How do you build and maintain rapport in an ESL classroom?

Building and maintaining rapport in an ESL classroom is pivotal for enhancing classroom communication and learning effectiveness. Rapport is the foundation of a comfortable and trusting environment where students are more inclined to engage in communicative activities. Here is how it can be effectively achieved:

  • Fostering a Comfortable Environment: Create an atmosphere where students feel safe and valued. This involves showing genuine interest in their backgrounds, learning goals, and challenges.
  • Encouraging Open Communication: Encourage students to express themselves freely and respect each other's opinions. This can be facilitated through group activities and open discussions.
  • Consistent and Positive Interactions: Regularly interact with students in a positive and encouraging manner. Acknowledge their efforts and progress, which reinforces their confidence to participate.
  • Building Trust through Reliability and Understanding: Be consistent in your teaching approach and show understanding towards their learning needs and cultural backgrounds.
  • Adapting to Student Needs: Tailor your teaching methods to suit the diverse learning styles and levels within the classroom.

The effectiveness of communicative activities in an ESL classroom greatly depends on the rapport between the teacher and students. By building a trusting and supportive relationship, students are more likely to engage meaningfully in conversations and learning activities.

Also read: What are the most common concerns for first time ESL teachers?

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At the start of the course

During the course

At the start of the course

We must be careful from day one to keep rapport in mind and help build rapport at the start of the course. Some ideas include:

  • One of the easiest ways to begin the process is to ask the students to create a name card and to make that name card visible to everyone. Once they all have this, we should encourage everyone to use each other's names as often as possible. As the teacher you should use names when asking questions. (Remember to put the name at the end of the question rather than at the start, so that everyone has to be prepared to answer).
  • Our first actions within the class involving all students should be to do some ice breaking activities that will allow the students to interact with each other and perhaps give a little bit of information about themselves. These activities would typically be in the form of games and should maximize student to student interaction and the need to use and give their names. An example could be a variation of the game Simon says, where the students have to do what they are requested and say what they are being asked to do by each student in turn. X says put your left hand up, Y says lift your right leg up and so on.

These activities should be kept simple and must be achievable by the language level of the class, so some thought needs to go into what is suitable.

During the course

Once we move into the course itself there are a number of techniques that we can use to help maintain rapport so that students are comfortable with each other when doing communicative activities.

  • Try to make activities personal wherever possible. There are many ways you can do this; an example could be when you take worksheet activities from course books. If you take the activity and photocopy it, you can change the names of people given within those activities by whiting them out and substituting those for the names of people in your class. This produces a personalized activity that will help to build rapport. Having their names within activity sheets is often the cause for some amusement, also helping to build rapport.
  • The next consideration is to ensure not to let any single student dominate student talk time in the classroom as this can be detrimental to overall student talk time. Asking other students questions by name, so that the dominating student should not answer is a useful way to get around this.
  • Another way to increase student talk time throughout the course is to use pair work as often as possible. The use of pairs in activities or indeed small group work, which allows for interaction to take place whenever possible, will increase the chance for the students to get to know each other.
  • Finally allowing students the chance to correct each other will often help to maintain the rapport within the class. This is because it is often accepted by the students to be corrected by their peers as preferable to being corrected constantly by the teacher. It is important that students feel comfortable with peer feedback and so the more often you allow it to take place the better.

In summary: As with any teaching relationship, meaningful praise will go a long way to help build rapport. Try to praise appropriately and often. There are two further teaching situations where building rapport is absolutely vital. Those situations are; teaching online and teaching one-to-one. In these situations having rapport with your student/s is absolutely vital. Get to know as much as possible about your online students or one to one student's hobbies and interests as soon as you can and integrate this information into your classes.

Also read: How do you motivate ESL students?