Five Things to Stop Immediately in the ESL Classroom

September 20, 2013

ESL

ESL

When we teach in our classrooms, we know that the time we have is precious, fleeting, and frankly full of competition as students have a lot of choices as to where to put their attention. We know we have to maximize our time to make learning as effective as possible in the small window called a class period. Yet, for a variety of reasons, there are certain activities that go on in ESL classrooms, and really all classrooms that have been proven over and over to be ineffective. These are the top 5 to stop doing immediately in your ESL classroom. 

1. Round Robin Reading: If you don’t know this term, here’s what it looks like. Let’s say the class is reading the book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Each student has a copy of the book. The teacher has the first student read the first paragraph aloud, and then the student behind her reads the next paragraph, and so on. Research has conclusively shown that this format of reading aloud in NO WAY makes students better readers. And, in some cases, it can actually move them backwards in their reading skills because the more advanced readers have to continually slow their reading, and go back and reread just to stay with the current out loud reader. Comprehension tanks because what the students are doing is thinking about how everyone is going to listen to them so they try to find the paragraph that they’ll be responsible for and pre-practice it in their mind.

Some alternatives: Readers’ Theatre, Paired Reading, Reading into a Tape Recorder, Small Group Guided Reading

2. Videos: Let’s just be honest with ourselves. We’ve all thrown in a video on the day we don’t feel the greatest, or when we know a substitute teacher is covering our class. Hopefully, these are just one-off cases. Videos, in general, are a waste of time in the classroom. However, they are not completely ineffective. If you caught the last blog post on a flipped classroom, you can see how we can leverage student’s “homework” time to let them watch videos. There are good educational videos – but if we have students watch them at home, we can use the classroom time to, you know, teach.  

Disclaimer: If you have a high-tech classroom, using video clips is an effective tool to enhance or supplement your topic of instruction

3. Drills: I drive, I drove, I will drive, I have driven, I am driving, I will be driving…. We know we need our students to know all of the many tenses of the English language and when to use them. Drills, however, are not an effective way to teach students to use these verbs in real situations for two main reasons. 1) Its BORING. It’s just going through the motions, not actively engaging. 2) It doesn’t MEAN anything. We know how synapses are formed in the brain. Connections are made when something new (like a verb tense) is connected to something that already means something to us. So make the verb tense usage mean something to the student.

Alternatives: Activities that support each tense. Example: Reading a newspaper, putting on a play or news broadcast, journaling, listening to music and filling in the lyrics

4. Copying hand written work from the board: I have seen this done, and even caved and regretfully participated in it due to peer pressure from other teachers. In an effort to a get students “better at their new language” teachers may have students copy a poem, or sentences from the board onto paper. This does nothing but perhaps strengthen penmanship. Again, like with drills, the brain just goes into autopilot mode. Learning is passive, not active, which as we know isn’t learning at all. 

Alternative: Students read a small article, paragraph, or listen to a speaker, then write a response to what they have just read or heard. They’ll have access to the key vocabulary, and connect their output (writing) to their input (listening and reading).

5. Correct every single error: Teachers of a second language need to be acutely aware of the level at which their students are in acquiring their second language. This involves listening to the errors that students are making, and looking for patterns so that you can address the mistakes either as a whole class lesson or one on one with the student. But one of the fastest ways you can shut down the fluency growth of your students is to interrupt them while they are speaking, reading, or writing in their second language. You’ll shake their confidence and their fluency at the same time.

A Better choice: Write down the mistakes you hear. You’ll gain a wealth of information about where your students are at individually and as a whole group. Analyze the types of errors and use that to drive your lesson planning going forward.

Know a Principal or Teacher that could benefit from this? Please share!

Until next time!