Using English outside of class – Steven Herder

How can we encourage students to use English outside of class?

There are three different ways to interpret this question:

  1. What are the techniques we can use to encourage students to use English outside of class?
  2. How can we encourage students rather than force them to use English outside of class?
  3. Use English does not simply mean study more, but what does it really mean?

I will address the question from a little bit of all three perspectives.

I think that anyone can force students to use English outside the classroom by assigning homework activities, but I question how much learning actually takes place. In fact, I hear students complaining all the time about having to do something in English outside of class that doesn’t make sense to them (nor to me quite often).

As for techniques that work on me, the most effective way to get me to check something out online, on TV or in a book is to be passionate or enthusiastic about it. I’m totally susceptible to clicking on things that buzz; like on Facebook – if something has many likes, you’ll go check it out as well. Humans are just programmed like that and we, as teachers, have an opportunity to promote ideas to a captive audience every single class.

So… I know the power of enthusiasm about subject matter, and I know that forcing students to do things isn’t very effective, and I don’t particularly want to pile on more homework. OK, this naturally leads me to share the things that interest me, and that I know will both touch my students and be within their reach linguistically.

Another wickedly powerful tool in being able to encourage students successfully is to become a meaningful person in their lives. One of my heroes, Curtis Kelly, first introduced me to this powerful message through the bonobo apes (watch specifically from 13:00) and the secret to their language acquisition skills, which I believe makes perfect sense for my students and me as well. I have seen that students sometimes try something just to please me but often end up pleasing themselves as well. That’s a win-win situation.

I want students to use English outside of class to reach their own goals. I try to show students that English can connect them to a great big world beyond the classroom. And so, I share music, videos, websites and ideas that teach us something about the human condition (making sure students can “get it” with a bit of effort).

Here are just a few videos I’ve shared recently with students:




Children full of life

Christian the lion

Lost Generation


About Steven Herder

Steven has been teaching within the Japanese EFL context since 1989. Having over 20 years teaching experience at the elementary and secondary school level, he is currently an associate professor in the International Studies department at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. He is also extremely active in professional development within the ELT community. He co-founded MASH Collaboration in 2007, an online community devoted to professional development through collaboration. He is an avid user of Skype and can often be heard saying, “Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.” He also spends time editing numerous articles, academic volumes and proceedings, and leading teacher training seminars for various companies throughout Japan. Steven works from the perspective that, “being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”.