Taking the classroom out of the student

Jamar A. Miller, Fukuoka Institute of Technology

Quick guide

  • Key words:Classroom management, student involvement, conversation, practicality, making English real
  • Learner English level:Any
  • Learner maturity level:High school and above
  • Preparation time:30 minutes
  • Activity time:60 to 90 minutes
  • Materials:One sheet of instructions, CD player


Tell me and I will forget.Show me and I might remember.Involve me and I will learn.

Ancient Chinese Proverb

Getting students to speak up more in class is a problem we all face. In order to solve this problem we have to involve our students in the learning process. We have to show them that what they learn is practical and can be used immediately in class. The following activity is designed to incorporate this teaching philosophy, one that counts each and every word spoken in class as a victory. It is also a classroom management technique that can be incorporated intoany lesson plan throughout the year. The only time it becomes the lesson’s focus is in the very first class in which you implement it. In general, this will take 60 to 90 minutes to accomplish with a class of 15 students. Since your entire year is built around this first lesson, there is no need to rush.


Make a handout containing the following classroom English requests:

  1. _______ could you open your book up to page _______?
  2. _______ could you say that again please?
  3. _______ could you read that again please?
  4. _______ could you play that again please?
  5. _______ could you go to the front/back board?  
  6. _______ could you say that louder/slower please?  
  7. _______ could you play that louder/slower please?
  8. _______ could you read that louder/slower please? 
  9. _______ could you take a seat?
  10. _______ could you play the CD?
  11. _______ could you write _______?
  12. _______ could you take one and pass this around?
  13. That’s a wrap.


Step 1:Have students make a name tag to sit on top of their desk (for everyone’s benefit).

Step 2:Introduce the handout and tell students they should bringit to class every week.

Step 3:Have students write the names of classmates they choose in the blank spaces at the beginning of eachrequest.

Step 4:Pick student volunteers to practice the requests. Use your fingers to indicate which requests you want said. For example, if you hold up three fingers, the volunteer should say, “… could you read that again please?” Continue like this until all of the requests have been demonstrated.

Step 5:End the demonstration with the request “… could you take one and pass this around.” Have all of the students practice this request as they pass the handouts around.

Step 6:Test all of the requests with the entire class to check their understanding.

Step 7:In subsequent classes,for the remainder of the year, continue using your hands to signal when you would like students to use one of these requests.


After six months or so of using the fingers/numbers guide, students may tend to react only to the hand signal and forget the associated words. To avoid this happening, change your signaling system a bit, such as using hand gestures instead of fingers. For example, instead of showing a number one, make a gesture that showsopening up a book. Later on, when the class masters these commands, have the students put away the instruction sheets and not look at them anymore.


Using this system, students can double the amount of English they use in class, become more confident speakers, and increase their motivation through seeing the benefits of using practical English regularly.



Classroom Strategies

  1. Getting students to talk in class is something we all struggle with in our weekly Oral Communication Classes. While some of us are successful in getting them to interact with us, the other half are just left scratching their heads as our students just stare with blank looks on their faces. The real problem lies in our abilities as communicators, it’s our lack of ability to show that English is real and not just a theoretical exercise. We can’t be just ‘telling’ or ‘showing’, we have to ‘involve’ the students in the learning process. This teaching strategy (not lesson) specifically addresses the problem of getting students motivated to not only use English, but to want to learn more and do it all in the classroom. It will allow them to see the ‘REALNESS’ and ‘PRACTICALITY’ of learning another language.
  2. The less speaking the teacher does in class the better. Every word the student speaks in class should be counted as a victory. Taking these commands that teachers say over and over and letting the students say them over and over will help the student learn the language, help with future grammar points and it gives them a sense of satisfaction and realness to the language that will motivate them.
  3. Getting the students to choose and call out each other’s names is very important. Why? Because many times students are afraid to answer or do what the teacher asks out of fear of getting it wrong. Yet if a student asks them to do something, they are far more likely to at least ‘try’. This also brings a level of fun to the class as students remember WHO picked them last and now want that ‘funny’ revenge. This lightens up the classroom and assures that more speaking is done by the students, and less by you. 
  4. It’s a good idea to check out a Japanese gesture book on what hand gestures are used for numbers 6-9. Trust me it will save a lot mistaken 51’s when you mean 6!
  5. Number 13 on the command sheet is mostly for fun but it still teaches a small grammar point, subconsciously, to students. Japanese students usually have a hard time with ‘the’ and ‘a’ so by having a little fun and using ‘that’s a wrap’ we are introducing things that later on will be taught such as, ‘that’s a bird’, ‘that’s a good idea’, ‘that’s a good looking car’.
  6. This teaching strategy has been successfully applied to all levels of language learners from beginners to advance, to groups from 3-50, and to students from 16-70 years old. The English spoken by the students in every class session is usually doubled and they become more confident and are able to see the ‘real’ and ‘practical’ use of English that in turns motivates them to learn more. Students will laugh, find it fun, and find themselves more active in the classroom using more English. They will take a part of their own class instruction and through the repetition and common grammar of each command, students will be able to think of new commands on their own and execute them grammatically correct. I laughed hard one day when one student said, “Could you pass me your chocolate please?”