Another day. You walk into the classroom.
Students have occupied the back seats, but the front ones are practically empty.
Some students speak so quietly that their partner has trouble hearing them at all.
Having students read a paragraph out loud feels like pulling teeth.
Recognize any of these?
A lack of confidence can be a real downer in your classroom. Here are three activities that help build self-confident students.
1. Use scripts first
A communicative approach to language teaching aims to help students speak from day one. But this isn’t always as easy as we’d like, and there’s a difference between being able to do something and doing it comfortably. That’s why using a script can help build some confidence before students start speaking by themselves.
How To Do It:
Prepare a short script consisting of 2-4 dialogues related to the current topic (family, job interviews, summer, etc). Include lots of everyday language and useful phrases students will relate to right away. Start by reading the dialogue aloud yourself, pre-teach vocabulary and pronunication. Now, have your students work through the dialogue several times in pairs or groups of three.
Extra tip: Ask your students to read the same text with a specific emotion in mind or focusing on improving their intonation, instead of reading like robots. I always tell them to be exaggerated as they read, and it works! Students get a good laugh and stop taking the activity so seriously.
2. Take it to the streets
Insecure students tend to get comfy in a corner until the end of the class. Change that by taking your class outside. The goal? Invite students to step out of the classroom, in this case, to complete a survey. It may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but with some preparation and your support,it will show instant results.
How To Do It:
Give students a typical questionnaire handout for pairs. Students should interview each other and have time to get used to the questions. Next, students leave the classroom with their partner and interview at least two strangers – they could be a janitor, another teacher, or just a passerby. Make sure they take turns asking questions and writing down the answers. If needed, stand by them and support, encouraging them to stick to the target language. Go back to the classroom and ask how students felt doing this exercise. Don’t forget to congratulate them and make them realize this exercise has a purpose!
Extra tip: Before beginning this exercise, I always explain my students I’m not trying to expose them or embarrass them. I’m preparing them for a world in which languages are spoken by different people with distinct accents and ways of interacting. It’s bulletproof. Whenever I say this, they automatically feel more confident to get started and get speaking, because they stop feeling that this task is meant to force them to socialize, and realize instead that it’s great practice for their future!
3. Have students take over the class
Students come to class every day to get lectured, collect materials and then go back home. It’s easy for them to feel they are being controlled by a routine and that your class is yet another hour to endure. That’s the last thing we want as teachers! So why not turn things around?
How you do it:
Create different groups in your class, each with 2-4 people. Ideally, you would have 3 to 6 groups. Tell your students that they will be in charge today. According to a list of interesting topics (fashion, food, technology, past experiences, future predictions), their mission is to create seven questions for their classmates to answer. Rule: groups need to make sure every member is participating with suggestions. After letting students brainstorm, have them write down the questions on a piece of paper.
Take the pieces of paper and rotate them to the next table. Now, students answer their classmates’ questions. Feel free to repeat this for about five to six rounds with different topics.
Extra tip: Don’t do this exercise too often. Keep it as a trick up your sleeve when you feel your students are getting way too comfy and settled, since it tends to be long and is quite challenging.
A few pointers to consider
Remember that elementary or intermediate-level students usually feel less confident when they lack individual support or when they’re put on the spot. Therefore, they need activities that give them a solid ground to stand on before being pushed towards more complex activities.
However, upper-intermediate to advanced levels tend to develop confidence when they are challenged to do better, when they feel there is a break in their usual routine, or that they must test their limits. That’s why activities that give them more control over their learning are so effective.
Overall, it’s wise to keep in mind that your least confident students’ behavior can be a clue to what others feel, but do not show.
So, what can you do today to help?