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Are you confident about your teaching? Whether you are just getting started teaching ESL or you're already there then you may not be sure whether what you are doing in the classroom is right or not. The truth is that you are going to make mistakes. We all do.


Most of time we are looking for a solution to our problems. These solutions usually focus on what or how to do something and while we may be aware of some problems we may not be aware of others.

Knowing what to do in the classroom is one thing, but knowing what not to do is another. And knowing that gives us another perspective from which develop as a teacher.

It's kind of like yin and yang. You can't have one without the other.

When I first started teaching I made a lot of these mistakes listed below. So if you are making these mistakes then don't fret because others were there once and there are solutions.

1. Not preparing

If you show up to class without a plan you are bound to have some problems. In the beginning it's a good idea to write detailed lesson plans that lays out what you are going to do.

They should include:

  • any materials that you will need
  • how long you will do an activity or exercise for
  • how to do that activity
  • a progressive list with indentations to make it readable from a glance

You should be able to give that plan to someone else and have them follow and understand it.

I have been totally lazy before and approached a few classes just by winging it and thinking I'll figure it out. But that doesn't usually work well.

As mentioned before it's a good idea to write detailed plans in the beginning. But just make sure that you can read it. Because you don't want to stop the class to try to find what you should do next in your messy plan.

If you have gaps and pauses in your lessons you will lose momentum which will lead to either student boredom and/or classroom management problems.

Over time you may find that all you need is an outline.

2. Not moving around

You may find that having a chair in your class is comfortable. After all your students have chairs why can't you sit in a chair? Well, sometimes you can.

I think you could do that in a really small classroom with an intimate seating arrangement.

A podium may also give you a sense of safety. But if you teach your whole class from the same standpoint then your students will likely get bored.

Move around as you teach. This will energize the classroom and keep your students on their toes.

3. Talking too much

I think it's a common mistake. The mistake is to fill your class time with your talking. Some people may think that since they are the teacher that they should be the one's talking.

The thing is lecturing is boring most of the time for most people. If you are teaching language then you are teaching communication and what is communication if only one person is doing the talking?

In actuality it should be the other way around. There may be times when you are talking more, but your students should be doing most of the talking most of the time.

4. Speaking too fast

If you are teaching English then you will be teaching students whose English level is lower than yours. It's important that you are understood and sometimes that means that you should simplify your language to suit their capabilities.

You don't want to lose your students. You can ask your students if they have understood what you have said. Sometimes they may say "yes" but not actually mean it. So you may have to dig a little deeper. If they don't understand it then you should back-up, slow down and simplify your language.

5. Being unhappy

As a leader your mood is contagious and if you are unhappy teaching your students will be unhappy too. Using games, activities, music, interesting topics and role play are all ways to inject fun into your lesson.

6. Being impatient

Your students are not on the same level as you. They will be at different levels, but it's important to keep that in mind. You may also want to take up the local language wherever you are teaching.

This will give you a sense of what it is like to learn a new language. If you are not patient then your students will likely clam up and become inhibited. Be patient.

7. Doing the same thing over and over

If you are using the same games, activities and exercises over and over again your students will get bored. If you hear them say, "Oh, teacher, not again" then you know that you need more variety in your lessons.

Variety is the antidote for many in-class problems. Students get bored easily. If you call on the same students, if you play the same game, speak in the same tone and if you always teach from the same spot your students will get bored.

8. No repetition

While you need variety in your lessons you also need repetition. To learn anything you need to do it over and over again.

The thing is to learn a new language your students need to practice it again and again, but you have to add variety to this repetition. For example, instead of having your students repeat a word after you as a class 3 or 4 times have them do it twice and then call on a couple students to say it together and then some individuals.

Using games and activities is another way to lighten up the repetition to make it more fun.

9. Following the book too much

You need a good book to work with, but if you are planning on just having your students repeating and reading phrases in the book one after the other without injecting any explanations, exercises, activities, games or role play into it then they will get bored.

A good book supplies some structure and content for your lesson, but it doesn't orchestrate it. You have to do that.

10. Being boring

Don't be afraid of showing your true self. If you are pretending to be someone else then your students probably won't find you very interesting.

What kind of teacher did you like when you were in school? Nobody says the boring one and nobody wants to go to a boring class. So find a way to make your classes interesting and fun by using games, activities, music, role play, interesting topics, videos, etc.

11. Too much correction

Most English learners are going to make a lot of mistakes. If you spend all your time or you make a point out of correcting all of them then you will eventually inhibit them from speaking.

Try only to correct what you are teaching them on that day.

12. Lack of order

Like lesson planning you need some order and structure to your classroom. If you enter the classroom without any rules or order then you will have problems.

A class starts at a certain time and ends at a certain time. What happens in between is up to you and your lesson plan for the day. Make sure that you have some rules and procedures in place to help add order to the classroom.

That can be a desk arrangement, a seating chart, a list of rules, what happens if they are broken, a daily plan on the board, etc.

13. Using rewards

Rewards are overrated. Focus first on making your lesson rewarding. Make those lessons fun and interesting. Baiting your students into doing something like finishing an assignment or getting a certain grade will diminish their interest in the activity in the first place.

Don't manipulate your students by saying things like, "If you do X you'll get Y".

14. Being to rigid

Sometimes being too rigid can be a problem. It's important to plan, but sometimes things don't go as planned. Maybe you find out that the students already studied what you were told to teach or maybe they aren't grasping what you are teaching them.

A mistake is to keep going with the lesson because that is part of the plan and you have to follow the plan. Sometimes you have to deviate from the plan to make a better lesson. It's a good idea to have backups in mind for when that happens.


This was a list of things of what not to do in the classroom. Hopefully this may have made you more aware of any problems you are having and/or offered a solution to them.

How about you? What do you think you should NOT do when teaching English?

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