witty and insightful blog post until my students were ready to check.

Then I realised I could be assisting more. I didn’t interrupt students straight away [unless the task was misunderstood] and instead allowed sometime to process [and for a perhaps smaller think about the day or just the next activity] and then off to work aiding with problems that emerged.

The results have been:

  • My students are a lot more confident
  • They don’t start to drill incorrect grammar into their minds during a remembering stage.
  • They make less mistakes further on.
  • The better students get to ask about more advance details of the Grammar
  • Lessons move faster allowing for more time on Fluency activities

I still don’t always get the balance right and sometimes approach too soon or late but It is certainly an improvement upon last year. 

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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