One of the keys to a classroom like mine is that there will be a lot of group work. Peer cooperation plays a big role in my style.
My teaching style is communicative. That is that my style is focused on getting students to use the language. I like to have a loud class. Quiet does not mean learning to me. I focus my lessons on getting students to speak to each other. I hear myself speak a lot, so I like to hear the many accents of my classroom.
Many times, after I teach a short lesson on a skill, I then use peer activities to reinforce the skill and to make sure that the students fully understand the concept. There are a few reasons why I work in this fashion.
One reason I rely on peer activities after teaching a skill is that it allows the students to immediately practice the new skill. It also allows me to pair up stronger students with weaker students to reiterate the skills and solidify them into their memory.
Another reason I like peer activities is that it builds friendships with the students. It gives them opportunities to speak to people from other cultures, as I pair students together based on them being from different countries.
To me, the biggest reason that I use this method, is that it gives me time to go group to group and the opportunity to give attention to individuals and help clarify any aspects that the students are not quite understanding. It lets me get a feel of how well the students understood the information and then could later address issues that were brought up.
There is one big key to having successful peer activities and that is trust between the students. The students need to feel comfortable with each other in order to be willing to make mistakes in front of others. They need to trust the other students who try to give advice and who will be making corrections to their work.
How can teachers build trust in the classroom?
I use a few different methods. One is with technology. Specifically, Whatsapp. I like to create groups for the students to communicate with me and with each other. Giving them access to English class after they leave my room. It also allows them to communicate like friends.
Another method I use in my classes is applying an identity. I allow my classes to choose a name for the whole of the class. Each student gets to submit a name and then they all get to vote on the names for the class. This works in the same manner as a sports team in terms of having a commonality between each other to hang onto. The only limit I put on the names is that it needs to be a type of adjective describing the class as a whole. The best examples are that I have taught the “Incredibles” and the “Legends.”
These monikers have withstood long after classes have moved on. The students still communicate with each other in the Whatsapp groups. They still refer to themselves as these names.
This method built a common bond that accelerated learning in peer activities. The students had a trust in each other that showed when writing in groups or when peers corrected their work. It built a level of respect between everyone that turned into friendships.
My classrooms have been early successes in what looks like will be a long career in teaching at the university level.
I will continue the unity building in my next article where I break down my “Super Class” and how they conquered their session.
Click the link below to read a letter from another former student who is a teacher in Mexico.