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ESL Development 8: How to Stop Students Texting In Class

Marianne Raynaud

Motivation is the essential element in the learning process. Uninterested learners will take in very little information in particular if they have to spend most of their time listening to the teacher without participating. They will remember next to nothing—except how tiresome it was sitting in that class and doing nothing of interest. Moreover, skills cannot be adequately learned if the learner isn’t willing or encouraged to invest the necessary time and energy. Consequently, motivation is the key to language learning.

Personal experiences with motivation

We all have difficulties motivating ourselves. Don’t we all make New Year’s resolutions that we fail to carry through? Haven’t we all said we should exercise more, eat healthier foods, stop smoking or limit our stress to name a few of our goals? As teachers, our role is to guide and stimulate our students—in other words, to motivate them. But isn’t that the most challenging part of our job? Isn’t it an almost insurmountable task?

There is no simple solution, but I wish to suggest a few strategies that may lead you in the right direction or at least get you thinking.

Let’s discuss the problems teachers keep bringing up

Haven’t you heard teachers complaining about students:

  • Fidgeting with their phones
  • Not paying attention to what the teacher says
  • Chatting with neighbors in their native language
  • Making a funny or disrespectful remark if called upon because they don’t know the answer to a question
  • Answering back in their native language
  • Saying they didn’t have time to do the homework or didn’t understand what to do

There are solutions

Place yourself in the shoes of the learner. Students need to be:

  • Working actively nearly all of the time
  • Speaking English or listening intensively as much as possible
  • Learning by themselves
  • Teaching others in order to assimilate even better the information themselves
  • Indulging in the opportunity to show others what THEY know
  • Getting positive feedback (not just corrections or criticism)

Intensive pairwork

If students are working actively nearly all of the time, talking in English, focusing on what their partner or other classmates are saying, teaching others, and learning by themselves, they won’t be physically able to send text messages on their phones. If the activities are oral speech-producing exercises, their minds will concentrate on what to say or what ideas their partner is trying to express. Multi-tasking, in that case, will be mighty difficult—I’d say impossible—as will be chatting in their native language. Moreover, if their partner is testing them, there will be no reason to answer back to the teacher impolitely. If they make a mistake and are corrected by a classmate without anyone else listening, there will be no need to feel upset, embarrassed or stressed. Usually, students will laugh at their errors together with their friend. And students love encouraging each other and complimenting one another.

Questions teachers keep asking

Teachers keep asking me questions when I present at various workshops. "So how do you set all this up and make the system work?" "What is the teacher’s role if students work on their own?" "How do you ’teach’ if you are not speaking to all the students simultaneously, asking questions, and soliciting answers from them one at a time—as we do in traditional teaching?" The answer to these problems lies in well-prepared pairwork activities with the teacher acting as a guide, coach, and facilitator. In the next article, I will give concrete examples of “intensive pairwork activities” that promote motivation.

In the meantime you can read the article ESL Solutions: IT plus Intensive Pairwork Techniques to get some ideas.


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