Building Rapport with Young Learners Online

Atualizado: 9 de mar. de 2021

It is undeniable that COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges for us teachers, especially young learners. Transferring face-to-face class to an online environment is one of the challenges. And it raises a question: Is it possible to build rapport with young learners in a virtual classroom? This article will provide teachers with some insights into building rapport with them in an online environment.

Rapport starts being built by the way teachers show themselves to students.

It’s of paramount importance to check space and light so that pupils have the best view of their teachers. Don’t forget to prepare all the material, books, pens, sheets of paper in advance. It shows students that teachers are prepared, care about that class. According to British Council (2020) “our learners’ workspaces can affect how they learn. You might not have much control over it, but your learners’ physical environment can have an impact on their well-being.” Teachers should be sure students also have a space prepared for them. Not only is it important to build rapport with students, but also with parents. Keep in touch with parents in order to be aware if children are facing any difficult situation at home, how they are dealing with classes at school, and also to inform parents of the material that will be used in class. Parents are allies not enemies. Besides that, children will feel safer knowing that parents and educators get along well and care about them. Here are some tips:

  1. Be human: We are human beings - We also have feelings, fears, anxiety. Don’t be a block of ice when teaching online. Let students ask a few questions about your routine. Children are curious and love to know about our life. And never forget to smile! Sometimes we feel uncomfortable with the camera but students deserve a smile. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if they didn't smile at you?

  2. Personalize your lessons and make them meaningful - Each group, each student is unique. A lesson that you prepared for one group might not work with another one even when teaching two groups of the same level. Some students may be in doubt about something in one group and you may not have the same questions in the other group. Suffice to say, your lessons must be meaningful to the learners. A good idea is to let students have a voice in their lessons. Ask what they like, their interests, their hobbies so that the lessons are personalised and meaningful. The lessons must relate to their lives and not to situations they would never go through. In the article Affective Factors, British Council (n.d) explains that “Teachers can reduce negative factors and develop positive ones by doing activities to build a positive group dynamic, by including students in deciding aspects of the course and choosing activities that are motivating for the age and interests of the learners.” Design them to help learners improve not only their language learning, but also develop their life competences.

  3. Vary the learning environments - It’s advisable to vary types of activities during online class. It doesn’t mean that we have to use the most modern platform or app, sometimes the most engaging activity is the one with plasticine or paper and pencils. Bear in mind that children learn through play. According to UNICEF (2018), “play is one of the most important ways in which young children gain essential knowledge and skills.” (p.7). It’s doable to ask pupils to paint, do some craft-work, build blocks, act their favorite tail or even a dialog. UNICEF(2018) states that “Play opportunities and environments that promote play, exploration and hands-on learning are at the core of effective pre-primary programmes” (p.7). Don’t forget to include TPR (Total Physical Response), in your classes. Children are active and they learn through TPR. Ask them to jump, dance, march, “Simon Says”, anything that keeps them in movement.

  4. Be Kind - As we said before, students are unique and, although they are children, they must be respected as an adult student is. Use their names when asking questions; call the shy ones to participate in a way that they don’t feel under pressure; vary your tone of voice when telling stories, asking questions, that way students will feel embraced; show genuine interest when your pupils tell you something that happened to them, or how they have been feeling.

  5. Make eye contact - When teaching online we tend to look at the screen making students have the impression we aren’t looking at them. Look into the camera while teaching or talking and students will feel you are looking into their eyes.

  6. Give meaningful feedback - Feedback plays an important role in the process of learning. Marianne Stenger (2016) says that “Providing students with meaningful feedback can greatly enhance their learning and achievement”. Teachers should assess their students throughout class but sometimes that is not possible, at least try to do it at the end of an activity. When talking to a student about their activity, give meaningful feedback. Don’t just say “great job”, “well done”. Explain to them why it is great, not quite well. And remember that feedback must be related to the activity itself and to the whole process. Don’t label students. Students might not do a great job in that activity just because they are in doubt, it doesn’t mean they are bad students. Bear in mind that young learners are not on the same level of cognitive development.

  7. Learn with them and reflect - Teachers should never stop learning. Teaching young learners is the perfect way to keep on studying and researching. Learn from your students. They are unique in every way. Also, reflect on your classes. Reflect on activities that worked well or not. Reflect with your students.

  8. Routine - When teaching young learners routine is of paramount importance. It reduces anxiety because pupils know exactly what will happen, they know what they have to do and to expect. Routine isn’t doing the same thing everyday, but it’s to have a common agenda every class - greeting song, date, weather, feelings, class, goodbye song)

  9. Extra tips - Teaching online requires more attention to some details, such as: simple and clear instructions; use relia to explain; simple language when talking to the pupils; deliver short activities.

Teaching online can be quite challenging but it is also rewarding. Good rapport among teachers, pupils and parents can make wonders. A good rapport starts with respect.

Respect your students, respect their uniqueness, respect their own pace, and you will see how motivating and engaging your class will be. These are some hints but it’s during class that you will see what works best for your students. I’m pretty sure that you and your students will have a great time.

Kelli Maia é formada em Letras - Inglês e Literaturas pela Universidade Estácio de Sá Pós-graduanda em Língua Inglesa e Suas Literaturas, e Ensino de Língua Inglesa pela Universidade Estácio de Sá.Professora de inglês em centros de idiomas há 24 anos . Professora de Inglês da Educação Infantil e Fundamental 1 em escola com programa bilíngue por quase 2 anos. Fundadora e professora do Kelli Maia ELT.

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