5 Ways to Engage your Student!

Isn’t it scary when you meet someone for the first time? Well, maybe not. But, isn’t it scary if you’re a child, and you’re meeting someone online for the first time? And, this person lives in a different country, speaks a different language, AND they have different cultural values and norms from you? Yes, maybe a little.

The key here, of course, is empathy for the new student. They are often-times more afraid of you than you are of them. What you need to do is find out a way to communicate with them–of course, that can go without saying. But, what I mean here is find a common ground upon which to build a rapport.

By Teacher Brittany Lavery


1. Be silly, and embrace playtime!

The universal language of laughter always helps when meeting a new student! Even if you’re a serious person, you need to be a little silly. You need to make funny faces, speak in different tones–friendly tones, funny tones, and you need to wear a big smile. Do you have a furry friend? I do. My friend’s name is Wilbur:

My co-teacher, Wilbur


He likes to jump on me, and sit on my head during class. Whenever I bring him out, my students are sure to follow-suit. I like including puppets and toys in class, because it adds to the laughter. Children love the zany chats and situations that puppets and toys can get into.

2. Recognition.

Try saying the student’s name often, and ask leading or clarifying questions. Pay special interest to what they say. People respond well with recognition. Make the class all about them! Because the class is all about them, because they’re VIP Kids! Try thinking back to when you were a kid, and how you would feel when an adult would engage with you, and be interested in you. Wasn’t that just the best feeling? It was for me, and it seems to be the case for my students as well.

3. No dead-air!

Sometimes there can be a bit of a stall when you’re speaking with someone for the first time. Maybe there’s a slight awkward atmosphere. Remember: You are the authority! If you’re freezing and stalling, the child will think that you don’t know what you’re doing, and they won’t trust you.

If you’re prone to freezing and get “stage-fright,” try preparing a list of activities or questions for your student so that they’re constantly watching, and listening to you. I have a box next to me, full of little toys and various types of flashcards. Is the student advanced and need something extra? Pull out those flashcards and test them on math, spelling, or incorporate a game of Hangman! Just no dead-air.

4. Get pumped up before class!

Energy is contagious. I repeat, CONTAGIOUS. If you go into class in a bad, sad, or sullen mindset, your student will reciprocate it. This can be especially detrimental if you’re teaching a new student, because that familiarity isn’t there. I like making myself laugh, and sometimes doing a few jumping jacks at the start of the day, just to get some blood pumping, and to wake my brain up. Like in Peter Pan, if you think about your own happy thoughts, you will fly, and truly succeed in class.

5. Be interactive.

Even though we are speaking and viewing each other in real time, there is still a virtual barrier. Don’t let that stop you! I had a wonderful game of catch with one of my student’s a few months ago, and we had a blast. So, pretend to toss a ball to them, or “give” them a piece of fruit. Children are very imaginative, and love role-play.

These are a few of the things that I do. It will take you some time, thought, and experience, until you work out your own equation to a successful interaction with a new student. What ever you do, and this is something I always tell new teachers; the three most important takeaways are: No dead-air, be that lovable ESL teaching clown that you are on the inside, and even if you don’t know what you’re doing, fake it til you make it! You are only as confident as you appear, and (new) students know that!

Happy teachings, everyone!

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