Language teachers have a difficult job to perform. In two years, they are expected to produce semi-fluent speakers, readers and writers of a foreign language. What are the best ways to produce such a feat in so short amount of time? Here are six ways to maximize learning time in the language classroom.
Keep it Conversational
To maximize learning time in the classroom, maximize the time students practice speaking the language. Time spent alone reading or doing vocabulary work should take second place to time spent practicing conversational skills. Avoid book work and lists of vocabulary definitions, and instead assign work that requires group discussion and collaboration. Only by repeatedly practicing conversation skills will students build the skills necessary to become fluent in another language.
Keep Vocabulary Relevant
Long lists of vocabulary words for students to study might seem like the best way to teach language, but it’s actually quite counterproductive. Students learn vocabulary best when they are able to practice using the word, defining it in their own words, and figuring out how to use it syntactically. To create vocabulary learning that actually enters a student’s verbal lexicon, it’s better to pick fewer words and continually practice using them in conversation and writing each week.
Contextualize Language Learning
Like any other subject, students need a context for learning new concepts in language. This can be achieved by utilizing project-based learning. When students know that they will need their new knowledge to write a paper, produce a video or write a dialogue, it motivates their learning. The same thing can be accomplished by organizing units of study around a central theme related to vocabulary learning. Combining the two creates a truly effective atmosphere for learning.
For language learning to be effective, students need to receive input from many different kinds of sources. Showing news clips, music videos, TV shows, songs, radio programs and artwork from other cultures is a valuable way to provide that input. These kinds of multimedia can also help provide the context needed to inspire learning. By showing these kinds of multimedia presentations focused around the theme of a unit of study, you give students reasons to learn the information in the unit. Of course, having an interactive whiteboard in the classroom can make accessing these resources much easier. Sites like Gynzy.com create pre-packaged presentations and games focused on all kinds of subjects. It’s a real time saver for a teacher of any subject, not just language.
Keep Student Engagement High
What happens when students aren’t actively engaged in the lesson being presented? First, there’s a lot of boredom. Students are yawning, doodling, staring off into space and even napping in class. Then, if engagement stays low, the minor misbehavior sets in. Students will pass notes, throw paper balls, or tease others around them to alleviate the boredom. These kinds of activities are a big problem for teachers. The best way to combat them is to proactively plan lessons that will keep student engagement high. Some ways to do this are to use structured small group instruction, to require frequent student responses, to add entertaining elements to lessons, to make skills practice game-based and to keep lesson pacing brisk. Putting in the effort necessary to plan these kinds of lessons will result in a classroom full of attentive, engaged students. That’s the kind of sight that would warm any teacher’s heart.
Keep Practice Interactive
Too often we ask students to practice skills that are rote, repetitive tasks. Assignments like finding dictionary definitions, matching synonyms, and filling in the blanks on worksheets might seem like great practice activities, but they take students away from the specific skills we want them to practice — namely, the conversation, reading and writing of another language. Finding ways to make independent student practice interactive provides teachers with another way to get students to spend more time on the skills they need to become fluent. It’s not always easy to accomplish, but by assigning homework that requires students to meet in discussion groups, to write journal entries or to listen and translate pieces of conversation, language teachers are finding ways to incorporate meaningful language practice outside of the classroom.