Teaching English: Lecturing vs. Conversing in an English Class — By Lydian Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America Tips

Teaching English: Lecturing vs. Conversing in an English Class — By Lydian Shipp

On Wednesday, I had another English class with the 20-something college student. It was my last one with him, which I was very grateful for. I didn’t find out it was my last one until after the class was over, but that was okay. It was good news.

I’d been trying to work with him from a more interactive way for the first three lessons. I prefer to take this approach since it’s more fun (usually) and as a language student myself I know I generally prefer this style of teaching. I would explain things to him in Spanish when he said he didn’t understand, and I was open to him asking questions entirely in Spanish. Instead of making him use English and try to understand me when I spoke in English.

That wasn’t the right choice with this particular English student.

After I got home on Monday from my 2-hour morning class with him, I noted that I had a Big Black Cloud hanging over my head. I assumed it had something to do with my lesson that I’d just finished teaching, since I’d been in a fine mood when I left that morning. So, I did some thinking, and figured out that I’d been being manipulated by this English student… Blech.

But… why was I being manipulated? What was I doing that was making me vulnerable to being duped? And most importantly, how could it be fixed?

Eventually, I figured out that maybe it had something to do with my teaching style. I’d been trying to be all accommodating and laid-back, but I decided that maybe I needed to adopt a more hard-edged approach and do more lecturing than discussing and conversation. I knew the problem didn’t have to do with me (like, that I wasn’t a bad person or something), since I’d just been given a class to myself that morning because the students and their mom liked me, presumably more than the teacher I was subbing for since now they’re my students.

So I made a plan. My English student and I would practice basic present tense verbs and basic question forms, and I’d give him a worksheet sometime during the class (whenever I felt like I needed it so I could take a break and think about my next move). I wouldn’t accept any Spanish from him (unless he asked “how do you say (Spanish word)?”), and I wouldn’t provide any Spanish instructions. He’d have to figure it out. And if we wound up sitting there in silence for half the lesson, then fine. We’d sit in silence.

This tactic worked so much better than what I’d been doing before. I had pulled the control back from him and given it to myself (where it really ought to be in this case, since, y’know, I’m a native English speaker and the English teacher n’stuff).

By the end of the class, I eased up a little on my tactics and offered a bit more guidance (including translations of some Spanish words into English). He’d actually started using some of the phrases that I gave him to help him stumble through speaking, which was a huge achievement in my eyes (both for me and for him). Because I was speaking only in English and required him to do the same, it made it so he had to pay more attention. In my experience, when kids (adults, whoever) slack off, there’s a very real possibility that they’re bored and need to be challenged. In this case, I suppose that was somewhat true.

So I left the class feeling good and satisfied with what I’d accomplished. And knowing that I wouldn’t have another class with him was good, too. I kind of hate saying that, but I think I really ought to be honest here. I’m just starting to teach English, and I know I’d benefit from reading someone else’s honest account of their thoughts and feelings in regard to teaching English and about their English students.

(Also, as an aside, get your own markers and eraser. I didn’t have my own and had to keep asking people for markers. It made things much easier when I just had my own supplies, especially since I knew my markers worked.)

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