The Top 5 Mistakes that New ESL/EFL Teachers Make

learn from mistakes

Last Saturday, I spent half a day with 8 energetic and passionate TESL trainees assessing their teaching skills.  Each TESL student was required to teach a mini-lesson which included a grammar point.

As as TESL trainer, I have assessed many teachers-in-training but I was very impressed with the attention to detail, the creative handouts and interactive activities demonstrated by this group.  However one of the things that I have noticed consistently over the years are 5 mistakes that almost all new teachers or teacher trainees make.  Although these mistakes might seem trivial, I believe that if they are avoided or eliminated, teachers can be more effective and therefore significantly contribute to their students’ learning.

Mistake 1 – Check Understanding

This does not mean saying to students “Everyone knows what they are doing now, right?” but more specifically it means checking the instructions that you just gave by saying “Who can tell me what you are going to do now”?  You will be surprised at how often instructions are misinterpreted even with higher level students (or Native English speakers as was the case yesterday during the practice teaching).

Mistake 2 – Time

Tell students how much time they have for a specific task.  For example, do students have 2 minutes or 20 minutes?  If students know that they only have two minutes to talk to their partner (and not 20 minutes), they are going to get working right away.

Mistake 3 – Pairs and Groups

Having students work in pairs and/or in groups has many benefits.  The key here is to make sure that students work on tasks individually first.  For example, instead of giving a grammar exercise or reading comprehension questions to pairs, have each student do the work first on their own.  Then have students discuss their answers with another student or in small groups (again – don’t forget to tell them how much time they have to share).  Teachers need to be able to assess learning individually first.

Mistake 4 – Questions

There is something unsettling to many of us when there is silence but there is value in the ESL classroom.  It is important to ask one question at a time instead of filling the silence with an additional question or two or three!

Here is an example.  “Who can tell me what we did in yesterday’s class?  What did you do?  What did we do yesterday?”

There are actually three different questions here.  Students may just be formulating a response to your first question, when they hear another one or two questions.  Now they are confused and unsure what you are asking.  Remember to ask one question at a time to give students time to comprehend what you just asked. This relates to Mistake 5.

Mistake 5 – Wait Time

ESL/EFL students need time to process information.  After you ask a question (and just one question!), wait 5 to 8 seconds.  Count quietly in your head.  If no one has answered, ask the question again but perhaps in a different way.  Maybe you used a specific vocabulary word that they do not know or your question was too long.  Rephrase it if necessary.

Finally, I have used my Teaching Observation form to modify  and develop a “New ESL/EFL Effectiveness Checklist”.  You can use it to self-assess your teaching (videotape one of your lessons and use the checklist or ask a colleague to observe your class).  If you would like a copy of this FREE checklist, download it at

Happy Teaching!

Download my FREE teaching resources at




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