Even though teaching beginners entails progressing slowly and recycling and repeating language many times, that doesn’t mean recycling the same activities, especially not during one lesson. Ensure you have a range of activities to use and don’t go into class without having first carefully thought through how you are going to introduce a new language, how you will check that the students have understood it, how you will practice it, and how you will deal with potential misunderstandings. The possibility for confusion at this level is much greater than at higher levels, and sometimes even harder to disentangle.
Expose students to as much of the language as possible
While this may sound like an obvious thing to do, it is not always utilized in classrooms. Limit the native language and focus on the target one in your interactions with your students. Even if they don’t know any of the target language, they can still easily learn simple classroom commands. Spend the first day going over some simple phrases that you can utilize throughout the classroom experience. (“I don’t understand”; “My name is….”; “Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening/Night”.) Sometimes the native language will be required, however, your job as a teacher is to expose as much of the target language as possible, enabling your students to also begin using it as quickly as possible.
Build on What They’ve Learned Before
It is essential for absolute beginners to review what they’ve previously learned, and it’s a great idea to start each lesson with a brief review. But you can also re-use previously taught language points and introduce them into a new context. Say you are now teaching your students how to ask for directions. Student A is walking down the street with a friend, Student B, when they run into Student C. A introduces B to C (they review how to introduce someone), and then C asks A for directions.
Use Their Senses
Absolute beginners may not have enough knowledge to understand explanations, synonyms, definitions, i.e. anything you describe with words. Instead, use their senses to maximize learning. The easiest to use with beginners are visual aids like flashcards but don’t’ forget to include plenty of gestures, as well as real-life objects. The use of realia will allow you to utilize several senses at the same time, and it’s often more engaging than two-dimensional pictures. Don’t forget to use things they can smell and taste, too!
Use songs, videos and games instead of lectures
Students of all ages will enjoy the break a song will bring to class. Songs let you do cloze exercises with the lyrics, sing-alongs and karaoke are fun activities. Just make sure the songs are somehow related to the language point you are practicing.
Encourage activities outside the classroom
To effectively learn a new language, students need to be as engaged as possible even when outside of the classroom. Give your students the tools to practice beyond textbook homework by assigning exercises that require interacting with real people. For example, if you’re teaching Italian, encourage your students to visit the local Italian restaurant or cafe to order something in Italian. The idea is to expose your students to how language is used in the real world while giving them examples of practical application.
Chill, Relax, Be Calm. Don’t Stress!
Even though sometimes you may feel like you’re not helping, or that the work you are doing is in vain, give it a few weeks. Things will begin to pan out nicely after a few weeks as you begin to find your feet and build a strong rapport with your students. They will also begin to understand your teaching methodology and begin to pick up on all visual clues, hand signals, body language, and everything else that you employ in helping them learn the target language. If you put in the time, they will always look back on you as being their first language teacher who really made the effort to help and assist them.