How to promote active learning
After many years of neglecting to explain lesson aims at the beginning of the class, of ignoring the importance it really has on student performance I came across a blog written by the award winning ESL blog writer Kasia Piotrowska which inspired me to do just that.
I sheepishly scrawled the aims of my class on the board, not really expecting to create such an impact on my class of 13-year olds who had been forced into coming to my lessons at 4pm by well-meaning parents.
After my initial surprise I started writing the aims of every class on the whiteboard at the start of every lesson and referred to them at each stage of the class. Day after day I would spent five minutes at the start of the class to ensure that learners had a clear grasp of what they were going to learn that day. I noticed that students were more focused on the learning process. Consequently, their participation improved – they actually WANTED to learn!!
Marking the steps of the lesson and referring to them as the class progresses helps learners:
- Keep track of the lesson stages
- See clearly the connection between what they are doing in class and what they are supposed to learn
- Know exactly what is expected of them, reducing anxiety
- Self-monitor their progress
- Play a more active part in the lesson flow
Visualise lesson aims with an image
As suggested by Piotrowska, instead of writing my lesson aims on the board, I sometimes use an image. This can be a road, mountain or a toy animal moving along the classroom as a metaphor for the flow of the lesson.The actual image would depend on the age group, likes and dislikes of your students. An image instead of a list can help learners visualise their path. It also makes a lesson more memorable and engaging. I find this is really useful with childrens classes
Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I remember
Involve me and I learn
Give students tools to follow the lesson aims
Another useful tool is to use lesson templates at the beginning of some classes and ask students to tick off the aims as they are covered. This can be done in pairs and most teenage students enjoy this activity. It requires extra class preparation, but it is an effective tool. You can also involve learners in the process and ask them to design their own.
Make room for learners to reflect on the lesson
At the end of each lesson a really useful activity is to give out post-it notes to each student. Ask them to draw a picture connected with the lesson´s topic or aims, and stick their notes next to your lesson aims template on the wall.You could also ask the students to work in small groups and look at their drawings to see if they can identify all the things they have learnt today.This works really well with teenage/adult groups
Have a secret lesson aim – and encourage learners to do the same
This is a great activity on learning development. Don´t make your secret aim visible for the learners. Examples of teachers´aims could be reducing ‘echoing’ or encouraging critical thinking within the classroom.
You can ask learners to do the same. It might be working on their group interaction, using only English in the classroom or finding ways to pay more attention in class. Ask them to write their secret lesson aim at the beginning of the class and reflect on it at home. This helps learners become more active in the learning process.