R-E-S-P-E-C-T: How to Build an Effective Classroom Environment in a Multilingual Classroom
Rapport between the teacher and students is important, but equally important is rapport between students. In a classroom with students from many cultures, this can often be a difficult feat.
Many students have never traveled outside of their country or have never interacted with other cultures before. In order for a classroom to be a safe place for students to practice learning, they need to feel comfortable with each other. Below are some helpful hints for making your classroom as conducive as possible to learning.
How to Build an Effective Classroom Environment in a Multilingual Classroom
Start from Day 1
One of the most important days in a classroom is the first day. Make sure you set the tone that you want to have for the entire term right from the get-go. You should establish some ground rules, but you should also establish a classroom community feeling early on. Icebreakers are a great way to accomplish this on the first day. Warming up with a few of these will get students mingling, talking, and connecting with their peers.
Get Physical – a Physical Environment That Is
Make a friendly environment by moving desks around in a circle, U-shape, or group formation. This opens up communication and creates a welcoming, collaborative environment as opposed to having desks in rows. If desks are movable, try to change up the formation based on your lesson for the day.
Hanging up student work in the room is also another way to build a strong community in your classroom. Students love to see their hard work acknowledged, and putting up accomplishments in the class helps the students to feel more involved and a part of the class.
Let students share about their different cultures. Towards the beginning of the term, allow students to interview one another to understand each other better. Work facts from their country or culture into your teaching examples (i.e. grammar sentences, quizzes, etc…) This helps to break down walls between students from other cultures. Additionally, work time in each class to let students share about their daily lives. This lets students get to know one another and practice language skills at the same time. As the teacher, don’t be afraid to share real things from your life too. Most of all, don’t be afraid of differences; celebrate the diversity in your classroom!
Feedback and error correction are important parts of the language classroom; however, there are successful ways of doing this without embarrassing the student. The most important way to avoid embarrassment is by making the environment safe enough for mistakes. When a student feels comfortable in the classroom, they will be more likely to take the risks that are necessary for language learning, and they won’t feel bad about themselves when they make mistakes. Another way to avoid this is to play on student strengths. It’s important to challenge students, but when having students call out in class, try to play up their strengths so they can build confidence.
When students do make mistakes, be gentle in your correction (see our ‘5 Non-Verbal Ways to Do Error Correction’), and try to use positive phrases if you can, such as That was a tricky question. or You were close, but the correct answer is…. It’s often better for you the teacher to correct the student then to have another student call out the correct answer. Make sure that you stop other students from embarrassing the student as well. Be firm that no mocking of students is allowed, even in jest. Additionally, allow students to call you out on your mistakes too. This helps to reinforce the idea that mistakes are a natural part of language and nobody’s perfect; not even the teacher.
Review games and competitions are great motivators for students to practice their language, and nothing brings students together faster than a team effort. When forming teams, mix up the students based on culture, first language, and proficiency. When they work together towards a common goal, cultural bridges are crossed, and this helps to foster a better class environment even when the competitions are finished.
Mix it up
Every good classroom takes advantage of different student interaction patterns. Having students work in pairs or small groups is good for appealing to multiple learning styles, and it helps students be more autonomous in their learning.
When you have students work in groups, change partners so that everyone gets experience working with new students. It’s okay to let students choose their partners every now and then; however, they typically will choose only those students they feel comfortable with. A teacher-selected pair will push students just enough outside of their comfort zone to help them form new relationships and understand their classmates better. After students have worked closely with many of their peers, this will improve whole-class relations.
Keep it Light
The more jokes and humor you can incorporate in the daily class, the more students will feel relaxed. If you find that jokes or humor don’t come naturally for you, don’t force it. Instead, try using riddles or asking students for funny things that happened to them throughout the week. Having running inside jokes with your students helps to build common ground and build the community environment!
It’s All About Respect
Respect is the foundation for a successful classroom environment. From early on, stress the importance of respect in your classroom. Students need to understand how to respect one another and why this is important. As a teacher, you should model this for your students right from the beginning. See also: ‘How to Handle Disruptive (and Disrespectful) Students’.
Respect is a two-way street, and students know when they’re not being respected. This is especially important if you’re teaching adult EFL students; although their language production is limited, they’re not children, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Adults and children alike will give more respect to each other and to the teacher provided the teacher also respects them. Students know when a teacher genuinely cares about their success and will often work harder when they feel the respect and support from their teacher.
A strong community classroom environment needs to be established in order for maximum learning to take place.
Having a safe environment where students feel involved and respected will reduce discipline issues, increase student motivation, and ultimately enhance learning. A multilingual classroom has many challenges in helping students come together; however, it can be a most rewarding experience when community is achieved!
Alisha is an EFL teacher currently working with international students who want to study at universities in the United States. She has taught EFL in several countries, and she earned her MA in Linguistics and her BS in English education. A certified teacher trainer, she enjoys collaborating with other teachers to solve issues that arise in the classroom. She loves working with her students and considers herself a lifelong learner of cultures.