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Increase Student Participation


"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I might remember; involve me and I'll understand." 

No one ever learned to swim without getting into water. The same is true with speaking a language; the best way to learn, is to do. As teachers, we must encourage students to speak for themselves. Let's investigate how we can increase the unconscious participation of students in class.


A common and helpful practice is to 'play dumb'. Such as pointing at an apple and calling it a banana,... this incorrect statement from the teacher is slightly shocking, and students will unconsciously want to correct the inaccuracy. It never fails that students will want to correct a mistaken teacher. The unconscious motivation to do so comes from many levels, from being  surprising, humorous, and even irksome (as no one wants inaccurate information to remain unchallenged), and by showing fallibility in the teacher, it somehow elevates the students when they can correct you, and increases their confidence slightly.

Students will offer the correct answer out of reflex and briefly forget their inhibitions. This is the key point to increasing unconscious speaking. The idea of taking their mind off of being in class. When they forget they are 'learning' it lowers anxiety about having the right or wrong answer. Another way to take their minds of being in class, is to give students a separate goal to focus on, one that is achieved through using English. So that learning English is not the goal, but instead solving a puzzle, helping a character, or stopping the bad guy is their goal, and English is their tool. This added context and emotion increases their retention of English and lowers their inhibitions as well. These goals, which take their minds off their anxiety about learning, can be things like physical games where they focus on physical tasks to occupy their minds. Meanwhile English understanding sinks in naturally as they process the context and meaning of accomplishing this outside goal. When students are unconscious of their inhibitions, and engaging with English without worrying about it, the teacher ought to fade into the background, and let the students have at it. The idea of a teacher removing themselves from the equation when a class is doing well is a popular idea. Some teachers move to the back of the room if an activity is going well, or look away so students don't feel watched and pressured, or you can forget about being the teacher and join the game. The idea is to let students forget they are in a 'class' and are being 'judged' and 'graded', and try to just let things happen. That is the golden moment where English is flowing well, enjoy it while it lasts because it won't be long before you have to snap back into being a disciplinarian.

But often being silent, and giving students ample time to think and formulate their ideas before you let them off the hook to call on another student, or continue to explain, but holding a student in silence gives them time to think and shows them you are serious about making them answer. After asking a question, wait and count to ten in your head, and let that silence weigh on the student. It can be uncomfortable, but it's a positive pressure. It might be the extra time simply allows them to think about and formulate their response to fruition.


So why not try a new technique to get your students to participate more in class? Warm up the class with a reading of the class rules and goals, create more information gap activities, ask 'yes/no' questions to break the ice, and ask them "Is that English?" if they speak in Japanese. Start or improve your self-evaluation reward system to improve their motivation, and give them satisfaction for achieving a goal they've chosen for themselves. Take their minds off of English by giving them something fun to do WITH English, and get them moving, interacting, give them context and excitement by adding story, comedy, or surprise to the lesson, with plenty of time to let them consider and expound on their thoughts in English, and hopefully you will see an increase in the amount your students participate English in class.

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