Classroom environment: Have you ever tried to learn something when you are tense and nervous? It is a
huge obstacle! You can help your students by establishing a supportive, relaxed, and respectful learning environment.
Be warm and welcoming. Do not raise your voice when asking for clarification.
Physical arrangement of the room: At some of our class sites (such as elementary school classrooms) it is
not our prerogative to change the arrangement of the room. In locations where we have permission to move furniture,
the ESL volunteer may want to encourage student interaction by placing chairs so that students face each other,
either in one big group, or in smaller groups. It is also helpful to leave some open space in the room where
students can stand up for oral exercises.
Encourage student participation and interaction: Most other cultures expect the teacher to dictate all that
goes on in the classroom. Encourage students to express their opinions and to ask questions not only of you, but of
each other as well.
Cultural differences: Be aware of cultural differences such as physical contact or the use of eye contact.
For example, in many cultures it is disrespectful or rude to look directly into a teacher's eyes, and in almost all
cultures it is rude for a teacher, or anybody else, to point at a person. Help participants to understand Americans' cultural expectations about conversing:
What is the appropriate distance between people when sitting or standing?
Eye contact is not only polite, but communicates honesty. If it is difficult for a student to make
direct eye contact, s/he can look at the other person's eyebrows.
What kind of physical contact is appropriate (a firm handshake, a hand on the shoulder, etc.)
Pacing lessons: Be aware of your pacing. Watch your students' faces, and check for comprehension.
Do the students need more explanation? More time to practice? Pacing is also important in asking/answering questions.
Typically Americans expect a response within a few seconds of asking a question. Not only do many other cultures
allow much more time between question and answer, speakers who are new to the language naturally require longer to
consider a question and to compose a response.
Group rules and respect: Cultivate a spirit of cooperation and respect within the ESL group.
Help participants to understand that everyone in the group is a student (including yourself) - and that everyone is
also a teacher. We can all learn from every other person. Define group rules as necessary:
We want each person to speak.
We will listen carefully to others.
We are free to agree or to disagree with what others say.
We are respectful to others and do not criticize or laugh at them.
We may share stories about other people, but we do not gossip.
Dealing with dominators: If a particular student tends to dominate the conversation -- or to answer all
of the teacher's questions -- the leader can give other students an opportunity to speak by using the student's name
to interrupt him/her. For example, "Peter - you have some interesting ideas. Hold onto that thought, and we'll get
back to you. Let's hear what Chan and Maria think."
Encouraging shy participants: If a student is not participating (but seems able to,) encourage
him/her in the same way, by using the student's name. Example: "Hiroko, what do you think about it?" or "I'd like to know
how Yang and Carlos feel about it."