Thursday, May 31, 2007

The English-only classroom - Explain, don't shame

By Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery

A teacher says:

Last week I tried what I though would be the ultimate shame. After listening to the pre-lesson babble I asked them - If your parents had been in this room for the last 5 minutes, what would they think? 30 blank looks.

Do your students know that you expect them to speak only English in the classroom, even before and after the lesson? A lot of Chinese students think of English as just another subject, like chemistry, and their chemistry teacher doesn't require them to speak about acids and phosphates before or after the lecture.

One thing that has recently helped in my classroom is to be very explicit about the English-only rule. "This room is for English only. If you are in this room, you will speak only English. It doesn't matter if I am teaching or not. It doesn't matter if it is time for a break or not. The Chinese language stays outside the door of this classroom." Any students who "need" to speak Chinese during breaks conduct their conversations in the hall. When I hear pre- or post-lesson Chinese in the classroom, I tap the offenders on the shoulder, and ask them to take it outside. Sometimes they go in the hall, sometimes they switch to English.

During class, I use the participation points method. Participation is 25% of my students' grade. This is enough that those who care about their grade are very motivated to participate. When the students come in at the beginning of class, I hand each of them a tiny piece of paper. They write their name and student number on
it. Whenever anyone asks a good question or gives a good answer, I take their paper. When I hear someone speak Chinese, I give them their paper back. At the end of class, I spend a few moments putting participation points in my grade book for everyone whose paper I have.

I wear shoes with soft soles, so I can move silently around the classroom during group and pair work. All I need to do is clear my throat to startle back into English those students who have drifted into Chinese.

I think you just have to keep experimenting to find what motivates your students, as well as what works with your teaching style. For example, one foreign teacher I know gives a piece of candy to each student when he/she participates. I thought that might not work so well with university students, but his students have told me they love it.

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