A big change in my teaching since starting the MA (and a good example of teaching practices that were always possible but hadn’t really occurred to me until I started studying them more formally) is letting students take the lead in finding materials on the endless, free source of authentic language learning resources that is the Internet. I don’t have to be with them on every step of this. An assignment I’ve given countless times now is 1) find something interesting on the Internet, 2) write what is interesting about it, 3) share it with a classmate, and 4) have them do the same. I see what they wrote, but the writing portion is, the way I see it, a perfunctory assignment on paper that gets them to do the real meat of it which is exposing themselves to input.
Every now and then I’ll find something I don’t think any of them would discover on their own and front-load it into the discourse of the class.
But in general it’s one luxury a language teacher has that almost anything that is in the target language and interesting to the student has potential to be great study material. Laissez-faire homework like this tends to motivate much better than whatever reading passage or bonus material comes packaged with the class textbook.
I also let students choose songs we do in class, customized or performed as is, for similar reasons. In the last year we’ve done Taylor Swift, Les Misérables, and Bruno Mars. If you know my tastes then you know they were definitely student selections, because my tastes stopped evolving as soon as I got opposable thumbs. When we’ve done semi-obligatory selections like Christmas songs they’re also customized if only to avoid having to explain vocabulary like “boughs”.
There is one time I pretty much force all my students to sing a song that I like, and that’s my last class at a school. Since I had one of those last week I handed them all copies of the lyrics, and after a brief run-through of the chorus we all shook the halls with a rendition of Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years.
I saw some cell phones out, in most cases no doubt recording evidence for their official complaint, but one student was nice enough to send me the pictures you see here.
I heard some of them continuing to sing in the halls afterward. That says to me that there is still a place in my classes for me to set content even selfishly if the occasion calls for it, and as I learned when I was their age, Wasted Years is a damn great song.