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ESL Development 9: Motivational Techniques

Marianne Raynaud

In article No. 8, we ended by mentioning briefly the attitude of students in class and how to change passive and sometimes disruptive behavior into a more positive and motivated mindset. I concluded with the reactions I get from colleagues. Now I wish to deal directly with these issues. I intended to expand on these questions that I am frequently asked..

Teachers want answers to questions

So how do you set all this up and make the system work?

  • You must think of all the activities you pursue in class that the students could very well do on their own. For example: correcting a multiple choice questionnaire, a listening comprehension exercise or a cloze (gap-filling) activity.
  • If you hand out easy to understand keys, the students will be able to correct their work.
  • Of course if you give one key to each student, this will become a silent, individual, written activity. However, if you try "intensive pairwork" and give only one key to each pair of students telling them the correcting must be carried out "orally," you will immediately have all the students speaking or listening attentively to their classmates.
  • The trick is to explain that half of the class will be acting as "teachers" and that in the middle of the exercise they will switch roles.
  • Naturally, this will create a "noisy" environment, but is that not far better than having to repeat "Be quiet!" in a class where you are supposed to be teaching them to "speak"?

What is the teacher’s role if students work on their own?

  • You must think you are not fulfilling your role as a teacher simply because you invite students to do things on their own. Learners don’t want to be "told" everything. They want to discover new concepts and practices on their own. Our Web 2.0 society shows us that people refuse to remain passive. They want to be heard, and they are often capable of learning much on their own. Moreover, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else!
  • Your role as a teacher is to choose the activities, provide the materials or indicate how to access them, and finally explain what you expect from your students.
  • Why be up in front of the class "lecturing" to the students if they can find the same information on the Internet? Why think your explanations will be much better than what they can read in books or on a computer. What counts is what they learn, not how great your presentations or explanations are.

How do you “teach” if you are not speaking simultaneously to all the students, asking questions, and soliciting answers from them one at a time—as we do in traditional teaching?

  • Why are we still so set on continuing our "ping-pong teaching"? As I have explained in my digital book and demonstrated in other articles on this site, mostly one-way teaching method (which has been around ever since the government was introduced free national education) necessarily favors "teacher talk." Only one student at a time is participating—even if the teacher gets several answers to the questions asked. "Individual student speaking time" or "student talk" is radically reduced to more or less two minutes maximum per hour in a class of ten. And we all know most of our classes have many more students—thus allowing even less "student talking time."
  • With traditional teaching, students spend their time "answering" questions. They don’t get many opportunities to "formulate" questions and often are incapable of doing so for lack of practice. This situation.is far from authentic Asking questions is a vital aspect of communication.
  • When students do pairwork the teacher can walk around the classroom and answer individual questions coming from the students. Advantages: first, the students get used to asking questions, and second, they will be incited to ask questions that they might not dare formulate in front of their peers for fear of appearing stupid.
  • Lastly, I wonder why the teacher should take time explaining to everyone something that perhaps only a few individual students didn’t grasp? The same goes for correcting. Why correct one student in front of everyone else? This procedure is often ineffective and time-consuming. Above all, it can be most humiliating for the person concerned. Individual correcting in tutorials when the teacher is alone with one or two students or quiet and discreet interventions during intensive pairwork are far better techniques.

Good reasons to flip the classroom

Recently, experiments in the US with "flipping the classroom" have been very successful. Basically, it means that what students can do on their own is best pursued outside of class, during "study hall" or as homework. This change in the program leaves ample opportunity during class time for aspects of teaching that do require the presence of a teacher.

  • Promoting oral exercises: making sure everyone is "speaking" and not just doing written work. This is particularly valid for shy students who tend to work alone during and outside of class.
  • Giving positive feedback: a little encouragement can go a long way. Students don’t just want to hear where they went wrong in their thinking or where they made a mistake. They need to know what they are doing is valued by the teacher.
  • Maintaining deadlines. Students need to learn to complete assigned work for when it has been scheduled.
  • Creating a less stressful and more inspirational environment. A teacher who is fair to everyone, makes the students work hard while encouraging their efforts, and has a pleasant personality will receive compensation through a motivated attitude on the part of the learners. Remember it is only by showing respect for others that you will be respected.

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In the next article, I will pinpoint activities you can use to start increasing "student talking time" and learner autonomy. You will get lists of useful activities plus suggested exercises for Day 1, which can be used any time during the year. The activities are, nonetheless, a good way to break the ice at the beginning of a term with new students.

Back to the list of articles in the ESL Teacher Development Course