Five Ways to Better Connect with Your Students
Creating an environment conducive toward inspiring English learning goes beyond good lesson planning. In order to facilitate such an environment, one must be able to hold a relationship filled with trust and mutual respect amongst their students. For some a relationship as such can develop over time, for others it may never reach its full potential. These relationships, nevertheless are important since the help to keep the students engaged, improve classroom management, and produce greater yields in the English learning process within each classroom. For teachers who are looking to strengthen the connection with their students, I have formulated five essential tools that are applicable to a wide range of students from primary school to college.
1) Utilize After School Hours
Since I am a part of the Heart for Change MEN program I am expected to dedicate an hour per week working with my students outside of the classroom. This hour can be applied to a number of things, including: dance lessons, watching movies, or practicing conversational English. From talking with a number of other volunteers, I’ve come to learn that these cultural hours normally consist of only ten to twenty students. It was my aim to expand the number of people who participated in my cultural hour in an effort connect with as many students as possible. I was able to achieve this by creating a cultural hour as diverse and inclusive as possible. Notably, every week my cultural hour consisted of nearly forty to fifty students.
Why does this work? Changing the scenery and meeting with students outside of the classroom allows them to relax. Further, planning innovative activities keeps the students engaged as they subconsciously learn English while having fun.
How does this work? In order to get the maximum number of students to come and stay during your cultural hour, I would suggest two important tips:
- Do not discriminate: By opening my cultural hour to all of the students, even those who were not in my class I was able to meet new and eager English learners.
- Diversify the activities: Since you will have such a large number of participants the activities should be quite diverse in order to keep the interest of all the students. I would suggest, if you have a lot of active students, perhaps create one cultural hour filled with sports and allow the next cultural hour to focus on a different subject, like art.
2) Encourage project-based activities
Homework or simple classwork is usually enough for a teacher to gauge students’ proficiency in English; while test and quizzes can often give a more accurate indication of student growth / learning. If you are looking for ways to measure a student’s work ethic, interest, and allow them to display their creative ability, project based activities can be useful. While teaching I incorporated a lot of project based activities. These activities included having students dress up like famous English-speaking people and giving oral presentations on them, encouraging students to create PowerPoints in English about ethnic groups in Colombia, and even holding a complete day in English where students performed songs, dialogues, and presentations. I found that these projects not only helped to improve students’ work ethic but also increased their willingness to participate.
- Why does this work? Students are motivated to produce better work and present their projects when they have to put more effort and time into them. By giving out project based activities that require students to work on in class and at home, the students are required to spend more time on the project over a span of days which increases the likelihood of them turning in neater work, as well as ensures that they are dedicating time outside of the classroom toward English learning.
- How does this work? Project based activities can help you connect with students since these activities can a lot of times encourage them to ask you a number of questions pertaining to the project and their ideas. Moreover, conducting a number of activities that have a presentation component allows for students to become more comfortable in speaking English.
- What to keep in mind: Be sure to allow sufficient time in between projects so that you are not overworking the students. In addition, attempt to bring your own example of the project so that students can experience the mutual respect of their professor also taking time to do the activity, this may also motivate the students to produce their best work.
3) Do not spend all your free time in the break room
After a few long days filled while tiresome classes and lesson planning, leisure time can seem to be the most appealing time of the day. Falling into a comfortable routine of detoxing in the break room may become more tempting. However, once you close that door for the break room you also close the door of possibly missing an opportunity to connect with your students. Connecting with students is namely about maximizing your time with them; there is no better way of doing so than giving your extra time to the students. It might not sound as appealing as relaxing in a cool and quiet break room but remember if you expect results you have to invest the time.
- Why does this work? This works because it allows yet another opportunity for you to talk and work with the students outside of the classroom. Further, when students see that you are willing to eat lunch with them or would rather hang out with them during your break they tend to respond with much admiration and appreciation.
- How does this work? It’s simple! Take your lunch breaks out with the students, surely curious students will approach, ask questions, and converse with you. Try sitting in the hallways, watch their sports games in the courtyard, participate in their activities. The point is to physically be accessible to the students. In doing so, the motivated and curious students will surely flock toward you.
- What to keep in mind: This does not mean you should not have any time to yourself. Breaks are necessary to keep you focused and energized but attempt to use some of your break time to check out what your students are doing.
4) Talk about yourself
For all of the slightly narcissist professors this may seem easy and for the teachers who remain a bit more reserved this simple suggestion may seem like a lot of work. Throughout my time working with students in Colombia, I’ve found that nothing interests them more than learning about their foreign professor. Don’t be afraid to tell the students interesting stories about your travels, family, and life back home. Sharing stories, laughs, and photos helps you to appear more relatable to you students.
- Why does this work? This works since it encourages the students to ask more questions about you, which further creates an environment conducive toward English learning.
- How does this work? By appearing more approachable and open students are likely to ask more questions, while also sharing a bit about themselves. Sharing random things about yourself, including what you did in Colombia one weekend, opens the line of communication where students will feel more motivated to pick up on vocabulary and engage in the conversation.
- What to keep in mind: Remember you can talk about yourself and be approachable while also remaining professional.
5) Know your students
Now that you have told your students almost every interesting story about yourself it is time to learn more about them. Knowing your students is the most essential way toward building the connection. Simple things like knowing your students’ names can make a huge difference in their behavior and attitude toward English. You ought to be just as interested in your students as they are in you.
- Why does this work? You cannot connect with those you do not know, by allowing your students to know you and them returning the favor you are now equipped to tailor lessons toward their needs and learn about their experiences.
- How does this work? Getting to know your students can come in a combination of ways. Remember to follow the first four tips and ask plenty of questions and you will know your students in no time.
- What to keep in mind: Remember to ask lots of questions and wait patiently for a response. Let the students come and tell you things about their day, new friendships, as well as their family.
- Author: Carly Wise
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