Problem Page

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Q:  I’ve just gone from teaching an exam class back to general English and I’m finding it difficult to motivate my students.  The course seems to lack focus and it’s pretty book-based.  What do you suggest?

A:  I guess one of the problems with general English classes is that the students all have different needs, so with rolling registration you’ll need to do needs analysis so that you  can create a path for them and everyone is on board.  You’ll need to vary the way you do this but it’s important that they feel they are contributing to their learning.  You will also need to tell them what you think they need based on their performance in class, that way you’ll be negotiating the syllabus.

Another thing is making sure you state your lesson and task aims clearly to the students so they know why they are doing something.  If they know what they will get out of it they are more willing to participate.

As you’ve said many courses or schools are heavily book-based and often just gong through the book means that the students are not particularly focussed as the lessons become predictable.  So speak to your Director of Studies and see how much you can deviate from the book or supplement.

Q:  I’ve got a mix of Arabic speakers and Asian students and they don’t particularly mix well.  I’ve tried varying interaction patterns but the Arabic students keep interrupting and the Asian students can’t seem to get a word in edge ways.  Of course I nominate students to make sure everyone participates but for more natural discussion this is a real problem.

A:  As these two groups have such different approaches to interaction it would be good to start with a lesson on conversation strategies including things like politely interrupting and turn taking.  It may also help if you make your students explicitly aware of the difference in the concept of silence and interruption in different cultures.   For example, in many European cultures silence may be seen as awkward and interruptions are rude, whereas in Japan and many Asia Pacific cultures silence is positive and a sign of contemplation and in Arabic and Mediterranean  cultures it is possible for several people to speak simultaneously.  Once they are more aware they can then practise conversation strategies so make sure that all students can participate.


Q:  I’ve recently inherited an Upper-Intermediate class and I’m finding that they are not particularly motivated.  Also I feel they are testing me and ask grammar questions that are often distracting or confusing for other students.  In order to keep the class on track and so that I can look into it,  I tell them that we’ll deal with it in the next lesson, but they don’t respond well to that.  I used to teach lower levels and I wanted to try higher levels to get more experience but they seem quite a tough crowd.  What do you suggest?

A: Regarding the grammar question they have you could keep a section of the board for those kinds of points they raise and build it up over a few days.  Then you could split the class into groups and assign different questions or points and they have to do the research and then report back to the class in a later lesson.  Of course you’ll still have time to look into those points yourself but as you’d be facilitating guided discovery, it’ll be more memorable and it will foster greater autonomy.  Alternatively you could bring a range of reference material to class and the students could do the research during the lesson, like a kind of grammar workshop.  You could even turn it into a monthly routine.

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