Ahmed Attia is a school teacher who has trained with Taqaddam, a programme that teaches soft skills to young people in the Middle East and North Africa. He explains some of his techniques.
You have to hold your students' interest
I was only 22 when I first started teaching English in Egypt, and my secondary school class was full of 16-year-olds. Given the small age gap, I thought I could teach them the same way I was taught as a student, but I was wrong.
Students in the 21st century are different. When so much information is available at the click of a button, it can be a lot harder to capture and hold their attention. You can't terrify students or force them into studying; you have to pique their curiosity to encourage them to learn.
Explain why soft skills are relevant and important
Soft skills like communication, work ethic, leadership, personal responsibility, and listening are all important for young adults who are about to enter the working world. If you follow an outdated style of teaching, they are less likely to be attentive. Adding these elements into your lessons can change that.
Before teaching any new lesson I make it clear why we are learning a subject. How does it affect us? What can we do with this information? Our aim as teachers should not be to coach students for exams, but to teach lessons that will actually be useful in life.
Responsibility is a confidence booster
Confidence levels can vary a lot between students, especially those between 14 and 16 years old. Less confident students can miss out on a lot at school and in later life.
One technique to develop confidence in students is to give them parts of a teacher’s role. Throughout the year, I ask as many different pupils as I can to be responsible for classroom tasks like giving out sheets, checking homework, or collecting names for activities. As well as being helpful inside the classroom, students feel like they have a meaningful role within the group.
Responsibilities can be extended outside the classroom too. I have some students who act as 'parents' with their friends. They help me understand any problems their classmates have at home, that may affect their learning. It’s important to explain their role is not to spy or gossip, but to give a hand to those who need it, by finding a suitable way to offer help.
Teach your students about body language, and use it yourself
Understanding body language can be complex. So if you are going to teach students about body language, you should also try to use it yourself. I am able to control and connect with my class by using clear body language and facial expressions. For example, raising my fist in the air is a clear signal to my students that they need to be quiet and listen to me. I also make an effort to vary my tone of voice and pace while speaking to the class, so I can keep them attentive as long as possible.
When it comes to teaching a foreign language, body language can help you explain difficult concepts. When I taught my students the different verbs for 'to look', such as ‘glare’, ‘peek’, and ‘stare’, it only took me a minute to demonstrate all the meanings using my eyes, saving time and effort.
Remember to smile!
A simple smile is often the secret to creating positive emotions inside the classroom. I usually start my day with a smile to all the students I meet. If this smile disappears during the day, it signals to the class I am being more serious.
Laughing helps to reduce the stress of the day - though I always impress on my students that there is a time for fun and a time for work.
You will develop professionally and as a person
Above all, teaching soft skills has taught me about myself. I have become a teacher who can lead students 100 times better than I did 12 years ago. Teaching grammar and vocabulary enriches my English, but teaching soft skills enriches my life.
Ahmed Attia teaches English at Lycee El Haram Language School in Giza, Egypt.