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How Should I Create an Engaging Learning Environment?

Joelein Mendez

Teaching is like performing: one must know their audience. As the mother of a (mostly) bilingual two-year-old, encouraging speech of any kind can be difficult at times, but using the proper motivation can yield impressive results. Does this mean I am encouraging teachers to have their students count how many times they can be thrown into the air? Yes and no,

Though education should be its own reward, offering a little something extra every now and then will keep students even more engaged in a class that is (hopefully) tailored to fit their language learning needs.

Getting to know your students is the first step to creating an engaging learning environment. Who are they? Children? Teenagers? Consider what they might find useful, if not, entertaining. A class full of single 20-somethings will likely be more receptive to a lesson based around translating best and worst pick-up lines than role playing a business merger. Try to create opportunities for lessons that can extend out of the classroom and into the daily lives of your students, keeping in mind what those daily lives might be like. Instead of having teenage students label appendages on a print out of a person, how about having them describe what they do in their morning routine. Primping, to some, is a very important ritual. The act of tying words to actions, even actions as mundane as pulling ones arm through a sweater, makes the language learner more aware of what those words mean rather than monotonously parroting them back to a teacher. My own daughter’s favorite word is a good example of the word/action connection. Anytime she is in a playful mood she holds up her arms and says, “Two.” Though we have progressed, sometimes as far as five, in our number counting, “two” remains her favorite because she remembers when it was the highest she could count and that was the point when she got thrown into the air. She has linked the word “two” with the action of giggling in the air, and that bond is all but breakable at this point.

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Part of knowing your audience is knowing what motivates them, the next step is using that motivation to reach your academic ends. That is not to say teachers should toss their students into the air (though they may, at times, be tempted to toss things at their students). Have a class around lunch time? Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the ring of a bell with food, why not get students excited about answering questions with small candy incentives? Are you teaching a group of adults with other pressing responsibilities? Offering coupons for 5 minutes off the end of class for those brave souls who volunteer to read aloud might work better than trying to cajole them with sheer force of will.

Though education should be its own reward, offering a little something extra every now and then will keep students even more engaged in a class that is (hopefully) tailored to fit their language learning needs. Get to know your students, get to know their expectations, and motivate them to surpass what they thought they were capable of. Be sure to look into your students’ cultural background, interests, and personal goals in order to help you tailor the perfect lesson for them. Not only will you make the learning environment more welcoming, but your lessons will be more engaging and specific to your class’ needs.

What about you? What approach do you take when getting to know your new students?

About the author

Joelein is a sassy stay-at-home mom and part-time writer. She enjoys Korean soap operas and reading everything from classics to children’s books.