Published 4th December 2020
The one thing that many people are surprised by when they do their TEFL course and when they experience an English as a Foreign Language classroom for real, is how different it is from what they imagined, or what they are used to.
And that’s because EFL classrooms are different.
If you remember sitting at a desk and watching your teacher lecture you from the front of the classroom, and dutifully copying down whatever was written on the whiteboard (or blackboard!), then you have a good idea of what the opposite of an EFL classroom looks like.
In the English as a Foreign Language classroom, we don’t subscribe to the belief that students are blank slates. We know our students bring with them knowledge, education, beliefs, and opinions into the classroom. They can challenge us, question us, and co-operate with us. We, in turn, can build on their knowledge and use that as the foundations for learning even more.
EFL classrooms are two-way streets
Because of this, one of the goals of an effective English as a Foreign Language classroom is interactivity. An interactive classroom is one in which the students have as much input into the lessons as the teacher does. In other words, the lessons are planned in such a way that the students engage with the materials, the lesson content, and each other in order to enjoy the most effective lesson possible.
Read more: Empowering Students in the EFL Classroom
Sound like a lot of work?
It is, but it’s totally worth it.
Interactive classroom activities have been shown to make the language more memorable for the language learner. If a language activity involves a certain level of cognitive challenge, the learner is actually more likely to learn. In other words, if a learner is a passive observer in a lesson, their brains won’t be as involved as if there are actively participating in every step of the learning process.
Plus, when you get the hang of planning interactive activities you’ll find it gets easier with time. Here are a few of our favourite interactive activities for the EFL classroom.
A nice and easy activity to start off any lesson. This can either be done in pairs, groups, or as an open class. To start the lesson, give the students a word or phrase related to the topic of the lesson, or even just the topic itself. The students must then brainstorm as many words or phrases as they know related to the topic. They must do this as quickly as they can without thinking.
Put the students in pairs or groups. Give them a question to consider or a discussion point. After a few minutes, put the students into new groups. They do the same activity but this time with new partners. So in their first group, the students have time to formulate their thoughts and ideas, and the language they need to articulate these. Then, in the second group, they have the opportunity to basically repeat what they have just said, which provides extra practice of the language. In this way, they will feel more comfortable speaking on the topic and they will also have more ideas to put forward.
When dealing with a reading or a listening text, organise the activity so that each student in a group has access only to certain information. In order to complete the task, they will need to talk to the other members of their group and exchange information with them. In other words, there is a purpose to their discussion task and it is not just speaking for the sake of the exercise. This is easily done by dividing a reading or listening text into three and dividing the class into groups of three. Even better, it turns reading or listening lessons into more communicative and interactive lessons.
Among the easiest of interactive classroom activities, is peer correction. After a language activity, instead of marking it as a class activity, let your students mark another student’s work. So first give the students time to work on the activity as individuals. Then, let them discuss their answers with a partner to check they have the same answers or perhaps explain an answer to their partner. Give them the opportunity to do this before going over the answers as a class, and you will find, as a bonus, that your students are more confident when giving answers, which will help you avoid a feedback session which is like pulling teeth!
Student as teacher
An obvious way to make your classrooms more student-centered is to organise activities so that your students act as the teacher, instead of you. Assign language points to small student groups and let them teach them to the class. Make sure you provide enough time to prepare and don’t forget to deal with any comprehension issues afterward. This works especially well as a way to revise language at the end of a term or a course.
Read more: EFL Students as Teachers
When you tackle revision exercises in the classroom, instead of using individual tasks, turn them into classroom games. There are loads of different revision games that can be played in the classroom that will turn your lesson into a more interactive experience. An example of one such game is ½ a crossword.
Read more: Revision Activities for the EFL Classroom
½ a crossword
Turn a usually solo activity into a pairwork activity by creating half a crossword. Create a full crossword but design it so that each student is given half the clues and half the answers. Students must ask their partner questions in order to complete the crossword.
Top tip: There is a great website that allows you to create your own ½ a crossword for your classroom – for free! So it doesn’t matter what language you are teaching because you can create your own.
As you can see, there are many different interactive activities you can use to make your EFL classrooms more interactive. By doing this you will be allowing your students more input into the lessons and be giving them more autonomy, which will result in them being more engaged, involved, and motivated. And you know what they say, happy students, happy teacher!