Have you ever felt like you were spoon-feeding your students? It’s a big issue in classrooms everywhere; many of us guide our learners to the right answers and outcome with very little thought needed on their part. But this is counterproductive and often leads to demotivated students and slow progress.
Young learners are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. Rather than making things easy, it’s important to use the right level of challenge.
If learners are stretched sufficiently, they will be engaged and excited to continue learning. So how can we put challenge at the heart of our classroom? Here are a few top tips to get started.
1. Learn more about your students
Right at the beginning of a course, unit or even a class, find out how much students already know about what you are planning on teaching.
- Use a KWL chart (see below) to find out what they already know, what they want to know and then at the end – what they learned.
- Brainstorm connected vocabulary on the board to help recycle old language and make sure you are exposing them to new language.
- Ask them questions and see what grammar structures students are already comfortable with.
Once you have this information base your lesson or syllabus around what they don’t know and give them a genuine challenge.
2. Ask open questions and let them think
In class, ask open ended questions that have more than one possible answer. This will encourage students to use extended vocabulary and a variety of grammar structures and actually make them think! Do this using these question starters:
- What do you…
- Where can you…
- Why did you…
- How do you…
- When is…
- Tell me about…
But remember, when asking these types of questions, it is essential to provide students with sufficient thinking time.
It’s important to wait up to a minute before helping them. Alternatively, use the Think-Pair-Share technique where you allow students to think about their answers, discuss them in pairs to develop their ideas, and then share them with the rest of the class.
3. Encourage them to share opinions
Challenge students by asking them to think about different points of view, which helps develop essential critical thinking skills, and can be very engaging for your students. You can do this by:
- Asking students to take on the roles of the different characters in their coursebook
- Thinking about a situation from their point of view
- Arguing one side of a point and then the other
4. Provide high level differentiation tasks
Differentiation means adapting or tailoring tasks to students with different abilities. This is essential so learners don’t switch off if activities are too easy or too difficult. To challenge your students, offer them a “Challenge” task instead of the main activity. You can differentiate in many ways:
- Varying the length of a writing task
- Challenging students to complete the task within a time limit
- Asking them to include specific language items
- Having them choose a different way to respond e.g. by text message (written) or video (oral)
5. Offer choice
Most young learners will never choose the easy option. They are much more likely to pick something they find challenging but enjoyable over an easy task.
With this in mind, offer a variety of fun and challenging activities for them to choose from. You could even have a class vote. For example:
- Making a music video
- Designing a poster to explain a grammar point
- Doing a class presentation
- Participating in a debate
- Writing and delivering a speech
Finally, take it slow
When introducing new activities and task types, it is always better to start slowly. Begin by choosing one or two of these tips to introduce into your lessons, and then gradually move onto others. And remember that a little stretching is good, but over-stretching can cause injury! Make sure you balance the activities to suit the differing levels and abilities of your class, allowing every individual learner to reach their full potential.
How do you challenge your primary students? Let us know in the comments below.