How do you bring language to life in the classroom?
When teaching in the classroom, it is very important to branch away from the traditional method of teaching, known as the “chalk and talk” method. This typically involves the teacher dictating the lesson, with students sat listening and writing down the words of the teacher. Not every student is programmed to be able to sit, listen intently to every word you say, write down everything important and absorb the information sufficiently to be able to go on and use the language in a productive way.
You have to remember you have a variety of learners in any one classroom, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses, and varied ways of absorbing information. Some students might be more visual than aural learners, and others more oral or physical (or “hands-on”) learners. Essentially, you have a team of learners on your hands; together, they can achieve more with their different strengths and certainly, they can learn from each other in addition to just the teacher.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Phylly J.
Differentiate classroom activities
Given that you have a variety of learners in any class, it is wise to mix up the style of activities used in your lesson so that you are catering to everybody’s learning needs. For instance; using images for vocabulary, or using photographs to stimulate conversation and grammatical structures, would be a good way to appeal to a visual learner.
One very interesting theory about language acquisition is the total physical response theory initiated by James Asher. This involves the notion that humans, particularly younger learners, require some physical input into learning a language. Words, when accompanied with physical actions, hold more meaning and become far more memorable than vocabulary simply written onto a whiteboard and copied down in rote learning style. This implies that learning should be active rather than passive.
Teaching in the classroom should always be interactive, whereby there is not only a focus from the teacher to student but also from student to teacher, and from student to student. The teacher should not remain on a separate pedestal to the students. The teaching material should be delivered in a way to actively involve the students in what they are learning. Traditional games such as Ludo, Pictionary, Battleships, and variants of Monopoly are always great fun, but there are more interesting and less obvious ways to bring active learning into the classroom and incorporate some of the total physical response theory.
Help to memorize language points in an unusual way
Consider the learning of new vocabulary or phrases. A game such as “Ship Captain”, whereby the leader in the role as Captain (this doesn’t always have to be the teacher, and students should also play this role), calls out a word as though a command to which students respond with the corresponding action. If every phrase or piece of vocab has a corresponding action, not only has it been given physical meaning but the physical response helps program the word into the memory. This can be played where the last person to perform the action, or person to do the wrong action is out. In this case, it can be quite entertaining.
Again good times make for good memories, and improved learning! This can work with both young learners and adults. Young learners love the free, physical and competitive aspects. Adults love the opportunity to let go and be a bit playful, embracing their drama skills! The fact that the students take it in turns to be ‘captain’, means they are also vocalizing the words and have to pronounce them correctly so their peers know what the command is.
Give more freedom even when you are teaching grammar
Sometimes, language lessons can be very structured and grammar-based and give little opportunity for free, organic speech to flow and fluency to develop. It is also difficult to get some students to speak the language in front of others in the group, as they are self-conscious and fear judgment.
Mind your students' language level
Improvisation can be a very interesting technique in the classroom with more intermediate and higher level students, as a relaxing activity to encourage language to flow spontaneously and creatively. As long as the feedback is given afterward and language errors corrected, the linguistic opportunity is great here. For instance; a game called ‘bus stop’ whereby two characters interact making small talk as though waiting for a bus, is very entertaining in a classroom. Students use pictures of emotional human beings as a stimulus. They decide which emotion the photo portrays, and this is how they are going to portray their character at the bus stop. They also decide the reason for their feeling.
For example; they could be feeling very disappointed because they didn’t get the bonus they wanted at work. They don’t tell the students in the audience any of this. It is up to the students to work out which picture they were portraying, and even what they think could have happened to the character. The conversation at the bus stop flows in whichever direction the two volunteers want it to. It is surprising how even the shyest of students will get up and speak the foreign language in front of the group when given a role other than themselves. The role allows them to distance themselves from their ego, and losing self-consciousness they are now able to freely use the language with less fear of judgment. Students are placed in a simulation of a real-life everyday situation, therefore older students may further value the relevance of their language practice here.
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In conclusion, in order to bring language to life, students need to be actively involved in speaking and physically interpreting the language, in order for it to sink into their psyche and become a part of who they are. As the Chinese proverb goes; "Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand."
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