How to Get Your Students to Use the Target Language
How to Get Your Students Use Target Language - for teachers; Where or How Can I Practice My Language Outside the Classroom - for students; Personal experience - Elizaveta Kryukova
How to get your students use target language
We have previously discussed different ways to teach new vocabulary and grammar, different exercises for practice, and approaches to language teaching. But what should you do if even after all that your students are reluctant to use new constructions and incline towards the familiar? This situation is especially common among intermediate and upper-intermediate students and the worst case is called a plateau. Let’s look at different ways you can activate a new target language and get your students to use new vocabulary and grammar.
Undoubtedly anyone involved in teaching languages hasn’t heard of the lexical approach, and we have spoken about it at length as well. But let us reiterate that according to this approach the language consists of “chunks” or “bricks”, in other words, collocations, common combinations of words that we turn to when we speak. Teaching collocations, rather than separate words will help your students contextualise new lexis, understand the way it is used in speech and make it easier for them to utilise it. Using the lexical approach to grammar will also help your students grasp the concept more quickly and start using it in their speech.
Asking questions is a perfect way to make your students talk. Asking questions with a new vocabulary of grammar will make them think about it and then reproduce it. A more effective approach is to get your students to write questions using the target language, and then mingle or do pairwork, reporting to the class afterwards.
Gap filling is a typical exercise for practicing any part of the language, however, you can take it a few steps further. Remove not the target word, but the words around it, or other parts of the same collocation. This will shift students’ focus from the word to the lexical unit it is a part of. Doing the same with grammar will also raise language awareness in your students and activate their memory. Revisit a gap-filling exercise you did in the past and remove a bigger chunk from the sentence, challenging your students to reconstruct the phrase from the context and memory.
The more we see, hear, say and write the target language the faster we will remember and start using it. Exposing your students to new words or grammar in as many ways as possible is sure to get them to use it. Another important thing teachers sometimes forget is to use the target language themselves.
You are doing a speaking exercise, especially a free practice one, and you expect your class to start using the words of grammar you have just studied but they aren’t doing it? Make it a condition of the exercise! Write a list of things they have to use in their answers and tick them off as they manage to use them correctly. This is bound to further activate the target language.
Do you have a favourite exercise or a secret way to get your students to use target language? Please, share in the comments!
Where or How Can I Practice My Language Outside the Classroom?
Communicate in the target language
Conversation, conversation, and conversation. Ask students to find a partner to practise their language skills and talk about anything they like. As students practise conversations, they repeat the new language structures in their heads.
Know your digital tools
Online dictionaries, language apps, and vocabulary games are great tools to keep sentence structures on track. Asking students to play a language game as homework is an engaging way to practise the language outside of the classroom.
Keep a journal
Ask students to keep a language journal. What have they done well today? What areas can they improve on? Is there key vocabulary they need to practise? By keeping a learning diary students will be able to improve their language skills and see the progress they are making.
Watch and listen
Encourage students to watch their favourite TV show with subtitles for the target language. Students will always be happy to watch their favourite TV show and this helps to bring the target language into their everyday life. Students could also try listening to podcasts in the target language on their way to school.
Learn daily and in chunks. Whether it is new expressions or full sentences, revising and repeating new language structures every day helps students to build confidence. A little bit goes a long way!
Throughout my life, I have had a few years of teaching experience. I started as a private tutor a couple of years ago which was a bit hard, so I started to look for something new. Here I am, having been working at Skyeng school as an English tutor since April 2021. Also, in a few days, I am starting to work as a tutor at the Higher School of Economics. From that experience I can share some of my approaches on how to get students to use target vocabulary during the classes:
1. Speaking class
Once a week we conduct a speaking class. During that, we try to use as many new words from the unit as possible. At first, I do not assess a student, but they do it themselves: just to see how successful they have been at keeping to the target language and how richly they have been expressing themselves. After a month or so, when they feel more comfortable, I start to assess them as well and combine their marks with mine.
Most of the students are fond of memes and jokes so they like such an activity. I give each student a vocabulary word or phrase and ask them to make a meme to illustrate its meaning. They can find a picture online to represent the concept and then we add a text box on top with the words.
3. Translation tasks
It might seem a bit old-fashioned, but I like to give my B1+ students these tasks to revise the vocabulary and learn how to use a new language in context. I usually do that in two ways:
- Give them 5-10 sentences in Russian. They all contain underlined words/phrases which I want them to revise. Students need to translate sentences and recall English equivalents of the words from previous classes (sometimes I add some grammar points as well to check its comprehension)
- Provide students with 5-10 gapped sentences which they need to fill with English equivalents of the phrases in their mother tongue provided in brackets after the gaps. It is a less demanding version of the usual translation exercise, so it is more suitable for less proficient students.
4. Who explains better?
I conduct this one in the format of a game. I divide students into two groups. One student from a team comes to the board and takes a piece of paper out of the box. On each piece of paper, there are target vocabulary words and phrases. They come up with a sentence that contains the written word but instead of the word they say “bananas”. The other members of the team need to guess the word or phrase. Then the other team takes the stage.
Here are a few of the immense number of ways to revise the target vocabulary. Some of them are useful only for a particular type of students, others are great for almost everyone. With the experience, every teacher finds the most appropriate ways to do that.
That’s all for now!
Stay amazing ❤