Anyone who has spent time in an ESL classroom knows teachers work hard to make sure their students are learning and progressing in their language studies.
We design curriculum, present information in creative and engaging ways and try to focus on practical and useful language tasks. Unfortunately, all that can mean little if the students in our class are unmotivated. That’s why it’s important to get students engaged and invested in their own language studies. The good news is that getting students motivated is easier than you might think. These simple ideas for your classroom can mean the difference between a student who doesn’t care and one who really wants to make a difference in his or her own education.
It is a Way More Pleasant and Inspiring to Teach a Motivated Group of People
Let them know where you’re goingWhen your students know your expectations, they are more likely to engage in activities as well as feel a sense of accomplishment once those objectives are met
Most of my ESL teaching happened at the collegiate level, so writing a syllabus at the start of the semester was something I had to do anyway. But even if it isn’t required for your teaching environment, a syllabus is still worth doing. For one, it keeps you organized and on track. When you plan out the semester, marking period or year in one sitting, you automatically have a timeline in place. (If you are unsure how to plan your entire year at one time, I’ve Got the Book, Now What? will walk you through creating a full semester plan.) If you are teaching ESL at the younger grades, a syllabus may not be the best choice for communicating with your students, but you can still let them know where you are going. In fact, you can give them the same information on a calendar. If you like, post a monthly calendar in your classroom with goals and objectives. For younger and older students alike, posting daily goals on the board before class begins will help them know what you expect of them each day. When your students know your expectations, they are more likely to engage in activities as well as feel a sense of accomplishment once those objectives are met, and this will increase their motivation to do well in school.
Give them what they need
Letting your students know your goals and expectations is great, but that knowledge won’t help them if they don’t have what they need to succeed in the classroom. Making sure you have the right tools, resources and environment for your students is essential. You cannot expect a student to do an independent listening activity if you do not have any listening material available in the classroom. Likewise, how well will your students be able to research if they do not have books or the internet as information sources? Sometimes, meeting students’ needs takes no more than a class trip to the library or inviting native speakers to come be conversation partners. Before your next class, think about what you want your students to accomplish. Then think about what you would need to accomplish that goal. Then add in the challenge of working in a second language and make a list of everything your students will need to be successful. If you have these resources in your classroom, your students will avoid frustration and will, as a result, stay more motivated in their language learning.
Even when your students have the road map and the car, if they don’t know how to drive they won’t get anywhere. It’s similar for your ESL students. Once you have communicated your plan and made the right resources available, you need to show them the way. When we learn our first language, our infant mind processes and eventually produces language with little to no conscious effort. But that won’t be the case with your ESL students. Unless you are teaching very young children (under five years old), language learning is more complicated. Your students will have to think about what they are doing and saying and how they are using language. That’s what language teaching is all about – showing your students how language works and encouraging them to use what they know. But giving direction doesn’t stop there. Your students won’t know how to use the tools you have made available in your classroom unless you show them. Instead of assigning general assignments (e.g. do exercises on prepositions of location), the best teachers show their students exactly where to find these exercises. Don’t get me wrong; almost every teacher gives specific assignments, but showing your students useful websites, effective study methods and the best ways to practice language will make a difference. In addition, giving them lists of books, specific magazines, television shows or movies that they can understand and learn from will help your students focus. Your students will feel more confident in what they are doing and that it will help them in their language learning efforts when they know they are doing things right. As a result, they will be more motivated to continue those activities and add others that you suggest.
Think about your style
The most motivated students are ones who feel they are valued and whose teachers make classroom activities work for them. This ties into a concept that most teachers have heard several times over: learning styles. Not all learners have the same success with every activity you will plan for class. Not every student learns the same way. That’s why targeting as many different learning styles as possible in your classroom will give you the most motivated students. This means thinking about students who learn through what they see, what they hear, and what they do. It also means including activities for students who learn best through analysis, music, by themselves and with others. (For more on learning styles see See It, Hear It, Do It: ESL Activities to Teach to the Seven Different Learning Styles.) When your students know that you are making efforts to meet their personal learning needs, and they will once you start including several types of classroom activities, they will match your effort with effort of their own and will become better overall students and language learners.
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