How I teach English students to take control of their learning


I have been teaching English for more than 10 years. My students are mainly Masters Degree students, PHD students and assistant professors, all of who are aiming to pass a National Foreign Language Exam and wish to be professors. Their ages range from 23 – 50. For the past four years especially, I have been concentrating on providing my students with the necessary skills and learning methods so they can inspire and direct their own learning. Thanks to this, their learning has become more focused and autonomous, and less teacher-dependent.

Years ago, I found the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English very useful, and I learnt a lot from it. Not only does it give a definition for a word, it also provides the correct pronunciation and sentence examples to help you improve your intonation. I now introduce the dictionary when I teach English students and encourage them to use it – and they have all found it to be very useful.

I begin by teaching my students the words that make up the basis for the English language – the top nouns, adjectives and verbs, and so on. I then ask them to use their dictionary to learn more about those words. Once they have learnt those fully, I invite them to choose some words that they want to learn – so they get to decide what they want to be able to read and understand in English. I’ve found that this method motivates and encourages students because it gives them some control over their learning. I also encourage them to read texts that include English words so that they can see how they work in context. Reading simple sentences can help them form a useful basis of reading English, which will help them when they go on to learn how to listen, write and speak in English.

I find technology is useful in both my classroom and online lessons. For example, I have set up Facebook groups for my students. My online learners are in different cities across Turkey, so I’ll give them lessons online, then they do their homework and upload it onto the Facebook page. I’ll check it and give them feedback – and other students and teachers will also help them by sharing learning experiences, having English conversations online and providing advice and examples of useful text. I also find that the Facebook page helps my classroom learners become more involved in the lessons. Some students have more confidence to explore English and write sentences in the language online – and this helps them express themselves better in English.

These methods have definitely helped my students learn autonomously – and it has been very successful. I enjoy receiving feedback from students, who have really taken control of their learning. One said to me: “I learnt how to learn English on my own.”

For a teacher to encourage autonomous learning among their students, they have to embrace their own autonomy first – just as I did when I first started to use the Longman Dictionary. This will help them communicate to their students that they can learn English – in fact, they can learn anything – if they embrace their autonomy and inspire their own learning.

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