IntroductionThere are many benefits to having only English spoken in your ESLclassroom. The most apparent thing right off the bat is the level ofnoise and chatter drops dramatically. All of a sudden, whenstudents are required to use English, that hot topic they wanted totalk about doesn’t seem so important. There are other, moresubstantial benefits to an English only classroom. Students start tolearn useful, real world English such as expressing their feelingsand desires as well as the textbook English. But most importantly,requiring students to speak only in English will help them becomemore comfortable and confident expressing themselves in, andcommunicating through, English.By following these 5 steps you will be able to eliminate any nativelanguage speaking and replace it with English. Better yet, you’ll beable to do it in less than 5 days. Let’s get started!
1. Have a plan.The first step is to have a plan. How will youreward those students who choose to followthe new English only rule and how will youdiscourage those who break the rule?Without a reinforcement plan in place,you’ll be hard pressed to get your new ruleto stick. I will say more on encouraging goodbehavior and discouraging bad behavior inthe last step but for now, just remember tohave that reinforcement plan.
2. Be firm & consistent.The day you decide to replace the native language withEnglish, do so firmly. This requires you to walk into yourclass, tell the students NO MORE SPANISH (or whateverlanguage they speak) and stick to your guns. At firstmany students will make mistakes or think you’rejoking. You might even slip up yourself. For anyone whobreaks your rule, implement your discouragingreinforcement, even to yourself if you have spoken thenative language. Being very firm might feel very cruel atfirst as you may be punishing students who wereotherwise very good. You might also be able to hear apin drop as everyone has clammed up and the classcomfort level plunges.
This is ok. The first day is the hardest for everyone.Don’t give in. Don’t allow the English only rule to bebroken, not even in the final moments of class.Within 2-3 days your students will switch to English orbe quiet as soon as the class bell rings. Either way,everyone wins.Remain consistent in your diligence to enforce therule. Slacking off one day will let the students knowthat maybe they don’t always have to follow the rules.The firmer you are and the more consistent you arethe less your rule will be broken.
3. Model a good behavior.There is something in that old saying, “monkeysee, monkey do”. Don’t be a monkey. As theEnglish teacher you should always be speakingEnglish. If the students see you speaking theirlanguage, they will think that there are somethings that are too hard to express in English.Additionally, if you are explaining a complexsubject through English, the students will catchon and then realize that they heard ANDunderstood an English explanation. What aboost in their confidence!
4. Give students the tools they need.If you are building a house you need a hammer. If you arebaking a cake, you need a pan. If you are communicating, youneed words and sentences!Just telling the students that they can only speak English is halfthe work. You then must equip them with the vocabulary andsentences they need to get through the class, not just thelesson. For example, I noticed my 16-year-old students had togo to the restroom quite a bit during their long, one-hour class.While I do understand what the fidgeting, legs crossed gestureis, isn’t it better just to ask, “May I go to the restroom?” Quite along sentence for a 16 year old who doesn’t know the word‘book’. But that’s what my students would ask me? And uponcompleting the question, they were rewarded with thebathroom pass. It’s a win-win situation.
Other useful expressions are:How do you spell ___?May I have a ___?I don’t understand.But as English gets more complex and it becomes harder andharder to rely on flashcards and realia, you’ll also need tocreate a space where native speaking is OK to communicatean abstract idea or structure. That’s when, “Teacher, may Ispeak (Spanish)?” comes in very handy.With these tools students won’t feel trapped if they arestuck and must express themselves, but they must havethem; otherwise, they may rebel or turn off.
5. Encourage positive behaviorDiscourage negative behavior This English only rule will only work if the students are rewarded for their good behavior and ‘punished’ for their bad behavior. I personally like to start off each class with everyone’s name on the board and a smile next to their name. Finish the class with a smile; you get a stamp, sticker, a pencil, etc… Break the English only rule and I erase your smile and no reward is dolled out. This is enough for 90% of students. How do you encourage the English speakers? If you have a student speaking a lot of English or answering your questions or helping another student spell a word, reward them publicly. All of a sudden the whole class will be doing what that student just did. Discouraging the rule breakers is usually as simple as taking away their reward or the possibility of the reward. Doing this once or twice is usually enough to stop the bad behavior.
ConclusionYou’ve followed all the steps but there’s still that oneclass or student that is not responding to the rules.Here are few scenarios that may arise that make theEnglish only rule harder to implement and theirrespective suggestions.The Large Class: If you have a class of more than 15students, constant monitoring of the students becomesa full-time job. Depending on the size of the class,assign two to four students as “Monitor of the Day”and give them the task of enforcing the rule. Make surethe monitors alternate every day or every week.
The Older Classes: Imposing rules on adults or young adultsmight be considered a little rude and inappropriate.Additionally, these students usually have more invested in thecourse and are there because they want to speak English. If youare having trouble with an older class that isn’t speakingEnglish, explain to them that it’s in their own interest if theyspeak English. Usually this is enough.The Defiant Student: Every once in a while there is a studentwho has no regard for your rule and does not respond to yourreward system. You must ask yourself why is this studentrebelling? More often than not, they are in a class that is toodifficult for them and have become frustrated to the point ofgiving up. Seek to move the student to a more appropriate levelor spend more time with the student before, after or in class.
That’s it. Follow these five steps and you’ll have allyour students speaking only English, learning moreEnglish and paying more attention in class.Just remember to be patient and persistent and youreffort will soon pay off.Do not impose. Explain the benefits of your rules andstudents will embrace them.
Thanks for reading this!! José Angel Rodríguez This is an adaptation.