The middle of the semester is the calm after the storm. You now know all of your students’ names, and they know the routine: what to do when they come into the class, what activities they will work on each day, and which students to work with. Class friendships are beginning to form. Students come in each day, find their seats, take out their books and materials, and get to work immediately with their peers.
Sounds wonderful, right? Yes, an orderly class really is great because interaction and learning are able to take place with minimal fuss. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s a little… B-O-R-I-N-G! Activities can become too routine and familiar. The problem becomes how to balance the routine with some variety while maintaining control of the class. This can be done with a little creativity.
Keys to Beating the Midsemester Blues
Vary the Routine
You can and should keep the basic plan for a day’s work—starting off with a whole class activity, for example, before moving into group work. However, within this general framework you can change the specifics. For example, change the individual activities that you always seem to do. If you always begin with a reading on a social issue, for example, followed by a group discussion, have students watch a segment from a TV interview followed by the discussion instead, or follow the reading with a quickwrite rather than discussion. Or change the broader structure a bit. If students work mostly by themselves, add more group work, or if they already do a lot of groupwork, have them try working by themselves for a change. The key is change and variety to the curriculum to prevent student boredom. And the change can occur for only one or two days a week, to maintain class routine.
Add Some Interaction
Oftentimes boredom in a class is the result of too much solitary activity: too much Sustained Silent Reading, for example, or journal writing. Often some of these activities can be assigned as homework, or shortened, and precious class time spent on interaction with peers in English, which your students may not have much other opportunity for. In addition, most activities students do in class individually can be done in groups: if they are reading something, for example, they can sit in groups and take turns reading the piece out loud to practice their speaking skills as well as their reading in the nonthreatening environment of a small group. They can then discuss the reading in their groups. If they are proofreading their essays, they can trade with a peer and proofread each other’s; it is usually much easier to see mistakes in other people’s work than one’s own. Finally, most language occurs in interaction with others, of course, so the element of peer interaction should not be neglected.
Vary the Media
Not only is it important to include different kinds of interaction and activities with the course content, but the presentation of the content, the media, should also have variety. If you are plodding through the course a textbook chapter per week, midterm might be a good time to break that pattern. Guest speakers, films, and computer technology related to the course topics can greatly increase student interest in a course. Hearing English spoken by a speaker who is not a member of the class—and being understood by him or her—is very motivating to students.
Connect to students’ homes, other departments on campus, and the larger community. Having a speaker come from another department on campus to talk about his specialty--biology, for example--prepares students for taking classes outside of the ESL department. And having members come to class to talk about their professions, such as pharmacy, gives students valuable information about that profession and sparks interest in the particular field.
Finally, have students go out into the larger campus or community to interview a faculty member or a practicing member in a field they are interested in. They might gain enough information to decide to pursue the line of work.
Midterm is also that time I try to connect with students by emailing or even calling those students who have not been attending. Sometimes I’ll learn some sad news, such as the student was in a car accident and won’t be able to return this semester. Other times the student hasn’t been coming because of a loss of confidence, and I’ll sometimes be able to give enough words of encouragement for the student to return.
For the most part, increasing connections between the classroom and the “outside world” yields positive results.
Try Out New Material
You might have new material or strategies you’ve been dying to try out. This would be the time to experiment. Your class knows you well enough by now to forgive a failed experiment, and you have a set curriculum to fall back on. And if the new material succeeds—well, you can add it to the curriculum! Some material you might want to try out are a watching a favorite movie or TV show followed by discussion questions, a chapter from a new textbook, some new technology such as a new computer software, or even some material you wrote yourself—all of these can be tried out in the relatively low-risk environment of one class day of an established class.
A well-run class can be a joy, but there is the chance of falling into a well-worn routine, especially at midterm.
However, by varying the routine, media, and materials, and increasing interactions and connections, midterm can be a time of high interest rather than boredom.