I start off each new year talking to my students about ways to practise English outside of the classroom. We mind map a list of things they can do to immerse themselves in the language, to interact in English, to read, listen and create. We have lots of great ideas.

I could set my phone to English language.

Motivational Saying

Motivational Saying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I could do an intercambio (Language exchange) with a partner.

I could read the news in English.

I could choose a series to watch in English.

I could listen to a podcast every week.

I could flirt with English tourists.

BBC (they always say BBC, and never really explain why)

Okay, they’re not exactly groundbreaking, but if they followed up on these ideas consistently, they would increase their exposure to the language greatly. After admiring their creativity, they file it all away in their notes and never think about it again. It’s New Year Resolution Syndrome (NYRS).

I am to blame for NYRS in my classes, I hold my hands up. However, I am certain that I’m not the only one. Sure, students are responsible for their own learning. I’ve helped to open the door, as it were, to some new ideas. I’ve enabled them, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve inspired them. What’s lacking here is motivation.

In the follow-up, a few weeks later, we find out who is doing what. I get a fairly mixed bag – some are doing a few things, the keenest have a full bag of English activities, but mostly they say “I come to class, that is it for me.”

I lecture them, I really do, in my own way. At three hours a week for most of my students, they complete a 120 hour course. Those hours do not tot up  if we look at the CEF average, they’ll see they need a lot more study and practice in order to go up a level…their eyes glaze over.

T: …Look – you need at least 380 hours of study, practice, exposure to go up to the next level… you’re only getting 120 in the class.

Ss: Yawn.

T: Look, look at this – Teacher’s Guide to CEF (Page 7) it’ll show you how much you need to study.

They don’t care…because they don’t feel it.

They don’t need or want a nagging teacher sitting on their shoulder like a little Angel of Conscience, telling them that they should be reading the English edition of El Pais and not the easy Spanish one. What they need is nagging students telling them to do that.

Yes, I’m talking about peer pressure. The very thing that got you smoking could get your students learning English faster. Although, in this case, I hasten to add,  we’re encouraging a positive reinforcement of their behaviour – I’m really not one for endorsing bullying in the classroom. Or smoking.

I attended a talk by Duncan Foord, who, along with Daniel Barber, runs a leaner coaching blog with some ideas on the matter.  Duncan’s workshop outlined some good ideas, for example;  if you can encourage your students to create a table that allows them to compare their experiences every week – they begin to motivate themselves. I’m  teacher and not a coach and I don’t really want to become a coach, but adopting and adapting some of the ideas coaches apply in their particular field can be a useful tool to have under one’s belt.

I’ve seen this in action this term, having asked my students to formulate their English Action Plan, as always, but then asking them to use “Will” instead of “Could” – by asking them to plan realistic goals and consciously decide how much time they will dedicate to “outside English”. Then, by  following up by sharing and comparing for 5 minutes at the beginning of every class, we have the beginnings of motivation. The ideas outlined in the workshop took what I had been doing in my class that one step further.

Daniel and Duncan’s ideas made me evaluate the way I had been encouraging students to use English outside of the class. In fact, this idea helps the teacher to foster supportive, competitive and peer driven learning outside the classroom. The psychology of peer pressure is simple – you don’t want to disappoint your classmates, you need to have something to show. Turning up every week and being the only person not having done anything is simply embarrassing. Your classmates may coo and tell you it’s okay – but really they judge you. So you do it. You really study English outside – you use it whenever possible. In the end the students become proud of their achievements and set out to do as much as they can.

Now I have another name to drop. The brilliant Heather Van Fleet, DOS at Oxford House TEFL in Barcelona,  passed on a video which serves to both inspire students to try something new. You can also use it to help them start thinking about their own application of English outside the classroom.  Check out Try something new for 30 days by Matt Cutts:

I’ll be posting the lesson plan soon.

Licencia de Creative Commons

Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-CompartirIgual 3.0 Unported License.

Creado a partir de la obra en designerlessons.wordpress.com