Sustainable learning

2, 4, 6, 7 :(


Thinking is something that we do without, well, thinking.  Sometimes we do it too much and unfortunately sometimes too little.  The same can be true in the EFL classroom.  It is easy to blame students for this short fall.  However, it may be better to point the finger of blame at our educational institutions and curricula.

Recently I taught my beginner students how to spell English numbers from one  to ten.  On their weekly quiz they had a question like this:

1) Write the next word

one, three, five,            .

Answer: seven.

Most of my students wrote six.  I was slightly dismayed.  I thought the pattern of 1, 3, 5, 7 would be easy enough to spot. However, in my class I had taught my students how to say and spell the words, but not how to think and use them in different contexts.  I had neglected to add a critical thinking element to my class.

On one level my ego was tarnished.  On another level I learned a very valuable lesson.

Take your students as you find them.

If your students come from a country where  critical thinking is integrated into their school and/or university curricula, you are very lucky.  More often than not, they do not, or they are still developing these skills.

So…teach them how to think.

For example, if students have been taught to memorise facts or information in a sequence (such as numbers one to ten), you need to teach them how to go beyond this in your class and manipulate their knowledge.  Extend this idea to foreign languages.  Students can learn how to say a sentence and repeat it.  However, if they understand the components of the sentence, they can make their own sentences effectively and derive great pleasure from creating new utterances.

If this happens, you can dance a little jig and pat yourself on the back.  You will have moved on from teaching a list of language items.  You will have taught students how to feel the language and use it in novel contexts.  When students can do so, they will be inspired.  You will be proud.  So, teach them how to think and you will teach them more than a foreign language.  You will allow them to bring it to life.

Teaching students to think in English teaches them to live in English.

This post was inspired by *Tessa Woodward’s “Thinking in the EFL class”.  She offers some great suggestions to add thought-provoking routines into the EFL classroom.  A real gem of a book!

(c) Helbling Languages 2011

* Woodward, T (2011) Thinking in the EFL Class Helbling Languages.


5 thoughts on “2, 4, 6, 7 :(

  1. Dear Anthony,
    I definitely agree with you.
    If the critical thinking can only be nurtured from a lower level, it would be amazing how the higher level teachers would be able to design their lessons accordingly!

    • Hi Ratna,
      Indeed! Subtle techniques can be used to ‘sneak’ critical thinking into lower level classes, teaching students how to learn by themselves. Have you tried any techniques that have worked in your classes. I have a trick when students are slow to learn each others’ names. I give them a “find someone who” with some easy beginner level questions. However, I also give students all the other students’ full names. Some of the Arabic names can be quite long and the Chinese students often adopt and English name. As a result, students have to use their problem solving language skills to work out who they are talking with! It can be as simple as “where are you from?” and “What languages do you speak?”, however the complex full names adds an extra level of “thinking” to the task!

      Happy thinking!

      • Yes I have actually. The one that I clearly remember is an activity that I used when learners learned family related vocabulary (father, mother, sister, brother, cousin). What you can do is write up a paragraph using these vocab, and get them to draw up the family tree. Of course, you’d have to write it up to a level that’s challenging enough for them. They’d then need to figure out the family tree and draw it up on an A3 paper. What makes it even more fun is if you give them pictures of people with names on it, and use these names in your paragraph.

        My level 1 class enjoyed it and I actually found them to be totally immersed in the activity!

        You could probably improvise this activity for your class!:)

      • Excellent idea, I like it! It sounds like a good way to incorporate multiple intelligences, through reading and then creating a visual. Kinaesthetic learners should be happy too!

  2. Pingback: Think Out Of the Box – Infusing Critical Thinking in the EFL Classroom | Ratna's ELT Journey

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