False Beginners in EFL Classes

In today's world, it is almost impossible to find absolute beginners in most regions of the world. Even young learners come to classes with some English! We're surrounded so much with English and it's nearly impossible to find beginners who know no English at all. They know English before your input!

False beginners are the type of students who have had English classes in the past and possess quite a lot of knowledge of English. However, their knowledge is partly accurate and their English skills are not developed enough according to their assumed level of English. You will spot them in different manners of using English in your classes. They can show good use of English in writing but express themselves with only limited use of English. When you are listening to a false beginner, you can be surprised to hear excellent sentence structures which are above your class’ level, and then make bigger mistakes afterwards. They can have problems with skills and have gaps in their English knowledge.

false beginners can be big obstacles to good classroom management

Learners come to your classes with different levels of comprehension and knowledge. That's where the problems start.  If you start teaching your subjects without assessing their knowledge beforehand, false beginners can start to complain that they are having a boring lesson, as they assume, they know the subject of your lesson. What's even worse, when they don’t complain, things will start to become a snowball! If false beginners are not dealt with correctly from the start, they can be big obstacles to good classroom management. The student who sees no benefit in the lesson will divert himself to something that is not related to learning. To overcome this major problem, you have to assess what your students know before you start your input. If they are familiar or feel comfortable with the subject then just organise your lesson to their level of knowledge. Personally, after giving them the context on which I will teach my lesson’s subject, I always try to elicit the raw rules. If they show that they know the rules and the essential points, I will get the rules from them on the board so that everyone in the class can follow the lesson. The students who do not know the lesson’s subject will learn the grammar from their classmates. In this way, the false beginners and the rest of the class will get together in a meaningful way. You’ll be surprised to see the level of engagement on both sides. This type of lesson is usually conducted better with an inductive lesson plan, which I’ll explain below. If I cannot get the answers, I just give them the rules or the point that I need to convey in the lesson. After presenting the language, at the stage when you do the controlled exercises, I ask the concept checking questions, to keep them on the track of the lesson. For instance, for a sentence like "Jenny visits her grandmother every Saturday." I'd ask "Does she visit her grandma regularly?, Is she visiting her now?" and elicit that Present Simple is the most appropriate tense here not present continuous because we use present simple tense for regular activities. It will help you have a much livelier lesson and a challenging lesson for your false beginners.

To conduct a successful lesson when you have a mixed class of learners who are at different levels of English like false beginners, I suggest you design a lesson plan with an inductive approach. If you’ve planned your lesson as an inductive lesson, in which students will discover what the lesson about, you’ll have fewer headaches during the lesson.

The deductive approach which fits perfectly in a PPP lesson (Present, Practice, Produce) can be a problem for a class with false beginners. At the presentation stage, the false beginners may get bored easily. They cannot see any benefits of listening to your lesson. Also, there can be fluency problems at the production stage for everyone in the class.  On the other hand, there are also inductive ways to teach the language, in which students discover them by themselves. They are usually more interesting lessons for all students.

students need creativity in a lesson with an inductive approach

However, in an inductive lesson, students need creativity or are open to using their creativity and you should also provide them with a class atmosphere suitable for using creativity. Besides in an inductive lesson when students are active learners from the start, and it may make many students stressful as the spotlight is on them during the lesson.  They can easily opt-out the lesson because of the fear of failing to achieve.

To conduct a successful lesson in an inductive style, I suggest you use pair work or group work a lot. In a pair work or group work, students will more likely to express their ideas freely and brainstorm with their peers and can come up with great ideas at the end. It’ll be a rehearsal stage which will help them reveal their thoughts and develop them with their peers. I believe that once a learner has discovered the language by himself/herself, s/he’ll more likely to retain the language.

Also, you have to be really supportive of them when you are eliciting from them the language that you want to teach. You can give clues for discovering and praise them for finding out the answers to your questions. Some students do not want to speak even if they have an answer. When eliciting your answers, strong learners can jump and give the right answer. At that moment, instead of confirming their answers, ask the timider learners whether they agree or not. This will be a bridge for them to participate in the lesson confidently as they have heard their answer is also shared with others in the class.

You can convey your lessons much efficiently and feel at ease with false beginners. When they are on your side, you’ll have lessons with engaged and collaborative students.

  • False Beginners in EFL Classes

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