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8 New Teacher Tips From a TEFL Veteran
OK, you got your TEFL certificate, and now the world is yours to teach! Then you got your first teaching gig only to realize that the formal teacher training classes you got were background information and not applicable to the teaching reality of getting students to speak. Moreover, the middle school wants you to pull rabbits out of your hat to keep students happy regardless of learning. Or, the training center requests that you follow their outdated materials, killing off any chance for student’s increasing language fluency. What to do? Do you fall in line following the backward teaching ways given to you to become a “so-so” teacher, or do you make an effort to really learn your craft? If it’s the latter, then here are 8 tips that might come in handy from an American ESL teacher of 13 years in China, Jiayou!
1. Put the students in a situation to get them to speak: You should know by now that, in Asia, asking a student directly for their opinion will probably get you a blank stare. In reality, language learners from any country might, as well, have the same behavior, but perhaps, it’s more common in homogeneous societies. What to do? Simple, understand their cultural collectivist mindset or, in other words, make them work in a group because that’s what they’re used to. So, you might want to put them in a role-play scenario where students respond to the question in pairs or groups and where their individual opinion is heard in a round robin way. The great benefit of this is that the situation dictates their action verses as you’re directly calling them out. Trust me; this will work because they’ll feel more comfortable seeing others and following the same pattern.
2. Give them the steering wheel to drive the car: In life, there are passengers, and then there are drivers. The same applies to language speakers; some students would like to be the lead speaker to manage the conversation. Therefore, turn over the communication keys to them by encouraging them to be facilitators in the discussion. Of course, you need to provide the outline for managing the discussion with key expressions, speaking points, or dialogue. When you do this, they will love it and be very motivated and thankful for the opportunity to be the “speaker for the day.”
3. Correct only when necessary: Depending on their level, students will make a lot of mistakes relating to pronunciation, grammar, and content. But save yourself and them a lot of trouble and learn to hold back correction unless it’s a major issue. Moreover, if your class focuses on fluency, then avoid having to stop the class because of little issues. Student correction depends on time remaining, class focus, and the recurrence of the problem. There are different ways to correct a student, but here are two common ones. First, you as a teacher might look at them with an inquisitive look while repeating the wrong word and the correct word, such as “informations or information?” and usually they will give you the correct word. The second way to correct a student is at the end of the class. Just briefly point out the mistakes on the board; “one correction, information is the right word.”
4. Build your toolbox of interactive communication aids: If you ever tried to learn a language, you will know that there is a lot of processing to even simple questions. For the Chinese learners, there may even be more challenges. In the learner’s mind, they intuitively translate words or questions, spend some time to think of the right words, and then try to answer the question in their own logical way. Hence, their response is sometimes half-right. Or another more common problem that learners have is not knowing how to start answering questions. So, to save time and give confidence, provide them with speaking aids. Use talking points, outlines, diagrams, or a stem sentence to get them to speak quickly and respond logically. One simple approach I recommend is turning the question into part of the answer, such as, “Is chocolate a healthy food?” and “Yes, I do think chocolate is a healthy food because… “
5. Timing is important: I often hear from teachers that students just don’t want to speak in class. But from my experience, that is not the case. They actually want to speak in class, but they require time, confidence, and support. As a teacher in Asia, you should understand how important it is to be extra patient and learn to work with a learner’s behavior. Keep in mind that it’s the teacher’s role to find the best way to help a student sort of like working with a rubrics cube. It’s important to show patience while you try different things. You can use scaffolding techniques such as a stem sentence or a prewriting activity to assist. Subsequently, they can take the time to process and where you can return to them later, giving them another speaking opportunity.
6. Avoid being Einstein on the white board: I could imagine that in some fields, writing endlessly or sketching ideas on a board is beneficial. But in the ESL field, it’s more about talking, so don’t write many words; perhaps like over 15. I remember seeing a teacher who had the habit of wasting ten minutes to write over thirty words on the board to prepare students in a speaking class. The white board should be used like a PPT in that key wording, an outline of ideas, or corrections should be presented; and of course, sketches are also helpful. Depending on the subject I teach, I may write a standard agenda list or create a circular word map to guide the flow of discussion.
7. Setup your own dining table: Establish your own teaching format that you can use repeatedly. Very often at training centers, work is given to teachers at the last moment, or frankly, you might not be prepared sufficiently for a class. As a result, you might get a panic attack silently having a “what do I do next,” moment. To avoid such a headache, develop a framework that you can use routinely regardless of the topic. With the right format, you can plop the topic into your outline and go through the class not worrying about what to do next, but actually facilitating student speaking opportunities and corrections. For me, when I teach a communication skill class, I always go through a preset list of six areas in a clockwise manner that keeps the flow going for fluency purposes.
8. Energize your lessons: In ESL, students get the most out of class when they are active and interested. This is a reality because of endless educational theories and the fact that the student’s prior language learning experience was passive. Essentially, students had “workbook English” classes without actually speaking it. Therefore, teachers must contrast the previous students’ dull learning experience and show enthusiasm. To help you do this, you need to bring out the energy either through your personality or by class format. Naturally, some teachers are extroverts and have a great rapport, but others do not. So, basically, I recommend bumping up your persona to create classroom energy for student motivation and being engaged in your learning. However, if you’re an introverted teacher, then consider bringing out the energy through activities to keep students interested. Simply, plan a diversity of activities and be aware of their timing. I’m not suggesting that the classroom experience should be a fun endeavor hosted by a hyper personality or implementing a quick running list of activities. There should be a balance. But there is a reality that an enthusiastic teacher or when there are many useful activities to do, students are most receptive to learning and also prevents any issues down the road. Happy teaching!
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