Where’s the love, y’all?

Part 2 of the Art of Teaching Conversation To Language Learners. To read part 1 first come here.
Last night, after a tough day presenting a educational proposal to a rather tough crowd, I met up with some mates and had a brilliant night listening to a rock band in an off-the-beaten-track club in Marienplatz.

The rockers were Germans, all between the ages of 50 and 60, singing in English and they were shockingly good. In no time at all, we were thrown back in time, belting out the Eye of the Tiger at the top of our voices and all cares and worries were instantly gone.
The passion of these white-haired geezers rubbed off on us and we had the time of our lives.
Enough about me,
are your students comfortable speaking English?

In part one of this series, I mentioned that to effectively teach speaking, you need to know who your students are and how they learn, however, you also need to know what it is that makes them tick as human beings. You need to know what their passions are.
There are several factors which prevent communication and fluency from occurring in your classroom.

One of these is motivation.

What are your students in to?

What makes them wake up in the morning, what do they look forward to, who have they been, what hard stuff have they had to live through?
What makes them mad or frustrated, what do they hope will happen before the end of the year?
What knowledge do they have that they just can’t wait to tell you?
Don’t know?

Find out!

ASK because it is this emotional stuff that drives most of us human beings to be humans.
No one cares to talk about things they don’t care about.
Am I telling it to simply?
comedian by zach klein flickr

Seriously, are you in the mood to discuss HTML and blog design with me?
Okay, maybe if you’re a fellow blogger who landed on this page you and I could have a good old chinwag.

But the rest of you (I know because I can see the snores in my friends’ eyes or hear them down the phone) are not going to sit through a discussion like this, right? This is pretty much what handing over a textbook to your students and then following through from page 1 to page 112 sequentially does.

It’s also what happens when you make photocopies of Spotlight on topics not relevant to their lives or download news articles from the net that are based on your interests, not theirs.

Your students have their own

  • hobbies

  • families

  • interests

  • concerns

  • ambitions

  • responsibilities

  • stories

  • lives!

Of course, sometimes it can be all about you and your interests. Sometimes that’s interesting as it’s motivating to them to learn about who you are and how you tick because you’re the teacher and they’re curious.

But not all the time.
When you’re working with a textbook or other learning material, personalize it, make it about them, turn each topic around so that it has something to do with their lives and interests.
If you’re lucky enough not to be in a situation which requires a set course book then you can make your entire curriculum entirely about your students needs and interests.

Ask them what these are.
I couldn’t answer or participate in class because although I wanted to speak in English, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know what to say, I had no relationship to the topic presented.
Beatrix W., Mercedes Bank, 2007 discussing why she didn’t participate in previous English lessons.

broken heart by franco folini flickr

For students whose affective filter (the emotional reason a person doesn’t learn) is based on fear or low self-esteem, your very paying attention to their needs will break this down.

Be a little patient with them, consistently show that you care: enjoy their triumphs, compliment their successes and show that you are interested in their lives.

In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book, How To Teach Speaking, he suggests that
the conditions in which speaking occurs play a crucial role in determining the degree of fluency achievable.’
He goes on to lay these out as:
Cognitive – familiarity with the topic, the genre, the other people you are talking to, shared knowledge and processing demands.
Affective – feelings towards the topics and participants and self-consciousness.
Performance – being able to monitor your fellow speakers’ responses, opportunities to use gesture and eye-contact, degree of collaboration, planning and rehearsal time, time pressure and environmental conditions.

Find out what your students are in to.
To do this, here’s the link to grab a simple brainstorming sheet from my website.

And here’s a video of me (How embarrassing –a very bad hair day but decided to show it to y’all anyway).

In it, I’m in the final steps of a brainstorming session with my students – I do these every 8 to 10 weeks and it gets easier and more interesting each time.

I hope it helps you out with your own elicitation of topics.
Do let me know how it goes, plus of course, don’t hesitate to ask if you’ve got any questions.

Read part one here or a related article here.

Watch the video we did when we were discussing the Sundance Film Festival, here.

3 Responses to “Where’s the love, y’all?”

  • Anonymous says:
    March 08, 2009

    Excellent insights. We have to know our students, and far too many teachers just make assumptions about their students or rigidly follow a textbook.

    One simple technique to learn more about students and their interests is to add a question to the class attendance sheet. For instance, ask about their favorite songs, websites, movies, charities, novels, inventions, etc. You can also use the attendance question to re-enforce instruction such as "share a tip for an effective PowerPoint presentation" or "what question will you ask on an informational interview?"

    Bottomline: It's not what we teach, but what students learn that matters. Tailoring, as much as possible, to their needs and interests works best.

    March 08, 2009

    Great tips, Eric - that's a brilliant idea to add questions at the bottom of the attendance sheet, that way no one can forget to do this regularly.

  • Anonymous says:
    March 11, 2009

    Once again, thanks so much Karenne! I agree with Eric that it is "what students learn" that matters. Finding ways to make the course book interesting and stimulating for the students is a real challenge!



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