Teacher zone: how to make language classes engaging

As experts in the language education industry, Cactus has over 15 years’ experience designing and implementing language courses. If you have a language learning or language teaching query that you can’t find the answer to, please get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter or contact us here.

In line with our new teacher training courses for foreign languages, we’re bringing you our best tips for how to make your language classes engaging.

  1. Activate Schemata

Whatever your lesson aims, find out what your students already know about the target language/topic. This shows you, the teacher, the language your students already have, encourages revision and recycling, and is good opportunity for some peer teaching and peer correction. It also shows your students what they lack, and shows them the language they don’t have, thereby creating a need for that language, which in turn motivates them to participate in the activities that follow – “I don’t know how to say this, I need to pay attention here!”. Activating schemata benefits both the teacher and the students on many levels. Images, realia, discussion questions, what happens next and problem-solving questions are some ways of activating schemata.

  1. Personalise your activities

Generally people prefer to talk about themselves, or about what they know. Remember – if someone doesn’t have a lot to say about a topic in their own language, they will have even less to say in a foreign language. By personalising your activities and finding a way for your learners to relate the questions to themselves, their lives, their experiences and their opinions, you will find that they have a lot more to say, and will be much more engaged.

  1. Vary Interaction Patterns

Increasing student talking time and reducing teacher talking time is key to maintaining students’ engagement levels and ensuring they progress at a good speed. However, it’s also important to remember to change things up – people don’t want to be working with or talking to the same person all the time. So change the pairs around, do the activities in groups of 3 or 4, change the classroom set up and physical arrangement. Keep things interesting by not being predictable.

  1. Cater for different learn styles

People learn in different ways so it is important to cover all bases by including a variety of activities that cater for different learner styles. Remember to have a good balance between aural, visual and kinesthetic tasks – this will keep your students engaged and also ensure that their learner style needs are being met. If you’re in a classroom that cannot accommodate a running dictation then get students to the board for feedback – you can incorporate ‘catering for different learner styles’ at all stages of the task cycle.

  1. Be Interested

Don’t use materials or activities you find boring, tedious or pointless. If you don’t like the materials or activities then this will show, and your students will not like them either. Be interested in what you are teaching and who you are teaching, and your students will be interested in what is being taught. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain enthusiasm for topics or language points you have taught many times before – so find different materials to teach the target language. Use authentic materials, take information from the internet, video clips, music, YouTube, TED talks etc. Bring the outside world into the classroom and your students will relate and participate fully.

Cactus has a wealth of information and tips on language teaching. Visit our blog or sign up to our newsletter for further information about language learning and teaching.

Of course, you can always call us on 00 44 (0) 1273 830 960 for information and advice on anything related to languages.