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Getting the real world into the classroom

How do you make students more engaged and invested in using English?

You give them a purpose for using their English! Some students already have their own purpose, but some need a little bit of encouragement. Here is one idea on how to do that.

Students from different countries

In this project, we have teachers from Denmark, Finland and The Netherlands working together. Four of us are teaching 3rd or 4th graders, and we wanted the students to get to know each other, so we decided that our students would write letters to each other. We split it up in two rounds, the first round the students in Denmark would send letters to The Netherlands, The Netherlands would send to Finland, and Finland to Denmark. We would receive the letters and respond back the other way, so our students would send letters to both countries.

We decided on some guidelines for the letters. We wanted the students to introduce themselves, and write about their spare time and their country. We also wanted the letters to be real paperform letters, so the students would experience receiving something they could interact with from another country.

Here in Denmark the students really liked that they had to write to real people, who would only be able to understand them in English. Some students weren't yet completely hooked on the idea, but that changed when we received the letters from Finland!

Receiving the letters I don’t think I have had students read so much English, in such a short amount of time on their own free will. They split up into smaller groups, and each group got a few letters, and when they were done reading those letters, they switched with another group. Students were reading aloud to their classmates, translating and discussing the content of the letters. One hour passed quickly without much need for a teacher to guide them. It really motivated the students and engaged them, knowing that other students their age had written these letters. Reading that they had the same pets, hobbies and interests as them, was fun and made the English relevant and personal. Some things also stood out, because the names or activities were very much typical for the other country and not the students’ own country.

All three countries are now eagerly waiting for the next round of letters, and we have decided to continue the exchange between the students in the coming school year, seeing it has been such a huge success. Maybe we will switch to email, so it will be quicker and less expensive, but for the first round the letters worked really well making the whole thing more real and tangible.

To sum up….

Giving students tasks which tie into the real world like this, really motivated and activated the students. Even the students who struggle with English have a reason to get out of their comfort zone and use the language. In the future I would definitely try to tie my English lessons more into the real world, and not just teach from a textbook.

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