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Choice in the EFL Classroom (by Vicky Saumell)

I have been teaching teens for 20 years and finding effective strategies to motivate them is something that I have always been interested in since it has really helped me with my teen classes. The best strategy in my bag of tricks is CHOICE.

Vicky Saumell

The first time I came across an academic concept of choice was when I read “Choice Theory in the Classroom” by William Glasser. This 1986 book may seem too dated but it was an eye-opener for me and has deeply influenced my teaching. Later, in the late 90s I was presented with a coursebook that had the distinctive feature of allowing for choice of tasks at certain stages of each lesson. The book I’m talking about is Cambridge English for Schools by Andrew Littlejohn and Diana Hicks.

Ever since, I have experimented with different ways of introducing choice into my lessons and I would like to share my experiences. It should be clear that you cannot just let students choose what they want to do. I refer to choice as a planned strategy within a lesson. In order to do so, you fist need to identify the main objective of your task. That is not up for choice! Once your main objective is clear you can come up with more than one way of achieving it. The choice can be in the type of task, the tool to be used, the way to present it, among others.

Here are some examples:

If you want students to write a narrative or argumentative essay or any other type of text, you can provide a few alternative titles for them to choose.

If you want to revise certain vocabulary or grammar, you can write at least two different task types for the same concept.

If you want students to make a presentation on a specific topic, you can let students choose what tool to use to make the presentation. Powerpoint? A video? A poster? Let them choose!

If you want students to improve their presentations skills and fluency, you can allow them to choose the topic. Let it be something they are interested in!

students working on voicethread

If you have worked with a book and you want students to do a wrap-up project, you can let them come up with ideas of what to do. You can always guide them by giving them a few options so that they know what you expect from them. In this case it is a wise idea to approve the choices before any work is done in order to avoid misdirected tasks or projects. Here`s an example of what my students did after reading A Midsummer Night`s Dream.

You may be thinking that this implies more work for the teacher and although it is in some cases, the benefits in terms of motivation are far greater. And even though I have focused on teenagers, this can easily be applied with all age groups and levels.

 

Vicky SaumellMaria Victoria Saumell holds a degree in Literary and Technical Translation and a Diploma in the Theory and Methodology of TESOL (Distinction). She is the co-author of Teacher Development Interactive: Preparation for the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), author of Meeting Point 3 and 4 for the Storyline coursebook series and series consultant for English in Common coursebook series, all for Pearson. She is currently the author and tutor of New Learning Environments for the Master’s in ELT at Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia. She is the Overall Coordinator of the EFL department at Instituto San Francisco de Asis, a private school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is also a freelance materials writer and a presenter at professional development conferences, especially on the integration of ICT for language learning. She is an amateur acrobatic gymnast and a proud mum and pet-owner. Vicky has two blogs, Educational Technology in ELT and her personal blog.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks for this, Vicky! I remember reading Glasser, but I read his “Control Theory in the Classroom”. Looks pretty much the same, but “Choice Theory” sounds a lot nicer :)

    For anyone who’d like to read up a bit on Glasser’s theory, WikEd has a nice entry: http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Control_theory

    1. Barb!

      You are absolutely right! “Control Theory…” was an earlier version. choice sounds much more welcoming!

  2. Vicky!
    Here’s another good book on the topic full of practical ideas “The classroom of Choice” By Jonathan C. Erwin.(2004)
    I have also found that giving students “choice” is an incredibly motivating factor!
    Thank you for highlighting this important topic!

  3. Anna Loseva says:

    Vicky,

    This is absolutely correctly mentioned by you that giving choice is applicable at other age groups than teens as well. It does require a wider range of activities in a teacher’s store box, more preparation but it’s worth it in the end! Another point is that offering choice to students can help us find a way to this certain group, make lessons more individual.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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