Teaching A0 levels can be very challenging, especially if you don’t speak your students’ native language. If they’re adult students, they usually expect quick results and your classes are the only exposure to English that they get.
So what should you remember about when teaching the lowest levels?
Introducing new grammar
You probably heard different opinions on how to introduce new grammatical structures to students.
There are teachers who say it’s best to present the theory first, and then practise using it. And there are teachers who believe it’s best to present the structure in context and have the students figure out how to use it. We believe that both ways work and it just depends on the students, their preferences and how they learn.
However, for the lowest levels, we would usually recommend going over the form and usage first before getting the students to use the new structure. It prevents them from forming bad language habits.
When working with students who have zero or very little English, it is very important to give them a model sentence before they produce their own:
- Present the model sentence.
- Go over the form, pronunciation and usage.
- Get the students to repeat and produce their version of it.
Whether you like drilling or not, it is incredibly effective when teaching the lowest levels.
What is it?
Drilling is just repeating the same word, phrase or sentence over and over again. Drilling could also mean repeating the same structure but with different words. So basic grammar structure stays the same but the words around it change. Multiple repetitions are very important when teaching students with zero or very little English. It’s how new grammar gets “programmed” into their brains.
It’s a bit like learning to drive – you have to repeat the basic steps over and over again before it becomes your second nature and you’re ready to venture out into the city.
In real life, if someone asks you: “Has your sister got a dog?” you usually answer: “No, she hasn’t.”
In the A0-teaching world, it works a little differently. Encourage your students to always follow up with a full sentence:
Has your sister got a dog?
No, she hasn’t. My sister hasn’t got a dog. She has got a cat.
Why is it important?
At the basic level, students need every chance they get to produce sentences with grammar they’ve just learnt. Even if it doesn’t sound too natural at first. It’s all about drilling!
You probably have students at levels A2 or even B1 who still make mistakes with the verb “to be” or Present Simple. Most of the time, it’s because they never got the chance to really practise these structures at previous levels or their errors weren’t corrected enough.
When teaching basic grammar, accuracy is essential. Always correct students’ mistakes straight away. Don’t let them get into bad habits at the very start of their language learning journey. They’re going to need these basic grammatical structures for as long as they’re going to use English. So it’s important to get them right at the very beginning.
So when exactly should you correct errors?
If you’ve only just introduced a new structure, you have to make sure that anything that the students say is correct. The same goes for drilling activities. Basically, whenever you’re focusing on teaching or practising a particular grammatical structure, you should correct all the mistakes straight away.
It’s a bit different if you’re focusing on fluency and doing some open-ended practice. In that case, if you’re students are already familiar with a grammatical structure, it’s OK to wait with the correction until they’ve finished speaking.
Teaching students at basic levels is a responsible task. They’re usually expecting great results in a short period of time. And very often you have to juggle between accuracy, fluency and new input. It’s not easy!
Find 7 ideas and activities for teaching basic English verbs in this article.