Ways to encourage more use of English in class

Getting students to use English in the classroom is one of the biggest challenges of teaching.

At first you might get frustrated when students speak their own language in class. Keep this checklist in mind and it may help.

  • Always present yourself as an English speaker, right from the start.
  • Don’t be tempted to lapse into the students’ language to explain, regain control or reply to a question. Patiently reply in English.
  • Don’t be tempted to slow down.
  • You may feel put off when they call to each other in their mother tongue What’s she saying?” Use pictures, gesture, facial expression and rephrasing to get your message across.
  • Lapsing into quick explanations in their language will undermine your role. Tuning-in will take time! Keep at it!

Activities to encourage English
Here are more ways to create opportunities for simple communication in English lessons:

  • Start each lesson by asking students about their week, weekend or previous evening. Talk about yours in a natural way: “Did anyone see that funny film on TV last night?”
  • Ask students about their area or information you may need to know. Simple requests for help, such as: “Does anyone know if there is a bank open on Saturday here?” Ask for suggestions for places to visit . Even with beginners, opportunities can arise: ask for the time, the date, how to get to places nearby etc.
  • Ask for explanations in English whenever students are able. This stretches students.
  • Involve students in board work, asking them to spell aloud a word you are writing, inviting younger learners to complete a summary, write a question or correct a mistake on the board.
  • Avoid asking “Do you understand?” Try to get more comments with questions to check understanding: “Why is there an 's' on this verb?” or “Can you pronounce this word?”
  • Get students to refer to an English-English dictionary (take your own if necessary). Play games involving definitions (eg. Guessing a described object; animal, vegetable or mineral?; or What’s my line? with job descriptions.) Do simple crosswords with clues.
  • Play games where use of the mother tongue loses points for the team.
  • Practise and encourage all common classroom requests: “Can I have another piece of paper?” or “May I go to the toilet, please?” - Students may not use English requests amongst themselves but insist they do with you.

Encouraging students can eventually pay-off. If they enjoy your lessons, their attitude to speaking English will improve over time.

By Clare Lavery

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