How to help your conversational English students remember more!

First and foremost, you’ll need a firm grasp on what resources you ACTUALLY need. Do you want PDF files, Powerpoint files, Google Slide access, or a complex web portal/software? 

If you haven’t yet, it is important to ask yourself this question: What will the student’s experience be like? Try to imagine you are in their shoes. 

I remember watching my roommate teaching English and the workflow was just painful to watch. So much so that I took a picture (seen below). The lesson was taking place in person and both the teacher and the student were hunched over a table while the teacher pointed at some text on a book. This method of teaching is simply outdated and ineffective.

Let’s just imagine that you are the student learning from the desk like in the image seen below. What percentage of your field of vision is taken up with the curriculum? In order for the curriculum to take up a bigger percentage of your field of view, you would have to maintain an uncomfortable sitting position. Naturally, you’ll want to sit straight and look straight, therefore changing your field of view from curriculum to the teacher. This style of teaching puts the teacher in the main focus while the curriculum is secondary. 

Now let’s imagine that the student instead had a posture like in the image below. Their main focus is the screen and they are sitting in a position that is significantly more comfortable than hunching over a table. This position, combined with some specialized curriculum, will help you maintain your student’s attention on the curriculum for longer periods of time. 

Now back to the hunched position… Apart from the fact that your posture is bad, you’re pretty much just looking at walls of text. With the way our brain works, we are more likely to remember something if we associate it with another sensation or memory. For example, you may also show an image or play a sound clip along with a new vocabulary word. Sometimes when I hear certain songs, it brings me back to the time and place where I first heard the song. Similarly, if you show a pretty picture alongside some text, the reader will create a link between the image and the concept that is being explained. 

For example, showing an image of a gauge when demonstrating the pronunciation of the word will leave a bigger impact on the student. In fact, the word gauge should be mentioned throughout the lesson in other activities so that the student will be subliminally exposed to these kinds of stimuli. Below is an example of a lesson where the terms are covered first and then the image of a gauge pops up in an unrelated activity. 

At any given moment in time during your lesson, you should take a moment to gauge your student’s level of engagement. Even though you may have the prettiest pictures and the nicest sounding sounds, the student can still get disengaged by external distractions. It really is a pet peeve of mine when I hear a notification sound go off in the background during one of my lessons. I usually stop talking and bluntly ask, “can you take a moment to turn off your notifications please?” In order for the mental association trick to even work, your student has to be completely engaged in the lesson. 

Humans start to struggle with remembering things at around 45 minutes to 1 hour of inactivity. It is clearly obvious that if you push your student past this limit, they will essentially be swimming up a waterfall. It is tempting to try to work more hours and earn more but at the end of the day you’re wasting both your student’s time and yours. It is super important that you set the right precedent here as well by sticking to the time limits. Stay aware of the time throughout the lesson and adjust your pace accordingly so that you can cover the important content before the class is over. Make sure to vocalize urgency if there are only a few minutes left and be respectful of everyone’s time. It can be tempting to go past your established class limit sometimes because you’re having such a great chat with your student. Remember, you are a professional teacher who must maintain their professionalism and awareness of time. Time is in fact your most valuable resource so just be aware of how you’re spending it.  

And now, for the cherry on top. At the end of every lesson I ask the student(s) TWO IMPORTANT BASIC QUESTIONS:

  1. “What kind of feedback do you have in regards to this lesson?”
  2. “Tell me 1 thing you learned in today’s lesson… For example, a new word or a new concept…”

These two questions are really the whole cherry on top of the whole lesson. You’d be surprised at how much trouble some students have in answering these two questions. The responses usually require the student to think critically about feedback and then reflect on what they learned. These two questions also help you better understand how engaged the student was during the lesson. Some students can really give the impression that they were engaged but when they have trouble answering these then you know they weren’t fully aware… Finally, these two questions set the right example. If you ask these two questions after each and every lesson, the student will be prepared and will try to be more engaged in the next lesson because they know that they will be asked these two questions. 

Now for the shameless plug:

I know that it can be tough to find good quality curriculum, I’ve been there. If you want to save time and deliver top-notch lessons, download and use some free LessonSpeak in your next lesson!