Empowering Students as Teachers

Theresa Schlafly is an experienced teacher at Language ETC and a graduate of Georgetown University’s TEFL certificate program. She values a student-centered classroom. As Theresa explains below, she recently took this concept to a new level — letting her students teach the class.

By Theresa Schlafly

Faced with the daunting task of reviewing an entire term’s worth of material in our 4B class, my co-teacher Michaela and I decided to let our students be the teachers. We divided the class into groups of two or three and assigned each group a particular unit to review. We asked each group to come up with:

  • At least one grammar question for the class
  • At least one vocabulary question for the class
  • At least one question for the teachers (that is, something they wanted clarification on)

We gave the students about 20 minutes to work on this as we circulated to answer any questions that came up. Then each group came in turn to the front of the classroom and acted as the teachers to lead the class in reviewing the assigned material.

The students really enjoyed being the teachers! They took great delight in calling on their classmates and giving feedback on their responses. They came up with some excellent questions, including fill-in-the-blank questions using although and because. Other examples included “What is one way to organize a paragraph?” “What does the word ‘clause’ mean?” “How should you address a cover letter when you don’t know the person’s name?”

This pyramid was developed in the 1960s. There is controversy among educators about whether the percentages are backed up by any evidence, but it's still thought-provoking.

This pyramid was developed in the 1960s. It’s controversial among educators, as the percentages are probably not backed up by any evidence, but still, lots for us to think about here. The general idea seems to reflect what we experience in our classrooms at LETC.

I think this worked well for several reasons. First, the students all seemed very engaged in the process of reviewing the material, which can often be a somewhat passive exercise. Second, because the students were in charge, we knew that we were focusing on the material that they felt was challenging and important, rather than just picking concepts that we guessed might be difficult. Most of all, the role reversal of letting the students act as teachers was a fun way to mix up the class dynamic!

Though our students are fairly advanced, I think this could be adapted for lower levels. For example, instead of coming up with grammar questions, students could develop a simple list of vocabulary words to quiz their classmates on. Or they could select questions from the textbook or workbook to present to the class, instead of formulating their own questions. I definitely plan to try this again with future classes, perhaps at regular intervals throughout the term instead of just at the end.

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