One of the most alluring aspects of Spain’s Auxiliares de Conversacion program is that it doesn’t require a TEFL certification – or any teaching experience whatsoever, for that matter. The goal of the program is to put native speakers in Spanish classrooms to get the students talking. As a language assistant, your role is to follow the lead of the full-time English teacher.
Theoretically, you won’t be doing any lesson planning or leading lessons.
However, there are two major reasons why it’s a good idea to have some basic TEFL skills under your belt before arriving in Spain:
1. There is always the (pretty good) chance that you WILL be asked to plan lessons and lead the class.
2. It will make you a better, more effective teacher. You will be prepared for classes, you won’t be anxious, and you’ll feel a huge sense of satisfaction that you’re actually getting through to the kids, rather than wondering what you’re worth to them.
These tips, which I learned while getting my CELTA through BridgeTEFL in Denver, may come in handy for the classroom as well as any private lesson you decide to take on.
Less is more
Do all you can to refrain from:
- Saying things under your breath
- Using filler words
- Saying something just to fill the space
These things may help you, but it is only going to confuse the students.
You may be saying right now “Oh, I won’t do that. That won’t be a problem.” But when you have 25 pairs of eyes staring at you, waiting for you, not answering you, you’ll probably say something awkward to fill the space. It just happens. But resist.
When speaking to them or asking a question, be deliberate and clear in how you say it. Don’t be afraid of silence. If they don’t understand you the first time, try saying it slower, but don’t change what you said – repeat it in the exact same.
Repetition is extremely important. For example, start your class with the same phrase or greeting every time. As a native speaker, this might seem boring. But it provides important structure to English language learners.
Give all the instructions first
If you’re handing out a worksheet or assignment, hold up the paper and explain it before passing it out.
Por ejemplo: “Fill out this worksheet with vocabulary about modes of transport we’ve studied. You can find the terms on page 28 in the Skills Trainer.”
Once you pass something out to those chicos, you’ve lost their attention. Do it before, and answer questions when they’ve got them.
Even better: Ask someone in class to repeat the instructions back to you. This gives you an opportunity to determine if they actually understand, and provides them an opportunity to practice speaking.
Don’t fake formality. Say it how you normally do in your country.
This may sound contrary to learning “proper” English, but if the goal is communication, then you need to teach students to recognize words and phrases the way they will most likely hear them in practice.
The next time you’re speaking English with your friends, take note of how many words you shorten, contract, omit, or slur together. It’s a lot.
Take, for example: “I am going to the store, do you need anything?”
Teach your students what this phrase means first, in ‘proper’ English. And then say it the way you (an American) normally would:
“M’gonna go to the store, you need anything?”
“v’you eat’n nyet?” for “Have you eaten yet?”
“No, I hafta go home.” for “No, I have got to go home.”
Don’t write them this way. That’s bad. But it’s important for advanced students to learn what the words really sounds like, or they won’t understand what people are speaking in natural situations.
Ideally, you could have an entirely separate lesson for these words and phrases, but it also helps to do it daily in the classroom.
No matter what the lesson is, the first thing you should do is give them the necessary vocabulary.
When doing this, follow these steps. We’ll use the verb “to swim” as an example.
1. Describe the word in terms they’ll understand.
For example, ask, “What do you do when you go to the beach? What do you do when you go to the pool?”
Don’t be afraid of silence. Try not to answer for them. Wait some more. Ask the question again. If the class isn’t very advanced, show a picture of people swimming, but don’t say it yet.
3. Get the answer & Make sure the whole class hears.
If someone answers correctly, tell him or her she’s awesome and ask him/her to repeat it for the class. Point to your ear and direct the whole class to listen.
4. Repeat the word or phrase clearly.
Motion for the students to repeat. Repeat at least three times. If the class is small, have the students repeat the word individually, or choose kids at random to repeat it.
5. Finally, write it on the board.
Write the vocabulary word, show it on the projector, and repeat again. Say the word in a sentence. Have the students repeat the sentence. Ask them to raise their hands and make their own sentences.
Writing it helps for learning, but don’t lead with this just because it’s easy. The goal is for them to understand what the word is long before they see it. It’s a conversation class, after all.
Be sure to use this same vocabulary throughout the lesson.
Let students finish their thoughts
Do not cut someone off to correct him, especially children. If you’ve got a kid who is speaking several sentences to you, that’s amazing. That’s communication. Let it flow. Often, students will self-correct.
Now, what you should be listening for are the most egregious errors, such as things they’re learning in that very class period or what they learned in the last lesson. Once they’re done speaking, tell them they’re awesome, but then repeat what they said, correctly.
Por ejemplo, an ideal scenario:
Child, learning past tense: “Last weekend I go to the park with my friends, and we go to my house after to eat pizza.”
You: “Oh! So last weekend you WENT to the park (strongly emphasizing the wrong word), then you WENT to your house to eat pizza?
You: Can you repeat (put your hand on your chest) “I went to the park”
Child: (point your hand toward the child, palm up) “I went to the park”
You: (hand on chest) “We went to my house”
Child: (hand out) “We went to my house”
You: So what did you do last weekend?
Child: “I went to the park with my friends, and we went to my house to eat pizza.”
You: You are the smartest child in the world.
*In a private lesson, you can take this even further. Try writing down the mistakes they make the most, and leave 15 minutes to review these before the lesson is over.
Listen and be flexible
Your job will be easier if you really listen to the kids, and ask follow-up questions. This may require you to deviate from the plan you had in your head, but getting the kids talking – and rewarding that – is extremely important. They should feel encouraged to say anything they want.
You may find that the class takes on a life of its own, and propels itself. Use your judgment, but there’s a chance such an instance is more fruitful than your presentation on Thanksgiving. This takes knowing how to read the room, which may not come immediately, but it’s important to try.
That said, you aren’t simply the fun aunt or uncle. If things start getting out of hand, get back to the established lesson to let them know you mean business again.
These are simple, and may not sound that helpful, but they’re proven methods to help kids learn more, and make you a more empowered teacher.
Do you have any questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll try to answer!