By Mary Gorman

08 October 2019 - 13:30

Colourful envelopes and a pencil
'The best lessons give learners a meaningful task and are divided into logical stages'. Photo ©

Joanna Kosinka used under licence and adapted from the original

Mary Gorman, a New Zealand-based teacher and trainer with over 30 years' experience, shares her best teaching tips.

As a new teacher, you might feel enthusiastic and ready to go, but a little lost about how to turn enthusiasm into good practice.

Here are a few tips for becoming the teacher you want to be, based on our continuing professional development framework.

Learn how to plan lessons and courses

The best lessons give learners a meaningful task and are divided into logical stages.

This is an example of a meaningful task. It shows learners between six and 12 years how to use comparative adjectives to compare two animals.

Place pictures of animals face-down on the table.

Pick up two cards randomly and ask learners to make a sentence like ‘the mouse is smaller than the giraffe’. To support this task you could: 

  • play a game to review animal vocabulary
  • brainstorm different adjectives to describe animals
  • ask for more comparative sentences by holding up two animal pictures and asking learners to make sentences 
  • repeat the sentences with the class so learners can say them confidently
  • give learners similar cut-up sentences to arrange in order

When you plan, keep the main objective in mind and ensure each stage of the lesson leads towards it.

Understand your learners

Consider the different things that might affect motivation and ability to learn. You can collect insight from:

  • reports from previous teachers and learning specialists
  • talking to parents/carers
  • learner questionnaires
  • asking learners for feedback and suggestions
  • formal assessments
  • observing learners.

Keep a teaching journal to document observations and thoughts about your learners. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What things help or hinder their learning? 

Consider your learners' privacy while keeping this journal. Do not include information that could be sensitive or harmful, and do not identify the learners by name. 

Manage the lesson

Start by building a positive relationship with your learners. This will help earn their trust, and will show that you value and respect them as individuals. I do this by:

  • planning interesting and interactive lessons
  • stating clear classroom instructions
  • giving sincere, positive feedback regularly 

Teach subskills in the classroom

Subskills are the things people do in order to perform effectively in each of the four skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing. 

For example, reading subskills include:

  • understanding main ideas and supporting ideas
  • scanning a text to find specific information
  • identifying fact from opinion
  • inferring the meaning of unknown words
  • understanding pronouns and what they refer to.

Subskills are vital when learning a language. They can help students make up for all the language they don’t know. But they may not transfer automatically from the home language, so you need to practise them in class.

If you’re interested in learning more about subskills, Pearson’s ‘How to teach ….’ series is a good place to start. 

Encourage learners to produce resources 

Producing teaching materials can consume a lot of your free time as a new teacher.

Using learner-generated materials instead is a good alternative. Learners learn as they produce them, and the materials are written at just the right level.

Consider setting activities like:

  • writing stories with comprehension questions
  • making flashcards, quizzes and board games

Show learners how to assess their own work 

Sometimes you need to convince learners of the benefits of assessment, including self- and peer-assessment. If you can provide a good case for these, they’ll get a lot more feedback than just the teacher can provide: they’ll develop important skills for life-long learning. 

Give your learners a list of things to include or do for a task to be successful. Use this to demonstrate how to do the assessment. Create a piece of work and get the class to assess it with you using the criteria. 

Make the most of technology

Avoid using technology just for the sake of it. Think about how technology can enhance a traditional lesson.

Test hardware, apps, software or websites in the classroom, on the devices the learners will use, before the lesson. 

Have learners work in pairs to encourage communication, and let them support each other with using the technology.

Enlist the help of a tech-savvy learner to help with any technical problems along the way. 

Always have a ‘plan b’ in case the technology doesn’t work.  

Take responsibility for your professional development

Focus on one thing that you would like to learn. Using self-assessment can help you set a goal.

Choose appropriate tools that suit your learning preferences. You can choose from many free online courses, online communities, and webinars and seminars. Have you tried listening to a YouTube clip or TED Talk on education as you travel to work?

Use class time to ask learners for feedback, and observe them as they learn. What do they like? What do they struggle with? Try doing action research, and collaborate with other teachers. Some of the best teaching ideas come from questions asked at the lunch table. 

Use inclusive practices

Visual aids can assist communication, help learners to focus, make abstract concepts more accessible, and remind learners about routines and expected behaviours. Here are some ideas to try:

  • use a visual schedule to help children cope with changes throughout the day
  • use videos which can be paused and replayed as learners absorb new content at their own pace
  • combine verbal messages with gestures that clarify your meaning
  • draw on the board (or have learners draw)
  • use picture books and graphic novels to help overcome barriers to literacy.

Use multilingual approaches

You might have a classroom full of learners who are proficient in several other languages. This can support learning a new language.

Consider when it might be appropriate to use learners’ home languages, being careful not to exclude any minority language speakers. Here are some opportunities to use home languages:

  • encouraging learners and socialising
  • giving instructions 
  • finding similarities and differences with English, for example, with pronunciation, tenses or style
  • talking about grammar rules and vocabulary in different languages
  • brainstorming ideas, which you can then translate for a task.

Promote 21st century skills

Sometimes too much 'helpfulness’ in the classroom can create a dependence on the teacher. It also does not prepare learners for 21st century jobs and industries that require learners to innovate, think critically and solve their own problems.

Consider, instead, encouraging learners to embrace ‘struggle time’. This is the uncomfortable period where learners feel confused or frustrated, and have to work hard to develop new skills or understanding.

James Nottingham calls this state The Learning Pit. Struggle time, with appropriate teacher questioning and support, allows space for learners to be creative, build resilience and be proud of their achievements.

Understand educational policies and practice

There are many digital issues that come up for the first time when you are a new teacher. Some questions worth considering include:

  • is it appropriate to be friends with learners and parents online?
  • do parents expect 24/7 access to you just because the technology allows it?
  • do you know enough about data protection and privacy?
  • how can you manage cyber-bullying?

Your school’s digital policy can help you to make appropriate and responsible decisions about online practices and e-safety for you and your learners. It should contain procedures to help you respond to any incidents quickly and effectively.

What does your digital policy say? What other policies does your school have? Are they up-to-date and accessible to you? 

For practical professional development activities, read the Teaching for Success self-study guides.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

This article includes advice for using the internet in classrooms. We also recommend that teachers use the 360safe online self-review tool for a whole-school approach to online safety.