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.


Student learning styles and your own!


Did you know that we all have different learning styles?  To be honest, I had no idea.  Or to be more accurate, I knew there were different learning styles, but I expected there were so many different kinds that there wasn’t much point trying to get my head around them.

However, I recently attended a training workshop which helped us teachers work out which learning style suited us.  The session was based on Neil Fleming’s VAK (later expanded to VARK) approach to learning styles.  As such, our session focused on only three different learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic.*  We did a survey which led to some statistics (always a little skeptical of such things) which would help us identify our stronger learning styles.  For interest’s sake, I’ll disclose that I was strongly in favour of both Visual and Auditory, whereas Kinaesthetic was almost non-existent.


If you find out how you learn, I think it will help you to better understand how your students learn.  I have noticed a couple of students in my classes who have been having trouble learning English at a beginner level.  One of them is a keen basketball player and an un-keen language learner (it would seem).  The other seems to be constantly distracted, checking messages on a mobile phone and wanting to get up and walk around the room.

I guess this screams “kinaesthetic” learners.  The problem as such may have been more from my preference for visual and auditory activities in class, whereas they needed to get moving and do something!

I learned that I need to include some more kinaesthetic activities in my class to balance the learning preferences amongst my students.  I would suggest taking some time to speak with individual students who seem to be having difficulties.  You may be able to gain some insight into why based on the VAK learning styles.

For more information, check out:

On this website you can  also complete an online questionnaire to find out YOUR learning style.

* – you can spell kinaesthetic with or without “a” which as a visual learner I find a little frustrating.  The “a” is redundant if you ask me and look at the pronunciation /ˌkɪniːsˈθetɪk/.  Hmmm does this suggest that I’m an auditory learner too?