Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, March 03, 2006


by AJ

"If youve ever watched students when they are playing sports, planning a trip, or discussing their favorite celebrity, you know how different they are when they care about what they're doing"


So. Damn. Simple.

No, not necessarily easy... but certainly simple. Do things your students care about. Here's a wild guess: they probably don't care about detailed analysis of phrasal verbs. They dont care about the past progressive.

What do they care about? I dont know... every student, every class is different. Much of the challenge for a teacher is finding an answer to that question.

Its taken me three months to find some answers. I quickly realized they did not care about the same things I did. They dont care about politics. They dont care about deep societal issues such as homelessness (or, at least they dont care about them in the context of an English school).

Most of our school's students are women. Most of our teachers are men. Uh oh. The light turned on during a recent conversation with students. I (as the schools "social planner") asked, "what kind of social activities would you like to do". The first response was, "I think we need a woman social planner, you always plan sports activities". All of the other students (except the one guy) nodded their head in agreement. Ouch!

Pride hurt, I asked, "So what would you rather do?". Their answer: arts and crafts workshops. They suggested making tye-dye shirts. They suggested decorating easter eggs. And so at the end of this month, we're decorating eggs.... and next month will be doing tie-dye.

Same goes for our conversation workshops. Next month's theme is "Celebrity Gossip". On Tuesday we will talk about Brad, Angelina, and Jennifer. To be honest, I have absolutely no interest in celebrities. But my students do. So thats what we're going to talk about.

What a difference this makes. Their eyes light up. They lean forward in their seats. They become eager to talk.. eager to communicate their ideas. Do you think that helps them acquire language faster? Im sure it does (might be a good research project). Do you think that increases their connection with our school, and therefore their attendance, and therefore the word-of-mouth they spread to friends? Absolutely!

Control and Authority are the enemies of great teaching. So many teachers cling to boring, outdated, fucking-awful lessons simply because they fear "giving up control to the students". They grind along with their soulless textbook, trying to ignore the bored looks on students' faces. Or they turn nasty, blaming the students for being "lazy", "unmotivated", "undisciplined", "boring". If you find yourself uttering these insults, I suggest you say them as you look in the mirror... because they are probably better descriptors of your teaching.

Take the time to discover what interests your students. Get to know them as whole human beings. Find their passions. Find their fears. Discover their dreams. Learn about their daily lives.

Then USE that knowledge to shape your lessons. As Littky says, "Start with the students". Curriculum and materials should flow from the students--- not be imposed on them.