Published 18th April 2018

Sometimes our classrooms can seem like anything but English language learning classrooms. Even though our students need to learn English – that’s why they’re there in the first place! – they sometimes end up speaking in their own language to their classmates, forgetting about trying to use their English as much as possible. To be fair, it’s very easy to fall back on your mother tongue to communicate, but the questions is: how can us teachers help the situation?

What are Learning Circles?

Learning Circles are one way of trying to encourage your students to speak English with each other. Learning Circles were conceptualised by the BBC to benefit English language learners all over the world. Basically, a Learning Circle is a club of English language learners – friends, colleagues, classmates – who meet regularly to study English together or just to communicate in English.

The big difference between having a club like this and being in a classroom is that this space is dominated by students; a teacher isn’t usually involved. Students meet regularly and together source materials and come up with related activities to tackle during their meeting. For example, students might take turns bringing in newspaper articles or books for discussion; they can watch TED talks or movies; they can invite speakers to give presentations – the possibilities are endless!

Why are Learning Circles successful?

When you think about it, there are so many reasons learning circles make sense:

  • The students are working independently, which fosters motivation.
  • They choose their own materials so the topics are interesting and relevant.
  • There is no time limit to the sessions, so longer texts such as movies can be dealt with.
  • It is a much more relaxed atmosphere than in the classroom.
  • They are easy to set up.
  • They should be a fun event which learners look forward to.
  • They work for any level and even mixed levels.

How can Learning Circles benefit your learners?

You can introduce the idea to your learners and let them set up their own learning circle to meet outside classroom time. Or, if you prefer, you can set up a learning circle within your classroom. To do this, you set aside one lesson a week where the students have free rein over the classroom. No matter which option you choose, you can help your students by giving them ideas for activities or by showing them where and how to source materials. You can also offer to answer any language-related questions which may come up.

As teachers, we often feel we need to be completely involved in our learners’ learning process. After all, that’s our job. However, pointing our learners in the right direction and leaving them to their own devices can work just as effectively towards helping our learners immerse themselves in the language.