If you can remember modern language lessons from your school days, you might recollect that some of the language techniques revolved around the simple premise of committing things to memory, like vocabulary – that sticks in the mind for most people. And this doesn’t just apply to learning languages, a reasonable proportion of making progress in many subjects involves learning by heart and being able to recall information and TEFL is no different.
Every student learns differently and some will have a much sharper retentive memory than others. Fortunately, there are teaching techniques which will help you to help your students commit to memory some of the information they just need to know and be able to recall. If you are faced with a learning block which needs to be understood, learned and then is available for instant recall then there are teaching techniques which you can use to help your students more easily commit this to their memories.
- Chunks and categories – the easiest way to learn something is to break it down into sections in the same way that people learn their own mobile phone number, far less easy to recall than say a more old fashioned landline number which is already in sections. Most people learn phone numbers by breaking them down into blocks. Scientists have discovered that chunks in three or four units are the easiest to memorise so rather than face your students with a long list of new vocabulary, break it down into sections. It can also help if you can group the content within the sections in a memorable way. For example, if your students are learning a list of food names, keep fruit together or foods which might combine together in a menu context like pasta and tomatoes. You can group items which start with the same letter or words that sound similar. Putting words into groups which have a link to one another also helps aid recall
- Spaced repetition – educationalists all know that memorising over time rather than trying to cram information in works far better in the long term. There are lots of learning apps which support this principle and will evaluate the student’s familiarisation with a word and ensure it appears less often than those words which the student is evidently struggling with. Clever algorithms can space out the learning based on the pupil’s response
- Logical structure – ordering information into a logical format is a great way to aid learning as the human brain will respond better and more efficiently to this than just a jumble. However, as a TEFL teacher, you should bear in mind that different students might order the same information in varying ways and so the order you impose may not resonate so well with all of the class members
- Relevancy and saliency – anchoring information in students’ heads can best be done using funny or interesting stories or anecdotes, this prompts better and more immediate recall. Or, make the learning topic relevant to your students’ lives. If you are learning a list of food ingredients then embed the topic in the culinary history of a local celebration which will be close to the hearts and minds of all your pupils. Relevancy is always best learned by relating a topic to your student’s lives. However not all students learn best by saliency, some remember better through the use of simple techniques like ordering and sectioning
How to help your students learn how to commit to memory when they are studying on their own
Share some great techniques for memory work with your students when they are studying on their own:-
- Silence is golden – music is distracting, it’s a known fact so, despite what they say, it is better to learn in silence for optimal results
- Lose the devices – difficult if your students are using an app on their SmartPhone or tablet but if not, it is best to stick to the rule of putting all electronic devices and gadgets away as they are just too tempting to look at otherwise. If they really can’t do that then suggest they change their setting to ‘Do not Disturb’ whilst they are studying
- Use optimal time – different people study better and are more receptive at certain parts of the day and this will vary from student to student. Always caution students not to try and memorise when they are tired or distracted by something as they are simply wasting their time and energy
- Move around – get up and walk around whilst you study, a particularly good technique when you are practising recall. Movement aids the flow of blood and therefore oxygen and will provide stimulation to the mind
- Recall out loud – particularly useful for vocabulary lists and also great to practice pronunciation and inspire confidence when speaking
- Preview the topic before the start of the study – advise your students to read through the material first before they start learning it; this gives the brain a ‘warm-up’ on the topic and aids focus. It may also suggest ways they can break the learning down into segments to suit their own learning style
- Strategise – with each new topic, an overview or strategy can help the student best create a framework to make their learning effective and memorable. Mapping out an order of how to learn something is really useful tool and a TEFL teacher can suggest structures for students or let them write their own. Strategy may vary from student to student and from one topic to another
Teaching your students how to best learn involves employing lots of different techniques and is just as important as the subject matter you are delivering. Inspiring learning and facilitating your pupils to progress is the difference between an average TEFL teacher and a great one. There is a huge amount of information available online as guidance; most of these techniques are employed across a variety of study subjects and not just language learning.