When teaching English, we, teachers, always try to find the best way to help our students achieve their objective: to communicate in English. In this process, we need to take into account our students’ needs, their preferences, their interests as well as the reasons why they are studying. Furthermore, we should enable them to convey their message beyond the topics offered by the course. Thus, to offer the opportunity to express themselves regarding different themes is crucial because of the following:
1. Students must have a real motivation. Sometimes, unfortunately, the only motivation is to pass their course, exams and so on. Probably this answer varies according to the place where English is taught. It might not be the same to learn English at school as it might be to learn it at a private institution. Nevertheless, in any of the cases, there are pupils who are studying this language because they “have to,” because of either work or studies requirements. The latter may be because they need to study abroad or they need to finish a school or university term successfully. Having further information about what engages students will definitely become a valuable asset.
2. Students must be able to use English in contexts beyond the ones presented in the coursebook. The idea is not necessarily to teach English through different contents as suggested in the article http://languageteachingblogger.blogspot.com/2018/08/teaching-foreign-language-are-we-on.html. The plan would be to use the same themes used in other subjects at school or propose themes that are relevant for the students who are not studying at school or university. In the first case, pupils may consider one of the themes worked in other courses. This is really advantageous because the student would have to deal only with the language (structure & vocabulary) and not the topic which many times inhibits participation. Since students would have already worked with the concept of the theme, they will find less threatening to try to communicate. In fact, they may feel more comfortable because not everything is new. For instance, if at school all courses are working with the topic of “drugs,” the English teacher can use this topic to help students communicate giving their opinions in a debate organized with students from different classes. Students from different levels and years could participate. Even more, if possible, the whole school could organize things in such a way that different places at school could display banners with information related to the topic.
Regarding our students of the second group, they will always find it more appealing and useful to exercise using English in contexts that are more meaningful for them.
3. This way of working adds variety to the lessons: Not following always the material presented in the texts makes our teaching less predictable and thus more stimulating for both students and teachers. Contemplating other themes whether they are transversal like the ones worked in schools or just different and relevant for students automatically generates a different environment in the lessons. Experience shows that students are more willing and engaged when they are challenged with useful and interesting issues they can use to communicate.
Are there any other advantages? What about the disadvantages? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?