How to get your students to use English out of class

How to get your students to use English out of class

Delivering super lessons is only part of our job as EFL teachers. Our main aim should be to inspire students to use their English outside of classes, to take ownership and practise in their own time. This is because English that is limited to lessons will not progress quickly. Equally, students who only practise in lessons can become fearful of actually using the language outside of the safety of the classroom.

With this in mind, how best can we help build that bridge between classroom and real-life English? I have listed a few ideas below because, with just a little thought, I believe it is possible encourage even the most reluctant of learners to enjoy exploring the language outside of formal lessons.

1. Start a closed Facebook group
Pose a question each week that you’d like the class to respond to. Here's an example:

"Where would you most like to live and why?"

Encourage students to comment on posts. As a teacher I wouldn’t correct publicly because this is about stimulating English conversation rather than grammar-shaming, but when you post you could include a tip on how to respond correctly. E.g:

"This week’s question is: where would you most like to live and why? (Second conditional, everyone!)"

Why this works: Feedback is motivational and the collaborative nature of the task should keep people engaged.

2. Mimic what they read and listen to in their own language
In class, get students to ask their partners about what they like to read/listen to in their own language. Then as homework, encourage each student to find a blog, songs, news articles etc. in English to read/listen to between lessons on their chosen topic. Next week, have them talk to their partner about what they are reading/listening to and why it is interesting. Try to incorporate a slot each week where students can briefly share what they are doing in English outside of class with each other.

Why this works: It is essentially individualised homework. Students are more likely to engage in English outside of class if they find the topic interesting. Having a deadline (next class) and knowing they are having to feed back keeps the task in focus so they more likely to do it.

3. Encourage real-world speaking practice
If teaching in a non-English speaking country, can you arrange your class into Skype chat groups/partnerships? Most students have free minutes on their contract phones so this will do if Skype is not possible. Have each group/pair arrange a regular 20 minute conversation slot in English each week. You could provide topics to start with. If you are in an English speaking country, you could encourage students to:

  • make conversation/small talk at the shops
  • answer telemarketing calls (with care)
  • strike up a conversation with someone with a dog in the street.

To get the ball rolling, think in class about conversation openers e.g.

"What a lovely dog. What breed is it?" 

Why this works:
This helps students overcome their fear of using English in an outside/natural setting. Have pairs or groups report back on the conversations they have had next class.


As teachers, it really helps to view lessons as a springboard for further learning rather than the sum total of a student’s English learning experience. The above ideas are designed for just this purpose.

What are your ideas for encouraging students to become autonomous learners, keen to explore and engage in English for themselves?  Why not share your experiences below?

Louisa Walsh, Course Director, Global English TESOL

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: 23/02/2017


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