I’m sorry to say that EFL teaching is not going to make you a millionaire! Having said that, most of us do not do it (just) for the money but get huge satisfaction from helping our learners. It seems obvious, therefore, that these learners should be at the forefront of our minds when planning and delivering lessons. Indeed, on the CELTA course, one of the criteria for a Pass A is that the candidate has a very good awareness of their learners but what exactly do we need to know about them and why?
Important information to find out:
- Interests/ hobbies
- Job/ Studies (current and/ or previous)
- Reasons for learning English
- Previous language learning experiences
- Learning preferences
Why do we need to know this information?
This will give you a good idea of their learning background. Older students will be more likely to have had traditional teaching in the past. This might make them more resistant to a student-centred style although some older students may welcome it as a pleasant change.
Also a good indicator of the type of learning they might have done in the past. Most importantly, however, their nationality will give you a clue as to the types of mistakes they might make, as well as the reasons for making these mistakes. For example, German learners will often confuse make/ do depending on which verb collocates in their mother tongue. In German, people “make homework” which leads to this being a common mistake when speaking English.
If you know where your students’ interests lie, you can create lessons based around these interests. For example, a group of students who all like sport, will already be motivated to read a text about the next Olympic games, for example. If your learners are not interested in celebrity news, do they really want to read a text about Brangelina’s divorce?
Job/ studies & family
This is similar to the previous idea. If you are teaching a group of pilots, a text about working in an office will not be as interesting as a text about the pros and cons of budget airlines. You can therefore design your class around your learners’ interests. If you have a mixed group of learners, their backgrounds can be useful in sharing different ideas with each other.
Reasons for learning English
This is a biggie. Finding out why your students are learning English is important. Firstly it’ll give you an idea of their motivation. A teenager whose parents have signed them up for a course so they can catch up at school will have different motivation to someone who needs to speak English in their job every day. Motivation can be intrinsic (internal) eg I want to learn this language, or extrinsic (from outside) eg My parents want me to learn this language!
Secondly, knowing your learners’ reasons for learning English will help you select materials and activities to suit their needs.
Previous language learning experiences
This is important to know because it could have an effect on their motivation. If a learner has bad memories of their English lessons at school, they may be reluctant to speak in class, for instance. Similarly, if someone was taught a particular way at school and did well with that method, they may not be so keen on alternative methods.
There are 5 main categories of learning preferences:
- visual (seeing)
- auditory (hearing)
- kinaesthetic (doing)
- intrapersonal (working alone)
- interpersonal (working with others)
Most of us prefer a combination of styles but finding out what your learners prefer will help you select and design activities to suit them. If you have a group of learners who prefer to work alone but you like your lessons to be more interactive, maybe you can compromise and let them work alone on an activity initially and then work in pairs/ groups.
Finding out this information near the beginning of the course will make your lessons more about the learners’ needs and interests rather than what coursebook writers think your learners are interested in. For your CELTA course, it will also be included in the Focus on the Learner Assignment.
Are you teaching at the moment? Do you know all this information about your students? If not, why not do some digging!