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As teachers, our responsibilities to our youth do not include only language or content teaching, but also the education of the future generations, and education goes beyond the coursebook. It includes life skills, personal development and character education, and these are areas for which the scope with higher level students is tremendous because they have gone beyond basic language skills, and are ready to venture into the more abstract, or the more creative realms of learning.
1. Go beyond the coursebook Often teachers limit themselves to what the coursebook provides, rather than building on it. This can be a limitation for some students and takes away from them opportunities to explore additional language, content and concepts. While coursebooks include a lot of wonderful content, not all of it suits every group of learners. A number of coursebooks include songs, poems and reading or listening texts on subjects like food and art. Teachers can use this as an opportunity to include additional content and language development in lessons. Examples:
- Students can learn about different forms of poetry, explore rhyme schemes, enjoy limericks and haikus
- They can also explore different types of art, expressing personal opinions and being invited to think more deeply and abstractly about both poems, songs and paintings, rather than focusing on surface meanings.
- They can be made to draw inspiration from works of art and then asked to create their own which they can share with their classmates, or with students from different classes.
2. Ask students what they want to learn about This has been a very useful strategy for me in the past, especially with higher level teens and primary students who can become bored fast with commonly recurring topics like food and health or the life of a dead person. In addition, young students are not easily motivated and it has often been a challenge for me to understand where their interests lie and plan lessons that they would genuinely enjoy. Allowing students to participate in determining the syllabus content of the course will force them to think about their own interests, and what they can do to contribute to the lesson, negotiate on topics with classmates and make decisions on their own learning. This creates a very personalized learning experience for the learners. This can be done by simply asking students to choose from different project ideas, or lesson topics, or even inviting them to suggest their own.
3. Work on skill development I have spent quite a bit of time with high level students, working on specific language skills, like inference and prediction, listening for details, etc. Often we include this in class as part of the reading or listening activities, not going into too much detail about what skills students are working on and why, giving students a chance to assess whether they have acquired the skill or not at the end of the lesson, or what strategies and skills they are struggling with and how these can be addressed and practiced further. Students can also be given time and opportunity in class to experiment with different strategies, both receptive skill strategies as well as study strategies, and then decide which one is most suitable for them. This creates in them an autonomy that will encourage them to take their learning into their own hands both in your classroom, and outside, making them independent learners and proactive individuals. Other skills that students may find useful are research skills, presentation skills, planning skills and debate skills, and can be made to practice these in an English language setting. This will not only add value to their lessons, but it will challenge them intellectually, help develop their confidence and give them something useful they can utilize in school or later in life. Common topics like the environment and technology present various issues that students may have opinions about like global warming and climate change, endangered species (a great topic for research and presentation, with each group choosing one animal to create awareness about) and the effect of technology on our lives and our future (a great topic for debate).
4. Character development Another area with room for development is character. With the many problems around the world; the lack of tolerance, lack of dialogue, etc. and with the youth becoming more and more passive and unconcerned with their communities, societies and countries, they need to be taught essential aspects of a successful personality that will prove invaluable in the outside world, if not in their current lives, then later in their adulthood and professional lives. These include being able to communicate well, self – expression, working well with others, empathy, kindness and compassion, respect, courage and tolerance. Various activities and exercises are available online that are designed to get students to think of the outcomes of working collaboratively. Team building exercises and a number of tasks teachers commonly use as icebreakers allow for the development of character development skills. Examples:
- A simple activity that requires students to work in groups and find 5 things they have in common, while they talk to each other with the sole purpose of identifying similarities they possess with people they do not know exercises their communication skills as well as their self – expression.
- Popular team building activities like using a limited amount of material like paper, straws and tape to construct something gets students to develop cooperation skills, communication skills and patience. For the language element, an activity like this might conclude with a writing task, getting students to write what was difficult for them, what they built and how they built it, etc.
We may fail to notice it when we sit down to plan our lessons, but what we can do in the classroom does not begin and end with the pages of the coursebook, but rather with the potential of the students, and our willingness to open doors for them that they may walk through to find this potential. This is the purpose of teaching.