How can you make more effective use of classroom time? Daniel Barber provides some suggestions for maximising class time effectively.

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How can I make effective use of classroom time?

How often do you see your students each week? Two hours? Three hours? Even if you have the luxury of a fuller timetable, you’ll know very well just how hard it is to fit everything in: the syllabus, skills practice, time for individuals, project work… the list goes on! As we saw in the article on flipped language learning, with digital resources we can encourage students to do more outside class, giving us more time in class to maximise language practice. But what types of in-class activities achieve this best?

Learning a language involves both controlled practice and freer expression. Controlled tasks include things like pronunciation drilling practice, gap fills and listen-and-respond questions, while freer tasks include role plays, free writing and debates. The aim of flipping lessons is to have more time for both, but since many of the controlled activities can also be flipped (i.e. done at home), we are going to find that we can concentrate on the freer tasks.

What are the ingredients of a successful free task? This is where the ‘Four Cs’ come in.

Communication

Are your students just language learners, or are they also language users? By pushing some of the formal study tasks out of the classroom and into homework, we can get students using English to really communicate their ideas and express themselves. Role plays, projects, script writing, discussions and debates, ‘information gap’ activities, jigsaw readings and speaking games: all give learners opportunities to try out what they are learning and consolidate it.

Creativity 

Creative tasks require time to plan, generate ideas and rehearse. A flipped dynamic can provide that extra space for students to experiment with English and make it their own. Many of the communicative tasks listed above challenge students to think creatively in order to get their ideas across in English as clearly as possible.

Collaboration

Language practice is all about connecting with others. In the classroom, students can support each other in their language learning by being there as practice partners, giving one another opportunities to try language out. It could involve Eric Mazers ‘peer instruction’ method, where students work in pairs or groups in class to apply what they have learned beforehand by completing a related task. This process exposes common difficulties that students have (in this case with language use), which the teachers can use to inform their feedback. A free speaking or writing task relies on a supportive atmosphere, so as teachers we need to foster teamwork not just because it is an increasingly important 21stCentury skill, but because without it real language learning cannot take place.

Critical thinking

As we saw in the article on the ‘Four Cs’, teachers have a role in expecting students to take a more critical approach to comprehension tasks and discussions. As well as testing basic comprehension (When? Where? Who?), we should ask them to show deeper understanding, e.g. Why did the writer write this article? How persuasive is the video? Questions like these require time to think about, support from the teacher and the language to express ideas. 

Tips and ideas for making time

Don’t limit homework to just written exercises. Train your students to practise speaking out loud or in their heads. Very controlled language practice can be easily adapted for this. For example, let’s say an exercise practising writing questions with How long..?, (e.g. have / your dog? How long have you had your dog?) Supplement writing the questions with speaking out loud, by asking them to record their questions on their phones’ voice recording app, and to add an answer as well, i.e. ‘How long have you had your dog?’ ‘We’ve had Coco for about 4 years.’ or ‘We don’t have a dog.’ With greater controlled practice at home, there is more time in class for activities that rely on groups. Notice also that the homework is potentially more interesting and varied than before.

Get the students doing the reading and listening at home. Not only does it save the class time to do more communicative activities based on the themes or the language of the texts, it also takes the pressure off students who feel they need to read quickly or understand every word; they can complete the tasks in their own time, at their own pace.

Create your ‘Catch-up Corner’. It can be very annoying to do collaborative activities that rely on homework when students haven’t done it for some reason. Catch-up Corner is an area of the classroom for students who haven’t done the required work at home to do it without disturbing the rest of the class or the lesson flow. Either a computer is set up there already or students bring their own devices. They can work independently on their own or in a small group.

Look for more communicative and collaborative activities outside the main Student’s Book if you are following a course. Teacher’s Books usually have supplementary games and activities for each unit, and there are often fun ideas on the publishers’ websites.

Get creative! The digital tools for making and adapting material for flipping your lessons are very easy to master and cheap or free to access. You may have presentation-making software installed on your computer; and a quick online search is all you need to find decent screencasting tools to record your voice over a presentation. Quizzes and exercise makers are very common. Don’t feel you have to do it all. You may have colleagues who can give you tips, and publishers’ VLN s (see article on blended learning) have lots of supplementary material designed especially for student self-access .

References

For more detailed information about communication in the classroom and ‘learners’ vs ‘users’, see the blog I run with Duncan Foord: www.learnercoachingelt.wordpress.com.

For more informaton on ’Catch up corner’ and the ’Flexible Environment’ pillar, try flippedlearning.org.