How can we make sure our learners are more actively involved in the learning process?
Here are 7 points to consider in order to encourage student participation in the EFL lesson
- Promoting learner 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.
Harmer (2001) talks about the importance of ‘imaginative tasks’ in promoting effective learning and boosting learner motivation. In order for our learners to become more actively involved in the learning process, we must therefore focus on stimulating their creativity through authentic, meaningful tasks. The options are endless: real-life simulations, storytelling, article writing, writing a story based on a song they have just listened to, students pretending to be a famous writer/actor/singer/politician, writing stories based on pictures/songs, students collaborating on a role-play etc.
Below you can find a more detailed list of tips and suggestions on how to boost our learners’ active involvement during the lesson.
2. Boosting our learners’ intrinsic motivation
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 to their learners and to try and instill 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 confidence boost to our learners. This feeling of achievement brings a deep sense of pleasure to the ss 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.
For Penny Ur (1996), ‘purposeful and original activities’ will foster the learning process and will significantly boost learner motivation. We must give our students a reason to want to express their thoughts and ideas in the L2. We need to increase our learners’ willingness to get actively involved in the lesson and use the TL in a more relaxed and playful way. Our learners need to feel motivated enough and discover new lexis and L2 structures on their own in order to appropriately convey meaning in the target language.
3. Focus on the different learning styles
In order to grasp our learners’ attention and increase their willingness to participate in the lesson we need to focus on their different learning styles, on their personalities, their feelings, their likes and dislikes. A whole class discussion or students filling out questionnaires on what they like and what they don’t in terms of topics and task types could enlighten us on the activities we can select for our specific language classrooms. We need to focus on topics our students will feel eager to write/talk about. This way we will be satisfying our learners’ different learning styles and we will be more successfully directing our teaching towards their needs.
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.
4. Encouraging s-s interaction
In many cases our learners will rarely find the opportunity to practise the TL outside the language classroom. It is therefore essential to encourage them to speak and write in the foreign language as much as possible. 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.
By working in pairs or groups in order to write a role play or a story for example, our students will combine their imagination and their knowledge of L2 lexis and grammar and will learn from one another. Role play, real-life simulations, games and quizzes will not only increase student talking time (STT), but will also enhance our learners’ communication skills.
5. Promoting learner autonomy
In addition to focusing on our learners’ active involvement during the lesson, we must also encourage independent thinking. This learner autonomy needs to take place outside the lesson hours too, during individual study. To boost our students’ successful self-development, we must teach them the strategies they need to use (listening strategies, reading 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 their learners towards success.
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, what troubles them or any changes they would make.
6. Learners as discoverers
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 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.
Ur (1996:169) stresses the positive impact to language acquisition of the ‘journey of self-discovery’ through imaginative writing/speaking. When students find the task and the topic interesting, challenging and relevant to their age, they will ‘strive’ harder than usual to ‘produce a greater variety of correct and appropriate language’ in order to express their ideas.
7. Praise, encouragement, lowering our learners’ inhibitions
In order to boost our learners’ active involvement in the lesson it is essential to lower their inhibitions and the fear of making mistakes. We must stress out that what is important here is their participation, their thoughts and ideas on a specific topic and the use of their imagination. It is important to emphasize to our learners that making mistakes is part of the learning process. They should not feel discouraged by their tutor’s corrections. Positive feedback plays a very important role here. By praising their efforts (instead of only making corrections) we keep their motivation levels up and encourage them to express themselves more freely in the TL. Praise and focusing on the positive aspects of our students’ TL output will motivate them to want to talk/write more in the L2. Our students’ self-confidence and self-esteem will increase and the fear of making errors will slowly go away.
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.
Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann
Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press