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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Teaching in Saudi Arabia Part Six: Additional Advice and Concluding Comments

We ended our survey with an open question asking for additional comments and suggestions and received a number of revealing and informative comments:

“As much as my professional self would prefer to shy away from this practice, the students I taught responded to me the best when the lines of teacher and friend were slightly blurred. We don't need to, nor should we, ingratiate ourselves to them, but they will generally work harder when they feel a great deal of support and appreciation for their efforts, as well as a general concern for their personal and scholastic happiness.’’

 “Always teach and treat, all of your students with respect be firm but fair - the same rules apply in Saudi Arabia as elsewhere. Be realistic about their levels of motivation and don't expect their levels of participation to be as high as in other countries continuously try to ensure you have their interest by developing as many fun activities as the curriculum allows!’’

“Always have an open-mind. It can be very difficult, but students know when you are rejecting their ideals. Once they see you don't accept them, they will be difficult. That applies to all students around the world.’’

Concluding Comments

We found it a very useful and informative exercise to poll teachers at the end of a semester about their successes and suggestions for effective teaching strategies. We hope you feel the same. In summary, the responses indicate that standard TESOL and CELTA techniques for teaching and class management work well in Saudi Arabia, as they do elsewhere (kinesthetic and interactive activities, using additional realia and material in addition to the text, using a constant variety of activities and formats: group work, pair work, individual work, open class work). Some specific differences lie in the increased amount of time spent engaged in classroom management activities in Saudi Arabia compared to other countries (dealing with cell phone usage, attendance policies, chatting in class, participation issues) and the need for a wide variety of management tactics applied on a constant and ongoing basis. Another difference is the need for relationship building with students on an individual level. Other, universally accepted, professional teaching practices work well here too, including staying positive and enthusiastic, smiling and not losing your temper and treating the students and their culture(s) with respect. It is important to be friendly, professional and approachable. It is useful to be organized, use interactive activities and constantly changing types of activities and delivery methods for lessons.

Teaching in Saudi Arabia Part Five: Student motivation strategies

We asked teachers what they had found worked well to motivate their students, and here is what they suggested:

Tips on how to get your students motivated:

Find out the students reason for studying and what they enjoy then work from there. But some girls here really don't want to be motivated so don't take it personally when everything you know doesn't work.’’

“Be strict. These girls are not attending university because they want to. They are attending because of social pressure and because they get paid to come. Some even come because they have nothing better to do. Its important to make the class entertaining and be very strict with discipline. These girls lack punctuality, classroom respect, and ability to be consistent in their work and submission. Its important to start off the in classroom strict and clear of expectations.’’

“Your personal relationship with your students first and foremost - I personally have found that when you make 'contact ' with your students - ie you've got to know them and have 'got through' to them - ie effective communication - you will have got their attention, and respect - you're halfway there........this helps you to continue giving them examples of how improved their lives can be it they learn English!
“Examples of how much easier job-hunting will be - how much more enjoyable travelling abroad would be reminders of how proud their parents and family will be of them.... etc’’

“Marks - real or imaginary. If you want them to do it, hang a mark on it. Sadly, I haven't found anything else - not fun, food, or anything overly English related. They do enjoy sharing info about Saudi - places to go, things to see, animals and such, and doing make-up and nails.’’

“Using realia. They get bored easily and their classes are long. It is also a new form of education to them where they have to work for themselves and think for themselves. So putting things into context and using reali life situations, makes it more interesting for them.’’

¨I have found that if students were not already motivated, there was nothing I could do. Wish there was a magic wand for this one!´´

“Being enthusiastic and persistent, consistent and not taking everything too seriously. Fun and passion in what you're talking about are infectious.’’

“Talk to students about future goals and aspirations, help them to envisage this and how English can be incorporated in their dreams. A lot of the students' want to be translators and doctors, so the teacher could demonstrate a day in the life of one of these people (via interviews on youtube etc.) and ask questions about why English is important to learn and the benefits etc. If students can see tangible results, they are more likely to feel motivated and want it for themselves. Also showing strong female role models from the Arab world. My students were inspired by a Qatari Shaykha who did a lot of humanitarian work and supported womens' rights.’’

Teaching in Saudi Arabia Part Four: Classroom Management Tipsagement Tips for New Teachers

--> Teaching in Saudi Arabia Part Four: Classroom Management Tips

We asked teachers to comment on what new teachers should avoid doing to manage class behavior.

How to manage your class:

“Do not equate Western behavior with Saudi behavior. Never use Western experience as a point of reference.’’

“Avoid anything that even resembles militant authoritarianism. At least once a day, a student will request something (generally the altering of attendance) which we aren't in the position to grant. Don't yell, don't express irritation. Be kind, explain the rules they already know too well, and repeat as necessary. If every teacher was more consistent with the established standards, we wouldn't have nearly as many students requesting exceptions.’’

Don`t lose your temper, yell, humiliate or single out the girls.’’

“Establish rules from the start of the semester; get the class to make up their own class rules and explain why the rules are important and penalties for breaking them. I would do this together with the class. I would also advise teachers to be firm but nice, and be quick to reward good behaviour.’’

“Clear rules, listen but don't encourage excuses and tell them that such issues can be addressed after class time - they usually forget or don't want to waste their own break time. Don't negotiate/debate!’’

Smiles and gentleness work, whatever the message. Frowns don't. The students are quite naive and young in maturity but want to think they are mature young ladies. Treat them with the respect of 18-19 yr olds, but if they misbehave tell them you don't want to have to treat them like children. Criticise the behaviour not them. This is important in any teaching but particularly here due to personal honour.’’

“Build relationship. Smile smile, smile. Be organised, always plan lessons, think about tasks & movement, clear objectives, lots of visuals, begin lesson with a quick task game, engages brain & helps to deal with latecomers.’’

“Respect their students, set ground rules and be consistent.’’

“Don't be wishy washy: You either need to have masses of charisma or a solid teacher persona. You need to be firm but with a sense of fun when they are on side. They somehow need to sense you love them, but not any misbehaviour. Don't give up, every day is a fresh start,

“Be careful not to offend individual students as this could backfire on you when the student complains to management. They will be believed and you will need to justify your actions. In another country / part of the world I would say all the cliche things: don't single out any one student, don't get angry with the class, don't play one student off against another, but in all honesty, I have found myself doing everyone of those things in the classroom here in Saudi Arabia. And at times, some of the above actually worked. And that is just it: in Saudi, you have to try everything with students, no matter what level they are. Classroom management and student motivation to actually do some work will be the biggest hurdle.’’

“I’m not sure if classroom management is different in Saudi to elsewhere but it is important to note the maturity of these girls are not the same as their age elsewhere. Their mentality is still very high school like and they lack life experiences. So disciplinary actions should be used as if we were in a high school environment in the West.’’

“Never treat them like small children or undermine their confidence.’’

“They should avoid yelling at the students like they are children, and give them some accountability.’’

Teaching in Saudi Arabia Survey Findings Part Three: Activities that work well to keep students on task

Activities that have worked well to keep students on task

We receive a wide variety of responses and specific activity ideas in response to the question “Describe a time when students were not paying attention and how you got them back on task.’’ Changing the lesson plan on the fly to take the students mood into account, using interactive activities, and getting the students up moving were common suggestions.

Below are a collection of quotes detailing activities and responses to the class that worked for these respondents:

Specific activity suggestions:

“If the students are not paying attention then you need to change the flow of the lesson. An active game using the board works well.’’

“As a PM teacher, tackling the lethargy among the students was one of the greatest challenges I experienced. Whenever I felt their attention drifting as a whole, I would request the students to stand, form a circle, and follow a few simple calisthenics/poses/stretches that I would demonstrate. The students were at first very reluctant to participate, but for the most part, grew comfortable with the physical activity. This frequently not only helped me to regain their attention, but also helped students learn or review physical instructions and vocabulary concerning the body and directions.’’

“Choral response, perseverence.’’

“One day a few girls were feeling tired and had their heads on the table and didn't want to really participate. I had a review quiz planned for this lesson and had the girls divided into teams. The quiz had a total of 40 questions with one point awarded for each correct answer so a straight forward quiz where the team with the most points wins. The majority of the girls got very excited and wanted their team to win so I decided to deduct one point per round for any 'sleepers' on the team. This worked very well, with the more exuberant students, ensuring their sleepy teammates' participation to ensure their team would not be penalized. In my experience, Saudi students thrive during team tasks.’’

“I walked over and switched off the light switch several times. The class quieted down almost immediately and I grabbed my moment and told them how much I appreciated them quieting down and expressed how beautiful the silence was. I then continued on with the lesson.’’

“Using the interactive smartboard.’’

“The students were texting, so I made three or four of them the 'online-dictionary-translation-go to-guy'. I put them in the game in that at anytime they had to be ready to translate, using their smart phones, to translate into Arabic any word that wrote on the board. I further put the iPhones against the Blackberrys for a little competitive edge.”

“I have often tried - and failed - to 'just do this one last task' - towards the end of the lesson - because - a) I've planned it, and I like to achieve my goals on my 'plans' b) I can be too ambitious in what I hope to achieve with my students! I've learned....... that you can't always win all the battles all the time ... bear in mind how much you have asked of them already, bear in mind how tired they are, how late in the day it might be, and how late in the semester! Good advice would be to slowly wind down activities towards the end of the lesson - keep tasks light and fun and open to change...............even a general 'open forum' - try not to be too ambitious!’’

“Remove trouble makers to different parts of the room.Give troublemakers a task to fulfill (a responsibility)’’

 “Completely reshuffle the class around (they actually hate this, but it does help stop them from talking). Speak to the individual troublemakers outside of class explaining the importance that they not disturb the rest of the class. The girls like to hear how good they are at something, so approach them with the incentive that they "could be so much better" than they are...if they pay attention. Like the sandwich marking theory, apply this to your reprimand to. Compliment - reprimand - compliment.’’

“When I was teaching most grammar lessons from the book, the students' eyes would glaze over. So I liked to use examples of mis-communication (calling on one student and giving her a broken sentence and waiting for her to say 'what, teacher?'. I would then ask her why she didn't understand me. Then they would listen. I had to constantly remind them they were learning to communicate with native speakers and people just like themselves. This put it into context for them.’’

“Students well below standard and with little aptitude for learning in general. They played constantly on their telephones; they talked in Arabic throughout the class; they didn't bring their books to class. Some even forgot to bring a pencil with them. Others stared out the window in a daze. There were about 5 students who actually tried, though their ability to concentrate was also lacking. This was the same story everyday in the classroom. I ended up physically separating the class and taught just a few students (the ones who wanted to learn). The rest could do what they wanted, which they did. What did I learn? That the syllabus is not suitable for students with a poor ability to learn or low language aptitudes. The student numbers (26) especially of such low level students are too high.’’

“The students didn't want to do anything so I changed from the writing plan to lots of short quizzes based on language points, word games, team games etc. This way they were still learning and revising even though the lesson plan had gone out of the window. Book: 5 Minute activities by Penny Ur = very useful tool for moments like this! I try to have a selection of games/ language activities and worksheets 'up my sleeve' for occasions like this so that time is not wasted.’’

“Task was too difficult e,g listening exercise was too long & for level 2 students most of it would just be 'noise'. Shortened task & gave students key words to listen for.’’

“The directions were complicated and only a few students were game to play. Even with several demonstrations with and by their classmates the majority of the class was bust. I reverted to having them elicit and write sentences on the board. I never gave games with complicated directions after that.’’

“The lesson I learnt was don't make the exercises long, students get bored if there is no kinesthetic activity in class. I like to force them to get up and move around if they are showing signs of deterioration!!’’

“I mainly like to encourage active and cooperative learning. For example in reading/analyzing a text. I would get students to read authentic articles from online news sites (Saudi Gazette, Arab News) as well as other international non-news sites, and they would read a paragraph each from the article to their group. The rest of the group would try to guess what the article topic is by using question words. Then they would summarize the article and present it to the class in their own words. This works well if you do it as a test and reward activity.’’

“Using visual stimulus worked very well for both sections I taught. They could write many things when given a beautiful and interesting picture sans people, of course.’’

“One task I did to teach the importance of cohesion was the one where you write the beginning of a story on a piece of paper, then you fold it over and pass to the next person. That worked extremely well and got quite a lot of laughs. Saudi students certainly like a laugh but that doesn't mean they want you as the teacher to act the clown, but I like to find tasks that will lead to humorous situations.’’

Teaching in Saudi Arabia Survey Findings Part Two: Teaching Strategies That Work

Strategies that worked well for other teachers:

Below are a sampling of direct quotes collected anonymously, detailing what worked well for teachers last term (spring 2012).

“If you use strategies, be clear, explain them and use them for at least a fortnight. Get them to set rules, and you must police and remind them of what they agreed/ signed up to.’’

“Due to the communal nature of the student body, I've found cooperative learning to be the most effective teaching strategy in Saudi Arabia. The students are given a different seating plan/arrangement every week. While they're effective at working toward a common goal in small groups, it's imperative to keep mixing up the teams to avoid monotony/routine.’’

“I think it’s a good to be flexible. It is important to know that traditional ways of dealing with students like authoritative or parental don't work with these girls. You have to be able to balance what you want them to do for you and what they want. Don't get me wrong having them run amok in your classroom isn't right either. Balance is key.’’

“Mobile phones have to be put off and this is something that needs to be stated everyday until the girls realize that you are not going to let them use them. Group work and make sure that the groups are constantly mixed up. Competitions, group or pair work works well.’’

“Classroom organization (including seating arrangements, classroom decorations, and lesson routines) is very important. Student interest and motivation are improved by regular changes of seating, clear announcements of schedule and curriculum expectations. Regular use of group, pairs, and individual assignments also provide variety and stimulation.’’

“To not only be culturally sensitive but, personality sensitive. Never embarrass any one student in front of the entire class. When a student is late, try to find out why she is late. You will be amazed to find out what you hear.’’

“Roll with it. Give them a minute or two to settle themselves. Once you have over half, you can work on the holdouts. Discuss the situation with them the next day if you can't get them back, and explain how that behavior affects your ability to teach, theirs to learn and show them what it feels like. Ask if they treat any of their other teachers' like that?’’

“I don't think my teaching strategies have strayed too much from the usual TESOL orientated teaching style, except when syllabus material requires too much critical thinking or independent working on the student's behalf. I have found I need to consolidate understanding of the actual task set repeatedly and much more than I have ever needed to do so in the past. What has really changed is my attention to classroom management. Of all classroom activities, this can take up to 30% of the time allocated. What has also made a difference is the range of subjects I can talk about. It is difficult to teach students to think critically and become involved in discussion, when the best topics for forming an opinion or challenging an intellectual conversation are banned and all you are left with is a discourse in shopping, eating, and my family. Always reward correct and well thought out answers - they love this. Though not always possible, I try to put the responsibility on the students for their learning, classroom management and even delivery of lessons (the latter especially in review week).’’

“My teaching strategies are based on CELTA & they do work here. Setting context, working through stages, all class exposition of grammar, group work, paired work, individual work. Controlled practice, semi controlled practice, free practice.’’
“The students often get rowdy toward the end of the day or if they've been doing lots of book activities. Rather than shout over them, I think it's often best to just sit them out. They'll quiet down on their own.’’

Teaching Strategies for Saudi Arabia: Part one: Introduction and Summary Of Overall Findings

What follows is a series of posts that summarize  the findings of an anonymous online survey conducted by Sarah Dubois and Marianne Graff in June 2012. 

We surveyed teachers working in Saudi Arabia and received 22 responses from women and 4 responses from men working in a university preparatory program (like grade 13, with an intensive English course component).  

We have broken it into 6 posts, filled with direct quotes (anonymous) from the participants, for easier navigation and discovery. 

Part One includes a general summary and advice based on the overall findings. Part Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six include direct quotes gathered anonymously from participants with more in-depth and personal advice and suggestions.

1.    Part One: Introduction and Summary Of Overall Findings
2.     Part Two: Teaching strategies that have worked well for other teachers teaching in Saudi Arabia
3.     Part Three: Activities that work well to keep students on task
4.    Part Four: classroom management tips for new teachers
5.     Part Five: Student motivation strategies
6.    Part Six: Additional advice


Here are some strategies for teaching in Saudi Arabia suggested by the 22 teachers who participated in an anonymous online survey conducted in June 2012 by Sarah Dubois and Marianne Graff.

The questions asked were about teaching strategies that worked well in Saudi Arabia based on personal experience, what worked and what did not, lessons learned, and questions about specific strategies for getting a class back on track, classroom management tips and student motivational suggestions. We also asked for general comments.

What follows is a summary of responses grouped into three general areas for easier reading.

Don’t lose your cool

Teachers overwhelmingly said that the students reacted poorly to approaches that the students perceived as authoritarian and punitive. Students responded well to praise and encouragement and poorly to raised voices and power struggles (e.g. over cell phone usage). Specific comments made included: don`t yell, don’t embarrass or single out students in front of others for punishment, and always remain calm. Many warned against treating the students like children. Giving respect as a way to get it back was suggested by a number of respondents.

Be open minded
A significant number of teachers remarked that it was important to keep open-minded and enthusiastic. Students seem to quickly pick up  on a teachers’ negative feelings and thoughts and if their culture is being rejected. Some responded that it helped to admit you were new to Saudi Arabia, and ask that students to tell you if you do something that is not culturally sensitive, and to be willing to learn new things along with them.

Be open and personal
It was striking how often teachers mentioned the importance of building relationships on a one to one, individual basis. Many suggested that it worked well for them to share some personal details with the students to help build rapport, and let the line between teacher and student blur more than perhaps is necessary in other places in the world. 

Interestingly, we noticed two opposite trends in the survey results on this point: while many suggested that teachers should develop a personal, caring and supportive relationship with students, a significant number were adamant that you had to be their teacher and not their friend, indicating that being firm and strict was the best way to maintain respect and control in the classroom. It seems to us (the authors) that striking a balance between these two extremes, by maintaining a friendly, kind, and approachable attitude, while staying professional, calm and consistently firm, is perhaps the key to successful teaching in Saudi Arabia.

Be flexible
Getting to know students on a personal basis was suggested as a useful strategy for motivating students. Tailoring lessons to meet their needs and interests with extra materials such as video clips, realia like newspaper articles, and website content (with approval) was mentioned as very helpful. Changing the flow of the lesson as needed depending on the reaction of the students was strongly encouraged.

Don’t take it personally
Since English is a required course and students are paid according to their attendance, many students may not like English or be motivated to learn it, no matter how much or how often the lessons are modified to interest and suit them. It was suggested to accept that everything you try may not work, and what worked one day may not work the next. Continually trying new tactics and activity ideas and helping the students see how learning English fits into their larger education and career plans may help. It was noted by some that if the students were not intrinsically motivated, there was nothing you could do. Don’t take it personally. Focus on the students who are wiling to learn and move on.

Be Firm but Kind

It was noteworthy how many respondents said that it was important to set ground rules the first day of class, and stick to them. Being understanding, but firm, and calmly repeating the ground-rules daily and applying them consistently until learned was a tactic reported by many of the teachers surveyed.

Constantly Mix It Up
It works well to make activities as interactive as possible according to the many teachers polled. A large number of teachers noted that it worked well to constantly mix the students up and do a variety of activities including pair-work, group work, and changing the seating plan on a regular basis such as once a week. The students may not like it, preferring to sit with their friends, but it keeps chatting down and helps keep the whole class focused and actively participating.

Roll with it
A significant number of teachers reported that it worked best to quietly wait during a rowdy spell for it to pass naturally, rather than shout over top.  One noted that if you try to stop an animated conversation going on in Arabic, they will just whisper and continue. Staying rock still, turning off the lights, and letting students police themselves to quiet the loud ones were suggested as effective techniques to regain focus and control of a class without losing dignity and respect.

Be Realistic
Closely related to the ideas of being flexible and reacting to student needs as they arise was the suggestion to resist the urge to do ‘’just one more thing’’ because it was in your lesson plan, and there is time to squeeze it in. It was recommended to always remember where the students are at in their day, the week and term overall to reduce your stress when things don`t go according to plan. A number of teachers recommended using activities that require movement, especially in the afternoons, and taking a 5 minute break in class, using this time to do exercises or letting students take bathroom breaks.

Avoid complicated instructions
A handful of teachers commented that some of their lessons flopped due to complicated instructions or the fact that instructions were not clearly delivered at the beginning. One respondent noted that it was very important to consolidate instructions at the start of an activity especially if critical thinking was involved.

Make it into a Game With Points or Hang a Mark on It
A large number of teachers noted that the students here thrive on team work, and that points-based activities worked well.  Others suggested assigning marks in order to motivate students to complete a task.


 Many mentioned abandoning your preconceived ideas about teaching since  the students here have had a very different learning environment than anything in the west. Specifically, the students here have not had the same style or degree of critical thinking and analysis worked into their education, and have learned by repetition and rote.

While one respondent commented that perhaps the TESOL and CELTA techniques were too soft and perhaps ineffective given the cultural and educational background of these students, a significant number reported that the TESOL and CELTA techniques they had learned in other places in the world worked well here too.

Overall, respondents reported that being kind but firm, setting ground rules and sticking to them in a calm, persistent yet kind way, getting to know the students personally and continually trying new activities and management strategies worked well, based on their teaching experience in Saudi Arabia.


If you have additional comments, please feel free to add a comment at the bottom.