Trying to implement new changes in the EFL classroom can be a tricky task– how do you do it, analyze if it’s been successful, and decide what’s next? It can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! This week on the blog, we’re highlighting a few changes you can implement that will be high-impact for your learners, but low-prep for you!
A great way to impact the quality of your lessons positively is to increase the student talking time (STT). At The TEFL Lab, our lessons and teacher notes are designed to help you do this, but there is always room for more STT! Without creating new tasks or prompts, you can boost STT in your class in the following (sneaky) ways:
1. Never read! If there’s something on the screen that needs to be read, make sure learners are doing the reading aloud! Having learners read aloud is a great way to give them additional speaking experience in class. While they aren’t speaking in an impromptu way, reading aloud is an important linguistic skill to develop, and it serves as another opportunity to get learners using L2 words, sounds, and intonation– consider it training for their vocal tract!
2. Have learners call on other learners. You might need to facilitate this in the beginning, but after a few instances in class, you should be able to count on learners to do this in a streamlined way. First, ask a learner to read a question. Use a simple instruction, such as “Pedro, read question 1.”. Now, call on another learner to answer. Use a simple instruction such as “Melina, please answer the question.” After Melina has answered, ask her to select another person to answer, saying something like “Great! Melina, choose another classmate to share their answer.” After the next learner answers (let’s say her name is Gisele). After Gisele answers the question, ask her to read question number 2, and start this process over again. This ensures that learners have more opportunities to share their own responses and ideas, and eventually you can have learners facilitate the activity on their own.
3. Ask for summaries. When you finish a task, even if it was a simple introduction to a grammar concept or vocabulary set, ask learners to summarize the important information we’ve just seen. It’s a great way to get inside their minds and understand what they’ve understood, and is yet another opportunity to get them speaking. This activity is even more rich if they’ve completed an activity involving an email, podcast episode, or some other form of media that they needed to read, listen to, or watch. Summarizing is also an important skill, so sneaking this in every couple of slides is a great way to incorporate that practice in your classes.
Your learners might have access to asynchronous study materials or apps, they might watch an English series on Netflix, or they might use English at work, but at the end of the day, their time in class with you is really a big laboratory to experiment with English. Encourage risk-taking from your learners and make errors into an expectation and learning experience, rather than something to avoid. There are many error correction techniques that you can use as a teacher, but none are quite as learner-centric as eliciting self- correction or peer-correction. Why? Think of it this way: You’re the English expert in your classroom. You know the answers, and everyone knows you know the answers. Pedro might get an answer wrong or might share an idea or answer that’s full of errors, so you know Pedro hasn’t grasped the topic. You can provide the error correction FOR him, but imagine you take two other approaches instead.
In the first approach, you can say “Pedro, say that sentence again but pay close attention to your verb.”– point him in the right direction (or even no direction at all, simply eliciting his examination of what he’s just said). He might correct himself, and feel a sense of accomplishment in the act. That’s a huge win! And if he doesn’t correct himself, there might be someone else in the class that can have that win before you swoop in with the correction.
So the second approach is eliciting peer correction. The tricky part can sometimes be how to do this without making a learner feel inadequate. Rather than asking other classmates for corrections, ask them to assist Pedro. Try a prompt like “Ok, Pedro has a detail in his sentence that we need to look at. Can anyone help us? What did you notice about Pedro’s sentence?” If no one can answer, you’ve struck gold! Here’s a language point that EVERYONE needs to understand better. And in the event that someone DOES have the answer? Ask that person to make a suggestion and explanation to Pedro, and then have Pedro try again. Why structure it that way? Well, both learners win in this situation– Wilhelm can demonstrate his grasp of the language point, boosting his confidence and involvement in class, and Pedro gets the chance to accept that help and try again, which will give him the opportunity to get it right and feel a sense of accomplishment before moving on. Everyone else that’s acting as a spectator gets to see that process unfold and can apply the knowledge they gain from the exchange to their own turn, when the time comes. Does it take more time to do error correction this way? Yes. Does it involve learners further in the analysis of their own understanding of the L2? Also yes.
Ready for an easy-to-implement, low-prep classroom routine that your learners will love? It’s a classic– show and tell! If you’re teaching groups, this is a great way to get learners speaking in front of the class and practice being active audience members. You can structure this in the way that works best for your learners, but the basics are as follows:
1. Choose a topic. Each lesson, a different learner will show and tell something to the class about whatever topic you assign. It could be as simple as having them share their screen and review their calendar events for the week, a presentation they’re working on, a Netflix series they’re watching, or anything else you deem appropriate for class.
2. Let them know how long they should present for– adjust the time based on their levels. Task the other classmates with active listening tasks– invite them to highlight words or phrases that they liked, ask questions about the topic of the show-and-tell, and provide feedback about what they thought the presenter did a good job with (pronunciation, fluidity, grammar, etc.)
You might add additional challenges for more advanced learners, such as:
– Incorporate a word or phrase from our last lesson
– Use a specific grammar structure based on the module you’re working with (or have just completed)
– Create a presentation slide to accompany your show-and-tell
– Avoid using a specific word (for example, if you’ve taught connectors recently, maybe your learners have to use other words instead of “also”).
After a presenter gives their presentation, require each audience member to provide feedback, ask a question, etc.
You can structure this activity to take up 10 minutes of each lesson, or 10 minutes each week, or whatever works best for your course and your learners. It’s an easy way for you to invite more spontaneity into your classes while also providing structure and keeping everyone involved in the task. There are plenty of ways to tweak this task to keep it in line with your learners’ needs, too!
If you’re teaching online (or even in a face-to-face classroom where learners have access to their phones or computers), this is a great change to make. What does it consist of?
Every time you’ve used a text, listening, or video in class, a great practice is to invite learners to highlight new words or phrases that are new to them. Specifically phrasing a vocabulary word or phrase as “new” is a great, inviting way to encourage learners to reveal their own knowledge gaps. Sometimes learners will hesitate to do this if you phrase your question as “What words did you not know?”, so keep that in mind.
Once they’ve highlighted these words or phrases, check with the peanut gallery of other learners to see if any of them can provide a definition, example, or translation of the word or phrase. If it’s not clear, task them with finding it for the class and coming back to report its meeting. This way of encouraging learners to search for information online and sharing with the class is a great reinforcement of the skill of looking for information online, which they’ll no doubt need to do if they have to use English at work.
When they report back to the class about what they’ve found, you’ll likely need to guide them a bit more in their explanation of a word or phrase, and ask CCQs to check their comprehension. But the act itself is empowering and it transforms your role from dictionary /encyclopedia /translator into a learning guide.
You can take this a step further when working with a new vocabulary set by teaching learners how to look for related words or synonyms and antonyms (and then sharing with the class) as a way to develop these searching skills, as well as grow their lexicon!
Which change do you want to try first? What other changes are you interested in implementing in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!