HOW TO CELEBRATE DIVERSITY IN THE EFL CLASSROOM

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Being a TEFL teacher is not only about teaching English as a foreign language. As the teacher, you also need to play certain roles in order to create the optimal learning environment in your classroom. Sometimes you may need to act as referee, sometimes as cheerleader, or dictionary or therapist or friend. Whatever hat you need to put on in the classroom will depend on the day, the class and the lesson. One responsibility you will always have, though, is that of educator – and not only of English.

Why is learning about diversity important?

These days it is important for our learners to be aware of each other, each other’s cultures and each other’s heritages. It’s not often that you are teaching a class of students who all come from the same place or have the same backgrounds. If you think about it, what community is made up of only one kind of person? Language schools in particular are likely to be multicultural and it’s important for our learners to be aware of this and accepting of each other.

This is important for the classroom because in order to learn our students need to be relaxed, open and engaged – in other words, their affective filter needs to be lowered. This won’t happen if students feel uncomfortable with each other. Pairwork and groupwork are integral parts of EFL lessons and won’t work if students don’t want to work with each other.

At the same time, being accepting and understanding of each other’s differences is a key element of life outside the classroom as well. These days especially relationships between people of different backgrounds is very important.

How can we celebrate diversity in the classroom?

To this end, it’s important to orchestrate activities which enable students to get to know each other. Get the students working together in groups to allow them to talk about their backgrounds. Create activities which highlight family life, culture, religion and other aspects of their life which may be different, in order to educate your students about these differences. At the same time, as they get to know their classmates they will realise these differences don’t matter.

You may think this is obvious when it comes to Young Learners and teens, but it is just as necessary when teaching adults. If your learners have not travelled much or spent much time outside their home country (or hometown) they may not be aware of these differences or they may have preconceived ideas about certain people.

A word of warning: proceed with caution. Topics like these (like religion, for example) can prove to be controversial in the classroom. Students can become very defensive or antagonistic when talking about certain topics. It’s not your job to change people’s minds; you are simply trying to create and maintain a peaceful and harmonious learning environment.

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