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April 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

How to Increase Participation in the English Classroom

Daniel Rhodes has been an Assistant Professor at Korea University Sejong Campus for eight years.  He teaches Academic English, Debate in English, and Presentation in English to undergraduate students who are focused on improving their English speaking and paragraph writing skills.  Daniel Rhodes has also been on Korea University Sejong Campus’ English committee for curriculum design and development, given feedback to Korea University faculty on making their pedagogy more student-centered, and given presentations to Korea University faculty on how to make their lesson activities more dynamic, engaging, and participatory. Email: daniel.r.rhodes1000@gmail.com

 

English university students who attend the first day of their university English class hope that their English class will be interactive, dynamic, and entertaining.  The English professor, therefore, must immediately deliver a highly enjoyable, motivating, student-centered English class to his students in order to not only maintain their high level of engagement that they possess on the first day, but to increase it throughout the semester. Such a challenge is easy to achieve if the English professor immediately exercises leadership, demonstrates pedagogical expertise, and simultaneously gives his students’ lesson activities that enable them to learn English at their own pace and in their own way. 

Exercising leadership and demonstrating pedagogical expertise is the most important aspect of the English professor’s pedagogy because his students complete their assessment of their English professors’ pedagogical ability before the first week of the semester.  Therefore, the English professor on the first day of class must demonstrate to his students that he knows how to teach English without a textbook.  With this in mind, therefore, the English professor must give his students a pre-written, two person dialogue that explains the purpose of the class as well as the grading system immediately after the students introduce themselves to each other. The students must then read the dialogue (preferably on their smart phones) with their partner and learn about the class in tandem with each other.  This student-based method of introducing the class has numerous benefits.  First, the students will retain the information for a longer period of time because they have read the dialogue out-loud, and listened to it as well. Second, the students will have practiced reading and listening to perfectly written English while learning about the class. 

Third, the students will not only deepen their bond with each other by learning together, but they will be equally impressed and surprised that their English professor has taken the time to write his own material not only for his English class, but on the first day of his English class as well. 

However, this is not the class’ first day’s pedagogical coup de grâce.  The class’ first pedagogical coup de grâce is simply that the English professor will tell his students to write a descriptive paragraph about themselves and turn it in.   Indeed, this admittingly easy pedagogical act is not only essential, but it is transformational because it bestows upon each student the feeling that he is going to make a personal connection with their English professor, which will cause him or her to leave the class more motivated to learn English and with an admittingly slow-building, but nevertheless bourgeoning desire to attend his English professor’s next dynamic, authentic, student-centered English class to simply find out what will happen next.  

Therefore, the second day of class without question is as equally important as the first day of class. It, therefore, must include the same student-centered pedagogy and be even more authentic and interactive.  As a result, the English professor must have his students write their own class material.  Indeed, he should tell his students to choose a topic, write down four discussion questions about that topic in their notebook, and ask their partner their discussion questions with creative, thought provoking, if not brilliant follow up questions.  Then, he should tell his students that after every five minutes one person in their two person group will switch seats in order to speak to a new classmate.  This informal, simple, yet effective, discussion-based activity is perfect for the second day of class because the students will talk to each classmate over the course of the class period and thus develop the lasting bonds that will become the unbreakable foundation of the English professor’s class that will subsequently enable his English class to not just survive, but to thrive throughout the sixteen week semester. 

Then, after each student has spoken to each other for at least five minutes, the English professor must have his students once again read a dialogue that he has written, but with a twist. 

Indeed, the English professor must explain to his students that they can read the dialogue verbatim, change the dialogue whether it be a question or an answer, or simply add their own questions to make the dialogue more realistic and dynamic.  After his students have read this adaptable and ever-changing dialogue out-loud with their partner, the English professor must then return the descriptive paragraphs that his students wrote on the first day that now contain a question about the main idea of the paragraph that the English professor has written.  After each student has received their paragraph and are experiencing feelings of euphoria because their English professor has returned their paragraph so quickly, the English professor must then instruct his students to ask the question about their paragraph to their partner in order to start and continue a student-centered conversation that is peppered with follow up questions and showered with both primary and secondary interjections.  After students talk to each other with laser focus for at least ten minutes, the English professor can then end his second English class confident that his students are impressed by both his pedagogy and his willingness to invest his out of class time towards their single-minded, dogged, if not unflinching dedication towards English acquisition.  As a result, the English professor, feeling as triumphant as a matador after killing a bull in the notorious Las Ventas of Madrid, Spain, can expect with overwhelming, inordinate, if not immeasurable confidence that his students will attend his future English classes with a sense that their English class is less of a class, less of a prison with a few, tiny, boarded up windows, and more of an authentic, dynamic, student-centered  English learning-based community.

However, to truly transform an English class into a learning-based community that is both sustainable and actually continues to become more and more enjoyable for each and every student week-in and week out, the English professor must continue to provide authentic, student-centered lesson activities and, thankfully, there are many ways to do this.  For example, the easiest way is to simply have students ask other students questions in class during a teacher-led class discussion. 

For example, after a student answers the English professor’s question during a Socratic method-based lesson activity, the English professor can simply ask if any students would like to ask him or her some follow up questions.   This pedagogical tactic is fantastic because it gives more than one student the opportunity to speak while having the entire class’ ear and it increases the confidence of the questioner, the student who will answer the question, and the entire class at large.  As a result, this interactive discussion method is a must during every teacher-led discussion activity not only because it increases the confidence within each student, but it also sets the stage for more complex, direct, student-centered, and student-controlled lesson activities. 

Indeed, the next authentic, student-centered lesson activity can only occur after the above interactive, student-based activity has taken place because it requires that students’ have a newly formed, uncontrolled, yet untested confidence in speaking English.  This is because the English professor in this student-based activity must organize his students  into groups of two or three, so that they can  ‘Lead a Class Discussion’, which will be nothing short of an interactive, dynamic, student-controlled activity that indeed replaces hierarchy with equality and silence with laughter and endless chatter.  To tear this idea off the page, therefore, the English professor must first use his lower back and his arm muscles to move three chairs to the front of the class.  This is essential!  Then, he must ask one group of students to go to the front of the class and introduce themselves with the understanding that if they are not speaking they must be sitting. 

After each student stands to give their short introduction, the English professor will then ask the class if they have any easy questions for these ‘soon to be’ class discussion leaders.  After a few students exercise their newly acquired confidence by asking their classmates some easy, light-hearted questions and the group of students candidly respond, one of the student discussion leaders must stand up and ask their discussion question.  For example, she might ask her classmates,“What is your favorite movie genre and why? Discuss with your group members” and then promptly sit down.  After a couple of minutes of observing their classmates discuss their discussion question, each of the two or three student discussion leaders must go to a different group of students and ask their discussion question again.  After a short discussion that includes a multitude of follow questions, all of the said class discussion leaders will then return to the front of the class simultaneously and sit down excluding the class discussion leader who has been nominated to speak first.  Indeed, instead of sitting down, she will say,“Let me have your attention” and then she will answer her own question.  Afterwards, her partner will stand up, give his answer, and then sit down, so the final class discussion leader has the opportunity to stand up and give his answer.  However, to make this student-led class discussion more interactive and student-centered, the final student discussion leader will say to his classmates after he gives his answer,

“Do you have any questions or comments?” before he sits down. 

Therefore, as you can see, this student-led, interactive discussion activity led by students is not only conducive to classroom community-building, but, as you may have realized, is conducive to informal student assessment as well.  Indeed, after observing each student speak for a certain period of time, the English professor can identify the speaking level of each of his students in terms of their fluency, lexical resource, grammar, and pronunciation. 

Equally important, each student will realize that their speaking skills are being evaluated and thus they must focus on speaking English as well as they possibly can. As a result, this student-led discussion activity is perfect for in-class assessment of students’ speaking skills, but it also builds democratic, student-centered community within the classroom as well.  Indeed, students become nothing less than enraptured when they become in control of the English topics discussed, both the questions and follow up questions that are asked, and the autonomy and empowering independence that gives them the freedom to learn English at their own pace and in their own way.

However, to establish a truly autonomous, independent,  community-based English class, the English professor must also make both his midterm and final exam student-centered, personal, and participatory.  To accomplish this task, the English professor must make both his midterm and final exam take place over a three class time period.  On the first midterm and final exam class period, therefore, students in groups of four should meet the English professor for fifteen minutes and ask him questions that they have asked each other during class time.  This is effective because the students will hear fluent answers to the questions that they have asked, and simultaneously strengthen their rapport with their English professor.  During the second midterm and final exam class period, the same group of students will meet for fifteen minutes to ask each other the same questions that they asked their English professor during the first midterm or final exam class period.  This midterm and final exam group discussion is also necessary because it provides the English professor the opportunity to once again monitor and evaluate his students’ speaking skills.  It also enables his students to continue strengthening their bond with each other while speaking their best English in order to earn the highest midterm or final exam grade possible.  The third midterm and final exam class period is also critical because it assesses not speaking, but paragraph writing skills, which you will find below. 

Indeed, not only is this midterm and final exam writing component necessary because it enables the English professors’ students to put into writing what they have discussed over the last two days of discussion-based exams, but it clearly gives students the opportunity to write paragraphs that include a topic sentence with a controlling idea, supporting sentences that explain the main idea of the paragraph, and a concluding sentence that gives an opinion, a suggestion, an opinion, a prediction, or restates the main idea.

As a result, the student to student questions that democratize a  teacher-led classroom discussion, the student-led discussion activities, and the three day midterm and final exams described above clearly show how an English professor can create a positive, participatory, student-centered English class that fosters community in the English classroom.  From experience using these above teaching activities in my own English classes, I also can say with certainty it is an enjoyable way to teach an English class and it is rewarding because it puts a positive spin on how international students view the process of learning English.  As a result, I hope that the English classroom activities described above will contribute positively to your future English classes and make teaching English more engaging, meaningful, and yes, entertaining for you as well.

 

Appendix

Midterm and Final Witten Exam

(Please Change the Topics/ Tenses Required For Either Exam As You See Fit)

 

Name ________________

English Class _________

Writing Exam

Directions.  Write topic sentences for each of the five topics below.  Two out of the five topic sentences that you write must be in the past tense.

  1. Seasons

_______________________________________________________________

 

  1. Sports

________________________________________________________________

 

  1. Travel

________________________________________________________________

 

  1. Food

_________________________________________________________________

 

  1. Seoul

_________________________________________________________________

 

Directions.  Write two new topic sentences below and four questions about each topic. One topic sentence must be in the present tense and one topic sentence must be in the past tense.

 

6. Topic Sentence: _________________________________________________ 

 

1. __________________________________________________________

 

a._______________________________________________________________

 

b. ______________________________________________________________

 

c. _______________________________________________________________

 

d._______________________________________________________________

 

7. Topic Sentence: _________________________________________________ 

 

1. ______________________________________________________________

 

a._______________________________________________________________

 

b. ______________________________________________________________

 

c. _______________________________________________________________

 

d. ______________________________________________________________

Directions.  Write a concluding sentence for both the topic sentences in #6 and #7.

  1. Concluding Sentence for #6:

 _____________________________________________________________________

  1. Concluding Sentence for #7:

 _____________________________________________________________________

10. Directions. Write two titled paragraphs below.  One paragraph must be in the present tense and one paragraph must be in the past tense. The topic sentences and the concluding sentences that you wrote in #6, #7, #8, #9 must be used in your two paragraphs.  In addition, you must answer some or all of the questions that you wrote in #6 and #7.  In conclusion, you may write on the back of your test if you would like.

 

Please check the Practical Ideas for Teaching Advanced (C1-C2) Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creating a Motivating Environment course at Pilgrims website

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  • South Korean High School Students’ Perceptions of and Performance during University Level English Conversation Classes
    Shaun J. Manning, South Korea;Jeeyoung Song, South Korea

  • How to Increase Participation in the English Classroom
    Daniel Rhodes, US