The teachers’ room

A teacher affects eternity:
he can never tell where his influence stops.
Henry Adams

On this page we’re opening the blog up as a place to discuss teaching issues which you have always wanted to air and hear the opinions of your pedagogical peers form across the globe!

Every few weeks, we’ll have a tantalising teaching statement which we want YOU to vote on. We’ll then give you the opinion of a well-known ELT writer, about which you are free to share your thoughts too!

Well, the results of your votes are in for our first controversial teaching statement:

“My students just want to speak today, but we have to get through our lesson! What should I do?”

You voted overwhelmingly (70%!) for the option:

“Forget about the coursebook for today and have an unplanned speaking lesson.”

It’s time to reveal the secret ELT writer who has agreed to comment on your votes… we are delighted to have writing for us none other than Scott Thornbury!

COMMENT! Please write in and let us know what you think of the vote results and comment on Scott’s thoughts too!

ALSO… we want you to write to us with questions that you’d like to gauge other teachers’ opinions on. Anything goes, so get thinking and drop us a line now!


6 thoughts on “The teachers’ room

  1. Perhaps it is possible to relate the conversation to something you are currently learning. I find that students (particularly adolescents) often want to gossip about some recent dramatic event in the school. Students can re-tell the story and you focus a little on their use of narrative tenses or reported speech.

    • Thanks Clementine! – I like the idea of focussing on the language students produce spontaneously: do you think it’s difficult to get the kids to do this when what they really want to do is the “gossip” part?

  2. Maybe I’m a bit traditional but much as I love lessons where the learners take over and speak about whatever they want, I do feel that at lower levels at least they need guidance and (crucially) input. And if a teacher is steering the conversation round to include the language s/he wants to practise, it stops being conversation in any real sense. Of course, as their competence increases, the more freer practice (within limits) the better.

    • I’m really with you on this, Tim. However, I can’t help feeling a sense of “guilt” (I can’t think of a better word!) about allowing my students to take over a section of the class speaking: I always feel as though I should be steering them “back on track”!

      Having said that, I find it particularly exciting when the lower levels are happy to get carried away with a conversation. I noticed recently that providing them with a few fillers to give them thinking time worked wonders for the moments when they would otherwise switch to their L1 in frustration!

  3. What you say about it being a cultural thing is interesting, Scott. In general Argentine adults are more than happy to talk so ‘getting them going’ is not an issue. Adolescents tend to speak as little as possible unless it’s something that really grabs their attention. I was recently assessing a group who discussed a number of topics in a rather bored way until they started talking about Anne Frank and all of a sudden it turned into a long,lively discussion and you could see they were really loving it.
    As to going ‘unplugged’, like Tim, I think lower levels need more structure or at least I suppose it would be more difficult to teach without it, but I feel that from about upper intermediate onwards, students would probably benefit more from a program based on their needs and specific interests rather than on a coursebook. They would probably also enjoy it more. The problem is daring to do it and the teacher being prepared to ‘let go’!
    Every time we take oral exams the students are nervous beforehand and afterwards they want to go on and on just talking – they love it and feel very proud of what they can do.

  4. Hi! I don’t think I’d be comfortable with a syllabus based on “whatever they wanna talk about” today. It would be quite difficult to implement at a whole school level: articulation beteween levels, evaluation and content would be some of the issues.
    However, if it becomes apparent that in a given lesson my students really need to speak about something (a shocking current event, something personal) I will have a class discussion, since I believe that a teacher cannot ignore what is going on with the student on a personal level.Teenage students in Argentina value a teacher who they can talk to. Gently, I try to bring them back to the lesson of the day, if possible.

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