As teachers in the ESL classroom, we get to make all the rules, and we call the shots. Or do we?
Isn’t it a relief when we let go, and let our students make some of the decisions or provide suggestions? I’m not talking about things related to course planning, homework or tests, of course, but little day-to-day decisions like what game to play or even how it should be played. We are already familiar with the benefits of setting classroom rules with your students. Allowing students to actively suggest activities or participate in a decision-making process will not only boost their confidence, it will increase motivation, for after all, they’ll be doing something they decided to do.
Here are some great little ways to increase student decision-making and participation:
Try These 7 Wonderful Ways to Increase Student Decision-Making and Participation
Let them make their own rules
You have a board game, a couple of dice, game pieces and a pile of vocabulary cards. Does it really matter who goes first, who skips a turn or what the penalty is for making a mistake? Let your class decide! Most likely they are very familiar with how board games work. Let them decide what the procedure will be. Just make sure they include the use of the verb or vocabulary cards you have set forth for the game, and that they come up with a penalty for not using them correctly (going back 2-3 spaces).
Let them make up their own game!
Give your class a ball and tell them they can play a game with it (one that involves the use of English!) and see what happens. Will they agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree? Reach a stalemate and require your intervention? What will they do? Won’t it be fun to find out! You can give them any number of items from flashcards to a whiteboard, and they may resort to an old favorite, like Tic-Tac-Toe. But whatever they do, it will be their decision.
It’s your choice!
If you want to listen to a song in class, or read a book, or have a special crafts project for Christmas, why not let your class choose what they want to do? To narrow down their choices and to be sure they will choose material that is appropriate and relevant, present them with three to five suitable options.
Brainstorm, then vote!
Another way to reach a decision as a group is to first brainstorm as a group. By definition, brainstorming involves writing down every single idea that comes up, whether it is feasible or not. You can do this, and then eliminate those that are not suitable or appropriate, leaving the group with some good, solid ideas to vote on. If there are too many, try to get the group to narrow them down to three or four. This strategy works great whether you are choosing a movie to watch or an activity for a special holiday party.
How many times have you seen a student perform a role play – exactly as it is in the book (yawn)? Most students don’t feel confident enough to stray from the prepared dialogue, so all they do is repeat the same phrases and questions. In order to get them to use the language in a way that is more spontaneous, try this: once they are comfortable with the textbook dialogue, tell them that they will have to do it again, but they’ll have to change as much as they can – they’ll have to improvise a bit. Some will merely change names, dates, or locations, but that’s the first step. Soon enough they should be comfortable deciding what to say on their own.
Plenty of students have lots of great ideas for activities, games or crafts. But they’re too shy to tell you about them – especially in front of the entire class. So put a Suggestion Box somewhere in your classroom and encourage your class to use it. All you need is a cardboard box with a slit students can put slips of paper into. When you introduce the Suggestion Box to your class, teach them ways to phrase their suggestions:
- Some day, I’d like to ... in class.
- I suggest we … for Halloween.
- Why don’t we …for Thanksgiving.
You can use it all year or ask for suggestions at specific times, for example right before a holiday.
Interruptions or learning opportunities?
Quite often students interrupt the lesson with a question, doubt, or comment that is completely unrelated to what you are doing. While this spontaneity should not be squashed, it is not advisable for you to abandon your lesson plan altogether. Students will get the idea that they can interrupt you all the time with random comments. So acknowledge the question or idea, and tell the student you will address it, but not now. Write it down on a post-it or on the board and leave it for the end of class.
Some of these encourage decision-making; some encourage students to participate more by providing their own ideas.
Some of these activities are not something we should do all the time. Some are best reserved for the end of class, as a review activity, or as a reward for good behavior or finishing early.
Why must we be this never-ending fountain of fabulous, fun activities? Why must we tell them what to do all the time? Ask your students to share their thoughts and they might surprise you…some of their ideas may be better than your own.
What is your experience with student decision-making?