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Common EFL Teacher Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them!)

grammar instructions new to teaching professional development reflection teacher talking time ttt Apr 18, 2022

A big part of being a great teacher is learning. Teachers who learn how to perfect their skills, understand their students’ learning styles, and appreciate the learning process better ultimately have the most engaged students and deliver the best quality lessons. Getting to that point takes time though, and often, the process is filled with classes that don’t go according to plan. The following are some common mistakes teachers make in their lessons. The advice given here can help you to avoid making those mistakes yourself (or at least not fall flat on your face if and when you make them)!

Mistake #1: High Teacher Talking Time

One of the biggest mistakes teachers can make is in the amount of time they spend talking. When teaching a language, it’s important to be a model for appropriate language and correct pronunciation for your students, but class time is the learner’s time to practice their speaking, not the teacher’s. Usually, high teacher talking time (TTT) comes from a variety of sources– being nervous, filling silence, etc. To avoid making this common mistake, it’s important to simply be aware of your level of talking time.
 If you’re nervous or find yourself filling silence with words, stop, take a breath, get comfortable and focus on choosing your words wisely. Slow down your speaking as this will help to calm you as well. Put a sticky note near you that says “Go Slow”, “Silence is an important factor in learning”, or any other helpful reminder to help you keep your TTT in check.

Mistake #2: Not anticipating problems/student errors

Teachers can be caught off guard when students get confused or make frequent mistakes with a new concept or vocabulary set. Many teachers deal with these unexpected confusions or questions from students by getting flustered and talking their way through it (and we all know how that ends…). To avoid finding yourself in this situation, make it a priority in your lesson preparation practice to consider target language that may cause confusion.
→ If you’re new to anticipating student errors or if you’ve never taught a particular grammar point and don’t know what errors to expect, remember that Google is a teacher’s best friend. Simply search “common mistakes with [insert grammar point or target language here]”. You can narrow down the results even more if you’re teaching a group of students with the same L1 by adding that information to your search. Say you’re teaching the past simple tense to a group of Spanish speakers. With a quick Google search, you’ll find that these students often mispronounce the -ed ending for regular verbs in the past tense along with other common mistakes.
Of course, every student is different and it’s impossible to know every error your students will make, but taking some time to prepare for the common ones will give you that extra confidence to teach. Once you identify some of the common mistakes for the target language you’ll be teaching, simply get out in front of the mistake during your presentation stage and spend a bit of extra time on making sure your learners have ample opportunities to practice it and get it right.

Mistake #3: Not having planned instructions for activities

You’re all set for class and your lesson has some fun activities that you’re excited to show your students. When it comes time to do them, however, you don’t have the right words to get your students involved in the activity. As a result, your instructions come out like a jumbled mess, and your students are confused as to what to do. It’s fairly easy to forget to prepare clear instructions for activities because often, the focus is on the activity itself but when activities flop due to poor instructions, it’s a real bummer. To avoid clunky instructions, take some time to really prepare clear, effective activity instructions.
→ We’ve got a whole blog post on giving instructions but some quick tips are:
1. Start with an action word for each instruction. Say “Read the dialogue.”, “Listen to the audio clip.”, “Write three sentences in the past tense.”, etc.
2. Only give the instructions your learners need for the step of the activity they’ll be doing now. Don’t include a whole step-by-step layout of the whole activity. Simply give instructions as your students need them.
3. Be clear about the time your students have and who they’ll be working with. Say “Work with a partner for this activity. Take 4 minutes.”
4. As a bonus, particularly when you feel you may have fumbled your instructions (which is totally fine!), ask some instruction check questions (ICQs). Ask “What are you doing?”, “Are you working alone?”, etc.
5. Remember to be confident and clear when giving instructions. Make eye contact with your students and choose your words carefully. If you’re feeling weird about being so direct in your instructions, just add a smile to your delivery and you can even add a “please” at the end if you feel it’s important.

Mistake #4: Not researching the target grammar enough/too much

There’s a fine line between being over-prepared for class and being under-prepared, and both situations can lead to some uncomfortable moments for you and your learners. If you’ve researched every single detail and exception to the rule for your target grammar and plan to lay it all out for your students, it’s possible your entire lesson will end up being a long presentation stage with no opportunities to practice the language. On the other hand, if you’ve taken a quick look to review your grammar point but haven’t thought about how to describe it to someone else without the help of a book by your side, you may be in trouble. To avoid being in the over or under-prepared arenas, identify your target grammar and focus on what your students need for that lesson, making sure to give them enough time to practice each concept/rule you introduce. And while you’re here, why not check out our tips on preparing for a grammar lesson?
→ If you’re introducing a grammar point for the first time, include only the introductory information about this target grammar (the basic rules and structure and the most important exception(s)) for the first lesson. In the next lesson, you can add more exceptions to the rules or other uses the grammar point has. By dividing the information between two (or more) lessons, you’ll be giving your students plenty of chances to practice the language and really understand the concept thoroughly.

Mistake #5: Not calling on specific students in class/allowing the chattiest students to dominate the Student Talking Time (STT)

It’s easy to let chatty students dominate the lesson with their questions and earnest participation. Don’t mistake the chatty learner’s engagement as the indicator of understanding and engagement among all students though! You may have some confused (and silent) students in front of you without you knowing. On the other hand, if you don’t have a chatty student in your class and you get nothing when you pose questions to the group, it’s an indicator that you’re going about participation the wrong way. To avoid this mistake, call on students individually and provide opportunities for all of your learners to participate.
→ Get in the habit of posing questions to each and every one of your students. This will jump start everyone’s interest in participating in class because they know they’ll have to do it anyway. Assign students small speaking tasks like reading instructions aloud, reading parts of a text aloud to the class, providing answers to questions, helping another student when they don’t know the answer, etc. The more you call on students specifically, and by name, the more they’ll be inclined to speak without being called upon while also understanding that everyone gets a turn in your classroom.

Putting these tips into practice will allow you to have smoother lessons (even as a brand new teacher) and even when you make mistakes (because, we all make mistakes from time to time), at least you’ll have the tools to make them gracefully. Remember, the classroom is a safe space for learning to take place and that includes your own– just make sure you’re always prepared and doing your best and you’ll never let your students down.