Friday 20 November 2015

Getting Students Talking: Consistency is Key

One of the first lessons I learned in the classroom was the necessity of structural consistency in lesson planning. That’s not to say that each lesson should be a carbon copy of the last. But if you want to create a low pressure atmosphere where students feel comfortable, I recommend using a stable lesson structure that is easy for students to follow. Obviously, each classroom and curriculum is going to be different, but I want to talk about specific methods and activities that I use with all of my freshmen and sophomore basic English classes. In every lesson, I include objectives, warm-up questions that use the target vocabulary, language and picture prompts in Powerpoint form, and consistent pair and group work.

Lesson objectives are an important cue for students at the beginning of class. Many students write down the lesson objectives and  appreciate being introduced to the basic and order of the class. You also might want to repeat the lesson objectives at the end of class or perhaps you can ask students to tell their partner what they learned that day. Either way, students should be aware of what their learning itinerary includes in any given class.

I have also had a lot of success with warm-up questions at the beginning of class. I include the target vocabulary in the question and answer to encourage students to use the vocabulary when talking with a partner. On the Powerpoint, I include a language prompt with a blank space so that students can fill in the blank with their opinion. For example, let’s say that ‘reliable’ is a vocabulary word this week. I will include a quick definition of reliable on the Powerpoint along with the question:
‘Q: Who’s the most reliable person in your life? A: The most reliable person in my life is my          .”

I use these warm-up questions for a few reasons. First, it allows low level students the ability to talk with their partners easily. Also, students are well prepared for vocabulary exercises in their book later in class after viewing and using the word previously. Third, the questions serve as a kind of icebreaker at the start of class when students are often tired and sometimes hesitant to participate.
With low level students, I recommend using both language prompts and pictures. Language prompts with blank spaces for students to fill (like the one above)  are an easy way to equalize low level and high level English speakers. If your high level students aren’t feeling challenged, try adding extra follow up ‘wh’ questions or encouraging students to add their own ‘wh’ questions. You can’t go wrong with visual aids just so long as they are relevant to the lesson. If you can find interesting or funny pictures to grab student attention, even better. Asking students to help describe a picture is also an effective way to cover tough vocabulary or as a hook to start class.
Next, I’m often told by my students how much they appreciate pair and group work. At the beginning of class, I have students facing the head of class for only a short time. I recommend the “think, pair, share” model. Students collect their thoughts at the beginning of class followed by pairs and group speaking activities. After students are paired for a time, I put them in groups of four for book work, games, and more activities. Keep in mind that with a focus on pair and group work, the teacher has to closely monitor students and keep them on task. But despite the minimal challenges, most classes should be centered around pair and group activities. The teacher should not be the center of the classroom, but rather a spirited facilitator who aids and encourages student discussion.
There are numerous ways to modify the ideas I have just shared. Depending on the class context, I find myself modifying them each semester. Just remember that lesson consistency can be very beneficial for your students as they navigate their way through the language classroom.


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