english lessons

Before we begin, we need to get something straight. We need to be crystal clear about the reasons why every English teacher should want to make their lessons more interactive.

Of course, on the face of it, this is obvious. Everybody knows that active learning is infinitely preferable to passive learning. We learn by doing, after all. Expecting students to simply soak up everything teacher says like a sponge – and then turn it on like a tap in the exam room is more ‘Pie in the Sky Thinking’ than ‘Blue Sky Thinking.’

And, the basic premise that if something is fun – if lessons are enjoyable – then we will learn more does make a lot of sense.

Having said all of that, it’s still vital that we don’t make our lessons interactive just for interactive’s sake.

Don’t make your lessons interactive just for the

sake of it

One of the most common criticisms of observed lessons of whole-class teaching is that teachers often try to cram too many activities into a lesson.

It’s not surprising that this is the case. Wanting to avoid potential criticisms that students are not engaged, active enough or demonstrating independence in their learning, it’s no wonder that teachers incorporate activities to address these issues into their lessons.

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But any lesson activity – whether in a whole-class or one-to-one situation – should be a means to an end in terms of the overall learning objectives. It should be the vehicle that the teacher uses to drive students’ learning in the right direction.

Give all interactive activities a real sense of purpose

There is a danger that lesson planning is done ‘by numbers’ and becomes little more than a ‘tick box exercise’ – so a lesson has the ‘paired activity bit’, the ‘peer assessment bit’, or ‘independent thinking bit’, and so on.

Lesson activities should simply be the best methods and strategies a teacher can employ to best enable the students to achieve learning objectives and outcomes.

The same is true of interactivity. There needs to be a learning aim behind every interactive activity. It should not be chosen just because it is an interactive activity. There should be a real learning purpose too.

There needs to be a learning aim behind every interactive activity. It should not be chosen just because it is an interactive activity. There should be a real learning purpose too.

Real writing for real audiences

Having already stated the importance of having a real sense of purpose, it’s only fitting that we now talk of real audiences. After all, ‘audience and purpose’ is fundamental to English teaching.

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One of the most effective ways of making English lessons more interactive is to ensure that writing activities (in particular) are given a real audience.

Over the years, how many ‘Letter to your headteacher’ writing activities do you think have been dutifully completed by students – letters trying to persuade Sir that uniform should be abolished, school dinners improved; or the school week reduced to four days?

Thousands and thousands, for sure!

But how many of those letters actually made it anywhere near the Head’s office? How many were actually read by the headteacher? How many received a response?

Not many!

That’s a real shame because the genuine interaction that is created when you give work of any kind of real audience is incredibly beneficial.

Students should not just be writing just to pick up marks, or to achieve a particular level or grade. That’s not what writing is all about in the real world!

Students should not just be writing just to pick up marks, or to achieve a particular level or grade. That’s not what writing is all about in the real world!

Use drama to bring texts to life

Just as a play is meant to be seen on the stage, not studied on the page. All texts – poetry, prose, drama, fiction and non-fiction – can really come to life for students if the words are lifted off the page for them. Drama is a great way to do this.

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Students inevitably have to write about a character from a text in an exam question. Of course, the skills needed to write a successful exam answer need to be developed; but the understanding of character is always the most important factor. Drama activities such as hot-seating or Conscience Alley are a fantastic way for students to show empathy for characters, to walk in their shoes, and to develop a real insight into what makes them tick.

Other ways to make learning interactive

We’ve only scratched the surface here about the ways you can make English lessons more interactive. From Kung Fu Punctuation to Pupil as Teacher, there are many more ways to make the English classroom an interactive and highly stimulating environment.

Just remember to never lose sight of why you are doing it.

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