Published 20th May 2016


The more experience you get teaching English as a Foreign Language, the more you realise that students are not the blank states they were originally thought to be and the teacher is not the all-knowing conveyor of information that we sometimes like to think.

In fact, one of the most surprising things most teachers realise once they have spent some time in the classroom is that we can teach but we cannot make our students learn – that is something only they can do for themselves.

With that in mind, why not turn the classroom on its head and let the learners take charge?

How can you do this?

Well, to start, let them decide what they are going to learn. At the end of a lesson, let them discuss what they would like to learn in the next lesson. This can be based on a coursebook or not, depending on your situation.

Then, when it has been decided what is to be learnt, the students can be given the materials and decide how they want to tackle them. In other words, they are told what they need to achieve by a certain time but they can choose how it is to be done – in which sequence, at home or in class, in groups or individually.

Finally, students can even be given the task of determining how they will be assessed. Students are aware that assessment is an important part of the learning process and the majority of students appreciate assessment as a way of showing their progress. But allowing them to decide what they need to do in order to be assessed will make them feel more comfortable with the process. If you feel a bit nervous about this you can give them a choice – presentations, a written test, a class quiz – so you can be sure they will choose something appropriate.

One important thing to remember is that if you are giving your students this autonomy, you need to trust in the process and their decisions. You cannot let them decide and then override their choice with your own decision. At the same time, this is a process which needs supervision (especially with younger students) to ensure that the process is fair and not dominated by any one student.

Giving up control of classroom will give your students responsibility and a sense of authority, which has been shown to support the learning process. It’s not as difficult or as risky as you might think and who knows, your students may even surprise you!