Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I was introduced to Helen Chapman at IATEFL Liverpool this year and I’m really glad I was (thanks Phil!) 🙂 She has lots of fantastic ideas for the young learner and teen classroom, both of which I’m sadly lacking, so following her on Twitter and reading her blog have been useful. A few days ago she posted an intriguing image of a lolly stick and some whiteboard graffiti on Twitter, and I asked her if she’d tell me more in a guest blog post. Here’s the result:

I’ve been a fan of adding a review/reflection stage to lessons with teenagers for the last few years, and more recently, I’ve been trying to include an element of choice in my classes. I’ve found this to be a really beneficial use of class time.

Why add a review/reflection stage?

Reviewing learning immediately after that learning has taken place aids memory. It can also anchor that learning, and make it more meaningful.

I like adding this stage at the end of the lesson, so learners can have a chance to breathe (as the main bulk of the lesson is done) and also take stock of what we’ve done in the lesson. It’s also totally learner-centred, and can contain satisfying short tasks which give a sense of achievement.

As it’s a quiet, reflective time, it’s also a nice opportunity to chat to students one-to-one, and get a good look at which tasks they prefer doing, and where their strengths lie. This means I can write really personal comments on student reports at the end of term, even for a relatively large class.

Why include learner choice?

Offering choice is a way to motivate and engage teenagers, as it is more likely they’ll be spending at least some of the lesson doing something they enjoy. It also makes them feel they have some agency in their own learning, which avoids teens feeling patronized (helping build rapport with you).

So often we ask learners to compare answers, or show each other what they’ve been working on, but they’ve all been doing the same task – teenagers may not see the value in that (show your group your list of suggestions to help the environment… when everyone in the group has a list of suggestions to help the environment!). Giving choice actually makes teenagers want to listen to what their classmate says, or to see what they’ve been working on. It sparks a genuine curiosity.

How can I include reflection and learner choice in my teen classes?

Why not try lolly sticks? Prepare different reflection/review tasks on each stick. Colour-code the tips of the sticks by activity type.

In the last 15 minutes of your lesson, have learners choose a lolly stick at random. As they are colour-coded, learners can choose the colour that corresponds to something they most feel like doing.

I like to let the learners know that they can switch lolly sticks if they want. Someone may not fancy drawing something that day, or may prefer to do something silently alone. I think teenagers like the flexibility, and it also shows that, as teachers, we respect their moods and preferences. Everyone has bad days where they may prefer to work alone on something!

What kind of review tasks work?

I like to include a range of activity types, such as:

Finding links and seeing patterns

  • Find a link between the last three lessons we’ve done.
  • Look through your notebook at the vocabulary we’ve studied in the last month. Organise the words into 4 categories.

Free speaking / Getting to know you

  • Ask one classmate ten questions about themselves.
  • Write ten facts about yourself or a classmate.
  • Chat to a classmate for four minutes – about any topic.

Class admin

  • Make a revision card for an absent classmate.
  • Design a three-minute starter activity for the next lesson.
  • Review a classmate’s notebook. Give oral feedback.

Reflection on learning

  • Write a tweet summarising today’s lesson.
  • Write about your favourite part of this lesson.
  • Draw graffiti on the board to show what you learnt today.
  • Draw a picture of what we’ve learnt in the last month of lessons.

Vocabulary building

  • Read a paragraph from any part of your Student’s Book. Write down four words you want to remember.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you don’t understand. Look them up and write the definitions in your notebook.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you know, but don’t use often. Write sentences demonstrating the meaning of the words.

My teen groups couldn’t do this!

Of course your teen group may struggle at first. After all, they make almost no choices for themselves in life, and almost certainly not in their learning. Their schools may encourage rote learning, and may control teenagers’ learning by keeping them in lock step. You need to support them in making choices and working on something independent of you, or their classmates.

How can I make this work for me?

  • Set up a routine in every lesson, so learners know what to expect.
  • Explain the rationale behind a stage like this. Teenagers are able to have this conversation with you, and you may even like to negotiate with them as to how long this stage should be.
  • Support the learners the first few times they do this. They most likely will be looking to get the ‘right answer’, or will be waiting to be told what to do. You’ll need to encourage them but also make it clear that this stage is not for the teacher to check or correct. You may wish to comment on what the learners are doing, and respond to the content, but this stage is it about the teacher’s evaluation.
  • Make it clear that you value the work they are doing during this stage. I like to mention it in termly reports, and during parent-teacher meetings.

I don’t have time to prepare this!

You’ll notice that the activities are not dependent on the content of the lesson. This means you can reuse the same lolly sticks every lesson. If you prepare them once, you can keep them in a box in your classroom and just get them out every lesson. You can also use the same set for different teen groups. No photocopies, no extra preparation- simply a meaningful stage for the last 15 minutes of every teen lesson.

Since I started including a reflection stage and some choice into my teen lessons, I’ve noticed they are more engaged, motivated, curious and reflective learners. Try it, and see if it works for you!

Helen Chapman is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. Currently based in Morocco, she has also taught in Spain, Poland, Portugal and the UK. Her interests include Early Years, Primary (especially developing the whole child) and EAP. She is also fascinated with exploring teacher beliefs, and with the integration of learner reflection in lessons. She writes an Early Years and Primary ELT blog (https://helenchapmanelt.wordpress.com) and tweets @HelenChapmanELT

Comments on: "Adding choice and reflection to teen classes (guest post)" (4)

  1. Reblogged this on Tim's Free English Lesson Plans and commented:
    A fantastic guest post on Sandy Millin’s blog by Helen Chapman. Great tips for teens classes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for inviting Helen to share her ideas. I find the post extremely inspiring as I like the idea of establishing a supportive classroom atmosphere, promoting learner reflection and giving students an opportunity to choose what to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on .

    Like

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