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January 2017
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Quick Tip: 5 Ways to Break Out of Your Teaching Rut in 2017
by Kristen Lindahl

The advent of a new year brings about many opportunities for growth and change, and that extends to your teaching practice, too! Here are five opportunities for you to innovate your TESOL pedagogy and make 2017 your best teaching year yet.

1. Learn New Things

Attend an online professional development activity via tesol.org or Twitter. The online platform makes it easy for you to connect with cutting-edge TESOL researchers and teachers (e.g., TESOL President Dudley Reynolds, Larry Ferlazzo, Nelson Flores, Judie Haynes, Diane Staehr Fenner, and Jana Echevarria, or organizations such as TESOL, WIDA, and Colorín Colorado) and learn about research-supported trends in English language teaching worldwide. To connect with other TESOL professionals, also consider following TESOL on Facebook and Twitter. Some second language scholars also host ESL chat discussions (simply type in #ellchat into the search box on Twitter), where you can tweet about language learning issues in real time across the globe.

2. Take Action

Conduct an action research project with a new technique or strategy that you learn about in one of your professional development activities. First, select a focus for your research, such as a particular grammar point, set of vocabulary words, or writing skills. Then, do some research on what scholars have already said about your chosen topic. With those theories in mind, identify a research question and write it down, such as “Does students’ vocabulary recall improve if I use more visuals during my word study instruction?” Then, collect your data—likely in the form of students’ work, notes to yourself, or test scores. Decide what these data mean—do they show an improvement on an assignment? Did anything change? Then, decide what action you should take after this. If your “treatment” was successful, you might try doing it more often!

3. Connect With a Coworker

Collaborate with a colleague to try new ideas. Too often teachers work in isolation once the door to their classroom closes, so meet with a colleague and exchange activity or strategy ideas so you can each try something you have never done in class before. Report back to each other to debrief about how it went, which will give you the opportunity to offer suggestions and/or get advice about further implementation. You might also consider providing opportunities for students in other classrooms to collaborate with each other—maybe they write letters or send emails to another class, or one class serves as the audience for another class’ presentations. Cross-classroom collaboration increases the amount of diverse language input students will produce and receive, and having a new audience can liven up interaction.

4. Think About It

Focus on higher order skills when writing your lesson objectives. Move beyond listening, speaking, reading, and writing and try to focus on the cognitive tasks and the related language forms and functions that accompany them. Current studies show that students must continually develop critical reading skills in order to accurately interpret all of the information they see and hear in any language. Memorization and recall are not enough—students need to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate in order to develop real expertise and use language in multiple ways. Place a Bloom’s Taxonomy organizer near your desk or in your lesson planning book.

5. Mix It Up!

Incorporate texts other than the textbook into your lesson plans. Textbooks, especially those focused on grammar, are often written with specific language points in mind and in a particular sequence. While they are incredibly helpful at times, the text in them is not always authentic to the ways that proficient English users sound or write, nor is it always about a topic that is of interest to your students. You may not be able to (or want to) completely abandon your textbook, but consider supplementing the lessons therein with authentic text from news publications, websites, songs, videos, novels, poems, or essays. You can often find an authentic text (i.e., one created by an English-speaking author to convey a message, not necessarily to learn a grammar point) that highlights the language focus you are working on, but in a real-world way.

The beauty of teaching is the opportunity to keep learning; hopefully, you’ll be able to adapt one of these ideas for your own context.  Remember that no innovation goes perfectly the first time, so be patient with yourself and your students as you try new things in 2017.


Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education.  She is assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at University of Texas at San Antonio, and writes the teacher education blog for TESOL International Association. You can follow her on Twitter for all things L2 teacher education: @lindahl_tesol.

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5 Steps for Managing Your Multilevel Classroom
The GO TO Strategies
5 EdTech Tools to Try in 2017
Quick Tip: 5 Ways to Break Out of Your Teaching Rut in 2017
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