Getting the most of unplanned learning opportunities in the classroom

I remember one of my professors saying we should not stop an activity where students are so engaged, even though it is taking more of the time we had allotted in the lesson plan.

That advice resonated in my mind and I became more aware of my students’ performance during the lesson. I keep in mind a simple question when planning an activity: how meaningful is it to my students’ needs? The answer to that question comes from two sources: planned and unplanned learning opportunities.

To illustrate my point, I will share the time when my adult class was doing a listening activity by writing the missing words in the lyrics of a song, when one of my students asked, “Can we sing the song again and then listen to more songs, please?” Another student followed, “How about we make a playlist and sing, at least we are also practicing English.” Their questions gave me the idea of developing the following speaking activity:

  • They worked in small groups.
  • They asked questions such as, “What is your favorite song,” “Who is the singer?”
  • They engaged in conversations about the songs they chose, some shared the same favorite song.
  • Some of them sorted out their playlist according to genre, artist, decades, topic, alphabetical order, etc.
  • They made a ranking of the top 3 songs.
  • Then, we used the jigsaw activity where they team up with members of the other groups to share their lists.
  • We got together and displayed the playlists, then started playing a little bit of the top 3 songs.

We then committed to use the playlist for the next classes. Even though the extended song activity was not part of the textbook plan, it was meaningful to them because they love music and singing. This started a chain of events that not only contributed to the students´ learning but also to the classroom atmosphere. It was great to see them singing, speaking in English, exchanging information, and having fun. I listened to my students, facilitated the process and followed their lead. I can confidently say that most unplanned learning opportunities come from planned ones. Our students can provide us with valuable learning opportunities, if we just listen to them and trust in their potential.

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