Teaching English in regular schools: yes, we can do it!

We know that language teachers face a lot of difficulties in Brazilian regular schools. Based on my experience as a High School teacher, my intention here is to present some suggestions to overcome three common challenges teachers face in this context.

1) All levels in the same place

Challenge: Classes in regular schools present a great difference in language level among students, so that the teacher is faced with the problem of challenging higher-level students without overwhelming lower-level students.

How to deal with it: Instead of proposing exercises that can only be done by students at a certain level, like the ones based on multiple-choice questions, it is possible to design tasks that can be performed at whatever level the students feel suitable, such as open-ended questions that can be answered either with simple sentences or with more elaborated ones.

2) A lot of students, a lot of noise

Challenge: In most Brazilian regular schools, the number of students in class may vary from 25 to 50, much more than what we expect in an ideal language class. Large classes present problems such as limitation for feedback on students’ tasks, minimization of teacher-student attention, and lack of time for listening to all the students’ opinions. Because of the great number of students in class, teachers may feel out of control and with no authority, so that classroom management becomes another obstacle to overcome.

How to deal with it: Pair work and group work considerably increase the amount of speaking time in a large class and allow the teacher to work with one or two pairs/groups while other students keep working. It is important to keep calm when there is a problem, as shouting may help raising the level of noise in the classroom. Talking to the student that is disturbing the class individually is more effective than yelling at the whole class.

3) English is “only one more subject”

Challenge: It is common to hear students saying that it’s impossible to learn English in the regular school, whereas language schools are seen as the place where you can really learn the language. In many regular schools, students have English classes only once a week, during a period of about 50 minutes. Thus, sometimes English is seen as less relevant than other subjects.

How to deal with it: Foreign languages used to be seen as irrelevant, but started to be considered as important as any other subject with the development of the new LDB (Lei de Diretrizes e Bases), in 1996. It was also in 1996 that foreign language teaching became mandatory from the 5th grade on, in all Brazilian schools. Therefore, differently from other disciplines, like Portuguese, Math and Sciences, Foreign Language has been mandatory for only 15 years, which means that we can expect positive changes in the future. By teaching the language meaningfully and emphasizing the importance of knowing a foreign language in our society, the students will naturally start noticing the relevance of learning the language.

So, how do you deal with these challenges? Leave a comment and share your experience with us!

Carina Fragozo

Carina Fragozo is a PhD student of Linguistics at the University of São Paulo. She has been teaching English for about 10 years and has a blog called English in Brazil, where she posts articles, tips, interviews and videos for both teachers and learners. Blog: www.carinafragozo.com.br

  • Sandra Possas
    Sandra Possas
    Posted at 17:44h, 18 fevereiro Responder

    Good points, Carina. And I bet they apply not only to English classes, and not only to Brazil but a lot of other contexts.

  • Leandro Lisbôa
    Posted at 21:38h, 01 dezembro Responder

    That was a great text. I’m an English student and recently I had some of the problems mentioned above with my class on internship, mainly about the importance of learning English… my attitude was similar to what was mentioned on this article. Thank you.

  • Guilherme Castro
    Posted at 14:31h, 07 abril Responder

    I loved the text Carina! This is all true because when you teach at a regular school you have to go back to step 0 and teach the same old things for students of high school (for example), even when the school have a book to be followed is even more worst because you need to follow the book, but the students doesn’t know about anything in the book without a pre-explanation of the basic.
    Great text!

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