Make Time for Talking
Second language teachers already know how important conversational practice is to become fluent in a second language, but English teachers often overlook what an important step it is for students to talk about their writing. Whether they are discussing their ideas as a form of pre-writing before they put pen to paper or sharing what they have written, talking about their writing can increase vocabulary and grammar skills. It also gives students a chance to verbally process the new learning that has occurred during the class period.
Use Multimedia Resources
Internet videos, songs, clips from news segments, vocabulary games like Hangman, and web comics are all great ways to peak student interest and to create contextually relevant topics for discussion. Discussion and writing focused on contextually relevant topics is always more productive than practice taken out of context. Showing students a news story in a foreign language about the business world before learning office vocabulary creates a reason for learning those terms, just like having students write articles for a classroom newspaper creates a relevant reason for writing. Having an interactive whiteboard in the classroom can make it much easier to seamlessly incorporate these elements into a lesson, but even teachers without that incredibly useful teaching tool can find ways to incorporate these elements.
Set-up Small Groups
The old notion of a classroom full of students listening attentively to teacher lecture without talking or interacting with their peers is not only an outdated method of instruction, it is one of the least effective ways to teach language. Students need lots of opportunities to talk to each other and practice writing, something that can be difficult to regularly work into a lecture-based classrooms. To facilitate more interaction and discussion, group students into pods of three or four. Keep lecture to a minimum, and provide lots of highly structured opportunities for students to interact and work in groups.
Emphasize Real Language Practice over Grammar Instruction
Language instruction is far more than memorizing the grammatical rules that govern language. While grammar instruction is an important part of language acquisition, it is only part. The most effective grammar instruction is usually short mini-lessons, only ten minutes in length, focusing on a specific skill with ample opportunity to practice that skill following the mini-lesson. The rest of class time is well spent on opportunities to read and write language holistically rather than focusing on specific grammar skills.
Assess Progress Regularly
One of the tenets of good teaching for any subject is that without assessment, teachers don’t know what students are learning. Obviously, this holds true for language as well as for science, mathematics or history. By giving a beginning of the year pre-test, and regularly assessing skills taught throughout the year, teachers can begin to see patterns emerge. When more than 20% of the class struggles with a skill, teachers can examine their teaching methods to make sure that they are presenting the material in the clearest way possible, and providing plenty of opportunities for practice.
Make it Fun
It may seem trite to advise teachers to make their lessons fun, but the impact it has on student achievement is anything but trite. When student engagement is high, minor misbehavior in the classroom is lessened. Less time managing behavior means more time spent on learning activities, which translates into higher student achievement. It also makes for less stress for teachers and students when behavior management takes second place to learning activities. High engagement doesn’t mean that language class should be a party every day, simply that activities are planned that play into student’s interests and hobbies, and that every effort is made to make class engaging and informative.
We hope these ideas help all the language teachers out there, whether they are teaching English, Spanish, French, or Chinese. Language teachers have difficult jobs, and we’re happy to help any way we can.