10 Tips to Help Your Students Follow Directions When Teaching English Abroad
Giving directions as a teacher to non-native English speakers in an EFL classroom often requires a set of techniques to ensure the students truly understand the directions and can follow them how you want them to. The following 10 tips to help your students follow directions when teaching English abroad work for students of all ages and levels but are especially useful for English learners of young ages or low levels.
1. Ask for Their Attention
Before starting an activity, be sure to take some time to explain the instructions carefully to your students. This starts by making it clear that the students should now pay attention as you will give the directions. If you don’t make it clear that you are about to explain an activity, some students tend to “turn off” their brains while you’re talking. A simple “Attention everyone, I am going to give you the directions for our next activity.” will go a long way and the students know from the start that there will be an activity coming so they can get prepared for that.
Also read: Top 5 Icebreakers for New TEFL Teachers
2. Minimize Distractions
Background noise is sometimes out of the control of a teacher, such as noise from traffic or construction outdoors. Other times, you can control the distractions in the classroom and minimize them, especially during a time when you give directions. If your students study with background music, make sure to turn it off before giving instructions. It also helps to close the doors of the whiteboard and turn off a projector or TV screen if you are working with these teaching aids in the classroom. Even if you don’t mind some background music, language learners will have a harder time following what you are saying if there are other noises. So, minimizing any distractions makes it easier for your students to follow your instructions.
3. Speak Quietly
We’ve all seen it before: Students talking while the teacher is giving instructions and the teacher adjusting his voice to speak over the students’ noise to make them listen. Unfortunately, this often only results in a noise battle and is rather counterproductive in the EFL classroom. It’s a much better strategy to speak in a regular or quiet tone to make the students pay close attention to what you are saying. Of course, there can be a student or two who will still keep talking, so in that case, you can call their name and ask for attention or, put them on the spot a little, and ask them to repeat what you’ve just said. They likely won’t know but will then keep quiet and follow your instructions.
4. Break Down Instructions
New teachers especially should take some time to think about the directions they are about to give to their students beforehand and make sure to break them down into a handful of steps. If there are only a few steps to your instructions - say no more than five - students can remember them very easily. The younger the students, the fewer steps the better. The more often you do this, the more practice you will get and you will soon be able to do it without any prior preparation.
5. Number Your Directions
Once you’ve broken down your directions into steps, number them out. In the prepping process, you can note them down onto a sheet of paper. In the classroom, you should write them down on the board for everyone to see. You can either write the steps down as you are giving the directions or wait until the end and create the steps together with the students as a short reminder.
6. Be Precise
Avoid using overly complicated words and keep your instructions short and simple. It’s important here to keep to the level of the students. Also be specific in what you want them to do and what each step needs to be. Giving too many options or being too vague often results in chaos and confusion for young students.
7. Wait Before Repeating
It’s best to always repeat the instructions at least once in a summarized version. However, studies have shown that it’s best to wait between 4 and 7 seconds before repeating the directions. This gives your students time to process what you’ve initially said, especially because English is not their first language.
8. Don’t Ask “Do You Understand?”
A lot of teachers end their instructions by asking their students “Do you understand?”. While this might seem like a great idea, in reality, it isn’t very effective. Most English language students either don’t understand everything you say or they simply aren’t brave enough to admit that they don’t understand. Therefore, asking if your students understand is usually a waste of time. What you can do instead is to ask a student to repeat the directions back to you and check for understanding that way. However, this doesn’t make it clear if all of the students understand.
9. Rephrase Questions
Avoid using questions when giving directions and rather rephrase so that instead of giving the students a choice to follow through or not, you are telling them to follow through.
10. Use Visual Reminders
Especially when you are dealing with students with a low level of English or those who struggle with auditory processing, using visual aids goes a long way. You can use pictures, visual schedules, cards or simply add drawings to your steps when writing the directions onto the whiteboard.
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Are you ready to teach English abroad?
Getting your students to follow directions properly is often not as easy as it seems. However, these 10 tips will really help your students follow directions and allow you to use your teaching time efficiently and not fall behind on your curriculum due to activities not being carried out on time.
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