Published 23rd August 2017

Last Updated on

One of the key factors in creating and maintaining an effective learning environment in your classroom is personalising your lessons. What this means, effectively, is getting to know your students and choosing and tailoring materials to suit their needs and interests.

We all know that sinking feeling when we have planned to do a coursebook reading on Britney Spears but when you introduce it to the class all you get are blank stares and an awkward silence.

To be fair, it’s difficult to relate to a topic when you are not familiar with topic (or person) or you are just not interested, which is why personalising lessons for our students is so important – both to maintain interest and to foster learning.

The question remains, though, how can we do this without totally rewriting our coursebooks and without being too obvious and awkward?

Now, first of all, we’re definitely not saying that you need to become besties with your students. If you’re teaching adults, it can be quite easy to slip into friend-mode when you are teaching them, but there are easier ways of getting to know your students than spending loads of time with them outside the classroom.

Just having conversations with your students which are completely unrelated to the lesson will give you a glimpse of the personalities of your students. Make time to talk about the weekend, ask about their families and find out opinions on current events, not just as a way to waste time but as a way of finding out more about your students as people.

Try personalise tasks in the classroom as often as you can. If your material suggests your students talk to each other about football but you’re not sure if they are fans or you notice the conversations are going nowhere, adapt the task so that it has a wider scope – talking about sports or free time in general, for example.

You should also find out their reasons for learning English. Usually we find this out in a needs analysis, but this is often very general information – I want to learn English for my job; I need to read better. If you can find out more detail about your students’ learning plans then you’ll be able to plan activities which are directly relevant to their lives, meaning they will clearly be able to see the link between the lessons and their language goals.

For example, if your students need to be able to give presentations at university, find out what subjects they will be taking and co-ordinate a lesson so they can practise both the language related to the topic and the act of public speaking. In other words, make it real but be specific.

Ultimately, personalising materials for your lessons should not mean rewriting your coursebook materials. Instead, if you get to know your students you should be able to make little tweaks to the materials you already have to make them more relevant and interesting.