With the holiday season approaching, it’s good to add some fun into teaching to keep your students engaged and motivated. We’ve created 12 simple classroom activities and tips that you can carry out with your primary class to encourage them to be good.
21st-century skills and the English language classroom
Are you teaching in a 21st-century classroom? Chances are, If you are an English educator working in the classroom today, you have already moved well ahead of your peers and colleagues teaching math, science, and good old-fashioned grammar. Now that you know you are a 21st-century teacher, what does that mean? And how do you know if you have moved ahead of the curve to embrace what we call 21st-century skills?
Actually, "21st-century skills" is a bit of a misnomer. The prized skills of this age have existed in teaching and learning as long as we have been teaching and learning. In a modern-day class, Socrates and Aristotle would feel right at home (although maybe underdressed).
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:
- Critical Thinking
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.
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.
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.
Collaborate: In groups, have students create a survey to assess classroom interest in 10 different foods representing different types of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert).
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."
More blogs from Pearson
Sometimes, it’s nice to share cultural insights with our students so they can get a deeper understanding of the context of the language they are learning. However, without lots of time and money, it can be tough to travel to an English-speaking country yourself and experience what life is like first-hand.
But what if you could learn about British history, customs and culture from the comfort of your sofa?
That’s right - in an instant you could be transported back to the dark cobbled streets of 19th century London, to an industrial town in northern England or a rural village in Surrey.
Today, we want to share six English stories set in Britain that provide cultural, historical and social aspects of British life, both past and present.
So sit back, relax and let us take you on an adventure.
Written by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
This story about the intelligent and beautiful Emma was first published at the end of 1815. The book, which takes place in a fictional village called Highbury (located in the charming county of Surrey), covers themes such as romance, social class and female empowerment.
Emma is a social person who enjoys seeing people happy and contented. She spends her time arranging marriages between her friends but sometimes makes mistakes. Will the problems she causes upset people? And can she find love herself?
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray
Written by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
This philosophical yet supernatural thriller, first published in 1890, is full of lies, secrets and mystery. The tale revolves around the main character, Dorian Gray, who after inheriting a property from his grandfather, travels to London and soon makes new friends. One of his new acquaintances paints a portrait of Dorian, who makes a dangerous wish that he would give anything - even his soul - to stay as young and good-looking as he appears in the painting.
Soon, things start to go wrong and his life gets out of control. But he doesn’t seem to get older. Why? The terrible secret he’s hiding in his attic is the answer. What could it be? Allow yourself to travel back to Victorian times and see London through the eyes of this handsome and hedonistic young man.
Written by Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880)
Written under Mary’s pen name,George Elliott, this work of realism was first published in eight installments during 1871 and 1872. The story, set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch from 1829-1832, tells a tale of science and discovery. It follows Dorothea, a young woman determined to change the world and Dr. Lydgate, an ambitious man who wants to be a leader in science. Dorothea and Dr. Lydgate are both married, but soon their marriages go wrong.
Can they ever be happy? Will they achieve their dreams? Although the central theme of the book revolves around the marriage of the two main characters, with many historical references such as the 1832 Reform Act, the beginnings of the railways and the death of King George IV, Middlemarch is great for those who are interested in history as well as provincial life.
4. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Written by Richard Curtis (born 1956)
Those looking for a more modern look at British life can learn plenty about customs and cultures in this contemporary book, which has been adapted from one of Britain’s funniest and most popular films. Released in 1994, Four Weddings and a Funeral is about Charles (played by Hugh Grant in the film), a charming man who is very unlucky in love.
One day, during his friend’s wedding, he meets a beautiful girl called Carrie. Unfortunately, she does not plan to stay in England, and travels back to the United States. But they keep meeting each other, so maybe things can work out for the couple. Laugh while discovering the ins and outs of the British social scene in this romantic comedy.
5. North and South
Written by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)
North and South, published in 1855, is about a young woman named Margaret Hale who moves with her parents from rural southern England to an industrial town called Milton in the north. There, she meets a wealthy mill owner named Mr. Thornton, and though she dislikes him, he immediately falls in love with her.
During her time in Milton, she witnesses what it’s like to work in the mills where employers and workers constantly clash. As his workers go on strike, will Mr. Thornton be able to charm Margaret? This complex and provoking story follows the working class struggle during the Industrial Revolution.
6. Oliver Twist
Written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Published in 1832, Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel. The story tells the tale of a young orphan we can all feel for. Oliver is brought up in a workhouse where he is beaten, starved and poorly treated. With no parents to look after him, he decides to run away to London, where he joins a gang of thieves.
His new friends look out for him, but can they protect him from a life of danger and crime? An interesting look at the darker side of Britain’s capital, Oliver Twist is still popular today with film, musical and TV adaptations.
Want some more reading inspiration for your English lessons?
Discover graded Readers featuring some of the world’s best-loved authors.
Pearson has Readers adapted from classic English novels with audio files and a comprehensive teacher resources section, meaning you can use them in class with your students too.
In the fast-paced world of business, there is one undeniable fact that holds true: employees are the key to success. Their commitment and expertise propel organizations towards their objectives, which is why investing in a learning culture is essential. The advantages are numerous and include improved staff retention, increased productivity and the goal of higher employee engagement.