How I teach English – getting to know your students

Getting to know your students is an article about the most crucial step when teaching English. This is the first step when you need to know and understand your students. Getting to know your students is part of EBC’s teach English series. This article was written by EBC Madrid graduate (2010) Isabel Ashton. On the first day with your students, you must make every effort to know them. Getting to know your students will make your life a lot easier when the time comes to deliver your subsequent lessons. This exploratory process is called a needs analysis.

Based on my experience, the first day you teach English to your class should be more of a covert interview than a teaching exercise. A lot of interaction and a lot of questions and answers. You will teach English to these people, so it is imperative that you a) understand where they are and b) understand where they want to get to. The knowledge gap between a) and b) is filled by you when you teach English to them.

The following examples were two different student groups with the same level of English. 1. A group of 4 girls who had just started at university. During the first class, I found out what they all had in common: fashion and travel. They all loved fashion, the latest trends in the fashion world and travelling. They wanted to improve their speaking skills, especially when relating past events but with the practical element focused on the two subjects they liked most.

After our first day, I focussed their following ten classes on fashion and travel topics. We start with some basic conversation exercises to relate what they’ve done. Here’s a brief example: “Let’s go shopping” – Clothing using the past simple and present perfect continuous.

  • “Hi Ana, what did you buy”.
  • “Hi Rocio, I bought a leather jacket and a pair of slim-fit pants”.
  • “Hi, Yolanda, what have you been doing?”
  • “Hi Carmen, I have been shopping for the last hour.”

Dry as the grammar themes may be, the content is of interest to the students, so they don’t mind talking about it. This is a critical concept in teaching. People do things they like. Getting to know your students is the only way to find this out. 2. A 4th-year university veterinary student We got to know each other during our first class. She told me what she was studying and why she needed to learn English. Her objective was to find a job abroad as a veterinary surgeon. I focused her lessons on her dreams. A brief example is a skill that most people need, dealing with difficult people. “How to approach an angry pet owner” – The use of polite yet assertive language.

We focused the lesson on how to be polite and assertive.

The client says, “I want to complain about the vet who saw my dog yesterday.”

We practised how she could resolve this adverse situation, defend her co-worker and make the client as happy as possible. Conclusion When you teach English, it is vital to understand your students’ needs and requirements. The only way you can do this is to make a serious effort at the very beginning. The same techniques can be applied to large classes. The only thing is that it will take a bit longer. The article shows two simple examples of adapting my lessons to my student’s requirements and skill levels. From what I have experienced, the lessons that you adapt to your students are much more motivating than teaching them the same basics but from a book or using topics that you may think are great but are of no interest to them.