The Free Stage. Aspect 4: get the students out of the class.

The Free Stage. Aspect 4: get the students out of the class.

Unlike the close control stage, the free stage activity set up by the TEFL teacher should take another point into account. Although not always, it is generally beneficial for the students to physically leave the classroom in order to carry out the activity.

I will try to justify this by telling you an experience I had at the start of my TEFL career. I was in Mexico at the time, and had been given 25 students who were studying a 2-hour-a-day intensive course for a month. I was intimidated by the responsibility since I had only just got my TEFL certificate, but also delighted with the effectiveness with which the students were advancing. They were at a low A2 level and my job was to get them to the end of the A2 so they could start pre-intermediate in the autumn.

One of my best students, Irene, was a 16 year old girl who outshone everybody else and was very dedicated. Shortly after finishing the course I was ambling down one of the main streets when I bumped into her. Accustomed as I was to speaking to her only in English (and given my Spanish was embarrassingly poor) I chirpily said hello, and grading my language, asked her how she was. I could see that she felt confident to reply, but I don’t know which of the two of us was more surprised when it became clear she was incapable of giving the simplest of utterances. She just couldn’t get any words out. As it dawned on her she was unable to speak (whereas in class she was a chatterbox), a negative feedback cycle could be seen to drag her confidence away, and we ended up having a very awkward exchange using mainly my very rudimentary Spanish.

I was distraught! What had I done? All those carefully planned classes and this was the result? As time went by and I got more experience, I discovered that if students are kept in the safe confines of their classroom and never dragged kicking in howling with all of their shyness to another classroom to talk to other unknown students, or into the street to carry out a role play or even just a warmer, then they would never be as empowered to use the language successfully as if they are given practise in the big wide world.

The reasons are quite simple. Students that never leave a classroom associate the language learnt with their surroundings (the walls, posters, colours, the same teacher and students etc.) and if this environment is suddenly removed, the support that association gives them can leave them seriously hindered in their ability to speak. Also, many students are very embarrassed about speaking a foreign language in public, so to suddenly come out of the womb can be a shock!

What follows is a quick look at some ways for TEFL teachers to get students out of the class.

  1. One of the simplest and gentlest ways of bringing your students out into the open is to set up a free stage activity that is based on a survey to be done on other students in other classes, but not a close controlled survey. There should be open ended questions and the chance for the student asking the questions to ask for justification of the other student’s answers, and allow natural opinionated dialogue to flow. So, for example, the survey task could use a statement such as ‘If you could have done something differently, what would you have done?’, and discover how many people would have, with GOOD reason, changed something in their private life compared to how many people would have changed something, with GOOD reason, in their professional life. Obviously this is targeting the 3rd conditional, but leaving the interaction open to ANY English that the situation requires. Personally I have worked with many groups like this and they love it. And when they have finished and been through ‘the ring of fire’, the sense of satisfaction and achievement is palpable!
  2. Try this: just about any warmer can be done outside. It sounds pretty crazy, but even in a busy street you can do dictation runs, whispers, mouthing, who am I? (identity on paper stuck on forehead), shouting dictations (this is hilarious), advance along squares (use the street pavement slabs as the squares), and even ‘hit the bell’ where a reception bell needs hitting before a student can answer a question. In my experience the limiting factor on what the students are willing to do depends on the teacher’s own limits of embarrassment! The point here is that if students are allowed the chance to use English (and sometimes shout) in public, they will shake off the debilitating (and unfounded) sense of embarrassment that prevents them from interacting in a foreign language in unfamiliar places.
  3. Shops. Shop keepers (small shops – not big chain stores!) are delighted/fascinated when asked if they wouldn’t mind sparing a moment of their time to allow YOU, the TEFL teacher, to stand behind the till and attend a customer (your student). This role play can be adapted to involve any ‘situation’ which lends itself to you target structure, and once under way, let events dictate the English required to be used.
One of the great things about this is that the TEFL teacher gets to ‘control’ the direction of the conversation, and so grade the language to give a satisfactory outcome. It’s a step down from pure ‘real situation English’


Tags: tefl teacher. tefl course, free stage, classroom
Posted on August 25th, 2017


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