The Importance of Belonging

Williams and Burden (2010: 202) beautifully state that “Language classrooms in particular need to be places where learners are encouraged to use the new language to communicate, to try out new ways of expressing meanings, to negotiate, to make mistakes without fear, and to learn to learn from successes and failures. Emotionally, a suitable environment for language learning should be one that enhances the trust needed to communicate and which enhances confidence and self-esteem”.  In order to create such an environment, one possible approach would be to foster group cohesiveness on a regular basis.

I was teaching an advanced adult group the other day and irreversible pairs were part of the lesson. There was a moment in which learners played a balloon game: in groups of 4, they had to quickly touch the balloon as they said the irreversible pair of their choice, considering the connected features we had just worked on. It was a fairly simple activity, but for an evening group of learners (aged from 16 to 55) after a long day of work/school, it seemed to be a playful relaxing activity. Soon after the balloon, I asked learners to remain in the same groups and sit down. To my surprise, before I even started giving further instructions… they all decided together to sit on the floor. For some seconds, I was speechless… So sweet it was: they were so engaged in the playful activity that it seemed just natural for them to keep on having fun… on the floor. Despite having taught that lesson before, never did I have such a reaction from my learners. It then dawned on me: it was their 5th lesson together in the semester, and they felt safe enough to express and expose themselves! The Bonding Procedures seemed to be working!

What do I mean by Bonding Procedures?

They are activities which enable learners to get to know each other as they build the identity of their group and work together towards a common goal. In a cohesive classroom, learners participate more actively without fear of making mistakes, and learning might, therefore, take place more easily.

Some simple examples that might foster group cohesiveness are:

  • As teachers, we usually learn learners’ names very soon. What about learners themselves? Do they know their classmates’ names? That’s a simple-but-useful opportunity to teach learners to socialise and never be afraid of asking: ‘What’s your name again?’ It means they will become genuinely interested in the people they are interacting with.
  • Use name clouds and let it showing before lessons start – a very user-friendly website is https://wordart.com/
  • Ice-breakers and warmers with hidden agendas: if used all semester long, these can:
    • be used to trigger learners’ curiosity towards their classmates;
    • help learners find similarities and differences among themselves, promoting more inclusion and tolerance as a consequence;
    • give learners the chance to transition from their ‘everyday Brazilian lives’ to their ‘new life in English’;
    • create a relaxed environment where the focus is on the people, not on the syllabus.
  • Online platforms (such as Edmodo) can provide learners with the opportunity to interact genuinely with each other (under guided supervision) to talk about themselves as lessons unfold – e.g. of a possible Post could be: ‘Describe your work routine and mention what you most enjoy about it’. Learners can ‘like’ and respond to their classmates’ posts (edmodo.com)
  • Needs Analysis questionnaire can also help teachers with valuable information on learners’ goals, needs, and preferences. Google Forms is a great and friendly way to conduct Needs Analysis questionnaires!
  • And last but not least… genuine interest in the people in front of us is always a must!

 

What about you? How have you been helping your learners to feel that they belong?

 

Reference:

  • Arnold, J. (ed) (1999) Affect in Language Learning, USA: Cambridge University Press
  • Clement, R., Dornyei, Z, & Noels, A. (1994, January 1). Motivation, selfconfidence, and group cohesion in the foreign language classroom. Language Learning, 44(3), 417-448.
  • Emura, M. (2009) ‘Understanding Group Cohesiveness in the Language Classroom’, Tesol Working Paper Series, vol. 7, pp. 42-49
  • Quy, P. H. P. (2017) ‘Group Dynamics: Building a Sense of Belonging in the EFL Classroom’ English Teaching Forum, vol. 55, pp. 14-21
  • Williams, M. and Burden, R.L. (2010) Psychology for Language Teachers, USA: Cambridge University Press

Lenora Haranaka

Lenora Haranaka is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Campinas-SP, Brazil. She has been an English language teacher since 1998 and currently works at Associação Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, where she has worked as a coach and mentor training novice and experienced teachers since 2014. An ICELT and DELTA holder, she has presented in ABCI and Braz-Tesol conferences. Her academic interests are Continuous Professional Development, Teacher Training, Teaching Teens and YLS, Pronunciation, ELT Methodology and Management.

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