To personalise or not to personalise

Published on 17th March, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

I’ve been a staunch proponent of personalising language from the early stages of my teaching and training. I also believe firmly in encouraging students to communicate from the earliest stages, however inaccurate they might be.

Personalisation means allowing students to express their interests, concerns and comments. It also means selecting topics and materials that relate to their own contexts and interests. However, recently I have taught in contexts where students seemed less reluctant to contribute their own views or personal information. This can make it difficult to provide and place opportunities for meaningful conversation.

The first instance was teaching in a part of the world where many students seemed reluctant to talk about some aspects of their lives, and to give their opinions. Initially I presumed it was a lack of familiarity with the approach, but later I understood that this arose either from a lack of confidence or from different socio-cultural norms. I also realised that some students were not keen to consider different sides to an argument, because they had had little exposure in how to think critically.

The second context was when I was teaching in a local college where oral fluency tasks – tasks which generally form a pivotal part of learning – again posed problems. The students were by nature quiet and reluctant to open up. When students were required to talk about themselves, they did so sparingly and with apparent reluctance, and this was not because of their linguistic ability. It was either down to (the combination of) their personalities; their previous learning experiences or simply because they felt they had little to offer. It was noticeable that at the start of the lesson and in breaks, silence also descended!

Personalisation is something we should definitely aim to include in our lessons, but some students may not be completely comfortable with some aspects of it.

1 Comment

  • There are several ways to encourage students to learn to talk about themselves in general terms, if they are not interested in getting too personal. Exercise #1: They must write to a school they plan to attend and in that letter they must describe themselves: Their hobbies, talents, interests, pets, families (in general terms. Before they present this letter to the class they must practice on another student. Exercise #2: Bring photos from newspapers of people and have students make up a story about the person including what they like to wear, eat, do, etc. After they share this with the class have them do the same for themselves. The made-up character exercise serves as a warm-up to describing themselves.

    Karen on 14 March, 2012