Building Rapport with Students

Posted by claudio on June 18, 2009 in Teaching in Thailand |

Your level of success in the classroom relies heavily
on the level of rapport you have with your students.

As a foreign teacher, building and maintaining rapport with your students is not always an easy thing. I can imagine that for many Thai students, the foreign teachers sound just like the Charlie Brown’s teacher:

This article explains what rapport is and how you can increase it with your Thai students, so you can avoid sounding too much like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Rapport is the result of sameness. We quickly and easily build rapport with people who demonstrate that they have a few things common with us. If you’ve ever lived far away from home — and then met somebody from your hometown — you know what I mean. You typically feel a much deeper connection with this new person in your life, just because you both share some things. When you teach in a Thai classroom, however, it is very difficult to point out any sameness between you, a foreign teacher, and your audience, the Thai students. You don’t speak the same language, you look different, and there is a generation gap. Enough differences to justify putting in a conscious effort into building rapport with your students.

Clowning around with students increases rapport.The best foundation for good and lasting rapport between any teacher and their students is caring. Teachers who deeply care about the growth of their students will automatically show this through their behavior. They enthusiastically help students to really understand the English language and let them know that they always have an ear for questions; not just in the classroom.

You will also need to get a feeling for the music, movies, and websites that are popular with your students. Ask a few of your students about their favorites and then seek out those songs, movies, and websites. One popular movie across M1 through M6 seems to be “Tom Yum Goong,” a wonderful story of the young fighter Kham who must go to Australia to retrieve his stolen elephant. Although this movie was filmed in 2005, it still ranks amongst the favorites of students today. On the music side, “The Wonder Girls” from Korea seem to be all the rage in Thailand right now. And when it comes to the internet, the majority of students are quite  familiar with the social networking site Hi-5, while Facebook is much lesser known. Along the same lines, the Thai portal Sanook.com is a visited often, while brands like Yahoo and Twitter are known but not really used.

A group of students posing outside the classroom.I recently filled in for a colleague and used a lesson plan with which I’m very familiar. I use this lesson plan a lot for classes I’m just filling in and when I’m not instructed to teach a specific subject. It teaches “much and many” in a fun and entertaining way, but best of all, I’ve setup my flash cards in a way that will build rapport in the first few minutes of the class. The third flash card is a letter. The kind of letter we used to send via mail. After drilling for correct pronunciation, I say: “Today, nobody…” followed by a short pause. Without fail, the word “nobody” will get attention in a Thai classroom. Why? The most popular song at the moment is “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls. It’s a simple song, starting out with “Nobody… nobody but you.” So once I see the majority of students with open eyes and ears, I put the flash card away and start to sing: “Nobody… nobody but you.”, by which time the entire class will respond with the double clap from the song. Performing a popular song in the classroom, even for just a few seconds, will immediately increase the level of attention you get. You are demonstrating that you not only know what songs are popular, but you can actually perform parts of it.

Having rapport leads to more attentive studentsI then follow up with, “Okay, so today, nobody writes letters anymore. Today, everybody writes…” and make a typing motion. Some of the students immediately get it, and shout “E-Mail.” I continue, “Yes. That’s right. And…  ch… cha…” And, of course, many of the students are beginning to shout “Chat.” By demonstrating that you, like your students, are familiar with technology and are living in the 21st century, you are deepening your rapport.

I usually end the routine by writing the words “Hi5” on the board and most of the students immediately recognize the brand and show their enthusiasm that you do as well. Teaching in Thailand give you an additional benefit. The brand name is firmly in Thai’s mind with the English pronunciation of Hi5. However, the number 5 in Thai is pronounced as “ha” and reading “Hi” phonetically in Thai sounds more like “Hee”. Knowing this, I then turn to the students, and ask “Hi5 in Thai — do you call it HeeHa?  If you say this three times, you sound like a donkey, HeeHa, HeeHa, HeeHa” and do my best to sound like a donkey. Usually the entire room is bursting out in laughter. It’s not a great joke to us, but to Thai students, this seems hilariously funny.

Try it next time in front of your class. If nothing else, you’ll get a classroom full of kids laughing, but I suspect you’ll get more than that. You get a level of rapport that will keep your students attention high throughout the class.

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