Published 30th July 2021
As teachers, it is our job to teach our learners to the best of our ability. The problem is, teaching is not the same as learning. Just because we teach something doesn’t mean that our learners will learn it. The learning is up to them. But while we may not be able to directly transfer the English language into their brains, we can help them as best we can by creating an environment that is conducive to learning.
Here are a few ways we can make learning easier for our learners.
Take it easy
Being relaxed and comfortable in the classroom is essential to learning. We all have an effective filter that stays high if we are stressed or unhappy. Learning cannot take place if this filter is up, so we need to make sure our learners’ affective filter is low. We can do this by being relaxed. By showing that we enjoy our lessons, our learners will relax and enjoy the lessons too.
It might not always seem like it but learning should be fun. If learning is an enjoyable experience, it will be more memorable. Learners of all ages enjoy having a laugh and having fun so be sure to include games in your lessons. Not all games are suitable for the EFL classroom but many childhood games can be reworked to include a language learning element. When in doubt, turn any activity into a competition and watch your learners’ motivation hit the roof!
Read more: 5 Games for Adult Learners of English
While learning should be fun, this doesn’t mean it should be easy. On the contrary, a certain level of challenge needs to be involved in order for learning to take place. If a certain level of cognitive effort is incorporated into their lessons, input is more likely to be converted into uptake. As a teacher you are always aware of the level of your learners, so you will know what they know and what they need to know. Use this knowledge and plan lessons that push them to more effective learning.
Give them space
Help your learners learn by giving them space. Your learners need to put in the work in order to learn; you cannot do it for them. Practically speaking, don’t spoonfeed them everything. Give them time and space to think and question. Don’t give them all the answers and explanations immediately. Wait for them to discover the questions and ask them themselves. Even better, let them use their own resources and find the answers themselves!
Use their knowledge
Our learners are not blank slates, no matter how young they might be. Build on their established knowledge. This will help them relate the new information to the knowledge they already have. It is a well-known fact that our brains organise information in a particular way so that having a connection between pieces of information makes it more memorable. Use this to your advantage by finding out what your students know about the topic or the language before teaching it to them.
Read more: 5 Ways to Make Language Learning Meaningful
Break it down
Information is more accessible when we break it down into chunks. This is especially true when it comes to language learning and, specifically, learning vocabulary. Rather than trying to teach your learners fifty new vocabulary items in one lesson, teach five and make sure your students really know them. Actively knowing the language and passively knowing language are two very different things and we want our students to work towards active use of the language they know.
Rinse and repeat
Repetition is key in learning. You can’t expect your learners to pick up the target language after an encounter with it in one lesson. You will need to revisit that language and revise it a number of times before it will be adopted by your learners. Techniques like spaced repetition are especially useful in aiding retention, as are revision games and activities.
Use brain breaks
Often EFL lessons are about 45 minutes long. Sometimes they can be even longer. This is a long time for anyone to concentrate, let alone learn. Mix it up a bit by incorporating short brain breaks into your lessons. These are five-minute activities that help learners relax, reset and refocus. They can be as simple as a breathing exercise, a song or a short game.
The one thing we know about our learners is that they are learning English to use it in a real-world context. To make the language more relevant to our learners you need to ensure the language you are teaching them is useful for their lives outside the classroom. No matter the language or the topic, consider the real-world applications of the language and get your students to practise it in that context. Then they will remember your lessons when they are in that particular situation.
As teachers, there is only so much we can do to help our students learn. Learning to speak a language is challenging, but there are ways we can make it easier for our students.