student-centered classroom

1. Let your students know the lesson is about them

Starting your lesson with a student-centered activity, especially one where the content is personalized, sends the message to students that this lesson is about them and that their contributions are important. If your first activity is connected to the main theme of the lesson, you also start the process of activating students ‘ prior knowledge and getting them interested in the topic. This will (hopefully) give students more motivation to stay engaged in the lesson. It can also give them confidence moving forward.

2. Test what your students can already do

Good teachers who are adept at determining their students language needs and providing targeted instruction that focuses on crucial areas needing work tend to follow a Test-Teach-Test framework in their lessons. For example, let’s say your lesson focus is using Past Tense irregular verbs. Instead of starting in on a presentation, give your students a simple speaking task that will likely elicit some attempts to use the target language:

T instructs: “Think of two good things and two bad things that happened to you last weekend. Tell your partner what happened.”

Then, monitor for use of regular/irregular verbs and write some of your students’ utterances on the board (correct and incorrect). Then, you can lead a whole-class error correction activity to begin focusing on the difference between regular and irregular past form verbs.

3. Take a class “temperature” and find out what “mood” your students are in

By starting with a student-centered activity, especially something that involves some free speaking, you can acquire an accurate sense of how your students are feeling. Are they energetic, tired, chatty, worried about their upcoming exam? Once you have this valuable information, you can adapt your lesson accordingly to help remove affective filters or exploit the fact that your students are eager to talk to each other! If your class is exceptionally chatty, maybe you’ll include more speaking activities that day. If students seem tired or bored, you may want to include more kinesthetic and movement-based activities/interactions.

4. It buys you a bit of insurance in case your lesson goes off-track

Teachers generally intend to provide their students with freer practice toward the end of the lesson. However, as we all know, we sometimes don’t manage to finish our presentation stages efficiently enough or students have lots of questions and confusion, and we never end up having time for robust application and practice of taught items. If students often leave the classroom thinking, “Geez, we didn’t even get to do any speaking today”, it’s likely that you’ll start losing students. But if you start with some kind of freer speaking task, you’ve covered your bases. And then when you do manage to provide freer practice (speaking or writing!) at the end of the lesson, students end up feeling like they’ve had multiple opportunities to produce language.

5. It can give you a chance to get organized for the lesson

Okay, this is a bit “teacher-centered” reason, but an organized teacher with a plan will almost always provide students with a more effective lesson. Teachers often enter the classroom in a rush, disorganized, and with some administrative tasks that need to be done. Get your students engaged in a speaking activity or game while you organize your papers and materials, fill in your attendance register, get your whiteboard prepped, and have a look at the next steps of your lesson plan. This can help set you at ease and give you more confidence and awareness of where the lesson is going. Hopefully you’ll have a few minutes to listen to your students’ contributions and use these in feedback to transition to the next stage of your lesson. This is much more engaging for students than simply making them wait while you get organized or starting your presentation and fighting through the disorganization along the way.

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George Rowe

George Rowe is the Executive Director of S-TESL. He has taught English in Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Finland and the U.S. He has been involved in teacher training overseas and locally since 2010.

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