5 ways to reinspire your students after the summer holidays

Pearson Languages
A class of students sat at desks in a classroom looking at their teacher stood at the front

The new academic year is here and we're getting ready to head back to the English classroom. Yet, after a long and relaxing summer holiday, some students may feel unmotivated to return to the same class routine, especially if they have been learning English for several years. So, how can we reinspire students to keep learning and reconnect with English? By bringing in new resources, learning approaches and targets, we are sure you'll be able to rekindle their love of learning.

So let's look at five ways to reinspire your English students in the coming academic year.

1. Set new goals

Students may lose interest in classes or feel discouraged when they don't have a clear target to work towards. If this is the case with your class, have them write up a list of five new goals they'd like to achieve. 

These goals must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. So rather than just saying "I'd like to learn more vocabulary", have students make it SMART. 

For example:

Specific: "I'd like to learn new advanced vocabulary to use in my writing."

Measurable: "I'll test myself to see if I can define and use 20 new words in sentences."

Achievable: "I will dedicate 2 hours a week to studying the definitions and writing example sentences in context."

Relevant: "This will help me get a good score in my PTE test as I struggle with formal academic language."

Timely: "I will learn 20 new words by the end of September."

If learners find it difficult to think of goals, ask them to write one for each language skill: listening, reading, writing and speaking. You can also refer to the GSE Teacher Toolkit, which has hundreds of learning objectives organized by age, level, skill type and more.

The idea is to encourage them to set clear objectives, giving them an exciting new challenge to work towards for the year ahead.

2. Encourage students to find conversation partners

Students may lose interest in improving their English if they've only been studying in a classroom. They may see it as something boring and unrelated to their real lives. 

A great way to tackle this is by encouraging them to talk with English speakers outside of class. By doing this, they'll pick up new vocabulary and expressions, giving them more confidence in their language abilities. 

Suggest that they attend a language exchange. Facebook and Meetup are great platforms to find regular language exchange events in their local area. While this is suitable for intermediate learners and above, it may be a bit daunting for beginners. 

In this case, the app HelloTalk may be a suitable alternative. Similar to a language exchange, learners can connect with people from around the world. They can choose people with a similar level as them and either write messages, send short audios, or do video calls, depending on their ability and confidence. 

Communicating with real people is a fun and encouraging reason for your learners to want to improve.

3. Introduce interesting new vocabulary

Students may become disheartened if they've been learning for years but aren't seeing much progress. A simple and effective way to help them improve their level is by encouraging them to expand their vocabulary. 

They already have to study a lot of vocabulary from their textbooks, so why not give it a more personal twist and ask for suggestions of topics that interest them? 

Maybe they are gamers and want to learn how to communicate better with other players around the world. Select vocabulary about styles of games, turn-taking, and strategizing that they could use – they can practice in class and be thrilled to be given homework.

Perhaps some of your students want to study or work abroad. This may be a common topic, but one thing that is not frequently discussed is how to deal with the paperwork of living in another country. For example, getting into more specific language about banking, housing rentals, or setting up wifi will help them feel more confident about their move. Though these things differ between countries, there is a lot of overlapping vocabulary and roleplaying will do wonders to reassure and excite them about their upcoming adventures.

By allowing your students to take control of their learning, their motivation is naturally higher and you too will enjoy finding out specific language about their interests.

4. Work on specific problem areas 

Language learners may become frustrated and lose motivation if they continue to make the same mistakes. It may cause them to feel disheartened in their abilities and want to give up, especially for those who aim to sit exams. You can help them level up by identifying specific problem areas and tailoring your classes to work on these. 

Tests can help your learners discover their weaknesses and avoid the frustration of sitting and not passing an exam. They'll be able to pinpoint what they need to work on, and you can dedicate your classes to exactly what they need, rather than cover areas they may not have problems with.

For example, if students are experiencing difficulties with reading comprehension, you could try introducing more varied reading materials. Ask them to bring in blog posts, magazines and news articles on topics that they find interesting. Highlight keywords in the text to enhance their understanding of the piece and create comprehension questions similar to the test format they'll take. 

By giving a little extra attention to fixing problem areas, learners will soon start to see their progress, encouraging and inspiring them to keep going.

5. Change your class format 

Sometimes learners become demotivated simply because they have become too used to the format of the classes. If this is the case, you might want to take a break from the textbook and try more creative language learning methods. For example:

Use interactive games

Suitable for all levels, you can use platforms such as Kahoot or Quizziz to test your learners. They offer a new dimension to the class, encouraging students to have fun with the language. Divide them into teams to add an element of competition – there's nothing like a friendly game to excite students!

Set project work

Put your class into small groups and have them work on a project to present to the rest of the group. Choose topics they might cover in their textbooks, such as occupations, travel or cultural traditions. Or even better – let students come up with their own! This activity can be modified to suit all levels and offers a challenge as learners will need to push their language limits.

Hold class debates 

More suitable for intermediate learners and above, class debates get everyone talking. You can ask students to brainstorm topics they're interested in. You can offer prompts such as climate change, the advertising of junk food or the impacts of social media. They'll be happy to talk about things that concern them.

Throw in some unexpected activities to bring students' attention back to class and spark their interest in learning again.

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    The phrase itself is meant to imply a classroom ready for the upcoming STEM needs of employment that will allow for innovation, development and significant advances across tech and non-tech industries. Yet, the skills themselves do not imply a highly technological classroom. A modern 21st-century class can be a surprisingly low-budget place.

    It can be summarized by the 4Cs:

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    • Critical Thinking
    • Creativity
    • Collaboration

    Reading through this list, you may think, "Hey, those are my classroom goals as an English language teacher!" Finally, the rest of the world has caught up with the modern English language classroom. Of course, when describing these skills, we aren't just talking about teaching English, but skills that can be used to prepare learners for the modern age. This means we want our students to be able to:

    • Perform independently and with groups in a highly technologically advanced atmosphere.
    • Be ready for daily, global interaction.
    • Be capable of adaptive, flexible and creative thinking.
    • Understand how to plan for, build, and include collaboration with peers who are colleagues and experts in the field.

    Students and 21st-century skills

    This goes a bit above and beyond the basics of the walls of the English language classroom. And yet, preparing our students for the 21st century doesn't require a classroom resembling a science fiction movie set. Several teachers have proved that you can embed these skills by utilizing the most important resource available in the classroom.

    Your students.

    Sergio Correra is an inspired young teacher at the Jose Urbina Lopez Primary School on the US Border with Mexico. After a year of teaching uninspired curriculum to disengaged students, he returned to the drawing board. He spent time researching ways to improve student engagement and performance and stumbled across exciting research that could be boiled down to one question: Why? Or rather, getting students to ask the question: "Why?" At the beginning of his next school year, he arranged the desk in a circle, sat his students down and asked: "What do you want to learn about?".

    Using this as the jumping-off point, he encouraged students to ask questions, seek out more information, and find more questions to answer.

    Over the next year, he saw his students' test scores rise, the engagement and enthusiasm improved and he received approval from his principal and fellow educators. With few resources and limited access to technology, he found his students shifting from the lowest testing group in the nation to being ranked among the highest for their performance on standardized tests in the country. One of his students was the highest-performing maths student in the country.

    Mr. Correra was inspired by research and reports based on the work of the Indian educator Sugata Mitra. The principle behind Mr. Mitra's approach is to drive student's curiosity by letting them carry out their own learning. In one of his most famous examples, he walked into a classroom in India with computers loaded with information. He explained to the students, now curious about the big shining boxes that held inside something interesting.

    And then he left the students to it.

    In the course of a year, students had taught themselves everything from English to molecular biology, all without the guidance of a teacher. Rather, they were driven by their natural curiosity, playing off of each other's discoveries to go farther and learn more. Embodying what it means to be self-guided, innovative, collaborative and curious learners.

    Keeping your curriculum up to date

    These students who were given freedom are much more likely to ask questions out of curiosity, motivate themselves and learn without guidance. And while this may be wonderful for learners, this isn't exactly helpful for teachers. To get to the 21st-century skills and inspire motivation, do we have to throw away our syllabus and books and trust only in our learners to motivate themselves?

    Fortunately for those of us who have chosen a career in education, that is not the case. We as educators can take lessons from Mr. Correra and Mr. Mitra and use these as a way to inspire interest and engagement in our own classroom while building these skills in our learners.

    As language teachers, it's a matter of blending the 4Cs more thoughtfully into a student-centered classroom where learners can engage in high-interest content that is relevant, useful, and promotes innovation.

    Take your average prepositions lesson as an example. Even in the best communicative classroom, a teacher may still spend time explaining the rules, setting up the activity and delivering instruction. By applying the 4Cs we can turn this lesson a bit more on its head, making a typical ELL grammar lesson magical.

    For example:

    Collaborate: Start by handing out magazines or picture books. Have the students work together and choose a picture.

    Communication, critical thinking, and creativity: Ask your students to work together to create two ways to give directions. One set of directions for a student who is blind. Another set of directions for a student who is deaf.

    Encourage students to think outside the box and think about ways to give directions using a computer, a mobile phone, a television, or a YouTube video. While there may be some L1 use in the classroom, the goal is for the final product to be in English. Stand back and watch your learners go.

    Another way to engage with 21st-century skills using a typical ELL lesson: the "What's your favorite food lesson?" At some point, we have all experienced it.

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    Communication: Once finished, have learners use the information to create a pie or bar graph to communicate the results and determine which meals are the favorite.

    Critical thinking: Have the students compare their answers with answers from other groups. How many differences are there in the reporting? Is the information consistent with the same foods or does it change drastically? Have students compare their results with other teams. Then ask the groups to create a short written or spoken piece to explain how their results differed from other students.

    Creativity: Using the information collected from the class and after analyzing data from other students, have groups work together to create an advertising campaign that will make the foods that students liked least into foods students may like more. For example, if the survey said that most students did not like kim-chi-chigae for breakfast, the group would need to work together to create an advertising campaign to make kim-chi-chigae seem like a tasty choice for breakfast. To do this students should consider what makes certain foods more popular in the class.

    This may require further follow-up interviewing to find out why students like one thing and not another; this information can then be used in the campaign. This lesson may play out over a few days, but in the end, everyone involved will have gotten much more out of the lesson than they had anticipated.

    Both of these examples represent the use of skills in the ELL classroom. Each lesson also embeds, in one way or another, critical STEM skills.

    In the preposition lesson, the students may use engineering and technology to find a better way to give directions. In our favorite foods lesson, students engage with science (and a bit of sociology) and mathematics. Altogether it becomes a rounded classroom experience where teachers have an active role as facilitators and students become inspired, self-guided learners who still manage to work inside of the confines of the curriculum.

    In the end, 21st-century skills, and using them in the classroom is not really about teaching at all. These skills are truly ones that will spell success for our learners in the future, leading them to be capable, Independent and curious individuals.

    Our real challenge as educators is to model a desire to embrace the known, the unknown, and the just plain unknowable. As Alwin Toffler, writer and futurist, put it: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

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