There’s nothing worse than going into a class full of people who don’t really want to be there. As an EFL teacher most of us have the chance to work with a variety of age groups. Adults are usually in your classroom because they have made the choice to be there and in most cases they have made a financial commitment towards their learning and they know exactly what they want to achieve by improving their language skills.
However, children and teenagers often haven’t made their own decision to attend the English class and they are obliged either by their parents or school to do so. It is sometimes appropriate for teachers to take an active role in trying to improve the motivation levels of a group. A highly motivated group of students is generally a lot easier and more fun to teach. Obviously there’s only so much you can do, but most teachers have come across de-motivated students at some time in their careers and it’s often worth addressing the problem when you recognise it before it escalates further. Don’t however feel personally responsible for a student’s lack of motivation. There are often many factors that contribute towards a lack of motivation and these should be taken into account. Here are some ideas that I’ve put together which may go some way towards increasing motivation levels in a group or at least addressing the problems and bringing them out into the open.
Star charts and effort charts
Star charts are a simple way to acknowledge the effort students make in your class. If your students are too grown up to get stars think up another point system. Draw up a chart with all the students’ names down one side and at the end of each class mark a smiley face or an A, B, C or D for effort. Introduce the idea at the beginning of the class and explain your marking system. Try to get the students to endorse the idea of the chart before you implement it. You could work with the group to decide how they would like their effort to be recorded. When they get used to the idea of this sort of evaluation you can ask the students to rate themselves on their performance in the class.
Try to negotiate some realistic goals with the group. What do they want to be able to do in English by the end of the course? Find out, and think of ways of achieving those goals together. Achieving the goals will take effort on both parts, it’s not only up to you; so be sure they accept their part of the bargain and take some responsibility for their own learning goals.
All language learners know that there are times when you seem to be getting nowhere and making no progress. You reach a plateau and there seems to be no way to get better. If this is the case for some of your students take a snap shot of where the learners are. By this I mean gather some evidence of their level by keeping a piece of their written work, recording them on tape or keeping the results of a test. Then set a date in the future (end of term or Easter holidays) and tell them they will redo the piece of work at the future date. When they have done this, give them back the old piece of work and look for evidence of improvement. Did they make less mistakes or use a bigger range of vocabulary the second time? Usually this helps students to ‘see’ their improvement in a more tangible way.
How do your students feel about learning English? How do they feel about it becoming an ‘international language’? Some students resent the widespread use of English and can even see it as a threat to their mother tongue. Designing a questionnaire about the student’s attitudes towards English may be a nice way to bring their feelings out into the open.
Asking for feedback on your classes can be a daunting thought! You leave yourself open to both positive and negative comments. However, it is one way to show that you are thinking about your learners. Simple questions such as which activities they enjoy and feel they benefit most from will help you to plan the classes and select activities for each group. Remember that you will never please all your students all the time!
Find out what your students are into and base your lesson around their interests. If you discover that a few members of the class like a certain group or singer you could ask them to bring in the CD and make an activity out of the lyrics. Or if there are several members who support the same football team you could get some information from the internet or some pictures of the team and base an activity around that.
Personalising classes is also about giving the students to find out about you. Obviously it’s up to you to decide how much you want to give away but you will be a lot more interesting to the class than the photo of Billy in their text book! If you haven’t already, bring in some photos of friends and family from home to show them. Most students will be fascinated.
Look outside the classroom
Encourage your students to look at how English is used outside the classroom and exploit any examples you can find. The internet is an obvious source of authentic English, but also advertising, tourist information, menus, original version films etc. This should remind students that learning English can be useful in all sorts of areas of their lives. If you have any students who have travelled to an English speaking country use their experiences with the group.
Think to the future
Do your students think they will ever need to use English in the future? Will they have more job opportunities with a higher level of English? If it is the case that some of your students may answer yes to these questions it may be worth while reminding students of this. Find some local job advertisements where English is required. You could base a lesson around jobs and offer help with writing CVs. For some of the students this may make students think of English as more than just another subject and more as a tool to help them achieve their future goals.
These are just a few ideas of how to keep motivation levels up.
Further links on motivation
By Jo Budden