Techniques to Improve Student Participation in ESL Classes

In her workshop Marianne Raynaud gave examples of intensive pair work and showed how to get the students to participate orally for at least 45 minutes out of each hour. Some of the examples she gave (spelling, numbers, frequent mistakes, socializing etc.) can be found under the heading "Free 1st Year Teaching Materials" on this site. Others like project examples can be found on her DVD "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book".

A Lecture Workshop with Marianne Raynaud - Author of "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book".

Write Up by Françoise Brown

When she first arrived in France, Marianne Raynaud got a job as a vacataire at an Institut Universitaire de Technologie (IUT). She then passed the CAPES to become a certified teacher (civil servant). She subsequently taught in a lycée and became a teacher trainer (conseillère pédagogique) in the equivalent of today’s IUFM. After a few years as a teacher in the French secondary system, she realized she wasn’t too happy with the French teaching methods she was expected to use in her English classroom and as an adviser for emerging teachers. It soon became clear to her that a class which a student enjoys is far more likely to be effective than one where (s)he is bored, and that all English teachers should start off by asking themselves what they would enjoy if they were language learners, and use their conclusions to make their classes more enjoyable.

A personal survey for the participants

Marianne’s workshop started off with this very question: participants were asked to get into small groups and tick the types of exercises they would personally enjoy doing as learners. These exercise types were listed under six different headings: oral and written comprehension, oral and written expression, grammar/vocabulary and evaluation/corrections. Would we enjoy listening to the teacher speaking or to a fellow student speaking? Would we rather perform in a play in front of the class or answer questions in a lab? The feedback from the various groups showed clearly that we all had different learning needs and desires. Therefore, language classes have to be as varied as possible, and provide students with as many opportunities to speak as possible. According to Marianne, ideally, learners should all get 45 minutes of speaking time in a one-hour session.

Intensive pair work even for correcting homework

Marianne then proceeded to present a few of the activities she has designed to enable her students to do precisely that: the idea is that on the worksheet, which is handed out, the teacher should provide the students with the vocabulary and grammatical structures they may need during the activity, but while it is taking place only stand by as an observer.
In some of the activities we were shown, students interact in pairs, one playing the part of the student, and the other that of the teacher. The latter is always given a key to the tasks which the former has to perform, so that (s)he can correct mistakes. The tasks may range from reading figures aloud, answering questions based on a reading text or filling gaps with verbs in the correct form, with “the” or no article or with prepositions or no prepositions. The same principle is applied for homework: the students playing the part of the teachers are provided with keys, which enable them to correct their partners’ mistakes. That way, homework is corrected in no time: the teacher merely walks around the class and, if requested to do so, answers the students’ questions.

Spelling exercise

In another type of exercise “A” students spell words, e-mail addresses or websites for “B” students to transcribe, and “B” students spell a different series for “A” students to transcribe, and they correct each other.
Marianne also showed us how to make students practice socializing in English: she gives them all the necessary language on worksheets (e.g.: “May I introduce myself?” “May I ask you your name?” “Where do you come from originally?” etc.), then assigns each student a letter of the alphabet. After that she organizes four “rounds” during which the students are asked to work in groups with students “bearing” given letters (e g: student A is asked to “meet” students B and E in the first round, I and Z in the second round, J and X in the fourth round etc.) We were asked to put this into practice and we had a lot of fun!

Projects in PowerPoint presentations

Marianne also makes her students do projects. For instance, she showed us an advertisement designed by a student to present an imaginary device: an energy-saving helmet enabling students to memorize the day’s classes during their sleep. The students send Marianne the scripts and the slides, and she corrects them before they are shown to fellow students.
In another type of project, students are asked to speak for three minutes using four PowerPoint slides (which Marianne always checks and corrects before they are presented in class). In their presentations, the students are asked to use a given number of sentences (Marianne believes in teaching by “example”) but they are not allowed any notes. They are given a situation, which involves a problem to be solved. They state what their requirements are going to be, and the various steps they will have to take in order to solve the problem. Marianne never intervenes when students give their presentation but makes sure they don’t say incorrect sentences in class by making them memorize useful key sentences (e.g.: “There is a problem to be solved which involves …”).

Futuristic negotiating

Finally, in the “futuristic negotiating” tasks designed by Marianne, the students are asked to play the part of the owners or the customers of an imaginary firm (e.g. a “clone factory” providing organs for human implants). Marianne makes sure that her students have access to the expressions they may need (which are listed in their booklet), and asks them to hold two negotiating sessions between the two parties (with the students switching roles between the two sessions).

As a participant

I enjoyed this workshop immensely, mainly because it was so practical, and provided us with many original ideas which can be adapted to different teaching situations, and which encourage a very high degree of autonomy on the part of the students.

Françoise Brown

Please note that all of the documents that Marianne Raynaud gave out during the workshop can be found on the "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book" DVD->26], and some of them are in the section "1st Year Teaching Materials" or in the section "2nd Year Teaching Materials" of this website.

Marianne Raynaud
may be contacted at the following e-mail address:

- Her website is:

Marianne Raynaud recently gave a presentation at the 41st annual TESOL convention in Seattle, Washington, USA on “Student Films as a Memorable Linguistic Experience”. Her PowerPoint on this topic as well as the films she showed can to be found on the DVD "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book".

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