The Big 5 Mistakes that English Teachers Make!

With it being feedback week this week we’re already getting the first feedback videos done!   (Remember you can ask for “softly, softly” or “tell it like it is” feedback depending on your own confidence level 🙂 )

And from previous years there are a “Big 5” list of things that teachers very often don’t even realize they are doing wrong but which can cause dramatic improvements to their classes!

So ….. which of these ideas could you use to improve your lessons?

1. Too much Teacher Talk Time!

This is the bane of CELTA teachers the world over – the teacher talking too much! 🙂  So set a timer and notice what percentage of the lesson is you talking and what percentage is the students talking.  Ideally you want to aim for at least 80% of the time the students talking, if not more!

2. Body language!

In my workshops I can tell straight away which teachers have chains of schools with thousands of kids and those who are struggling with recruiting new students.     In government schools it’s the same, between the teachers who command attention and respect in the classroom and those who struggle with discipline.     And very often I can see it as soon as they walk in the door!

The general rule is:

“Kids don’t do what we say, they copy what we do”

Posture & body language and how you move is a HUGE part of this.   If you shuffle in, eyes down, slouched shoulders, the kids pick up on this straight away!   “Aha, a teacher we can control!!” says the lizard brain of the students.   However if you walk in confident, smiling, inquisitive, genuinely caring then the kids also pick up on this too.   So have a look at your own body language in class,  how could you improve it?   And how is your body language mirrored in the kids?   There’s a reason the Superhero lesson is so near the beginning of the curriculum!


3.  Too much English that is too far above the kids’ level

This one is tricky because it depends on your own language skills.   You might have to do a little extra work here to catch up to the kids.

The basic challenge is that if the aim of the lesson is to learn “What’s your name?”  there’s no point giving game instructions that are way above this level.   If they could understand the game instructions you wouldn’t need to be teaching “What’s your name?”!   The key is “L+1”  keep the English you use at the level the kids can understand (“L”) plus just a little bit to keep them challenged.   If the language is too far above this, you lose them.  If it’s too far below they don’t progress.  So go through your lesson videos and see how much of the English you use is actually L+1.


4. Infinite Patience!

This is something that stands out straight away when looking at some teachers.   Like with Teacher Talk Time above,  it’s really important to give the kids space to think.   Very often I see teachers jumping in far too quickly to give answers.   So look through your videos,  are there any points where you jumped in, or even worse spoke over, the kids as they were trying to say something?  Infinite patience is the skill to nurture.   Just like in music where we say …..

Anyone can play the notes of the piano.  The real genius lies in the spaces in-between…..



5.  Scanning the class!

Try not to focus on just one or two or just a small group of students.    It makes the other kids feel left out and under appreciated and it also allows discipline problems to start unnoticed. Plus you miss lots of the joy in class!    The skill to develop here is to be constantly scanning the classroom.  The ideal is the “eyes in the back of the head” legend*.  To do it you keep making eye contact with different kids as you move around and explain things.   Be constantly scanning the class for comprehension,  smiles and those “aha” moments that learning is all about!   This not only brings all of the kids into the attention span of the class but it lets you see when small discipline issues start up and you can simply fix them using easy techniques like the “Proximity Effect” rather than having to use the heavier tactics later.

*On a lighter note …  I was once doing a workshop with a trainer from Church schools,  she said she recommends all her trainees to have a picture of the Virgin Mary above or on their blackboard.  “The glass front makes a wonderful mirror, the kids really do believe She is watching them!”    Maybe you don’t want to go that far,  but you get the idea 🙂 


So there you go,  the top 5 mistakes I see teachers, from all over the world, making.     Grab a video of your lessons and see how many of these areas you could improve.   Then make some more videos, send them in this month and I’ll see if there are any other areas where you could make huge strides in your teaching ability!

Be genki





Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

2 Responses to “The Big 5 Mistakes that English Teachers Make!”

  1. Natalie

    Thank you so much! I have recognized myself in the number one mistake. And, yes, being patient when you have to present lots of material within a lesson time, it’s easier to jump in with the right answer and to save some time. I often do so, yet I understand it’s not effective.

  2. Richard

    Thanks for sharing these.
    It’s very easy to make these mistakes in the EFL classroom. The one I like most is the level of English used in instructions. I am about to go back into the school classroom after a time spent teaching online. One of the things I notice the most is the difference in levels of students, especially with listening and comprehension skills. I think that sometimes the students first language is important to explain instructions and scaffold a task. It is important to find a balance between cognitive and linguistic functions. Focusing on simple clear instructional language is key if the teacher is going to use L2 language from the beginning, which takes time.
    It is interesting to note that students think of the noun (spaghetti) first before the action verb (eat), in the example. This probably has something to do with the way traditional language classes are structured and why TPR is so useful in the classroom.

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