Encouraging student participation in the EFL classroom

How can we give our students a more active role in language learning?

Here are 7 points to consider in order to promote active learning and encourage learner autonomy in the EFL classroom.

  1. Making conscious decisions about the lesson

    Active involvement is key to a successful learning environment. By letting our students have their say and choose the topics they want to focus on, we instantly give them a more active role, we make them co-designers of the lesson. Learning is then more meaningful to them as it is connected to their everyday lives, their preferences and interests. Through this inclusiveness our learners feel they are in control of the lesson flow and become more engaged in the language tasks.

    Reflecting on the lesson is also beneficial. We must show to them that their opinion matters by giving them the opportunity to comment on what they liked from the lesson, on what troubles them and on any changes they would make.

2. The learner as a discoverer

Cultivating the anticipation of discovery should be one of our main tasks in the language classroom. We must activate our learners’ schemata and previous knowledge by having them guess what the topic and aim of the lesson are through brainstorming, through authentic and engaging activities that trigger our learners’ minds and imagination. We must train them to expect the unexpected. The teacher is there not to just feed them with input and instructions but to provide the stimulus and let the learners give the response and be actively involved in the learning process.

3. Promoting creativity

A lesson that is relevant and meaningful to our learners will most definitely help increase their willingness to participate. Promoting learner creativity will also kill boredom and boost their motivation. We must give them the opportunity to share their interests, their ideas, whatever excites them with the rest of the class. We should let them use their imagination to come up with stories, role plays, games, quizzes. This way they get the chance to learn the foreign language and construct knowledge in a context that is meaningful to them.

    Comprehensibility in the tasks is equally important to meaningfulness. We must make sure that we encourage their creativity through authentic and interesting activities but also that our learners have received clear and explicit instructions. We must also regularly check for understanding and encourage clarifying questions from the part of the ss.

4. Encouraging S-S interaction

In many cases our EFL learners have limited exposure to the TL outside the classroom and therefore they do not have many opportunities to practise the language. In order to foster their language development we must create the appropriate environment for them to do this during the lesson. We must help them develop the communicative skills that will eventually promote language acquisition. By encouraging interaction among the students through collaborative writing or speaking tasks, STT (student talking time) is increased and our learners gradually begin to develop language fluency and learn from one another.

    We must give them the freedom to interact in the TL, to try to communicate successfully and appropriately (not necessarily accurately), to get their message across without the fear of errors. Our learners’ interlanguage will constantly evolve through creative mistakes. It’s not just the drilling and the exercises that will boost their linguistic development but the interaction, the constant effort to turn their passive vocabulary into active.

5. Focus on learner styles

It is important to remember though that participation during the lesson is beneficial as long as it is not stressful. Some students may not be willing to interact with others. We must therefore carefully examine our students’ different learning styles and focus on what our learners could benefit from. We need to be able to direct our teaching towards our learners’ strengths and offer personal focus and guidance to our ss. We must carefully examine and monitor our learners and adjust our teaching in order to satisfy their learning styles and needs.

6. Learner autonomygoal setting

    In addition to focusing on our learners’ active involvement during the lesson, we must also encourage independent thinking. This learner autonomy also needs to take place outside the lesson hours, during individual study. To boost our students’ successful self-development, we must teach them the strategies they need to use (listening/reading strategies, writing/speaking strategies, organization, etc.) to be in charge of their learning and make conscious decisions about it. They must be trained to set their own personal goals, to notice what their strengths and weaknesses are and to reflect on what they should be focusing on based on their individual needs. This of course greatly depends on our learners’ age and level and involves a great amount of effort from the teachers’ part as well in order to effectively guide and train the learners towards success.

7. The importance of positive feedback

Different levels of motivation mean different performance levels. Our ss have to be intrinsically motivated in order to be willing to participate more actively during the lesson. Teachers must be an influential raw model for their learners and must try and instil to them the passion in learning a foreign language. We have to prove to them that English is useful, easy and fun. By rewarding their efforts and praising them, we automatically give a strong confidence boost to our learners. This feeling of achievement brings a deep sense of pleasure to the students and fuels the learning process. Their intrinsic motivation will be increased and they will be more willing to participate in the lesson, not because they have to but because they want to.

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