How to keep students engaged in the classroom is probably one of the biggest teachers’ queries, especially for language teachers because they need to take their students to speak. What does keeping students engaged in the classroom mean? And what does that mean within the language classroom? Are there engagement methods specific for the language teaching practice? In this article you’re going to learn all about the answers to those questions.
How to keep students engaged in the classroom: what does it mean?
When people learn something, they receive new information (for instance, a cluster of vocabulary), they understand the new input and they will be putting it into use. The tricky aspect about the learning process is that, even when the students understand the new input, we can’t take it for granted that they are going to remember it after days, weeks, months or years.
Students retain what they understand during a lesson and they are able to use the new information thanks to the working memory. The working memory has got a short time span, though. When students can recall that information after days, weeks, or even months or years, that means another type of memory has been involved: it’s the long-term memory.
Now, there is a subtle line dividing the working memory from the long-term memory. That subtle line determinates how good language teachers are in keeping students engaged in the classroom. As a language teacher, if you become very good at playing around with that line, then you won’t never ever suffer from low engagement frustration and you will be able to take all your students to the expected results. Let’s have a closer look at what that line is.
Imagine there is a door between the working memory and the long-term memory. The door closes when we feel uncomfortable, we are disappointed, angry, anxious, worried, terrified, insecure, stressed. The door opens when we feel happy, excited, joyful, pleased, comfortable, relaxed, at ease. Well, that door represents the affective filter. The affective filter opens and closes depending on how good a teacher is in coping with her students’ learning barriers. In other words, good teachers are able to “open” that door by triggering happiness, excitement, joy, relax.
According to Prof. Stephen Krashen there are four affective variables: motivation, self-confidence, anxiety and personality traits. In order to have an impact on the acquisition process, teachers need to know how to motivate, to boost learners’ self-confidence, to remove any source of anxiety and to keep the anxiety level as low as possible and, finally, to make the most out of the learners’ personal traits (personality, attitude and interests).
For sure, that’s not easy work. Nevertheless, going through the affective filter barrier gets far less complex than expected when we get specific and we focus on the language teaching practice only.
“There is no question that learning a foreign language is different to learning other subjects” Marion Williams.
How to keep students engaged in the classroom: what does it mean in the language teaching practice?
Because I LLLLLLOVE when you take action, I put together an easy-to-implement, 4 step plan. The plan aims at helping you to take care of four aspects of your usual teaching practice:
- how often you feed your students on new input (information, content)
- the way you offer new input to your students
- the way you leverage their motivation
- the way you communicate with your students.
Take care of those aspects and I guarantee keeping students engaged in the classroom will become far easier.
Keeping students engaged in the classroom: a 4-step plan for language teachers
Here is the 4-step plan that gives a concrete answer to the question how to keep students engaged in the classroom, specifically in the language classroom:
- Repetition. Consistently remind your students what’s important to remember, what you’re trying to teach them, be it new lexis, grammar structures, etc. On one hand, repetition enables the students to feel supported along the way and it makes them feel relaxed. On the other hand, repetition, revision is an essential stage in the memorisation process. The most simple method you can put into use is using a lot of visual aids in your lessons. I talk about this in this post.
- Personalisation through learning styles. You should always use a variety of materials and methods in order to match your students’ learning styles. By learning styles I mean the 4 styles formalised by Prof. David Kolb: feeling, thinking, watching and doing. My approach to learning styles and personalisation is very simple: find out your personal, preferred learning styles and make an effort for stretching your styles. For instance, my preferred style is watching. I prefer to consume a video lesson or an in-person lesson and reflect on the content. When I teach, I always make sure I give stimuli that are different to visual input only: I make sure I offer exercises, simulations, case studies and a variety of activities to hit all learning styles. That’s my stretching area. Personalising the lessons facilitates the comprehension and, as a consequence, a better comprehension leads to higher engagement.
- Motivational strategies. According to the students’ level of competence and their age, you can apply a range of motivational strategies. You can learn more about the motivational strategies in this post. Also, I recommend to download the guide below for implementing the motivational strategies:
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Feeding motivation in language learning
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- The suggestopedic approach: Suggestopedia is one of the very few methods recommended by UNESCO as a superior pedagogy for teaching/ learning languages. What really sets this pedagogy apart from all the others is the way suggestopedic teachers communicate with their students. The communication framework guarantees the students learn at least 6 times faster. As a suggestopedic teacher myself, I want to suggest one thing you can put into use. It is something about your mindset as a language teacher and it’s going to affect your relationship with the students. The suggestopedic teacher’s mindset is based upon one, important pillar: you’ve got to believe in your students’ capacities. It might sound very simple and easy at first sight. If you have some experience, I bet you know what I’m talking about! It’s very easy for any language teachers to focus on the most brilliant students and to leave behind those who seem to be resistant or unwilling to learning. I know it! Everyone’s been there! Nevertheless, it is important that you open up to this idea: everyone can learn a language quickly and in an enjoyable way. Really, everyone, even that person you are now thinking about, who needs more attentions and who challenges you every time. My advice is: show you want to support him/her and that you are there for them, no matter what.
Finally, a quick tip for you to take action with the plan. Don’t try to implement all the 4 strategies at once, it will make you feel overwhelmed. Instead, pick the first one (repetition) and stick to it for a month. That will give you enough time for consolidating new habits within your teaching practice. Afterwards, you’ll be practising the second strategy for another month.
Remember, whatever the response from your students will be, keep on doing your best. Teaching is about seeding and being patient. Good luck!
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