Helping students relax and interact is one of the most important aspects of classroom management. If the students are nervous, they’ll be reluctant to practice spoken English and so won’t learn as much. It’s also quite possible that they will find English class unpleasant and stop attending. It is therefore essential that the teacher learn to make people comfortable in class. This especially goes for speaking activities.
SEE ALSO: Approaches to Teaching Pronunciation
As crazy as it sounds, sometimes students are reluctant to practice spoken English because it’s too quiet in the classroom. This is especially true for speaking activities that are done in pairs. Students are afraid everyone else will hear them speak, so they either whisper or don’t speak at all. Believe it or not, one approach to overcoming this problem is to play music during speaking activities. It only has to be loud enough to break up the icy silence in the room. It is for this very reason that music is played in elevators, and “elevator music” is what I recommend. Music with words is probably best avoided.
Help students get to know each other
It’s an obvious fact that people tend to open up more once they’ve gotten to know each other. Everyone is quiet around new people, so students should have an opportunity to get acquainted before they are thrust into demanding speaking activities. There are certain games and activities that are designed for this purpose and used by ESL instructors. These are especially a good idea on the first day of class with a new group.
Avoid certain combinations of students
In various countries, there are religious and cultural circumstances that define how students are expected to interact among themselves. In such cultures, the interactions between men and women function differently. This is particularly true of older men interacting with young women. It’s not a rare case that both interlocutors freeze up and are reluctant to speak. The only foolproof solution to this kind of problem is to avoid putting these people together in the same class. However, if that is not possible, it might help to change the seating. This type of problem is not limited to the Middle East, as some might think; it can occur anywhere.
Be mindful of the students’ native education systems
A student’s educational background might influence classroom participation. The educational system they went through before starting to learn English can have a significant effect on the amount of speaking that goes on in the classroom. For example, in certain parts of the Arab world, the teacher is the all-knowing master of the classroom (sort of like a university lecturer), and student participation is limited. Students might therefore not be used to participating. One way to avoid this kind of problem is to arrange the seats in a semicircle so that they can see each other’s faces and not feel they are just supposed to listen. Having students work together in pairs is also helpful.
Having in mind the educational and cultural background of the students you’re working with, it’s best to develop specific classroom management strategies for various situations. It is essential that the students feel as comfortable as possible so they’ll be happier to participate in speaking activities. This participation further leads to developing their oral skills and enables better overall language performance.
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