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Humanistic Language Teaching: Some Techniques to Get Started

Humanistic Language Teaching: Some Techniques to Get Started

Since the main purpose of any language is to communicate and understand each other, as teachers, we should always pay attention to the usage of the targeted language rather than simply teaching vocabulary and grammar rules, which most of our pupils will forget if they do not use them regularly.

As we are all aware, the world is changing fast, mostly due to the rapid development in technology and sometimes we feel obligated to use a lot of technology in the classroom. While the internet etc. certainly now has its place in the classroom, I feel that we must not forget that technology is not the be all end all. We must also remember ET is as important as IT, if not more so.

This lesson was held in the elementary school Oktoih in Podgorica, Montenegro. It was a little different from other lessons because it was held in front of guests, (the principal, a psychologist, and other teachers of English language in this school), and the aim was to show how pupils can use language in real life situations and to show how using humanistic techniques in teaching can influence the way pupils learn.

Give pupils the right to choose         

First, I will give you a brief definition of Humanistic Education – it recognizes that it is legitimate to study oneself, one’s own being. It relates to feelings, experiences, memories, hopes, aspirations, beliefs, values, needs and fantasies of students. (G. Moskowitz1978, p. 14).Your pupils will learn better if they can relate the language to a subject for which they have some feelings and with which they feel comfortable.  Only if it is interesting to them and they know when and how they will use it, they will remember it.

Thus, the most important thing about this class of eleven year olds was that my students planned it themselves by giving their ideas and expressing their wishes about how they wanted it to be. Then, we decided together which of the given ideas we could use in this class and we left the others for another class on another day. I wanted them to relate the language to something they liked and felt comfortable with, to use their imagination to create something interesting.

The topic was Fun Homes and the targeted language was There is/are (positive, negative and questions) and prepositions of place.

To make the lesson come alive, I brought some props and made the classroom look like a real home as you can see in the picture. I did it not because of the topic, but because I wanted the students to feel comfortable as if they were at home. 

The first activity was the idea of one of my pupils. He recorded a short video of himself describing his bedroom using the targeted grammar and vocabulary. I played it using laptop and projector. After the video, the other pupils asked him questions to find out more about his favourite room in the house. They were interacting and communicating with ease.

The good thing about activities like this one is that you can see the results instantly. Students felt comfortable talking about something which they could see and feel and relate to and for the boy who enjoyed using technology, he was able to include a video.

Trust them and be there for them

In this lesson, I wanted to promote group work. Since the topic was Fun Homes, the students   presented their ideas of a fun home to the guests by making or drawing the house and presenting its rooms and furniture to them. I was very happy to let them get on with it, but I had only one condition – I want everyone to participate! Usually when you put pupils in groups there are two or three of them who contribute while the rest just sit or stand there doing nothing. Since this was a class with mixed ability pupils, I wanted to make sure that each group had a mix of abilities. I wanted the pupils who had higher grades to help those with lower grades to gain confidence and to help them produce at least simple sentences or phrases. I wanted to see creativity and I hoped to see cooperation and compassion.

Each group had a task to make a Fun Home and to present it in front of the class and the guests. They also had to pay attention to time because each group was given 5 mins to present the project and to answer the guests’ questions. 

After each group had finished, the guests were able to ask  questions and I asked them to give feedback by raising one of several emoticons which I had provided. As you can see in the picture, each emoticon provided positive feedback in a way that was fun and familiar to our kids.  Of course the idea came from the wish to base everything on feelings, and so we wanted to know how the guest would feel if they had a chance to live in those FUN HOMES.

The guests were involved in this lesson and they gave the children the opportunity to provide the best possible answer in order to present their project in the best possible way. It was really such fun.

Invite native speakers 

Since the whole lesson was planned by my students, I decided to surprise them by making small cookies in a shape of a house and by adding an activity.

The last activity was a surprise. I invited a special guest – a native speaker to talk about her home in America and give our children a closer look at the way people live there. She brought some pictures of her home and after she had shown them her house and had shown them some typical American houses, the students were able to ask her some questions to find out  more information about houses in America.

Since the aim of this activity was for my pupils to use English language in a group effort and to easily correspond with a native speaker, I consider it successful because they even interacted with her while she was presenting by asking further information and commenting on her house. I was delighted to see how they could produce language and understand her –  the aim of language.

Correct, but not belittle

Do eleven year olds make mistakes while speaking a foreign language? Of course, they do, but I did not feel the need to correct them when I saw how easily they found ways to understand our visitor and explain to her what are they were trying to say. They used gesticulation, they pointed to the things in the picture… they communicated, THEY NAILED IT!

Teach without teaching

I am so proud of my pupils because they showed compassion, responsibility, punctuality, empathy, they worked as one and I am sure they learned a lot. I could see the weak students gaining confidence because they could use the language, I saw stronger students helping weaker students and  being proud of themselves because they could lead the activity and communicate with a native speaker.

They learned that empathy, group work and cooperation gives results. I learned that I do not need to teach all the time. Sometimes, I can just stand aside and silently guide them through the journey of studying English.

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