5 great ways to build your students confidence. (And why it is the MOST important thing you can teach them).

Firstly to demonstrate how important confidence is in an ESL classroom, let me relay a conversation I had with one of my low level but high confidence high school students on my first day teaching at my new school.



S. Hello Teacher!

M. Hello.

S. Teacher, how long? (Said with hand gesture indicating height)

M. I am 189cm tall.

S. Wow very tall!


M. No I’m from England.

As you can see this conversation contains almost no correct English on behalf of the student, however because of the confidence of the student the amount of understanding and information that has been conveyed is very high.

Now compare this to when I started trying to speak Korean.


EKP= Every Korean Person

M. ….(mumble, talk quietly)

EKP. ….(look of confusion)

Whilst what I said was usually at least a little grammatically correct, there was very little exchange of information or understanding as my speaking confidence was very low. This suggests to me that building confidence in your students speaking ability has got to be one of the top priorities for any ESL teacher. How to build confidence in an ESL classroom. My classes are all focused on speaking which allows me many opportunities for improving speaking confidence, however even if speaking is not the sole focus of your lessons you could easily adapt some of the ideas to fit any class.

These are the methods I use to build confidence when speaking.

1 Let them speak. Firstly and most importantly I give the students plenty of opportunities to speak in class. Without actually speaking, no matter how good a student gets at grammar or reading, they will never be able to speak English. You can use conversation activities, presentations, conversation games and even reading out loud to build a student’s confidence in speaking. Once students get the first few words out of the way and they realize that they can be understood, they usually start to speak much more in class.

Here are my top 5 favourite speaking activities http://www.highschoolesl.com/2013/04/5-best-esl-conversation-activities.html

2. Don’t make the speaking activities to hard. Speaking in front of other people is nerve wracking enough without the added challenge of trying to think of something to say in a different language, and nothing blows a students confidence like standing in front of their classmates and not being able to answer a question. Start with easy activities so that the students can feel successful when they are talking therefore seriously boosting their confidence. This confidence boost will give them the strength they need to say more complex sentences later on.

3. How to deal with the over confident students. Sometimes in classes you will have one or two students who like to speak at every opportunity. Whilst being good for those students it can drown out some of the quieter less confident ones. To combat this you can do things such as asking different students to say different parts of a presentation, or only letting the students talk when you say they can. For example have them put their hand up or have a ball that students have to be in possession of if they want to speak.

4. Use small groups. Do you want to get as many students as possible talking? Then it is also a good idea to do lots of activities were students have to speak in small groups. The smaller the groups are the more time each student will spend talking. Small groups also mean that the shy students will be more confident speaking as they are doing it in front of far less people. If they realize they can speak in front of a small group, they will soon build the confidence to answer questions in front of the class.

5. How to correct errors without damaging confidence. So now your classes are all full of conversation, Great! But a lot of what is being said is incorrect, what should you do? Firstly I think that students get plenty of chances to learn grammar, so unless it really is a glaring error I tend not to correct what the students say. I mean do you think telling someone that they should say ‘I go to school’ not ‘I go to the school’ is really that useful in a conversation class? If you really have to correct the students because it is a bigger error I would advise to never do it whilst they are speaking, this almost always involves them losing confidence and once you have corrected them they usually just wait for you to finish the sentence. Wait until they have finished speaking and then either tell them what they should have said, or even better reply to their sentence in a way that corrects them. For example in my conversation above a student asked me ‘How long’ I was and I replied with, ‘I am 189cm tall’, with an emphasis on tall. This lets them know what they should say without ruining their confidence. These are all techniques I have used that have shown good improvements in the confidence and speaking ability of students in my class. This always leads to better classes as they have more classroom participation and the students usually seem to enjoy the lessons more. I hope after reading this article you have seen how important confidence is in an ESL classroom and I hope that you have found some ideas about how to improve your student’s confidence.

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