Lesson Plan: Helping Students to Become Better Language Learners

What does this video have to tell us about language learning?

Lesson Files

Lesson Plan – Reflection Lesson

Reflection Lesson (PPT)

Preamble

It seems to be a generally accepted truth that the best language learners are what we call autonomous learners, that is, they are willing to work at the language for themselves (though not necessarily by themselves) in their own time and not just in the classroom. Given the size of the task of learning a second (or third) language, it seems almost impossible that anyone could learn a language to fluency simply by attending classes. I’m sure it does happen in places, but it’s definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Autonomy of course can take many forms. As I said above, it is basically the desire to work at something for yourself, and is strongly linked to motivation. It can manifest itself as self-study or complete immersion, but what marks a truly autonomous learner is a desire to do it for themselves. In this way, the classroom becomes just another language learning tool for them. Language teachers are changing too – some (like Aaron Myers over at The Everyday Language Learner) define themselves as ‘Language Coaches’ rather than teachers, and focus on how best to maximize learners own efforts.

So how does autonomy work in a Korean high school classroom? It seems to me that there is an interesting plurality in the educational culture here.  On the one hand, classes are still very teacher-centred, with knowledge being transferred from teacher to student. On the other, the burden of learning is placed firmly on the students. There is little in the way of a differentiated curriculum here, and so while Korean teachers care a great deal for their students, the mentality is very much sink or swim, study or fail.

With this in mind, students here should be excellent autonomous learners. They are used to working outside of class and motivating themselves (or at least being motivated by exams). So why is their English not better? Both their school exam scores in reading and listening, and particularly their productive skills are well below par. This lesson was designed to help them think a little bit about whether they can do things differently on their own time, and to give them a couple of tools to help them do things differently.

Lesson Instructions and Powerpoint

Part 1 – “How do you feel about English?”: This part of the lesson was designed to get the students to reflect on their own attitudes to English, but also as an experiment for me to see how many really cared.  You can do this in several ways, but the way that I think works best is to ask the ‘lovers’ to sit at the front and the ‘haters’ to sit at the back. This way those who will benefit most from the lesson are in the best position to be involved in it.

Part 2 – Adidas Commercial: I found this video on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog (which is a truly wonderful resource for teachers of all subjects, and one which I strongly advise you to check out and subscribe to). It seems that we had the same idea for a lesson on reflection, and the videos he supplies here are a great help should you want to do some further reflection.

There are many things you can draw from this video about language learning, some of which I have listed on the lesson plan. You can also read what my students came up with on my Wikispace. The important things for me are his motivation, seeing opportunity everywhere, and the fact that he makes his own ball. All these I would class as important qualities in a language learner.

Part 3 – Language Learning Facts: These are designed to give students an idea of the task that they face. Answers are in the lesson plan, but in order to boost morale, it should be mentioned that the first language fact is to fluency, and you can achieve a good level of English in a much shorter time. It’s also worth pointing out to students that they already have decent sized vocabularies, most reasonable  high schoolers will be in the 1,500-2000 region or even more, so they don’t have quite so far to go.

Part 4 – Anki and lang-8: I did this part of the lesson by simply demonstrating my own language learning. If you can do this it works really well, especially showing the students my (terrible) Korean writing on lang-8. If you don’t use them yourself, get the students to have a go as a class.

Part 5: Setting Goals

I sadly didn’t get time to do this, but it should be pretty self-explanatory. What I was hoping to do was to collect the goals and publish them somewhere for students to look at and remind them what they had aimed for. You could think about pinning these to a classroom noticeboard, for example.

Evaluation

The most useful part of this lesson for my students was the tools section. Quite a few of them have converted to Anki, which is great as it moves their vocabulary learning from the short-term (class-test preparation) to the long-term which will help them both in final exams and their language learning in general.

The attitudes to English section was predictably disheartening, though I did get a few students at least claiming to love English. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to curry favour, but it was at least a speck of light in the general gloom of students telling me how much they hate English.

Overall I don’t know how much difference it made. I think high school students in general simply don’t have the time to be good language learners, but I do hope that this lesson at least opened a few eyes to the difficulties and strategies for successful language learning, and at least nudged a couple toward more autonomous learning.

If you used this lesson and enjoyed it I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment, and please consider subscribing to the blog or my Twitter. You’ll find the links above and to the right. Thanks.

Alex

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