Taking learning outside of the classroom

A day out with students in London

by Jonathan Last @JonathanLast1
TEFL teacher and author of Teaching English with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline

Learning a language is an active pursuit.  It’s not about abstract theory – even if it has theory – but rather it is grounded in the real world as one of the most practical things you can study.  Commanding a new dialect, being able to read, write, listen and speak it as well as understanding context, is about learning to interact with the environment around you.

Language is alive.  As too are people.  It should follow, then, that language is taught in ways that do encourage passivity.  This is not to say that there is no place for the rote, ‘traditional’ classroom model of students sitting facing the teacher at the front, of course.  But that should be just one of a tapestry of tactics that the savvy teacher employs; bottoms should leave seats as often as possible, tables should be pushed into different arrangements and learners need to be encouraged to face each other as much as they do that figure in front of the white board.

And who says learning has to be restricted to the classroom?

Greenwich ParkA class outing may seem like an obvious thing to do, but is an often-neglected part of a teacher’s arsenal.  It’s a great idea to start with asking the students where they would like to go – a landmark, perhaps, or a park, or even just to a coffee shop?  When I was head of English at a London college, I combined all three with a visit to the city’s Greenwich observatory.  The trip included a boat ride on the Thames River (passing plenty of landmarks), a walk in Greenwich Park, home to its historic observatory and GMT meridian line, and then finishing with a rest for ice cream in an outdoor café.  Your trip can be explicitly educational – to a museum, perhaps – but remember that the object is not implicitly to educate about the destination, but instead to provide a forum to use English in the real world.

Reward your students with a trip

Your trip can be used as a reward and something to look forward to.  It can be promised to kids if behaviour is met, or even used as an incentive for adults, if you can pull this off without seeming too patronising.  And be sure to take plenty of photos, which can be printed out and used to decorate the classroom afterwards.  You may even want to use the outing as part of a larger project.  However you play it, your students will be grateful you took them out of the four walls and reminded them why they are learning English in the first place.

Jonathan Last’s hilarious autobiographical novel “Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline” can be downloaded to PC, smart phone and various e-book readers, such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook.

You can watch a video interview of Jonathan talking about the book on his blog.

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