5 Tips for Making Student Centered Classrooms

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Student Centered ESL Classrooms

Student Centered Classrooms: All the Rage These Days

These days, all the current language acquisition research advocates student-centered classrooms. This is for good reason! Teacher-centered classrooms, beyond the very, very basic level of learning a language, or for extremely young learners have largely proven to be ineffective at creating students who can actually communicate in a meaningful way. Sure, you can possibly cram grammar and vocab into students but in terms of them taking this knowledge and using it in a real-way, teacher-centered classrooms just don’t work.

Of course, it’s sometimes not easy when all the students speak the same language, but it is indeed possible.

Teacher Centered Classrooms: One Disturbing Example

A few months ago, I was teaching across the hall from one of my colleagues and could overhear his/her class and it was teacher-centered to the extreme. To the extreme! I can’t really emphasize this enough. Like this person basically was “on-stage” shouting out vocab words for 20 minutes out of the 50 minute class. There were only 1 second breaks in between the words, so maybe the students were repeating them? I have no idea because I couldn’t actually hear the students, at all.

Student Learning? Likely Not

It was bizarre and I couldn’t quite believe that this was actually happening in a university classroom. What did the students actually walk away with at the end of that class My guess is probably absolutely nothing except perhaps a headache after being shouted out for so long.

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Here are a few tips to help make your classroom more student-centered:

1. Groups

It’s all about partners, or groups of 3, 4, or 5. Beyond that is often too big to be effective because not everyone will be able to participate. I like to make groups randomly instead of allowing the students to choose because it keeps them on their toes, you know?

And don’t even think about having a prolonged class discussion if you have more than 8 or 10 student in your class. There just isn’t enough student talking time in this scenario. Students often want this, but don’t give it to them because in the end, it’s not what they really need.

2. Set-up an activity (give them a task) and step back

Supervise and give gentle correction or feedback, but don’t interfere if the groups is doing a good job on their task. If they’re heading down the wrong path, use a firmer hand but once you do this, step away again and give them a chance to do it on their own.

3. Lecture, if you must, but only in 3-5 minute intervals

Students will not pay attention for anything beyond that, especially in a second language. I prefer not to lecture at all but will often give students a worksheet of some kind to get them to discover the grammar or vocabulary on their own. After the lecture or guided discovery, use some activities to get students to practice what they’re just heard or figured out. It’s best if they do this working together or doing it alone and then comparing answers with a partner.

4. Think of your job as more of a “coach” than a traditional “teacher”

You’re guiding students to correct language use, not uploading it into their brain. If you learn something for yourself, you’re going to remember it for a long time. If you hear something, it’s not going to stick with you for more than a few minutes. We should be all about helping our students learn English for the long-term.

5. Challenge students

Give your students tasks that are big and not so easy. Encourage them that they can do it if they feel a bit hesitant. Put them in groups so that the stronger students can help the weaker ones. Support them and give help when necessary. Pre-teach some necessary things before the task so they have something to grasp onto. Praise them when they genuinely meet the challenge and do a good job.

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What’s your #1 tip to encourage student centered classrooms?

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