On 22 March 2018, we (Svenja and Julia) held our workshop “Classroom English” for the teachers of the Ban Sikeud primary school, Ban Phang Heng lower secondary school, and Ban Pheng Heng primary school.
Nine teachers attended our workshop, five English teachers from our three partner schools, and also four more teachers of other subjects. We were very pleased to welcome them.
“Classroom English” means using specific words and chunks in the English classroom to structure, scaffold, and ritualize lessons, and thus to help the learners feel safe in the foreign-language classroom. During an English lesson these phrases are often used, so we as teachers should know how to use these phrases on a day-to-day basis in a meaningful way.
We decided to work on this topic because we are aspiring English teachers and are aware of the difficulties in a monolingual classroom. It is especially difficult for our tandem-teachers when pupils do not understand them right away to stick to the English language and not fall back into L1, in this case the Lao language (for most children at the AfC-supported schools Lao is the first language).
We learnt about the necessity of “Classroom phrases and classroom management” in Prof. Martin’s introductory lecture on didactics and methodology. We then saw for ourselves in several internships in German schools that it gets easier and easier to understand English phrases when they are often used and when they become part of a routine and the pupils’ everyday classroom English. Therefore, it is important to teach these phrases to teachers to start with.
Another important aspect we wanted to achieve with our workshop was that the Lao teachers would develop the courage to really use these phrases in their own classes, so we put a special focus on practising them.
However, we think that the teachers who do not teach English could benefit from the workshop as well since it was all about using simple phrases in English – and they, too, learn English with us now and are eager to improve as much as possible. (The AfC “teach-the-teacher” project began with tandems with the Lao English teachers, but by now we also work with the science teachers, maths teachers as well as teachers of other subjects.) We are happy to work together with them all on their lessons and communicate with them more easily by and by as their English skills are getting better and better all the time!
We started off by asking the group to brainstorm, to elicit their own experiences with classroom English, and then we collected the phrases they know and use in their lessons. We organized the phrases in a pre-structured arrangement on the wall.
Then we matched the phrases with the four categories that we based our workshop on:
1. Classroom management,
2. structuring the lesson,
3. what students want to say,
4. classroom objects.
Now it was time to go through each category and precisely explain what it means and why we should implement it in the classroom. Specific examples and phrases were tested for each. Here we always encouraged our tandem-teachers to tell us in which situations they could use these phrases.
1. Classroom management
Classroom management is relevant for all subjects and school types including university. It is the ability of the teacher to organize the classroom and all the objects and people in it. A teacher who aims for good classroom management is concerned about the equipment, time management, didactics and techniques of teaching, flexible grouping, the “learning atmosphere”, and the “social forms” (learning arrangements).
This is relevant for every classroom and every lesson. In the English classroom, management in the English language brings additional aspects with it. It helps to manage (English) monolinguism in different dimensions, with the help of phrases of praise, discipline, correction, and encouragement.
At the same time, the pupils are given input that helps them to further expand their vocabulary. Also, cultural awareness is raised by wording the phrases in the necessary degree of politeness (e.g. would you please listen? Thank you but I’m afraid this is not quite right).
Politeness is also helpful for creating a postive learning climate. Pupils are encouraged to try again after making a mistake and do not need to feel embarrassed. When they say something correctly, they are praised and feel appreciated (instead of being punished when they get something wrong). This is an environment in which pupils like to raise their hands and contribute to the lesson.
Some classroom phrases can be understood just by using appropriate facial expressions, e.g. raised eyebrows (stop that right now!) or body movements, e.g. cupped hand behind one ear (listen, please!). We realize that in Lao culture facial and body language is not as prominent as in Western cultures, but it does help foreign language teachers, and “acting” the teacher’s role can be practised. We ourselves, by turn, must learn that certain movements that appear natural to us may be regarded as impolite, insulting, or even threatening to the Lao (e.g. knocking on the table, pointing with your finger, stemming both fists on your hips).
Classroom phrases are used in similar, recurring situations so pupils can recognise them. After a while, the phrases will become routine and part of the pupils’ own vocabulary.2
If we as teachers manage to achieve these goals, our pupils will be more organized and therefore more attentive and more academically productive during class. Thus, more time is spent on the lesson and on learning.
After this introduction, it was time for our tandem-teachers to become active themselves. We had prepared a matching exercise:
Our learners were asked to group the phrases to indicate whether they express praise, discipline, or action. These are the three dimensions that we consider important in classroom English when dealing with classroom management. Praise always encourages pupils to participate and also to take risks. Sometimes, the teacher needs the class to understand instantly when they should stop doing something, and for this we use phrases of discipline. Phrases of action are used to activate the class and perform daily routines.
We first made sure that everybody understood the words “praise, discipline, action”. Our tandem-teachers gave us various examples of the phrases they use in their lessons and then matched the phrases on our worksheet to the three dimensions of classroom management. While they were doing the task, we monitored and helped when needed.
Afterwards, we collected, compared, and discussed the results altogether.
2. Structuring the lesson
When we plan a lesson, we plan the phases and timing, the material, the social forms (working arrangements), and what the teacher does and the pupils are expected to do. Structuring a lesson helps with pace and the effective use of time. When you work with the same lesson structures for a while, they become a scaffolding routine that gives you enough confidence to try something new.
Thus, pupils can use their time in class productively. Structuring the lesson, however, also means that teachers activate their pupils by changing types of working arrangements regularly. Presented in classroom English, these could be “work in a group”, “work with a partner“, „work as a class”, “do a presentation“, and „work by yourself”. Consequently, two things need to be taught: The classroom routine itself and the English classroom phrase. A good way to indicate a change in working arrangements is using flashcards that illustrate the phrases.
Classroom English is an authentic way to implement real language use in the foreign language classroom. This way, fewer explanations are necessary in L1 and more English is heard. Eventually, with more and more English being used in class, this can lead to the pupils “thinking” in English instead of translating words in their heads all the time. After a while pupils directly connect the English phrase to the action, without translation. This is why teachers should aim at using as much English in their lessons as possible.
After this demonstration of structure, it was the tandem-teachers’ turn to become active again. With the support of the flashcards, they were asked to imagine different working arrangements in their classroom. We asked them to come up with particular situations and tasks or exercises that would go with their own lessons. One teacher suggested using “do a presentation” to let pupils talk about their personal experiences such as their last weekend. Another teacher suggested “work with a partner” for having a guided conversation or guessing game about classroom objects. We were impressed by the many suggestions the group shared with us at this point.
3. What pupils want to say
Before we moved on to our next category, we recapitulated the English phrases the teacher can use in the classroom. It is not only important, however, that the teacher uses these, but one of our main teaching goals is that the pupils can express themselves with their needs and wishes in English as well! Hence, pupils need to be provided with their own classroom phrases so they can easily use them when the right situation occurs. Pupils start to feel more comfortable in English the more they are able to speak, so the English teacher’s goal is for pupils to react in English and not in their native language during his or her lessons. We want to enable our pupils to use as much English in our lessons as possible.
As an example, we had prepared a role play. At first, Julia drew a card with a symbol that stands for a situation in class. Then she mimed what she wanted to say, acting as a pupil. Svenja, in the role of the teacher, asked what was wrong with Julia, and the Lao teacher group helped us to find suitable words in English. Phrases like “I feel sick”, “can you please repeat this?”, or speculations like “What is mak thang in English?” (cucumber) came up fairly quickly. It was a joy to watch the teachers having a good time guessing English words and phrases and sharing their vocabulary with each other. Guided guessing games like this one – with ready vocabulary assistance by the teacher – can activate learners into speaking, and there are countless more ways of doing so.
4. Classroom objects
The last category we dealt with was classroom objects. There are many objects in the classroom that are important for teaching, and all these objects can be named in English. Referring to classroom objects in English is another example of authentic language use since it adapts classroom routines that are needed everyday anyway.
To indicate the authenticity, we brought realia of classroom objects in a bag. Everyone picked out an object, and in the group then phrased sentences that included the object. Phrases needed in the classroom are, for example, “I need a pencil (sharpener)/eraser”, “I have forgotten my pencil case”, “can I have your exercise book, please?”, “please remove all papers and pens from your desk, put them in your satchel”, “it is too hot, please close the shutters.” Once more, the teachers were really engaged and collected useful phrases for themselves.
To summarize our workshop we created a “True or False” game. Everyone got a yellow card (true statement) and blue card (false statement). We read out a statement about a point we had dealt with in the workshop, and the teachers had to decide whether the statement was true or false by raising one card. Difficulties only occurred when the statement contained negations, e.g. “pupils do not need to use the English expressions for classroom objects”. So, for our new learners of English, we explained and then emphasized the “not” in our sentences a little more, after which all teachers raised the right cards.
During the game, an interesting discussion occurred. One of the teachers said that there is sometimes no other way than speaking Lao in the English classroom, especially when pupils are naughty or simply do not understand the content. Our response was that – while it certainly is not the easiest solution to stick with English at all times during class – the teacher should first think of alternative ways to explain something (in English) in a different way, in other words, or by drawing or miming or acting it out, for instance. This would be totally normal, as English teachers need to paraphrase what they say all the time, i.e. say the same thing differently, in simpler words, but still in English.
Note by the editor: Monolingualism in the classroom is our long-term aim also for psychological reasons. A teacher who translates will find that part of the class will stop listening to her or his English after a while and wait for the translation instead.
Now it was time to end the workshop. We had the impression that the Lao teachers benefited from our work and became more aware of the numerous situations in which classroom English could be used. Especially the distinct phases of our workshop and the different working arrangements, i.e. when the teachers worked actively in pairs, as a group, as a class, and also by themselves helped towards their levels of concentration, and of course they also gained practical first-hand experience of phases and arrangements this way.
Text by S.Walschburger, J. Grüttner & I. Martin
Photos by F. Stober
1 Waas, Ludwig (2006). “Can I …, please?” Grundschulmagazin Englisch (5), 14.
2 Böttger, Heiner (2005). Englisch Lernen in der Grundschule. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt. 170-171.