5 engaging tips to make your students love and learn English

Are your students not engaging? How to get them to fall in love with English? How to engage your students and create a desire for English language learning.

If these are some of your concerns, then this article will help you with the most engaging activities that will create an interest for English language among your students.

Students not taking an interest in classes, saying they are bored or just not engaging is always very frustrating for teachers, especially when you always do your best to provide fun and informative lessons.

Luckily there are lots of simple tricks and approaches which can liven up classes and help to engage even the most disengaged teenager. Small changes or additions to your classes can help all students to recognise the positives of English language learning and come to class feeling upbeat.

In this article, we will discuss our 5 top tools for engaging those more difficult to reach students who just seem to be going through the motions and aren’t really involved in their English classes. You can read through them all or just pick those you like the sound of.

  1. Demonstrate the importance of English in your student’s world
  2. Get to know your classes.
  3. Emotional deposits and how to use them
  4. Activities do matter
  5. Put yourself in your student’s shoes.

So, let’s get started and investigate a range of approaches for engaging students and ensuring they enjoy and get the most from their learning experiences.

1. Demonstrate the importance of English in your student’s world

Many of your classes will be made up of young learners, adolescents or young adults who may be sent along to learn English by their parents or guardians. For many young people, they will already have some exposure to the language at school and may not see the point of additional classes or why learning English should concern them at all.

This is where our first tip can come in handy!

We suggest that you show students just how useful their English skills can be to them now and probably more importantly, in the future, thus increasing their focus, engagement and proving why being involved in classes is of benefit to them.

There are lots of easy ways to demonstrate this.

You could try focussing on future job possibilities which will be improved for those who are bilingual or have a grasp of a second language through conversation questions and mock interviews. (This is, of course, dependent on your classes’ level).

Another more fun approach is to engage students in discussion or plan activities about why English will help them. For example, you could plan activities based on travel abroad to English-speaking countries to visit, study or work and perhaps model examples of application forms asking for English skills.

A favourite for teens is to use https://lyricstraining.com to play around with the lyrics to popular English songs. Using this website you can show students that even if they have no plans to live or work abroad English can be useful for something as simple as understanding and singing along to the lyrics of their favourite bands or pop stars.

The main idea for our first tip is to show students the relevance of English in their lives and help them to see it as less of an alien concept and something they can ‘buy’ into a little more.

One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.
– Frank Smith

2. Get to know your classes

This may seem like an obvious suggestion at first glance, but it is quite surprising the difference that really knowing your classes can make to their focus and engagement.

If they know you are genuinely interested and are planning your lessons with their needs in mind, they will naturally become more attentive and concentrate more. If, for example, you have a class of teenagers, focussing on topics that are irrelevant to them will not lead to a successful course!

I have found that many textbooks for higher levels are aimed at adults and so focus a lot on adult based topics such as owning a home or include anecdotes about ‘When I was a child’ or ‘My first experience of driving’.

These are just offhand examples, but for a teenager, they are essentially a little bit alienating. It is imperative when using a textbook or preparing resources that they are suitable for the makeup of your groups as this will help to engage them.

An easy and fun activity that students seem to enjoy is when the teacher prepares a quiz based on the class itself. With a little bit of effort, you can quickly and quietly note down over the course of a week or so who has a sister or a dog, who loves strawberry ice cream or who plays the guitar and so on. Then simply create a quiz for the class to help them get to know each other while at the same time showing that you have been taking in the small things they say. This goes a long way to show that you know them and that you are interested in them.

Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.
– Flora Lewis

3. Emotional deposits and how to use them

This engagement tool follows on from the idea of a class quiz outlined above. Emotional deposits are little comments or questions you use to engage more difficult or less interested students and demonstrate that you listen and take note of what is going on in their lives.

It is effective with any age group and works well with those who give the impression of being bored and generally fed up with classes.

First, you need to learn a few things about the student you wish to engage with such as that they play in a basketball team or are involved in an after school club or like a particular author or singer.

Then you engage them before, after or outside the class about that specific idea. For example, you might ask if they have a basketball game at the weekend, or what has happened in the book that they’re reading, or ask them to recommend a new band to you.

The idea here is to show an interest beyond the world of English language learning and engage them beyond the realm of grammar, listening and reading activities.

It is a surprisingly subtle yet effective way of motivating students, and you soon notice an improvement in their in-class engagement.

4. Activities do matter

What we learn with pleasure, we never forget
– Alfred Mercier

I’m pretty sure that the classes and activities most of us remember from our school days are those that interested us the most. When something unusual happened, when our teachers surprised us, or when the topic was made relevant and exciting to us as students.

The same goes for your own ESL classroom. Doing a range of fun and engaging activities will immediately help to create a pleasant environment where students want to learn.

Take into account, for example, the ages, backgrounds and interests of your classes and plan accordingly. Remember to think about activities for a range of learning styles and incorporate some active learning to keep everyone on their toes!

You can try to incorporate videos, music, card sorts, role-plays and group work to keep things fresh. We all have our personal stockpile of activities that we know work, but do try to add new ideas now and then, after all, classes that always follow the same pattern will not help to keep students engaged. Also, don’t miss taking advantage of technology to inspire ESL learners of this generation.

5. Put yourself in your student’s shoes

Our last tip for how to instil interest and a love of English in your students is to put yourself in their position. When planning, keep your ‘audience’ in mind and make sure your lesson plan and class activities are suited to your group and that you have really considered their needs.

Not all your classes will be non-stop fun and games and endlessly fruitful; however, thinking about who you’re teaching is incredibly important.

Having a class of young learners two hours after they have finished school for the day, for example, is totally different to a Saturday morning class where students will be more likely to be refreshed and enthusiastic than after a full day at ‘normal’ school.

Taking into account the who and when of your class will help to ensure your class is more suitable and therefore more engaging for your English language learners.

Conclusion: So, what do you think? Could any of these ideas help to demonstrate to your classes that English can be fun and engaging and is something to be enjoyed not endured! We hope so. Why not try one of these tips today and see if they can help to engage any of your less interested students and help them to enjoy their classes a little more. We wish you luck and hope you have a chance to read some of our other articles with lots more teaching ideas, tips and reflections on teaching English as a second language.

Also read: Want to see tangible results for your ideas, experiments you conduct in your class? Try an evidence-based approach that will help you achieve this.

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This article was originally published on August 5, 2020 and was last updated on November 14, 2020.

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