Using English outside of class – Vladimira Michalkova

Encouraging learners to use English outside of class is like getting students to do the sort of good homework that I described in my previous post: homework that grows naturally out of the lesson, doesn’t feel like homework, and often isn’t even called homework. The idea is to get students using English on their own in their own way and as this needs to be encouraged, the teacher should not correct or evaluate such effort — unless students ask for it.  Instead, such individual effort needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and praised.

Encouraging students to begin doing this kind of good homework starts with a positive, open and friendly class atmosphere where the teacher has true and authentic conversations with students, really listens to what they’re saying, and is not afraid to go beyond “the teaching purpose” of an activity or lesson.  From there, encouraging the students to use the language outside the class needs to be built on what they discovered in the classroom and not from the teacher’s intention to get them to practice, revise or repeat what was taught that day.

During lessons we often get into topics they really enjoy talking about and want to know more about.  I use such situations and keep them interested by suggesting some further reading, video or source of information. This often leads us to TED talks, documentaries or even intriguing commercials they watch at home. I just ask them to note their reactions and reflections and keep me posted.

Additionally, as experienced learners ourselves we know what works and thus can provide our students with situations where they can naturally use the language.  There are many things we can do very naturally ranging from giving students a simple “how about we all switch our mobile phone to English for a week” kind of challenge, to keeping the conversations we have with them outside of class and the email communications we have with them entirely in English from the beginning.  This is what I do.  After some time, they all start replying in English too, as long as I respect their individual style and pace.

So, talk to your students, listen to them, praise their efforts and do it all naturally, as if it is all just a part of everyday life – which it is – and where you respect them as individuals. Yet, be clear that the classroom is not a magical bubble where they receive knowledge but a place to meet, encourage and help each other. What matters after all is what they decide to do after that.

“Many an opportunity is lost because a man is out looking for four-leaf clovers” 

About Vladimira

Vladimira Chalyova teaches English as a foreign language at State Language School in Slovakia. She teaches general and business English to adults and teenagers. She is interested in student-centered approaches, developing learners' autonomy and believes that a teacher shouldn't be a slave of course books and that inspiration, motivation, purpose and meaning are essential in learning. She brings colours, crayons and surpr@ise (surprise + praise) to her classroom and just recently also on the canvas.