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Who’s hiding? How to ensure students are engaged

So many language teachers wonder how to ensure students are engaged and learn in the language classroom. Nevertheless, not all language teachers are willing to take risks when it comes to engagement. Taking risks means taking active part in the learning experience. So many language teachers complain about their students not getting onboard, yet so many teachers don’t feel ready to come forward. If the teachers hide behind the grammar and the cognitive teaching approach, how can the students feel safe and confident in stepping out their zone of comfort? In other words, who’s hiding?

In this post I want to answer the following questions:

  • How to ensure students are engaged and learn?

  • What is the teacher’s role in the language classroom?

  • What does leadership mean for a language teacher?

  • What does storytelling teaches language teachers willing to develop their leadership?


How to ensure students are engaged and learn?

To answer the hot question, we need to start from the role of the teacher in the language classroom. Many times it is easier for the language teachers to hide behind cognitive and grammar-based lessons instead of challenging the students with fresh, new activities that stimulate their creativity and skills. By fresh activities I don’t mean anything particularly challenging, really.

In my experience, they key behaviours all teachers should keep in the language classrooms are the following ones:

  • Speaking only the target language during the lessons
  • Planning lessons for getting the students involved in tons of speaking and creative exercises
  • Participating in the exercises and games together with the students (this is the so-called teacher in role)
  • Avoid the cognitive approach, always try to implement a communicative approach instead.


Students don’t need experts, they need good guides.


What is the teacher’s role in the language classroom?

Teachers ought to lead the group by gently facilitating the activities. The students are at the centre of the lessons. This is what we call a student-centred approach. Students feel encouraged and supported, while teachers are always there for capitalising on the students’ talents. This is true facilitation of the acquisition process. Teachers are facilitators who bring to results. People (students) don’t look for (and don’t need) experts: they look for results, instead. In other words, students don’t need heroes, they need good guides. How about that?


What does leadership mean for a language teacher?

So, good teachers are those who bring students to results through a facilitation approach that puts the students, their needs and their talents at the centre. In a nutshell, this is how to ensure students are engaged. From this perspective, students are the true heroes in the language learning adventure, whilst teachers are guides who help the heroes to accomplish their mission: learning the target language.

Now, if you think about your favourite story (be it a movie, a series or a book) the guide is the character who gives the hero the knowledge and the tools to solve his problem or who gives the hero access to the knowledge and the tools the hero needs. Most of the times the guide is not necessarily a perfect character. Despite of his flaws, though, he’s got what it takes to help the hero to overcome the obstacles on his way. Having what it takes means being able to take risks and to be on the hero’s side no matter what.

This is all you need to know about leadership and how language teachers express their leadership in the classroom. As a language teacher, you don’t need to be neither an expert nor perfect. In fact, to be a good language teacher you need to be able to take risks.

From a practical point view, this is your mini-guide in how to ensure students are engaged:

  • Always speak in the target language to give the right example
  • Share stories and examples about yourself and your real life as a person who once went through difficulties similar to those your students are experiencing: show them you’ve been there and you got the t-shirt!
  • Keep on proposing exercises and games that really tease your students’ creativity, curiosity and that challenge them: if you want them to get speaking, you need to put them in the conditions to speak. In this sense, taking risks means trying new exercises and methods. For instance, drama exercises and drama methods. Even though you feel like you’re not an expert or you lack in experience in teaching languages through drama, this doesn’t really matter – believe me. Take a (small, after all) risk and try to revamp your lessons by proposing games and methods that may be new to you
  • Go for the teacher in role approach: whenever you propose games and drama in the classroom, do your best to take part in the activity by playing some kind of role within the game/exercise. If this doesn’t fit the game, then make sure you support the students during the activity and that they know they can count on your support at any moment during the game
  • Don’t hide neither behind long theoretical explanation of the grammar, nor behind lessons based on cognitive approaches that put the teachers and their knowledge at the centre, leaving behind the students and their needs. When you finish to plan a lesson, look at the lesson plan and ask yourself: is there anyone hiding here? who’s hiding? who’s trying to avoid to take risks? If you can’t spot at least one of the elements mentioned above, perhaps you are hiding. As a consequence, don’t expect your students will come forward speaking and expressing themselves spontaneously, all by themselves.


What does storytelling teaches language teachers willing to develop their leadership?

In every story there is a hero or heroine who’s got a problem. In order to solve that problem, the hero/heroine will need to overcome a series of obstacles to accomplish his/her mission. He/She will do it thanks to the help of a guide who’s got the knowledge and the experience the hero/heroine needs to accomplish the mission.

Following the analogy, the students are the heroes and whole story is about them, not us. We, language teachers, are guides: expert, helpful and supportive guides always ready to take any risks for the heroes to succeed.

Now, the question is: are you ready for being your students’ guide? Are you ready to take risks? What role are you willing to play in this story?

Hope I gave you a different and fresh point of view on language teaching. And I hope this will generate good thoughts and intuitions.


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29th June 2021
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