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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

Encouraging Students to Speak: Tips for ESL Teachers

Learning to speak English can be intimidating. No one knows this better than ESL teachers. Dealing with learners who are reluctant to speak because they are shy or self-conscious can be a challenge. But as an ESL teacher, you know your students will never gain fluency if they don’t feel comfortable enough to speak.

Here are a few tips that you can add to your teaching toolbox. One or more might be just the thing to get your students talking and enjoying learning English.

First, try to identify why the student is reluctant to speak

• Is the student a perfectionist, afraid to make mistakes?
• Is the student afraid of being teased for getting something wrong?
• Are your instructions clear and simple with plenty of examples?
• Have you offered a variety of materials and teaching methods to hold their interest?
• What is motivating your students to learn? In other words, do they really want to be there, or are you going to have to work a little harder to gain their interest?

Focus on the needs of the individual

Now that you've taken the time to examine more closely your teaching style as well as the needs of your individual students, it will be easier to tailor your approach to the needs of the student. For example, giving lengthy lectures or complicated explanations won't work when what the student needs is short, clear instruction with real-world examples of the words and phrases used in conversation.

Likewise, the student who is afraid to speak because they don't want to make a mistake needs to know that everyone makes mistakes, and it's perfectly acceptable. Learning a new language should be fun, too. Lots of laughter and encouragement can break the ice and create a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. Plenty of choral responses offer these students a way to practice reciting the new words along with the rest of the class – thereby taking the pressure off of them to perform alone in front of everyone.

Mix it up

Doing the same thing all the time can be difficult for learners who are prone to boredom or lack a defined motivation to learn English. One way around this is to include a variety of learning methods that will engage these students. Games can be great way to learn, and they will get everyone participating and having fun. Other ways to engage students are flashcards, magazine and newspaper articles, photographs and drawings.

Even getting out of the classroom and going on a field trip once in a while can spark a student's interest and get them to open up. Incorporate projects or role play – perhaps even invite a guest speaker in to give the students another perspective.

Be a positive example

The words you are using as you go through your lessons may be too much of a challenge for some students. Be mindful that some learners will respond more positively if you speak slowly and enunciate clearly so they have plenty of time to process everything you are saying.

Focusing on a simpler vocabulary may be necessary until students progress a little more. While you may not want to repeat yourself for fear of boring your class, they may actually crave the repetition as it gives them opportunity to review the words more than once. Revisiting the same words as you build new phrases can allow you to take advantage of repetition while adding to their vocabularies.

Don't be afraid to use visual aids as often as possible. Many students are highly visual learners, and pictures can really help to anchor the words in their minds.

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