Helping Students Conquer Stress in the ESL Classroom
Learning a new language can elicit stress/fear responses in students. This is especially prominent in speaking as it can make people feel vulnerable/ashamed in front of their peers. It is very common for students to feel shy, especially if they are one of the weaker students in English or don’t have the motivation to learn the language.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Daniela A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
My Personal Language Learning Experience
I have experienced intense stress in learning Arabic (my father’s mother tongue) because I was afraid of judgment from my family about how poor my speaking abilities were. Hence, I fully understand that the initial hump of fear can affect the learning capacity of students learning English. The teacher can always influence the state of the students by ensuring the students feel safe and supported.
Ways to Support Students
1. Classroom Dynamics
The primary way a teacher can help their students to overcome stress is by making the classroom dynamic fun and relaxed. This can be done by giving praise whenever a student attempts to answer questions, and not punishing or shaming them if they answer incorrectly. Focus the students' attention on what they do know, rather than dwelling on what they don’t know. Students don’t always need to be corrected in all parts of the lesson, and this encourages students to fluently try communicating in English even if they aren’t 100% sure that what they are saying is grammatically correct. This transfers the attention from accuracy and perfectionism to lighthearted consistent learning, greatly reducing the pressure that students feel around language learning, and helps students build their self-esteem.
2. Attention to a Group, not to an Individual
In a classroom, there will be students of varying abilities and personality. Some students are naturally shy and don’t enjoy public speaking/all attention being on them if a question is asked. To prevent students from feeling stressed, it can help not to put anyone on the spot, but instead ask the class as a whole or ask small groups and wait for them to respond voluntarily. Alternatively, the teacher can randomly pick people to answer questions, but if it is obvious the student doesn’t know the answer or is uncomfortable, the teacher should ask if anyone can help or just move on to ask another student. In these circumstances, it can help to affirm that it is OK for the students to give an incorrect answer, and that trying is just as important as getting things right. From this, all the students will feel more comfort and less shame in trying and getting things wrong.
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3. Team Building and Peer Work
It can help to give students pair work to do, where they can work together to solve worksheets or practice a new structure by speaking together in English. This one on one approach greatly reduces feelings of intimidation or embarrassment that students may have in speaking/ answering questions in front of the whole class. It can also show them how fun it is to communicate in English and cogive them more confidence in their abilities, possibly encouraging them to participate in whole-class discussions/offer to answer questions.
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Lastly, stress can be overcome by introducing games and fun activities which have a goal or involves friendly competition between class members. This can take the focus off personal anxiousness and transfer it to a common goal that students must work together to figure out a way to get to by using the English language.
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