The Worst Habits of EFL Teachers…

I just spent a long day watching over 30 demo lessons of aspiring English teachers. As I was evaluating, I kept thinking of a list I’ve had stashed away for writing up an article one rainy day…..the teaching skills that new teachers need to develop / enact from Day 1. These essential skills have been researched and form “good teaching” practice. You can get away without doing them but you’d have to be a master teacher. Even many experienced teachers fail to do these small but crucial things in their classrooms. Here’s the top 5 from my list. Do you do these?

1. Failure to provide the lesson framework / State Objectives explicitly.

Learning is highly linked to not only memory but to expectation. If our minds can envision the pathway, we can walk that path much better and will succeed more often.

Teachers often fail to put an agenda on the board/screen for their students prior to starting their lesson. I don’t know why but it takes only minutes and further, helps the teacher themself, summarize the lesson delivery prior to the class. Students really need to know what will be coming up — lots of classroom management problems arise from this one feature not being present. Teachers need a simple 1,2,3 agenda on the board, every lesson! Even better if you erase the items as you go along – it gives students a real sense of “going places”. Even with kindie students!

Further, one thing that I consistently see teachers not doing is explicitly listing or stating the objectives of the lesson for students. And I don’t mean the typical…”Okay class, today we will learn about colors” Rather, state what the students will be / should be able to do after the lesson. As in, “Okay class, after today’s lesson you will know all the basic colors”.

2. No Sign Language. No signals.

Teaching is done as much with the body as with the mouth. Teachers need a good repetoire of signals for communicating with the class. A wave of the hand means – repeat. A hand held up means – tell me the answer. A T with the hands means time out and I’ll use L1 etc…. This “sign language” is a basic component of good teaching and students need to be taught and conditioned to react to these in a consistent fashion. It enhances teaching tremendously and is a very powerful piece of the “good teaching” puzzle. Get your own and make your students aware of them…

3. No pictures! No visual supports!

Especially nowadays, our students are “digital natives” and need visuals. Language teachers, whatever the level, need pictures to support learning/meaning and also to engage students in the lesson content. Without pictures, there is much less “stickiness” to the learning that can happen. Visual supports are a basic item in the EFL teaching repertoire and each lesson should have a set of visuals for prompting and supporting learning. A picture does speak a thousand words!

4. Little Personalization

Good teachers link the content to the personal. Teachers should always link the lesson objective to the student’s own life and also share their own. Of the 30 teachers who did demo lessons on teaching the past tense, ONLY 1, introduced the lesson by telling what she did yesterday. All the rest used some bland reference that was impersonal. We all are interested in people, people we know. Our brains light up and are ready for learning when talking/interacting with and about others. So center your lessons with examples of the student’s and your own lives.
This reminds me of one lesson I observed a few years ago. Perfect lesson about time. Everything well organized, fun, interactive BUT not once did the teacher ask the students what the real time was!

5. Too much parroting – Listen and Repeat.

I’ll get heck for listing this one but I really think there is very little effectiveness to this. If it can be done as a chant and is a dialogue, okay fine — it works in two parts. But if it is just, “Okay class, repeat after me….” Skip it! Students need to learn words in use and context. Which also means they must learn the pronunciation from real use and context. Sometimes to me, it feels like many teachers do the “Listen and repeat” just to feel like they are “really teaching” – meaning, they feel in control and an authority figure. Good teachers don’t use Listen and Repeat unless it is the first time students would be encountering that language and even then, it can be done inventively, with whole sentences – NOT some bland parroting….

Those our my top 5 worst habits. I’m sure we all more or less have some of these failures and they aren’t meant to be taken “carte blanche”. Teaching is an art and there are times/places when some of these can be broken. That’s what makes the puzzle of teaching so fun and challenging……

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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9 Responses

  1. Simon says:

    Some really good thoughts there. I especially liked the idea about putting the main points of the lesson plan on the whiteboard. Perhaps another “bad habit” is failing to provide meaningful activities for learners to continue learning outside of the classroom and between classes. Students often assume that the classroom is the place for learning language, whereas it should be rather a springboard to managing their own learning in real life.

  2. Chris Cotter says:

    Great info and advice. I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to add (perhaps as a sixth entry?) assuming students understand the language point or instructions for an activity. It’s important to always check comprehension with questions, such as “What will we do first?” and “What will we do next” when setting up an activity. With a language point, it’s important to practice as a class, provide examples, demonstrate, and then allow students to work in pairs to get comfortable with the language.

    Again, great set of ideas!

    Chris Cotter

  3. Bryan Kelly says:

    For Number 2, Sign Language, I’d add that it’s massively important for the conveyance of meaning and context of language as well. In this instance it ties in with Number 3, Visual Supports.

    I’ve found myself conveying a complex conceptual point concerning the target language with a simple picture on the board, but equally on other occasions I’ve done likewise with a a bit of mime, charades, or on one occasion just a tilt of the head.

  4. ddeubel says:


    Thanks for dropping in and yes, context in both ways, so important. Kind of makes me think of the premise of the language teacher as an actor and that great language teachers often are very good at drama, acting.

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