In his first guest post, Michael Harrison considers the importance of learning outside the classroom.
Teaching and learning goes on in classrooms, doesn’t it? It is fairly safe to say that the majority of teaching (including English language teaching) around the world takes place in a classroom setting. That’s what they’re for, and anyone who has completed some form of teacher training will know that classroom management is a very important thing to be aware of. But the classroom isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be all and end all. Here are a few reasons I think it is advisable to get out of there once in a while.
[Note – make sure you are aware of your institution’s policies regarding outside trips. It is always recommended to get the student’s or their parent/guardian’s permission before getting out of the room]
Another word/phrase that gets bounced around on initial teacher training (in particular for ELT) is realia, and its use in teaching. Basically, using a real life example of something to teach it. Are you looking at train/bus travel? Bring in some examples of tickets to teach the vocab. Are you writing CVs with a group of Business English students? Get a few sample versions (or even your own real versions) to show to the students.
But what about if the classroom is the realia. Or rather, the location where the learning is taking place. Are you teaching supermarket vocabulary? Go to the supermarket. Looking at rivers and wildlife? Get yourself down to your local waterway. Those examples might not be appropriate for every situation, but there should be something that teachers can do in their own context.
Content and Language Integrated Learning
Or CLIL. Do a quick web search for this and you’ll find it’s an approach to language teaching that is making some headway at the moment and basically means that as much attention is paid to the content of the lessons as the language. Hence, the teaching of history, maths (or numeracy in some places), art and design, etc. in English (or whatever the target language is). What better way to accomplish this than by getting out of the classroom? Obvious CLIL activities outside the classroom might be a trip to a museum or art gallery, but equally the river excursion above could also be considered. A key thing to think about here is what will interest your students. Other possibilities could include – a trip to the shopping centre to look at branding techniques (Business English); going to a farm to learn about animals (a good one for younger learners?); or just having a picnic (lots of food vocabulary and feed processes could be practised here).
Taking a break
Sometimes you can just get bored of always being in the same room with the same four walls. I’ve certainly felt like that as a teacher from time to time, so I can understand if my students want to get out and about a bit. Classrooms and buildings can get stuffy, especially as you get to the summer months. Take a break, remember exams are not everything (and you don’t need to practise practise practise all the time – in fact a break can be just as beneficial as lots of studying), and get out there.
That’s just the surface of why it’s a good idea to get out of your classroom. So over to you. Do you try to get out of the classroom? Why? What do you do when you have escaped those four walls? I’d be interested to hear all about it.
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11 June 2010 at
Hi, I really enjoyed reading this blog post. I like the idea of getting the learners out of the classroom. Like most things though I think there are pros and cons. I’ve noticed the positive ‘effect’ that is created when I have my EFL book club meetings in cafes as opposed to the classroom. Also if it’s a multilingual class, then merely walking from A to B will present natural opportunities for ‘interlanguage talk’ which is then likely to lead to ‘negotiation’ of meaning etc. I also agree that authenticity (you mentioned realia) is important. But do you think that some texts can be too authentic? I’ve recently been involved in a material design project for museums & libraries in Lincolnshire and part of my research showed that many learners didn’t bother reading any of the information provided in these places because they couldn’t understand any of it. So for me authenticity is great, so long as the meaning is comprehensible, and this is something that perhaps can’t be controlled so well outside of the classroom. Your idea of pre-teaching relevant information before venturing out would go some way to providing a solution to this though. Anyway, you’ve encouraged me to take my classes out next week, weather permitting! Thanks!
14 June 2010 at
Thanks for the comment.
I agree that there are pros and cons to taking learners out of the classroom, and that this is something I probably haven’t looked at so much in my post. I think I’d encourage any teacher to take their students somewhere at least once or twice in an academic year (if only to the local park) because there is a definite lack of institutional support to do so (the number of forms that you have to fill in, getting ‘permission’ from your superiors, etc.) – something Nick mentions in his comment below.
Regarding your comment about authentic materials I completely agree. I took some leaflets on study skills, lending rules, etc. from my college’s library to look at with a group of higher elementary/lower pre-intermediate students. Big mistake! The texts were too difficult for them to read. There certainly needs to be better liaising between colleges or language schools and places where they might take ESOL students in creation of leaflets, booklets, etc.
Glad I’ve encouraged you to quit those four walls!!
11 June 2010 at
I can’t agree with you more, Mike, but when you’re working with kids, it’s a bit more difficult. Outings require planning and its share of red tape. Even bringing the class out to the patio can be a problem!
Having said that, the kids do get to go out on trips every now and then. I’ve been to the Science museum with them, on a trekking excursion, and to a tourist area to do a survey.
The main problem, however, is that it’s nigh impossible to get them to speak in English among themselves!
14 June 2010 at
I totally understand where you’re coming from when you talk about planning and red tape. I recently visited the BBC with a group of students and had to fill out a summary of the trip (which then needed to be approved by the head of school and one of the vice principals at the college! more likely a PA there, though), and then get permission letters from the students or their parents/guardians.
It’s interesting that where Jez has mentioned that trips provide his students an opportunity to use English, you mention that you have difficulty in getting your students communicating in English. Could this be to do with the ages of the students? I mean, do adult learners on a trip more readily use English than teens or younger learners? My instinct is that it probably is to do with this.
13 June 2010 at
Agreed Mike. I always recommended to my teachers to get their students out at least once a week. Why in the world should they do a lesson on shopping in the class when there are stores a 2-minute walk away? Too bad so many institutions frown on this sort of thing.
14 June 2010 at
Thanks for the comment. I’m so glad about your approach to the matter of trips and outside visits. It’s so important that students see the real life situations that we use to teach the language, and not just some pictures on a page. That’s not to say that the classroom input is meaningless though – it’s there that we can help to prepare our students for time outside the classroom.
I’m not sure whether institutions would say that they are against outside trips – we give our students questionnaires at my college (ESOL and mainstream) and one of the main points is about whether they have been on any trips. I do think there are two factors that cause there to be a lack of institutional support though: funding, and health and safety. Firstly, there is a lot less money in education generally at the moment, and most trips cost money. This can mean some students are almost ‘priced out’ of going on trips, which is of course wrong. Secondly, I think some institutions are very worried about anything going wrong on a trip and the potential for legal consequences. This is also the wrong approach to take. Unfortunately for us teachers, these two factors seem to be behind most organisations decision-making at the moment.
I can only hope things will change, and obviously people involved in running schools who take a positive approach to getting out of the classroom(like yourself) are vital to this happening.