Language teaching in a classroom is so different than tutoring one-on-one. This really hit home last week, when I came back to classroom teaching as an instructor with SFU’s digital communication and advanced English certificate program. You need a whole different set of skills and activities on hand. Here are six classroom language teaching activities that I have developed in the last 10 years, and find incredibly valuable.
1. Personal writing (especially at the beginning of class)
I often start class with a 10 or 15 minute writing exercise related to a theme or topic of the day, for example, “Describe your perfect day,” or “Describe an excellent mentor that you have had or would like.” Logistically, it takes care of stragglers and gives me time to review the agenda for the day. It also lets people relax, be reflective, use the other side of their brains, and it sets the mood. I usually have people share in pairs or with the whole class.
2. Leading the class with PowerPoint slides
Boring paper handouts can become dynamic tasks if you tweak them and put them on slides. For example, instead of doing paper grammar quizzes individually, I have pairs look at grammar errors on a slide, and argue about how to correct them. I also use slides for images, photos, video clips, giving instructions, following up on discussions from the past day, and asking complex discussion questions.
3. Working in pairs
To get people talking, this is my go-to tool. Quiet students have more opportunity to contribute. The ratio of learner/teacher speaking instantly goes up. It also gives me a chance to circulate in the classroom and listen, taking notes for follow-up or answering questions.
4. Working in small groups
Pairs are great, but for many activities, you want more voices and backgrounds being shared. I love making groups of three to five for discussions in which people draw on personal experiences or debate.
5. Discussing things as a class
When you open the discussion up to the class, two terrible things can happen: silence, and domination by a couple of confident students. To handle the first, I warm up the class with things like, “Raise your hand if you feel that Canadians are relatively direct in communication,” before moving onto, “Can you give me an example?” To handle the second issue, I stress early the importance of hearing all the voices in the room, and the importance of creating space for slower-to-respond people. Facilitating group discussions has now probably become my favourite role in the classroom.
6. Going where the humour is
When a class inside joke develops, I encourage it. When people indicate that they like playful teasing, I tease them and welcome it back. When I get embarrassed and turn red, I laugh at myself and invite other people to as well. When someone gets going on a funny story, I hand over the floor, sit back, and laugh, ideally until I’m crying (most recently: when Andrew told us how his manager delegated someone at HR to assign him an English name – the most bureaucratic approach to getting a nickname I have ever heard). With laughter, the mood changes, students relax, it’s easier to correct people, and language learning happens so much more naturally.
Note: My last post was about understanding adult ESL language cuts in B.C. I am still planning to follow up on that, specifically on the options left to adults newcomers, but I need to do more research. Please look for a follow-up in my next post.