Have you ever gone skydiving?
Bungee jumped? Travelled overseas to teach? If so, you might be a risk taker. Some people are born with an innate drive to take chances. They know the thrill of attempting the impossible and of both succeeding and failing. But you don’t have to be a risk taker to move out of your comfort zone in the ESL classroom. In fact, taking a risk in how or what you teach has tons of benefits, and it’s worth doing even if you would never jump out of a plane. Here’s how.
The Benefits of Risk Taking
Whether it is a big risk or a small one, you can expect some positive results to come from getting out of your comfort zone.
- Taking risks is invigorating. It energizes you. It pumps you up. And energy is contagious. When you are full of energy inside your classroom, your students will feed off that energy too. They will participate more enthusiastically and become more engaged in learning. And who doesn’t want students who are excited to be in class and learning?
- Taking risks challenges us. We can get in a rut of doing the same activities over and over, especially when we have been teaching the same material for several years. You can wake up your brain by teaching something you have never taught before. The challenge is good for you. It’s stimulating. And the risk pays off because you will be more interested in what you are doing this time around, and so will your students.
- That challenge also allows you to be creative. You have to think of new activities, new ways to communicate with your students. You wouldn’t teach if you weren’t someone who likes to come up with new ideas. Embrace that side of yourself by inviting risk into your lesson plans.
- Taking risks allows you to connect with your students in a new or different way. They are taking a risk by learning English, even more so if they have travelled overseas to do it. When you venture out of your comfort zone, you can better understand their fears and excitement when it comes to their language studies.
- When you take a risk, you chance failure (or at least less than perfection). That’s great for your students! Sometimes we teachers forget that we don’t have to be perfect even though we are standing in the front of the class. When we embrace our imperfection through risk taking, we model for our students that they don’t have to be perfect either.
4 Risks Worth Taking to Revitalize Your ESL Classroom
Project Based Learning
When it comes to project based learning, it’s the process not the product that really counts. Here are the basics if you choose to use PBL in your classroom. Start with a real life problem that students will have to solve. Have groups examine the problem and then list the information they will need and the steps they will have to accomplish to solve the problem. Then have students go through the steps to reach their goal as you walk with them and offer guidance. The project culminates with a creative presentation from each group on their solution. And it’s the process that you grade them on, not the final product.
The new trend of flipped classrooms works great for ESL students. In short, a flipped classroom is where you assign the instruction material to be completed as homework (rather than doing the actual instruction in class) through a variety of multimedia sources and then use class time to deepen and apply the knowledge students learn at home. To try a flipped classroom, gather links to online videos, interactive apps, and other sources that teach the material you plan on covering in class. Give your student the set of links and assign the work to be completed outside of class. Then when students come in the next day, devote your time to using what they learned through communicative activities. Correct or instruct when necessary, but spend most of your time actually using the strategies students learned at home. For more information on how to do a flipped unit or set up a flipped classroom, check out this simple how to on flipped classrooms.
Whether you put your entire life out there for all to see on social media or you’re more the private type, you can reap great benefits to opening your classroom to the world through a blog. Anyone can have a blog these days including you and your students. Set one up on your website or through a free site like Blog Spot. Then have your students be the authors. Brainstorm with your class the kinds of topics that would be appropriate for your blog – what it’s like to learn English in the U.S., funny cultural clashes students have experiences, what everyone should know about your students’ home countries, etc. Then have students work with a partner to write and post on your blog. Give your students freedom in what they share though you may want to give a final okay to each post before it heads to publication. Then have students publish what they wrote. Invite others to read and comment on your blog and have students respond to any comments they receive. And don’t forget to put together a few of your own posts for publication too.
New Unit or Topic
Not every risk has to happen on a grand scale, especially if your teaching methods or classroom management hasn’t changed a whole lot over a long teaching career. Consider simply tackling a new topic or subject. Teaching language gives us the freedom to include a huge variety of content in our classrooms. As long as our students learn the grammar they need, it can be in the context of common household pets or NASCAR racing. If you are ready to take a risk but want one less intimidating than the ones above, consider letting your students choose the topic for your next unit. What are they interested in? What do they want to learn about? Brainstorm possible topics for your next unit as a class. Then run with the one most students are excited about. It might be out of your comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. It will challenge you to think creatively as you continue to incorporate the grammar points and other necessary elements of your unit. Plus your students will be automatically engaged since they are the ones who chose the topic.
For some, taking risks doesn’t come easily.
For others, jumping out of planes is old hat. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, consider taking a risk in your classroom, even a small one. Both you and your students will reap the benefits if you do.