Five common mistakes made by TEFL teachers

The title picture shows Jamie, one of our graduates, teaching English.

Five common mistakes made by TEFL teachers

If you are starting as an EFL teacher or even if you’re more experienced, there are a few mistakes that you are likely to be making in the classroom. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, sometimes we all fall back into bad habits. These mistakes could be jeopardising the success of your lessons, and they may even help get you fired. You’ll learn all about spotting and handling these mistakes on our accredited CertTESOL or CertTESOL Plus course.

Here are five common mistakes made by TEFL teachers. Are you guilty of making them?

1 - Talking too much

It is common to be suspicious of silence in the classroom. As a result, many teachers will fill any silences by talking about whatever first comes to mind. Unfortunately, talking like this can be a mistake because the teacher tells the students exactly what they are thinking. This type of talking is known as train-of-thought talking. Besides the fact that this can seriously limit your students talking time, it also puts an extra burden on them to understand what you are saying.

Instead, try to embrace the silence, even if you feel awkward. Not talking gives your students time to think, process and reflect, which is necessary for language learning. Plus, you will probably find your students fill the silence anyway.

2 - Not checking that your students understand the instructions

Instruction checking is essential even if you know your class well and your students are familiar with your classroom activities. Your students may not remember exactly how to do the exercise, or they may not know it by the name you call it. If your students don’t know what they should be doing, your activity may fail no matter how well planned it is.

Make sure you repeat your instructions at least twice. Then, demonstrate the activity and check the understanding of the instructions by asking questions. It would be best not to ask any questions with a yes or no answer. The classic question is, “do you all understand?” It is virtually guaranteed that everyone will say yes even if it isn’t true.

3 - Focusing on language unit form before context and use

When teaching, it is easy to focus on the language structure. However, learners must first understand the meaning of the language unit(s) and then understand the structure’s context and use. After using the new language unit(s), you can teach the structure’s form (grammar and spelling).

I am not saying you should ignore spelling and grammar, but instead, you introduce it after your students understand the language part they are learning. Ideally, learning any language should follow this pattern.

4 - Letting your students plan and control your lessons

Lesson planning is essential. However, lesson plans are not set in stone. Lesson plans are there to guide your lesson. As a result, you may need to deviate from your lesson plan. You may need to shift your lesson plan for several reasons; you may have pitched the lesson for the wrong level, your students may already know some of what you planned to teach, questions may arise that mean you have to give extra explanations, etc. Believe me; there is no shortage of reasons why your plan may deviate.

Whatever you do, if you have to deviate from your plan, make sure that you get back to it as soon as you can. Getting back on track is critical when teaching to a planned syllabus, in a state or private school, or observed for assessment.

What you must NEVER do is allow your students to dictate the direction of the lesson.

If you do, they become the experts. If they are the experts, what are you? If asked, they will answer that you are weak and do not know what you are doing.

5 - Correcting everything when it happens

We get it. You don’t want to be the buzz-killer who always points out your students’ mistakes. But, if you teach lower-level students, it can feel like that’s all you do. Making mistakes is an important part of learning. Therefore, you can’t learn unless you make mistakes. Your students want you to point out their mistakes – that’s why they’re in class.

Don’t feel that you’re being too negative by pointing out your students’ mistakes. Instead, be smart and deal with error correction effectively but respectfully. If you are doing speaking activities, take note of small errors and correct them later. If you spot a really big error, you decide whether you want to do an on the spot correction.


So now you know the five most common mistakes that TEFL teachers can make and how to avoid them. You’ll learn about these and more on our accredited CertTESOL or CertTESOL Plus course.

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