Indeed one colleague of mine once said that "teaching would be great if it wasn't for the students." Joking aside, students can be an invaluable resource, and for some perhaps the only resource. But how can we tap into this resource and use it effectively?
- Structure and lexis
- A problem?
As with any method, drawing on your students in this way will require a little familiarity with your students - what are their hobbies and interests, what are their dreams, and ambitions? In short, you need to find out what makes them tick. This will help you maximise the potential of your students, and improve levels of motivation and interest.
Structure and lexis
One of the most obvious ways of tapping into this resource is the widely used method of employing your students experiences to illustrate a lexical or structural points. One of these, familiar to most teachers, is the old "Have you ever..?" chestnut where students find out about each other's experiences. These are widely available and can be found in several books. A more interesting way of presenting or practising this structure would be more specifically tailored questions aimed directly at the students. This should be doubly motivating for the students as they will not only be finding out about one another, but also there is a higher chance of all the questions being answered. Students can also be the resource for vocabulary lessons - rather than teaching vocabulary just because it's in the book/school syllabus for that level, try to access areas of vocabulary directly relating to your students' experiences and interests - this is widely used at higher levels, but why not try using it at lower levels as well, allowing for greater interest on the part of the students. There are also anecdotes, jokes your students may know, stories they have heard and so on. However, be warned - you won't get much mileage if your students simply don't have the experiences to refer to - hence the importance of research.
Students can be used more physically as well. A simple example would be a common lesson I have used at all sorts of levels either to review or to introduce comparatives and superlatives. Get the students to stand up with their backs against the whiteboard and measure each other. They then write their names on the board next to their heights. I usually join in which often causes a lot of fun being, as I am, almost two metres tall. The students then write their ages, or dates of birth if they are all of a similar age, then count how much money they have, and/or anything else you may like to use (shoe size, distance travelled to school, how happy they feel - draw smiley faces? - and so on).
Similarly you can use your students to introduce clothing vocabulary - once you get started you may find they want to know all sorts of different clothes other than the ones they are wearing, as well as the present continuous to describe each other; use your students to present descriptive vocabulary, defining relative clauses ("Min Ho is a student who comes from Korea"). Other grammatical features could include future plans and decisions (students draw their own diary), or predictions ("I think Pablo will get married and have 23 children"/ "Stefan will have been living in the USA for six years").
On a skills level, students can be used as an incredible set of materials. They can provide their own listening texts by telling a story to the other students and then asking questions they have created themselves. As long as the students have planned their stories and questions this could be highly entertaining. You could even have the students write a set of questions which are then compiled onto one sheet which is then distributed to all the students and they have to tell their stories either in groups or to the whole class. Not only does this provide practice in listening but also speaking. A similar exercise could involve the students writing for other students, and the same kind of process being followed, but this time practising reading and writing skills.
There is, of course, one major problem with all of this: simply that your students are unresponsive or unwilling to take part. This may be due to shyness or due to lack of experience, as mentioned above. You might avoid some parts of this by carefully tailoring your course, making sure you draw on topics which are familiar or safe for your students. I know one student who was simply very private and resented having to talk about himself. Unfortunately there is no real way round this - except to be flexible and try a different approach. After all, not everything works all the time! But if you keep an open mind, and are prepared to offer yourself up as the first "victim", then there is no reason why some of the ideas here shouldn't work.
Sam Shepherd, Teacher, New Zealand