How to deal with overly anxious students

How to deal with overly anxious Students

Diary submitted by Laura D. Madrid

Student Motivation / Classroom Management

I have had many experiences of students suffering from learner anxiety during my TEFL training. It is sadly something that everyone must overcome at least once, if not multiple times, in their lives. Language learning is always inherently stressful, as you are setting yourself up for literally the impossible task of trying to be as fluent as a native.

dealing with overly anxious students in TEFL

Student Motivation / Classroom Management

There is one student that particularly stands out in mind as suffering badly from learner anxiety. This experience has taught me a variety of methods that are possible to implement in order to overcome this problem. They were preparing for a Cambridge Advanced English (CAE) speaking exam that was happening the following week and was clearly distressed. It frustrated them that they could understand everything that I was saying. But they were unable to express themselves and kept making minor mistakes. I felt that the easier way to keep the student calm was by relating my own experiences of speaking assessments. This was to show them that these exams are not as scary as they were made out to be.

Though there can be a lot of reasons behind learner’s anxiety, such as fear of public speaking; immature vocabulary; and worrying about being understood or not, the main reason behind anxiety is the students’ self-confidence.

So: How to deal with overly anxious students?

I find that is it the fear of the unknown that frequently holds students back. Online research told me that teachers must create opportunities in class for the student to express their anxiety and realise that they are not alone in their struggle, as well as meeting the student’s negative thoughts head-on.

Another way of combating anxiety is to make the lesson student-centred. This means thinking about what will make the student most comfortable but still educational at the same time. There are also a few techniques which teachers can teach to their students, such as breathing exercises to calm down.
It is, however, important to take into consideration that anxiety can be a useful tool for learning, as increased adrenalin from anxiety can lead to an improvement in performance. Nonetheless, extreme anxiety is detrimental to language learning as negative thoughts can block the student from being able to take in new information.


  •  ‘Ways to Decrease Anxiety | Foreign Language Teaching Methods: The Language Learner’ <https://coerll.utexas.edu/methods/modules/learners/03/decrease.php> [accessed 20 August 2017].
  •  ‘TFM (1).pdf’ <http://eprints.ucm.es/32553/1/TFM%20%281%29.pdf> [accessed 20 August 2017].
  •  ‘Ways to Decrease Anxiety | Foreign Language Teaching Methods: The Language Learner’.
  •  ‘10 Tips On How to Focus On Boring Reading Materials’, Iris Reading, 2013 <https://www.irisreading.com/10- tips-on-how-to-focus-on-boring-readingmaterials/> [accessed 20 August 2017].
  •  ‘Ways to Decrease Anxiety | Foreign Language Teaching Methods: The Language Learner’.

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