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Unread Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:36 am
dcvp dcvp is offline
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Thumbs up Re: 5 Steps to an English Only Classroom

Hi: My name´s Diana Vera. I´m from Colombia. I just finished my career in English teaching and I´m working for the first time.

Your article was really interesting and fruitful. I felt lost here because in Colombia classes are very large. I have classes with 45 and 50 students!!!

Can you believe it? Here, it´s normal. Even private schools have at least 30 students per class. I brought a lot of ideas for teaching but sometimes I lose my faith and my energy...

But this article gave me more ideas to continue and bring the English language back... Because, as my classes are large, I haven´t been able to speak the language all the time.

Thanks and if you have more ideas or advices, please let me know. I´ll be glad to hear from you.

Sincerely, Diana Vera.


Quote Eric
There are many benefits to having only English spoken in your ESL classroom. The most apparent thing right off the bat is the level of noise and chatter drops dramatically. All of a sudden, when students are required to use English, that hot topic they wanted to talk about doesn’t seem so important. There are other, more substantial benefits to an English only classroom. Students start to learn useful, real world English such as expressing their feelings and desires as well as the textbook English. But most importantly, requiring students to speak only in English will help them become more comfortable and confident expressing themselves in, and communicating through, English.

By following these 5 steps you will be able to eliminate any native language speaking and replace it with English. Better yet, you’ll be able to do it in less than 5 days. Let’s get started!

The first step is to have a plan. How will you reward those students who choose to follow the new English only rule and how will you discourage those who break the rule? Without a reinforcement plan in place, you’ll be hard pressed to get your new rule to stick. I will say more on encouraging good behavior and discouraging bad behavior in the last step but for now, just remember to have that reinforcement plan.

The day you decide to replace the native language with English, do so firmly. This requires you to walk into your class, tell the students NO MORE Korean (or whatever language they speak) and stick to your guns. At first many students will make mistakes or think you’re joking. You might even slip up yourself. For anyone who breaks your rule, implement your discouraging reinforcement, even to yourself if you have spoken the native language. Being very firm might feel very cruel at first as you may be punishing students who were otherwise very good. You might also be able to hear a pin drop as everyone has clammed up and the class comfort level plunges. This is ok. The first day is the hardest for everyone. Don’t give in. Don’t allow the English only rule to be broken, not even in the final moments of class.

Within 2-3 days your students will switch to English or be quiet as soon as the class bell rings. Either way, everyone wins.

Remain consistent in your diligence to enforce the rule. Slacking off one day will let the students know that maybe they don’t always have to follow the rules. The firmer you are and the more consistent you are the less your rule will be broken.

There is something in that old saying, “monkey see, monkey do”. Don’t be a monkey. As the English teacher you should always be speaking English. If the students see you speaking their language, they will think that there are some things that are too hard to express in English. Additionally, if you are explaining a complex subject through English, the students will catch on and then realize that they heard AND understood an English explanation. What a boost in their confidence!

If you are building a house you need a hammer. If you are baking a cake, you need a pan. If you are communicating, you need words and sentences!

Just telling the students that they can only speak English is half the work. You then must equip them with the vocabulary and sentences they need to get through the class, not just the lesson. For example, I noticed my 6-year-old students had to go to the restroom quite a bit during their long, one-hour class. While I do understand what the fidgeting, legs crossed gesture is, isn’t it better just to ask, “May I go to the restroom?” Quite a long sentence for a 6 year old who doesn’t know the word ‘book’. But that’s what my students would ask me? And upon completing the question, they were rewarded with the bathroom pass. It’s a win-win situation.

Other useful expressions are:
  • How do you spell ___?
  • May I have a ___?
  • I don’t understand.

But as English gets more complex and it becomes harder and harder to rely on flashcards and realia, you’ll also need to create a space where native speaking is OK to communicate an abstract idea or structure. That’s when, “Teacher, may I speak (Korean)?” comes in very handy.

With these tools students won’t feel trapped if they are stuck and must express themselves, but they must have them otherwise they may rebel or turn off.

This English only rule will only work if the students are rewarded for their good behavior and ‘punished’ for their bad behavior. I personally like to start off each class with everyone’s name on the board and a smile next to their name. Finish the class with a smile; you get a stamp, sticker, a pencil, etc… Break the English only rule and I erase your smile and no reward is dolled out. This is enough for 90% of students.

How do you encourage the English speakers? If you have a student speaking a lot of English or answering your questions or helping another student spell a word, reward them publicly. All of a sudden the whole class will be doing what that student just did.

Discouraging the rule breakers is usually as simple as taking away their reward or the possibility of the reward. Doing this once or twice is usually enough to stop the bad behavior.

You’ve followed all the steps but there’s still that one class or student that is not responding to the rules. Here are few scenarios that may arise that make the English only rule harder to implement and their respective suggestions.

The Large Class: If you have a class of more that 15 students, constant monitoring of the students becomes a full-time job. Depending on the size of the class, assign two to four students as “Monitor of the Day” and give them the task of enforcing the rule. Make sure the monitors alternate every day or every week.

The Older Classes: Imposing rules on adults or young adults might be considered a little rude and inappropriate. Additionally, these students usually have more invested in the course and are there because they want to speak English. If you are having trouble with an older class that isn’t speaking English, explain to them that it’s in their own interest if they speak English. Usually this is enough.

The Defiant Student: Every once in a while there is a student who has no regard for your rule and does not respond to your reward system. You must ask yourself why is this student rebelling? More often than not, they are in a class that is too difficult for them and have become frustrated to the point of giving up. Seek to move the student to a more appropriate level or spend more time with the student before, after or in class.

That’s it. Follow these five steps and you’ll have all your students speaking only English, learning more English and paying more attention in class.


Comments welcome!