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Tips to Improve Vibes with Your EFL Students

Admin - Apr 19 2015

How can ESL and EFL teachers overcome the challenge of a passive class?

Passive students are a recurring issue in the language teaching world, with English language educators sometimes encountering extraordinarily passive classes wherein the simple tasks of answering giveaway questions, raising questions or getting clarifications are deemed so effort-intensive by students that they choose to remain silent instead, causing the learning process to bog down.

Scenarios where students routinely avoid interaction with their ESL or EFL teachers have been reported and even extensively documented in various research. According to a paper written by Jonathan Snell, students become unresponsive in class especially in cases wherein the teacher asks questions to the class as a whole, expecting at least one student to respond. In ideal scenarios where the connection between students and teachers has been established strongly enough to encourage productive dialogue, the response would generally come from more than one student, with the issue being discussed thoroughly by highly involved class participants.

However, in worst-case scenarios, the outcomes can be highly frustrating, usually characterized by an awkward silence emanating from lack of student response.  This happens even when the answer to a question is quite obvious or when there really isn’t a correct or wrong response.  Making matters worse, student feedback that is critical for improving learning strategies will not be forthcoming, preventing the teacher from helping students learn better.

Culturally-Induced Passivity

Student participation depends primarily on the level of connection between the language educator and the learners. That is, the stronger connection between the teacher and the students, the stronger the students will participate in class discussions.

However, studies have concluded that culture also plays a significant role in determining the level of students’ participation in classroom dynamics. Hence, a brief discussion of the learning culture in specific locations is important. As an EFL or ESL practitioner, you will certainly encounter a population whose collective view on education and on the teacher-student relationship differs from what you hold. The difference could be very slight to very radical.

In Japan for example, students are taught–at a very early age–to listen and not to question their teachers, reflecting the respect accorded to teachers in a sensei-seito relationship. As a result, Japanese learners have few or no experience in giving feedback, questioning teachers, or commenting in class.

While this is a huge challenge to hurdle, it is not insurmountable. The key is for English language teachers to deeply understand the nature of education in the location where they intend to practice their craft. In these cases, teachers should encourage class participation by clearly stating at the very beginning that interaction with the English teacher is not only permitted but is very important and will likely translate to higher grades.

Improving Student-Teacher Rapport

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Once cultural hurdles have been addressed, language educators can then move on to building student trust and enthusiasm by strengthening rapport with learners. This can be done by considering the following tips and adapting each to specific classroom needs.

  1. Project a trustworthy personality to your students by behaving in a professional but friendly or approachable manner.
  2. Allocate sufficient time to address each student’s specific needs or questions.
  3. Explain and clarify learning goals.
  4. Set classroom rules and enforce these consistently and fairly.
  5. Encourage a positive classroom atmosphere.
  6. Set the physical aspect of the classroom in a way that encourages students to learn more, give feedback, and participate more deeply.

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