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ESL Development 8: How to Stop Students Texting In Class — Through Motivation Techniques (1)

Motivation is an essential element in the learning process. Uninterested learners will take in very little information particularly if they spend most of their time simply listening to the teacher. Obviously, they will remember next to nothing—except how boring it was sitting in that class and doing nothing of any interest. Moreover, skills cannot be learned properly if the learner isn’t willing or encouraged to invest the necessary time and energy. Consequently, motivation is essential to language learning.

Personal experiences with motivation

We all have difficulties motivating ourselves. Don’t we all make New Year’s resolutions that we fail to carry through? Haven’t we all said we should exercise more, eat healthier foods, stop smoking, stop stressing, etc? As teachers, our role is to guide and stimulate our students—in other words to motivate them. But isn’t that the most difficult part of our job? Isn’t it an almost insurmountable task?

There is no simple solution, but I wish to suggest a few strategies that may lead you in the right direction or at least get you thinking.

Let’s think about the problems teachers keep bringing up

Haven’t you heard teachers complaining about students…

  • Fidgeting with their phones
  • Not paying attention to what the teachers is saying
  • Chatting with neighbors in their native language
  • Making a funny or disrespectful remark if called upon and don’t know the answer
  • Answering back in their native language
  • Saying they didn’t have time to do the homework or didn’t understand it

There are solutions. Place yourself in the shoes of the learner.

Students need to be…

  • Working actively nearly all of the time
  • Speaking English or listening intensively as much as possible
  • Learning by themselves
  • Teaching others in order to better assimilate information themselves
  • Indulging in the opportunity to show others what THEY know
  • Getting positive feedback (not just corrections or criticism)

Intensive pair work

Obviously, if students are working actively nearly all of the time, speaking English or listening intensively as much as possible and learning by themselves, they won’t be physically able to send text messages on their phones. If the activities are oral speech-producing exercises, their minds will be focusing on what to say or what their partner is saying. Multi-tasking in that case will be mighty difficult—I’d say impossible. As will be chatting in their native language. Moreover, if they are being tested by a partner, there will be no reason to answer back to the teacher impolitely. If they make a mistake and are corrected by a classmate without anyone else listening, then there will be no need to be upset, feel embarrassed or be stressed. In most cases students will simply laugh at their errors together with their friend. And students love encouraging each other and complimenting one another.

Questions teachers keep asking

So how do you set all this up and make the system work? What is the teacher’s role if students work on their own? How do you “teach” if you are not simultaneously speaking to all the students, asking questions and soliciting answers from them one at a time—as we do in traditional teaching? These are questions I keep getting from teachers. The answer lies in well prepared pair work activities with the teacher acting as a guide, coach and facilitator. In the next article I will give concrete examples of “intensive pair work activities” that promote motivation.

In the meantime you can read the article ESL Solutions: IT plus Intensive Pair Work Techniques to get some ideas.


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