I think that what it comes down to is just going into the classroom and making sure that students don’t hate English any more than they did before going in. Some ways that we wind students up might be:
- Inadvertently insulting them
- Being patronizing
- ‘Anyone else? Bueller?’
- Empty praise
Do you repeat the same questions when students don’t answer? Could you rephrase it so you don’t make it look like you think they are stupid? (Allwright & Bailey)
Almost all display questions (questions you already know the answer to) are ludicrous. “What’s something that’s blue?” My mood? A corpse? Instead, we might ask, “What is something you like that’s blue?” It’s not perfect but it sounds less like teacher talk and might be useful one day.
I did this loads when I first started. I think that discovery learning and eliciting have their place but when it looks like students don’t know, to maintain sanity, how about focussing on what they need to get there or relating the language to their personal experiences?
Are you clear about what is great when you exclaim, ‘Great!’? If it isn’t great, say so. You don’t have to be Sirius Snape about it but you might say, “Thanks for trying. It’s a bit difficult.” You might then go on and recast or scaffold what the learner was trying to say.
So, basically, we need to try to figure out if we’re teaching in an annoying way. Not all students love language study but almost everyone will communicate when faced with human contact. I think if we bear the above in mind (and by ‘we’ I also mean ‘me’), we stand a good chance of making classroom experiences better.
Allwright, D and Bailey, K. (1991) Focus on the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.