”Students keep asking me, how do I do this? But I’ve just explained it, for like the third time.”
”They get excited when I show something on the whiteboard, but it’s only for about as long as the class lasts. If I ask any questions on that picture or link a couple of weeks later, it’s like we’ve never touched on the subject.”
”I want my students to start taking initiatives when it comes to learning. Sometimes I feel that if I’m not around, they won’t be able to communicate in English – even the high-achievers in my classes.”
Do the above ring any bells? They all come from colleagues, hard-working EFL teachers with whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on various projects. And I’ve thought of those words myself numerous times.
I’m certainly not an expert of any description; I’m just curious. I’ll press my nose into anything and I want my students to do the same. But how?
Here are the first six steps I try and take for each of my lessons to assist my students in taking learning into their own hands:
– Get comfortable
If your class doesn’t feel like home, it can’t work. Devote some time to getting your classroom as you want it and leave some room for what your students want. We’re all learning together, so we should all feel comfortable.
– Know your students
And do so in a fun way: The ”Lie detector”, my personal favourite. A nice ice breaker which can be used with students at all levels and age groups: ”Write three sentences on the board about you, 2 are true, and 1 will be a lie. […] Embellish the details slightly and write some sentences that the students wouldn’t be likely to guess. Depending on the level of the students, the students can then ask questions about the topics of the three statements of the teacher to determine the lie. BUT, the hook to this game is that YOU, the teacher, may lie verbally to the students in your response, and the students must play the role of a lie detector and figure out which sentence is a porky pie” – you can find a full description and more ice breakers on BusyTeacher.
– (Re)learn to play.
Turn your class into a game, have students play with words and join in. I’ve used several different ways to integrate gaming in my lessons and so far, none has failed. Whether it’s a simple word game like hangman, a game-based assessment system or a fully developed computer game, it works. Firstly, because we all have fun and secondly, because we do things the way we choose.
– Give them tools, not just answers.
After we’ve all got comfortable, I share the following presentation with my students and ask them to try out those tools and decide what suits them. Integrating technology is not the easiest task you’ll have to tackle, but it can be one of the most rewarding.
– Build on curiosity
Remember that students are not mute. They have opinions, questions and a lot to contribute. Let them lead from time to time and work with them on what they care about.
Something I’ve found very helpful, is introducing the ”can of words”. It can be an actual can, or a virtual one. It’s where students keep at least three words they have found interesting each week and with which they have to produce sentences to share with their classmates. We often try storytelling, using everyone’s sentences together. It’s always a good idea to have your own can of words as a teacher – it keeps both you and your students motivated; and much like the can of worms, it’s difficult to close once you’ve opened it!
– Don’t tell them; show them.
Find what suits YOU best and share with your students. A video? A song? A poem perhaps? Make it visual, make it sound different, make it yours and theirs. Patti Smith once said ‘I came into music because I thought the presentation of poetry wasn’t vibrant enough. So I merged improvised poetry with basic rock chords.” Make your lessons vibrant and unforgettable by merging your students’ interests, your own ideas and every tool available.
Learning doesn’t begin and end in a classroom. There shouldn’t be an on/off switch. Make it happen by understanding and using anything that works; if you can lead your learners to independence, it will last forever.