“…the only normal way to begin speaking in a new language is to begin speaking badly!”

Greg & Angela Thomson

Ouch.  Mistakes feel uncomfortable.  Who wants to risk speaking badly?  Invite your next student group into a safe learning community where trust is built through collaborative learning.  Expect and welcome errors.  Utilize techniques targeting the development of teamwork skills while promoting a sense of community among learners.  Take advantage of group work and cooperative learning as your teacher role transforms into one of facilitating student learning (Tibbetss & Hector-Mason,2015).  Increase communitication through collaboration.

As you engage, remember successful collaboration doesn’t just happen but takes planning and could include:

  • sharing challenges with students
  • deciding on group norms
  • setting group roles
  • teaching students how to listen, how to take turns, and about wait-time before interrupting
  • exploring how to ask good questions
  • negotiating and building consensus
  • analyzing and synthesizing information

Of course successful collaboration will also require willing participants and clear vision and goals in synthesis with a supportive environment (Tibbetts & Hector-Mason, 20015).

Encourage Collaboration Through Games

Include a game during your next class to promote communication and kick stress to the curb.  Seifert presents 5 dynamic games for group collaboration in the ESL classroom.  Who knew that creating sentences, learning proverbs, and creating subjects for verbs could be so exciting?

Encourage Collaboration Through Storytelling

Set lose your student’s imagination as they create stories according to Ferlazzo’s collaborative storytelling lesson.

Encourage Collaboration Through Project Based Learning (PBL) 

Select a project and get your students working.


What will you do to engage your next group of English pupils?  How will your classroom become a place of collaboration for adult learners?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.


Tibbetts, J., & Hector-Mason, A. (2015). Collaboration in adult education. Retrieved 2016, from


Student-centered Teaching


“I never teach my students.  I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” 


Rather than assuming total control of your learning space, today’s tide is shifting to include a louder student voice inside the classroom.  Weimer shares five characteristics of learner-centered teaching in which she advises to first engage students in the hard and messy work of learning.  Students should be the ones asking questions, detailing answers, offering examples, organizing content, and presenting review material.  Explicit instruction ought be presented which teaches students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, and generate hypotheses, all tools essential for mastering material within a discipline.

In addition, student-centered learning encourages students to reflect upon the what and how of learning.  Assignments require students to reflect, analyze, and critique learning while talking much about the learning process. Learners are motivated by receiving control over learning processes and it’ll be your honor to select ethically responsible ways of sharing power.  Finally, student-centered learning encourages collaboration among students giving individuals the opportunity to learn from one another as members share commitment to learning (Weimer, 2012).

 Target your students with one of these student-centered teaching strategies which include Think-pair-share, 3-2-1,  alphabet brainstorm, and four corners, just to name a few.

Or meet your students where they are by utilizing the flipped classroom model, although you’ll want to make sure your students have internet access for this one!

What have you found to be successful in cultivating a learner-centered environment?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Weimer, M. (2012). Five characteristics of learner-centered teaching. Retrieved 2016, from

Positive Learning Environment


“Academic success for students begins with a trusting and mutually respectful relationship between student and teacher, extends to classroom order, and culminates in a safe and supportive school climate.”

Cornell & Mayer

As facilitator, it is largely up to you to create an environment in which your learners feel safe to explore further learning.  Through various avenues you’ll be the one who includes students both personally and emotionally while presenting content reliant upon individual and personal student experiences.  Inside each student you’ll have the power to cultivate a sense of occupying necessary positions within your learning community as the environment nurtures and supports diverse needs present within participants.

Search the web and you’ll find hundreds of suggestions for cultivating a positive learning environment.  I’d love to hear your favorite finds.  In the meantime, below are several suggestions to start you thinking:

Establish a Positive Attitude 

Take a moment to simply consider how the brain is wired.  In the following TED talk Shawn Achor shares how happiness can lead to success.  Achor posits that, “If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.”


Personalize Learning

Say good-bye to yesterday’s traditional sage-on-the-stage creation as you transition into a tech-assisted personalized learning haven.  Howton presents five tools to turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment.  These specify utilizing technology which you already have and choosing wisely your content delivery method.  Expect student choice in determining how to complete a task while choosing a learning pathway to embark upon.  Assess often, and be sure to learn from others.

Provide Frequent Opportunities for Practice 

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Get students up in front.  Have them speak with a partner. Participate in a drama.  Engage in whole class discussions and debates.  Complete pair work or join small group talks.  Remember learning should be fun, although this definition will vary among learners.  For specific ideas to increase adult gab, check out Wickham’s 13 ideas for adults to practice ESL speaking activities.


Flexible Classroom Structure


“Learning is not a spectator sport…[Students] must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives.  They must make what they learn part of themselves.” 

Chickering and Gamson

As an educator, it is your privilege to invite students into a stimulating environment where they are sure to encounter a safe oasis for learning.  Include variety and freshness throughout your lessons, transform your environment, and join your students with success as you think beyond borders to best meet your students where they are.  Create a place for differentiated learning to flourish and your students are sure to succeed!

Creating flexibility within learning can assume a plethora of appearances depending on your end goal.  Below are several suggestions to freshen a student’s experience as you seek to provide a safe place where learning is nurtured.

Promote Comfort and Classroom Design 

By first promoting classroom comfort, students benefit from a sense of well-being as well as a focused mind and limited distractions.  Taking it further to classroom design, interaction among students and faculty can be increased simply by a revised design.  Inside a traditional classroom tacit hierarchies often form in which vocal and more confident students sit toward the front and receive more individualized attention while the quieter and more timid students gravitate towards the back and encounter less interaction (Rethinking the Classroom, n.d.).  Switch up seating arrangements, place students in groups, and alternate the front of your classroom to bring a freshness inside your walls.

Work Beyond a Single Curriculum

Don’t be afraid to switch things up and think beyond borders.  In one study of an adult ESL literacy class (Finn, 2015), the observed classroom experienced flexibility in structure rather than abiding by a particular curriculum.  As a result, instruction was designed to emphasize student empowerment through a learning-centered model focusing upon writing, reading, discussion, leadership, and publication.  Inside the classroom, students could earn the title of “assistant teacher” in which they were expected to assist the head teacher during class time.  Student volunteers would then help lead class weekly and were titled “experts” upon assuming leadership roles.  Such leadership roles gave students opportunity to actively participate in learning (Finn, 2015).

Introduce a New Classroom Model 

Prepare to totally transform your learning space by utilizing uniquely designed chairs and work tables, multi-purpose cabinets, and flexible boards, among other elements.  Be sure your students are given an environment in which they feel free to collaborate as well as learn beyond traditional expectations.  Garner ideas, or copy one specific model as it is presented in the following video:

What will you do to provide flexibility inside your classroom?  Perhaps it’s simply alternating seeting or supplementing expired curriculum.  Or maybe you’re looking to totally revamp your classroom appearance.  Either way, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to allow students flexibility in learning!

Finn, H. B. (2015). A need to be needed: The intersection between emotions, apprenticeship, and student participation in an adult ESL literacy classroom. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 4(1), 36-47.

Rethinking the classroom: Spaces designed for active and engaged learning and teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Self-directed Learning


“We can only have citizens who can live constructively in this kaleidoscopically changing world if we are willing for them to become self-staring, self-initiating learners.” 

Carl Rogers 

A crucial learning element which every adult learner should encounter is the ability to be self-directed.  Inside the classroom, behaviors may be fostered which help students advance language knowledge outside the classroom.  Rather than relying upon teacher-directed methods of learning, adult students should actively assume a role in both establishing personal goals as well as determining how they will reach such goals.  As the ability to be self-directed is nurtured, adults are then further developed in assuming personal ownership of learning (Grover, et al., 2014).

To encourage self-directed learning among your adult learners, experiment with the following and I’d love to hear your results.  Or perhaps you have another teaching strategy which you’ve found to be successful in cultivating self-directed learning.  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Know Your Role As The Facilitator

As facilitator, you embrace the responsibility to assist students in independently making connections amidst learning as well as realizing how a specific ability can enrich one’s life.  Language instructors should encourage students to engage in informal learning activities including finding conversation partners, blogging in English, and reading English written newspapers (Grover, et al., 2014) .

Identify Goals and Determine a Plan of Action 

In a former post, I discussed how to teach goal setting and engage your students in identifying relevant goals.

Develop Self-Awareness Within Your Students

Frequently engage your students in self assessments in order to further increase awareness of personal performance.  No doubt the self-directed learner will present a thorough understanding of self as he/she is aware of their personal learning processes.  Your learner should also understand individual strengths and weaknesses, their ability to utilize different learning approaches, the importance of a learning activity, as well as when assistance is needed.  Furthermore, attention should be directed toward identifying and removing distracting articles in one’s learning environment while simultaneously developing a realistic perception of one’s ability to achieve a target learning goal (Long, n.d.).

Touch the Edge of Comfort Zones 

Develop your learner by venturing together to the edge of a comfort zone.  Introduce new experiences and opportunities and provide coaching to assist your adult learner in reviewing and learning from their individual experiences.  Allow your student the opportunity to generate feedback in order to become more aware of what was done, as well as to take increased responsibility for performing differently during future projects (Self-directed Learning, n.d.).


Long, H. B. (n.d.). Skills for self-directed learning. Retrieved 2016, from
Self-directed learning: Managing yourself and your working relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from




Journal Writing


“I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”

Inspire your learners to engage in personal reflection through the avenue of frequent journal writing.  Within journal writing, students encounter a unique strategy in which they are given opportunity to take control of personal learning through simultaneous reflection and practice of a target language.  Specifically during the journal writing process, students are expected to organize and retain language content (Ludwig, 2016).  Students both reflect regularly upon what they have learned, while also identifying how activities completed in class have assisted learning (Class Journals, n.d.).  Growth in language understanding is recorded and students may receive encouragement from documented progress.

Of course, journal writing can assume various appearances among student learners.  Below are several suggestions for introducing journal writing to your next classroom of learners.

Present Clear Expectations 

Journal activities can have students relating theory to practice or concepts to reality.  Evidence of learning may be revealed, individual insight shared, as well as questions posed regarding course material.  So from the outset be sure to plan specifically what is to be included in each journal.  Plan appropriate feedback and be selective in which journal entries you read.  You could also ask students to either organize and mark entries to be read, or simply select their best entry for you to review (Using Active Learning, n.d.).

Provide Sentence Stems

Provide a sentence stem regarding learning, e.g.: ‘The thing I enjoy most about English is…’ etc.  Then have students compare responses with one another (Class Journals, n.d.).


One-minute papers

Ask students to write for a minute.  Topics can range from something they should have learned in class that day to something that is still not clear.  Perhaps it’s questions, the main point of the lecture, critiques of the ideas being presented, or the part of class that helped them learn more. This can also be an alternative to calling or checking roll so the time is a trade-off.

1) At the beginning or end (or even in the middle) of class, ask students to submit a one-minute paper.

2) To limit the size of the responses in large classes, ask students to write their responses on a 3×5 card.

You or the students can provide feedback during the next class centered around selected questions (Using Active Learning, n.d.).

Dialogue Journals

Engage with your students through writing letters back and forth inside the covers of a real bound notebook.  Initiate conversation, ask questions, and submit entries to one another.


Class journals. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Using active learning in the classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Corrective Feedback


When people are trying to learn new skills, they must get some information that tells them whether or not they are doing the right thing.  Learning in the classroom is no exception.  Both the mastery of content and, more importantly, the mastery of how to think require trial-and-error learning. James Pennebaker

Look around and you’ll find corrective feedback happening today in many classrooms across America.  As a result it becomes important from the onset of English instruction to clarify and demystify cultural expectations within classroom walls (Lee, 2016) in order to promote an environment in which students feel confident to participate and lead.  In a particular study (Lee, 2016) conducted on sixty advanced-level ESL adult students, many of the learners had little to no exposure to corrective feedback when first arriving in the United States.  Instead, many of the adults came from English classrooms focused on teacher-centered education where little opportunity was provided to interact with teachers and peers as means for practicing oral English.  Following arrival in the United States, student’s English acquisition was directly influenced by student-centered classroom cultures in which more interactions were required with American teachers (Lee, 2016).  From these interactions, adults may be nourished and given experience within a safe learning environment in which relevant feedback regarding personal language progress is presented.  Furthermore, as corrective feedback is delivered, classroom ambiguity surrounding expectations and student performance vanishes leaving students emboldened to continue their quest for learning.

Suzuki outlines six types of corrective feedback available for the English classroom.  First is explicit correction in which an instructor offers explicit provision of the correct language form.  Next is recast where a teacher reformulates all or part of a student’s utterance without the initial error.  A clarification request instead allows an instructor to elicit a correct response either in the form of a question, such as “pardon?”, or by revealing the intended form with a rising tone.  Metalinguistic feedback requires an instructor to comment and pose questions related to an utterance without explicitly providing the correct form.  In this way through pointing to an error, it is hoped the correct answer will be provided by a student.  Yet another type of corrective feedback is elicitation in which techniques are used to directly elicit a desired language form.  One specific elicitation technique is for teachers to elicit the completion of a personal utterance by pausing to allow a student time to fill the blank.  Within elicitation the instructor is deliberate to never provide the desired form.  Lastly is repetition in which a teacher simply repeats in isolation a student’s utterance or adjusts one’s intonation to highlight a specific error (Suzuki, n.d.).  Each of these strategies may be used in combination or isolation to one another in order to provide relevant and stimulating feedback.

However, feedback can prove ineffective or even counterproductive if given in the wrong manner.  Stenger offers five research-based tips to assist in providing meaningful feedback for maturing students.  Inside her article, Stenger encourages persons to offer specific feedback in a timely manner.  She also advises instructors to acknowledge the advancement towards one’s goal while being deliberate to involve learners within the process of collecting and analyzing performance-based data.

Know too that feedback can move beyond teacher-student relations as peers deliver positive feedback among each other.  In one classroom observation, when given the opportunity to provide constructive feedback to peers, students appeared quicker to encourage one another while feeling safe to experiment with new knowledge.  Students also appeared more aware as to how they could assist one another in learning.  Peer feedback can take many forms, including students making comments on one another’s work or simply giving a thumbs up or down in response to a performance.

So the next time you catch an error inside the classroom, embrace the moment as an opportunity to further your student’s learning while increasing a student’s confidence.

Do you have favorite feedback techniques, or what have you found most successful in your classroom of learners? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Suzuki, M. (n.d.). Corrective feedback and learner uptake in adult ESL classrooms. Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 4(2). Retrieved 2016.