As classes start up again this fall, it’s a good time to look at classroom rules and the impact they have on student learning.
Every “rule” should be necessary to move us toward our end goal and provide each student with a fun, supportive, healthy learning environment. Fortunately, for most adult ESL classes rules don’t need to focus on behavior like in a K12 environment. In addition to the obvious “Respect Others” that is especially important when interacting cross-culturally, I’ve found these 3 rules to be indispensable for a successful ESL class.
If your students don’t practice speaking English in English class, where will they? I do allow first language support (translation to their native language) for instructions if students fail to understand after hearing a couple different ways in English. This is usually necessary for students at lower levels.
I remind students that the rate that their English improves is directly related to how much they use the language, so they should speak as much English as possible. After all, who wants to be studying forever?
Be Brave! Be Courageous!
After explaining the definitions of those words, I remind them that being brave doesn’t mean “not being scared”. It does mean that even though we might be afraid, we still do it anyway.
I tell the students that I realize it can be scary to talk to people in another language. It can be scary to talk with strangers – for some people that’s scary even in their own language! So, it’s important to: Be Brave! Be courageous! Even though it’s scary, they have to speak, otherwise they won’t improve.
I tell them, “Don’t worry about making mistakes. You will make mistakes; that’s part of learning. It’s ok to make mistakes; so be brave! Be courageous! Talk!”
Listen to Your Classmates
You don’t need to tell your students to listen to you. If they weren’t going to listen to the teacher, they wouldn’t come to class. However, in order for them to develop their conversation skills, they need to learn to listen to others. This can be especially difficult when you have a class with students who speak different native languages because they will speak English with different accents. When I explain this, I always see some heads nodding. The students know they have difficulty understanding one another. I explain to them that here in the US, we have people from all over the world so they will hear different accents so it’s an important skill for outside of class too.
Next, I explain the difference between hearing and listening. I do this by making some sounds and pointing to my ears and asking the students if they hear it. Then I explain that listening is hearing to understand. It means you pay attention and try to understand what the person talking means.
Listening = Hearing to Understand
I tell the students that when they don’t understand, they need to ask their classmate to repeat what they said. I ask the students to suggest ways they can essentially ask, “What?” “Can you repeat that?” I let them know that after asking a couple times, it’s ok to have someone write it or show a picture on their phone. The goal is to understand.
At first, you will need to be patient because having the students follow this rule may slow your class conversational activities down quite a bit while you wait for the students to seek clarification when they don’t understand one another. However, later in the class session, you will notice that the students’ listening and conversation skills have grown enough for them to have more meaningful interactions.
As you present the rules, have fun with it. Be as animated as your personality allows & have the students repeat the rules to help them remember. After all, these aren’t just classroom rules but guidelines that will help them succeed in their English interactions beyond the classroom.