The term ‘well-being’ has always seemed a tad wishy-washy for a northern British lass like myself so I’m using ‘feel-good’ in this blog post instead. For me it’s more concrete, more to do with what makes you feel good and not what makes you a better person, more about chocolate cake and less about kale smoothies.
Whatever you call it, we need lots of it in our diverse secondary English language classrooms. Traditional school environments and related ideas regarding learning can exclude many teenagers around the world. This is particularly the case for learners with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) but a lack of ‘feel good’ negatively impacts all learners at certain stages of their school lives. In my experience, everyone needs to feel good to learn, and we can incorporate activities in our English lessons to help make all of our learners feel comfortable and happy to be there.
I believe that there are three key areas that teenagers need to feel good about: themselves, being in the classroom context and their English language learning.
Here’s a brief outline of some of the activities I’ve successfully used to enable my learners to feel good about all these areas. You can use some of the activities from time to time, while others can take place throughout the school year. Be sure to select and adapt these activities for the age group you teach (lower / upper secondary) as sound age appropriacy is crucial, of course.
At the start of the school year, create a memory jar and every so often ask your learners to add little notes about good things that they have done or experienced in their English class. During the last lesson of the year, open the jar and share memories of all the wonderful things that have happened during the year.
My Word Cloud
Use one piece of paper per student, with a name on each. Distribute them and ask each learner to write one positive adjective about the person whose name is at the top. Take them home and make a word cloud for each learner. Once laminated, these clouds make great (and inexpensive!) personal gifts for birthdays or end of the year presentations.
This is a great personalised speaking and/or writing task for upper secondary learners (15 – 17 year olds). Ask them to write an advert for their ideal role, it could be for a future job, or even something like ‘great big sister’, ‘good learner’ etc. Once they have written the advert they either write an email explaining why they are the ideal candidate for the job, or they give their advert to a partner who then interviews them for the position. The learners will need plenty of scaffolding including activation of ideas and language input, but with plenty of rehearsal time and peer / teacher support, even reticent speakers and writers in the class get to be recognised as truly valuable with real contributions to make.
Exams and tests often negatively impact self-esteem for many teenagers learning English. To make testing a more positive experience for test takers and to embed an element of ‘thinking’, consider adding reflection questions at the end of the test or exam. Here the learners can explain what they think went well or not, and why. They can also think about what they will do next time and what they have learnt from this experience. These responses aren’t necessarily ‘graded’, but are very useful for helping learners reflect on their learning, gain perspective and promote their metacognitive awareness.
‘How to’ Videos
Everyone can be an expert on something, and this activity can help teenage learners discover the most unlikely talents among their classmates. Ask learners to prepare, script and rehearse a ‘how to’ video and upload to an age appropriate educational online space – ensuring that safeguarding and child protection requirements have been fully attended to.
At the end of the school year, ask your learners to write an email (or blog post!) to next year’s class, telling them all the things they will learn and what they need to know to not only survive, but thrive! This helps our learners to really recognise how much they have progressed. Be sure to save the emails and send them to the next class, via the school’s email system (never via private email), which provides a great start of year activity. I teach five consecutive year groups, so in my case most learners write to next year’s groups who love receiving correspondence from a former learner.
I’ll be talking more about The ‘Feel-Good’ Factor at the IATEFL IPSEN SIG’s Pre Conference Event on 3 April in Glasgow as well as during the main conference. If you’re there, please come along and if not, please contact me nearer the time and I’ll happily share my slides.