When teaching 'Absolute Beginners' there are a number of things to keep in mind:
Absolute Beginners have had no contact with English
When teaching someone who has had no prior (or very little) contact with the language, you need to carefully choose what you present. Here is an example of the type of thinking that needs to go into planning a lesson:
If I begin the first lesson with, 'Hi, my name is Ken. What is your name?', I am presenting three (!) concepts at once:
- The verb 'be'
- Possessive pronouns 'my' and 'your'
- Subject and verb inversion in the question form
It would be much better (and more comprehensible) to the students if I began the lesson with, 'Hi, I am Ken.' and then gesture to the student to repeat a similar phrase. In this way, the student can repeat by rote and begin with something easy which can then lead to something like: 'Hi, I am Ken. Are you Ken?' - 'No, I am Elmo'. By limiting the linguistic concepts absolute beginners can more easily assimilate the pieces.
Do not assume familiarity with linguistic concepts
This is rather obvious, but often ignored by many teachers. If you write a grammar chart - even a simple one - on the board, you are assuming that students are familiar with grammar charts. Students may not have had the type of education that involves charts and representations. By keeping things aural and visual (gestures, pictures, etc.) you will be appealing to learning styles that students are sure to have acquired in everyday life.
Use exaggerated visual gestures
Using gestures such as pointing to yourself and saying, 'I am Ken', and then pointing to the student to repeat helps students understand what you want of them, without confusing them by more language such as; 'Now, repeat'. Develop specific gestures as codes for certain linguistic operations. For example, to illustrate the idea of inversion in the question form you can extend your two arms and say, 'My name is Ken' and then cross your arms and ask, 'Is your name Ken?', this gesture can then be repeated as linguistic skills become more advanced and the students will understand that a question needs to be asked. For example, 'I live in New York' and then cross your arms and ask, 'Where do you live'. When a student makes a mistake asking a question, you can then cross your arms and the student will understand that he / she needs to invert in order to ask a question.
Try to pick up a few phrases of the learner's native tongue
This is purely a psychological trick. Learners - especially adult learners - who are learning English with no prior experience are not only undergoing a difficult learning experience. In many cases, they are also learning how to learn a language. If you put yourself on the line by expressing the desire to learn a few phrases of your students' native language, you can go a long way towards building a rapport with students which will help them feel more at ease in class.
Next, I'd like to take a look at teaching false beginners...