Today I’m going to write you a story about a discovery I made during a lesson for which only three students showed up. (Do you have that problem? Writing lessons for students who don’t show up? I hope not.) Anyway, it was warm, we were tired, and half of my activities were no longer useable, needing more than four people to make them work. So there I sat, wondering what to do.
I decided to change things around: it was lovely weather, so I decided to go outside. We put our bags into my locker, and off we went to the park just behind my school. As we walked, we talked in English about all sorts of stuff. At first, the students thought it was funny to speak to each other in English, but within minutes they got into the swing of things, talking about their everyday lives.
As we walked, I moved from student to student, asking questions, providing new words, and correcting verb tenses as needed. We talked about work, school, student teaching, living on their own, plans for the weekend. Every story provided new opportunities for learning as students discovered the words they needed to express themselves. We walked between the trees, crossed a tree-trunk bridge, discovered a geocache, and explored a local neighborhood garden, all of which provided opportunities for practice as we connected these new experiences to others in our past.
While the students walked, they relaxed. As they relaxed, they practiced more and more English. And as they practiced, they made verbal forays into areas of English they’d never yet attempted. I gave them words and encouragement, giving them space to experience success. This succes allowed their self-confidence to grow, allowing them in turn to learn more and make more progress than I had ever dared hope.
I’ve adopted this form of work into my regular teaching, making time for a short “walk-n-talk” while the rest of the class works on its own. Even in the space of fifteen minutes, students develop a certain fluency that I couldn’t hope to achieve in the regular lesson. Those who wish, may join me for a kilometer or two, and those who don’t, are free to tackle the other tasks I assigned. Afterward, I check back with the entire class: what did we learn? Which task worked well, and which didn’t? In that way, everyone is allowed a certain amount of choice, while being responsible to actively participate in the lesson.
What do you do in order to help your students learn?