Keeping it real: how to personalise classes effectively
It’s no secret that teachers want to get along well with their students. Sometimes having an informal personalised environment can really help learning but how can teachers create this whilst maintaining professionalism in the classroom?
Not all students are comfortable with a teacher who wants to be their best friend. Whilst many enjoy the informality of some classes, others prefer to keep a professional line drawn between themselves and their teacher. Both of these approaches are fine, because they can both become highly personalised learning experiences, even in the most professional environments.
Start by getting to know the student on a level that they are comfortable with. Encourage them to identify topics of interest and pursue these. Even if a student just wants to focus on work-related topics, these conversations can form the basis of lessons for months at a time. For instance, with one student who worked in economics, I planned classes around financial news and organisations, making classes both personal to his interests and yet at the same time completely relevant for the professional work environment we were in.
This can be taken further by drawing on students’ experiences of work-related themes. If you’re teaching about HR or negotiations, spend some time finding out what sort of interviews students have done, or even ask about difficult negotiations as the base for a personalised class.
Just as important is the interaction between students. With a group of peers to talk to, learners can practice using language comfortably with people in a similar situation to themselves. Exploit this by using group speaking tasks and pairing students up.
When giving feedback, turning the tables and making the students teachers works a treat! In a great blog I read recently (hat tip Teacher Mudhar), one experienced ESL teacher outlines some methods for offering effective feedback in class. When learners are placed into an environment of self-correction, it encourages everyone to up their game and help each other with tough tasks.
Once you know a student well enough, personalised materials become extremely effective. Okay, they take more time but a video, article or worksheet designed to fit around the interest of one particular student or group goes a long way in keeping them engaged and learning.
You can also focus on the skills or language that the group needs to work on. Every learner is different and will have various strengths and weaknesses. Personalised materials are a good way to target these weaknesses and make the students feel comfortable improving.
I love using technology in the classroom and applications are a brilliant way to personalise a lesson. In a recent teaching conference, I learned about Vocabulary Builder and Heads Up, Two Fun and interactive apps for improving your English.
The beauty of Vocabulary Builder is that you can compete against other players online. Students can be placed into groups and work as a team to win points. Not only is this a great way to learn new words, it also builds confidence and creates a highly personalised atmosphere in the classroom. It’s also very competitive, so if you’ve got winners in the class, prepare for lots of Vocabulary Builder practice!
Ever faced the problem of a student adding you on Facebook? Use this to your advantage! Recently, I created a Facebook page for sharing materials and learning content for students and teachers. I’ve since recommended that students follow my page rather than my personal account, because I can keep my information private as well as share interesting things with students.
Occasionally, I will read an article or see a picture, which I just know will work well with a certain group. Sharing this on Facebook makes for personalised learning outside of the classroom as well as keeping a professional barrier between the two parties. Highly recommended if your learners are as tuned into social media as mine are!
If you have any more hints or suggestions, I’d be happy to chat! Please leave a comment or feel free to get in touch via Twitter: @DeclanGCarey