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I dare you: To speak more English

After our TTW in Denmark I felt challenged to speak more English in my English lessons. For the most part I give the instructions in Danish, and then the assignments are in English.

But I wanted to challenge myself and to some extent also my students.

Why challenge myself?

We had a workshop with Frank Lacey, who is an Irish English teacher, living and teaching in Denmark. He uses logbooks and project work in his classroom, which was very interesting, but what stuck out the most for me was that he only spoke English to his students. Even the students in 4th grade, and his students are really successful in learning the language.

I firmly believe that students in English lessons should be exposed to as much English as possible during their English classes. But I also believe they need to feel like they succeed, and for some students, I personally don’t believe speaking English all the time is a way for every student to succeed. But after speaking with Frank I wanted to try and create a classroom where English is the main language spoken.

What I did

I decided to start with my 6th grade, because they have come a long way, and I know that all of them will be able to understand most of what is being said, and at the same time they have the vocabulary to express themselves. I started by just speaking English with them, when I needed to guide them one-on-one or in groups, because in that way I could modify my English so it would fit more with the level of English the individual student is on.

At the same time one of my students suggested that we could play a form of dodgeball, where when you were shot, you came up to me, and I’ll ask a question in English which they had to answer and then you could take part in the game again.

Through those two simple steps, I was able to get a better understanding of their English levels and decide that I could take the next step. So I told them in class that from now on I’ll only speak English, and I expected them to answer back in English, using Danish as a back up if they were lost for words. There were some nervous looking faces, but some were also very excited. I regularly checked up on the students I knew might struggle in English, and they told me that they understood most of what I was saying, and knew what they had to do.

When we reached the end of the school year, it was mostly me who slipped up, and forgot to speak English. The students were excellent at reminding me to speak English, and no one really complained that I spoke English.

What I've learned

To sum up I think it was a good way to do it, starting one-on-one, so I had a feel for the students’ levels, and making sure they would be able to understand instructions given in plenum. I would definitely be giving it a try again in my coming 5th grade, and making sure I’ll remind myself to speak more English. I do think there is some way to go before, I only speak English to all my students, but I am getting there. Remember it is not only the students who need to learn new things and practice them, teachers do as well.

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