How to build rapport with adult ESL students

How to build rapport with adult ESL students

Blog / Tips and tricks

Have you considered the emotional state of your students before displaying those PowerPoint slides or distributing worksheets in your upcoming class? Building rapport is more than teaching language skills. Fostering a comfortable and engaged learning environment is never an easy task. In this blog post, we’ll suggest some practical bond-building strategies that might come in handy. But before we do, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page about the meaning of rapport building.

Rapport encompasses a sense of ease and harmony within the teacher-student relationship. It is established when there is a mutual connection, interaction, and understanding that fosters a positive atmosphere. However, building rapport goes beyond discovering shared interests and values. It extends to cultivating trust and respect between you and your students, regardless of any significant age difference or diverse backgrounds. You don’t need your students to bring you apples every day or tell you that YOU ARE THE BEST so that you’d know they have a good rapport with you. You’ll just know it when they care to attend your classes regularly despite their busy schedules.

The importance of fun icebreakers

When it comes to building a bond with ESL students, what better to break the awkward silence in the classroom than using an effective icebreaker? It shouldn’t be complex, but rather simple and engaging. Its sole purpose is to pump up your student for the class. Yes, yes, I hear you. Your student’s learning IS crucial, but it doesn’t mean you can’t stay on the fun side.

Check out one of our icebreakers in What is dyslexia?

Be curious about your student’s interests

Feel free to inquire about your students’ lives outside the classroom, whether it’s their preferred music band or their favorite pastime activity. Even the most reserved students will open up and feel like they really matter to you. By nurturing this curiosity, you’ll eventually arrive at shared interests, so building further rapport will come naturally. Remembering your student’s birthday or keeping track of recent family updates will certainly make your student feel special.

Don’t be afraid to get under their skin!

Let your student be curious about your interests

Your student is probably even more eager to hear about you and get to know you better on a personal level. They need to break that formal teacher-student barrier in order to feel more comfortable in classes. So, don’t hesitate to tell some fun stories from your personal or family life, show photos of your pet cat, or share your favorite casserole recipe. Or tell a joke, why not? Nothing can go wrong with that…probably.
Anyway, just be a human and let your personality shine!

Make sure they know you care

Occasionally, your student will have a tough day or find it hard to focus for some reason. Take a minute or two to talk about how they feel. They will certainly appreciate your concern. Discussing your student’s feelings or well-being doesn’t mean you should invade their intimacy. Don’t go further than they let you. Some people are closed books; they don’t feel comfortable discussing their problems with their loved ones, let alone their ESL teacher.

Customize and personalize your lessons

Regardless of whether you have established a long-standing relationship with your student or are still in the process of getting to know them, it is possible to personalize the class content based on their interests and personalities. For instance, if they are enthusiastic about extreme sports, why not show and discuss some of the most unusual extreme sports out there, such as extreme ironing or skating on thin ice (covered in our lesson plan From extreme ironing to skydiving)? It’ll captivate their attention and create a great atmosphere in class, thus bringing out the best in them (or their English skills).

Remember, building rapport with adult ESL students requires a bit of effort, creativity, and some good ol’ empathy. It’s an ongoing process that requires continuous dedication, but the rewards for both teachers and students are immeasurable.

About Tijana
About Tijana

Tijana is an ESL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, and ESL Content Creator with a decade-long working experience. She designed 600+ lesson plans. Tijana holds a B.A. in Applied Linguistics from UVic, an M.A. in Curriculum and Education from UBC, as well as a 120-hour TEFL certificate.

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