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How to Be a Good English Teacher

Four Parts:Developing Lesson PlansLeading DiscussionsKnowing Your MaterialDeveloping Your Skills in the Classroom

English teachers have an important job. They teach students how to read and write well, how to understand what they read, how to learn from their peers, and how to have productive and challenging conversations. Being a successful English teacher can be difficult, but there are steps you can take to improve, so that both you and your students get more out of your time in the classroom.

Part 1
Developing Lesson Plans

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    Choose material that will interest your students. While classics like Moby Dick are incredibly important historically and have a lot of literary value, they can be too long, boring, and seemingly irrelevant to hold your students' interest for long. Instead, assign shorter or more contemporary works, or works that you know your students will enjoy.
    • Look for literary or academic merit in unlikely places: even a zombie apocalypse novel like Colson Whitehead's Zone One deals with challenging and important topics that perfectly complement a classic like Hemingway's In Our Time while still remaining relevant to modern audiences.
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    Assign reasonable amounts of homework. While it may seem nice to have your students read a lengthy novel in a week, this can be an unreasonable expectation. Your students won't be able to finish the reading and will skim it, read a summary instead, or not read it at all. Encourage your students to complete their homework and to do it well by assigning only reasonable amounts of work.
    • Short stories are excellent ways pieces to assign as critical reading. And just because there's less to read doesn't mean your students can't learn key concepts. Find short stories that illustrate whatever you're discussing with your students and use them to keep your students engaged.
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    Give homework assignments that help students understand the material. Ask students to write a short response to a reading assignment, including an interpretation of or questions about the reading. These assignments should challenge students to think critically and consider important questions, or make connections between class topics.
    • Don't assign busywork. Assignments that are boring and tedious don't help the students understand or appreciate your lessons, and they are annoying to do and to grade. Be careful to only assign work that will help your students learn.
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    Focus on the big-picture understanding. While it's important that your students learn lots of new vocabulary words and understand the minute details of a text, this isn't what they're going to take away from your class. Focus on their general understanding of the topics you teach. Impress upon them the larger significance of what they're studying and how this can help them elsewhere in their lives. Teach them how to learn rather than simple facts. This will help them come away from your class with a more lasting understanding of and appreciation for the subject.
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    Order your lessons to make them cohesive. Rather than jumping from topic to topic at will, order your lessons chronologically or thematically. Tie different topics together in your discussions so that your students understand how each topic is related. Help them draw connections and encourage them to consider their ideas in different contexts. What does Whitman's relationship with nature have to do with Tennyson's, or Hemingway's? How are they the same or different, and why?
    • Ordering your lessons chronologically can make the progression from one topic to the next feel natural — it makes sense to study 18th century writers before 19th century ones. Also consider ordering topics thematically, so that you study the progression of a theme or idea across several texts.

Part 2
Leading Discussions

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    Know the material well. If you'll be discussing a short story, reread it several times to make sure you pick up the smaller details that you might not have noticed the first time. Come up with an interpretation of the work, but remind yourself that yours is not the only possible interpretation. Make sure you'll be able to answer any questions students might have about the work.
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    Bring in outside material. While the main focus of the discussion should be based in the text itself, it can be helpful to bring in outside material like biographical information about the author, the backstory of the text, or famous or controversial interpretations. Do some research and bring in the most relevant or interesting information you find.
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    Know what you want to discuss. Pick out a few key points of the text that you think your students will find most challenging or confusing. Have in mind the specific topics you'll want to cover, and come up with a few important points your students should take away from the discussion.
    • Keep in mind that your students will have questions and interests that you may not be able to anticipate. Your lesson plans should not be set in stone. Responding to what your students want to talk about will create a lively, engaging, productive discussion.
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    Ask interpretive questions. You should guide your students to interpret the text rather than discuss factual aspects. Ask "how" and "why" questions rather than "what" or yes or no questions. For example, "What did Ender do to Bonzo Madrid?" is a very simple question, while "Why did Ender do it?" is much more challenging and complex, and "How do you know?" demands close reading and attention to the text.
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    Ask specific questions. It can be good to start with broad questions like "What did you like about this story?", but only if they are quickly followed by much more specific questions. Broad questions don't help students think critically about the text, and they encourage generalizations and assumptions rather than text-based arguments. In contrast, asking specific questions about specific aspects of the text will challenge your students to focus on things they may have missed, construct arguments based in the text, and contend with details that challenge their interpretations.
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    Encourage your students to respond to each other. In a discussion, students shouldn't talk to you. Rather, they should direct their questions and comments to each other, and you should step in only to keep the discussion moving forward. They will learn best if they work together to build their own ideas and interpretations — they won't get much out of the conversation if you simply tell them what you think. Remember, you're helping them learn, and a large part of that is teaching them how best to learn.
    • If your students will listen to and respect each other, encourage them to jump into the discussion without raising their hands and waiting to be called on. This will create a more responsive, quickly-moving, and engaging conversation that can sustain itself without you. If your students talk over each other or if a few students monopolize the discussion, have the person who just spoke choose the next person to talk, or find another way to allocate speaking time without having to do it yourself.
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    Challenge your students' ideas, and encourage them to do the same. You shouldn't disagree with everything they say, but ask them to support their claims with textual evidence, and encourage other students to come up with different interpretations. Putting pressure on students' ideas makes them think harder to come up with convincing arguments. It also helps them develop the skills to speak persuasively and debate with their peers.
    • Debates and arguments help a discussion become lively, engaging, and interesting. If these debates start to get personal, or if students might offend each other, think about turning the conversation back to the text. You should challenge students' interpretations of the text, not the students themselves.

Part 3
Knowing Your Material

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    Read regularly. Read many kinds of literature including books, magazines, newspapers and poetry. Reading is the best way to confront challenging topics, pick up vocabulary and writing techniques, and discover new material to bring to the classroom. Depending on the grade you teach, you should be familiar with the most important works in literary history. And you should always be able to give reading suggestions to your students.
    • As well as reading important literature, read for fun. Remember why you love reading, and encourage your students to do the same.
    • Be aware of current trends in reading material, and try out the things you think your students might be reading. This will help you better understand their interests and relate to them outside the classroom, which will make you a more effective teacher overall.
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    Expand your vocabulary. Make a point of looking up new words that you come across in your reading. Study your favorite words and begin to amass a large vocabulary. Challenge yourself to think about words you don't know. Guess at their etymology, and use similar words to figure out their meaning. Don't be afraid to look up words that you're unsure about, and encourage your students to do the same.
    • At the same time, teach your students that the mark of a good writer isn't just whipping out two-dollar words and using them to sound sophisticated. Teach your students the difference between using a word to draw a historical comparison, or using an alliterative word, and using a word to impress someone with your learning. There are more and less useful ways of wielding words.
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    Practice your handwriting. Students need to be able to read your handwriting so that they can understand notes you take on the whiteboard or feedback you give on an essay. Write letters or keep a journal to keep your handwriting alive and healthy, and always focus on readability rather than the speed of your writing.
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    Develop your English language skills. Make sure you have a firm grasp of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You don't want to find yourself teaching your students mistaken or wrong information. Use reference books and the Internet as sources for grammar and punctuation rules, and don't be afraid to look up topics you're not sure about.

Part 4
Developing Your Skills in the Classroom

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    Become comfortable speaking in front of your class. Learn to be confident, to stand in front of your students and speak well. Practice reading aloud to get comfortable speaking loudly and clearly and to make sure you won't stumble when you do it in front of your class. Practice good public speaking skills so that you can perform well in the classroom.
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    Encourage your students. Pay attention to your students and give their ideas your full consideration. Treat them as intelligent and worthy people, and respect them academically and otherwise. Encourage them to pursue their interests and curiosities, and challenge them in and out of the classroom. When you give them attention and respect, you'll find that they perform well so as to be worthy of it.
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    Be available outside of class. Encourage your students to drop by at lunch or after school. This can make a huge difference for students who may be struggling or who want to pursue a discussion further. Being available for them encourages them to foster a genuine interest in the material, and it's a display of your respect and desire to help them learn.
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    Be strict but fair. Don't shout at the pupils every chance you get, but on the other hand don't let them walk over you. Show discipline, but don't go over the top, or this will make them behave worse towards you. If a pupil has done well, tell them so and reward them. Likewise if a pupil is struggling, tell him or her to stay behind so that you can help them to find out what's going wrong, or ask another pupil who understands the concept to help the struggling one.
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    Make sure your students understand what you teach. Don't speak and write too quickly. This will give them time to listen, understand, and copy things down so that they don't miss essential information. Help them absorb your lessons, and encourage them to make connections between topics and outside of class so that they can more fully understand your lessons.


  • Encourage your students to engage with the material outside of class.


  • Being a teacher can be very hard and takes a lot of time and patience.

Article Info

Categories: English