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How to create rapport with your students when teaching English

Updated: Mar 29

How to create rapport with your students when teaching English
Creating rapport with students in class is very important - here are some tips of how to do it well

I once worked with a Director of Studies who said that when she was hiring someone for a teaching job, the first thing she always checked in a reference was whether the teacher was able to build rapport well with their students. I understand why. If students like their teacher, then that's half the battle. Happy students mean fewer complaints; happy students mean more people extending their courses; happy students mean that your boss will like you!

So how do you go about building good rapport when teaching English? One starting point is simply to relax. I know that can be difficult for a new teacher, but if students see a teacher who is nervous, who is shuffling through their notes, who is pacing the room, they won't be able to relax and it will be difficult to build a connection with them. So, start simply. Sit down. This will immediately decrease stress levels. Many people have an image in their mind of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom and lecturing, but we're language teachers, not lecturers, and English language classes should involve lots and lots of student-led communication, and so there's no need to spend the lesson towering over the students from the whiteboard. Sit down, make eye contact with the students, smile!

Speaking of eye contact, another important building block in rapport is to meet the students as individuals. Learn their names. And use their names! It's hard to like a teacher who doesn't bother learning your name. Spread your attention throughout the class. It's very tempting to engage with the chattier, more talkative students. After all, they have lots to say, but if we teach a lesson with only the needs and interests of the most confident students in our minds, we're doing a disservice to the group. Every student deserves the teacher's attention. It's true that not every student will enjoy being called on or speaking in front of the class, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to pay attention to them. Find out about your students' interests and use that to help you when you're planning your lessons. I spent my first year or two teaching convinced that I could make students like the music that I liked and kept using obscure pop culture references in class, but I was wrong. If your students like Ed Sheeran and you'd prefer to be talking to them about Muse, then that's tough luck - you're going to have much more success if you plan a lesson about Ed Sheeran than one about Muse!

And we're not just making lessons about the students' lives, we need to make the lessons about the students' learning. Some teachers feel that they have good rapport if they tell lots of jokes and the students laugh. And it's certainly true that laughter can be a sign of good rapport. But if a student doesn't get a chance to speak in a lesson, to practise the language that they're being taught, they won't feel like they are learning. If a student doesn't leave a lesson with some new vocabulary or structures noted down, they won't feel like they're learning. It's unlikely that you'll have good rapport with students if you spend the lesson lecturing or talking too much - students need to be actively engaged with the language, speaking and writing it in order to learn and in order to feel like they're learning.

So in summary, if I were to give new teachers three pieces of advice for building rapport, they would be to (1) relax, (2) treat your students as individuals, and (3) make sure the students are dominant and not you!

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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