Four techniques to give your lessons oomph

elt engagement methodology motivation Oct 22, 2021

By James Jenkin

Here are four easy ways to make lessons much more effective and engaging. They’re easy, and they work!

1. Bring visuals and realia to every class

Pictures and real objects are interesting and meaningful. They engage the senses, and bring the real world into the classroom.

Don’t introduce the topic of food by saying ‘Today we’re going to talk about food’. Instead, bring in the real thing, and get students to talk about it. (‘This is my lunch. What are you having? Tell your partner.’)

It only takes seconds to grab an orange from the kitchen, or open Google Images. Yet this minor effort significantly changes students’ perception of English and the class.

2. Welcome the class

We know affect – how students feel – is a huge factor in motivation. So make students feel welcome.

Smile. Say ‘Hi!’. (If they’re new, introduce yourself.) Say ‘Thanks for coming, great to see you!’. And mean it.

3. Sit down

If it’s not a large class, sit at the same level as students. It helps them to relax. A teacher standing over a group of four is intimidating, and rather strange.

When monitoring, sit, rather than stand, near the students you’re listening to.

There’s no risk to your authority (except possibly with teenagers). Younger students want to feel a physical bond with their teacher. And older students don’t respect an authoritarian – they respect someone who knows what they’re doing, and tries to help them.

4. Say nothing after a student speaks

A student just spoke in English. Excellent. What should you say in response? Nothing.

Anything you say, even ‘Great!’, stops that student and other students from saying anything more.

Use body language instead. Nod to show you’re listening. Only smile if the student says something funny – not to indicate ‘Well done!’, which is patronizing. Then use an open palm and facial expression to prompt the student to say more – or gesture to a different part of the room to encourage other students to speak.

Teachers may believe they need to speak both in order to manage the activity and encourage students. In fact, gestures are usually more directive, and body language more expressive, than a lot of teacher talk.

This technique – doing less – can dramatically increase the amount students say. Try it!

James Jenkin has worked in the field of TESOL for over twenty years as a teacher, teacher trainer, curriculum designer and academic manager. He is an IELTS examiner and has an MA in Applied Linguistics from Monash University, Australia.

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