Think Out Of the Box – Infusing Critical Thinking in the EFL Classroom

“Teaching students to think in English teaches them to live in English” affirms my friend, Anthony Vaughan in his blog several weeks back. 

And this struck a bell in my mind and got ME thinking. Now, how often do we plan lessons that primarily aim in getting learners to don their thinking hats? More often than not, the precision and details that go into EFL lesson planning is largely intended to hone a multititude of language skills. Fair enough for a language class. But what about those crucial soft skills that learners would so need once they go out into the world of reality ? Think about it.

The truth is (as Anthony puts it) we’re probably a really lucky bunch of ELT teachers  if we’ve been blessed with learners who hail from educational systems that place focus on nurturing thinking skills. But this is usually not the case now, is it? For I honestly believe that in a large number of countries, a huge share of the educational-cake is given to assessments and examinations of some sort. In fact, it can pretty much get into a rat-race of learners trying their best to outdo one another where exam results are concerned. But how can we use exams as a basis in determining a learners’ intelligence level? You do get what I mean now, don’t you?

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(image courtesy of short-quote-jokes.com)

Well, I may not have my facts in black and white, but I think I can regretfully and sadly say that this is the case in many countries. However, I’m not going to get into the details of this because it’s not the purpose of my post for today.

Which bring me back to this post. See,  I believe that as ELT teachers, we actually play a very influential role in helping these learners transcend from the exam-base educational system to a lifelong-based learning system. And how do we do this, exactly? By designing lessons that aim in developing BOTH language AND soft-skills of learners, which was what I attempted at doing in this following lesson. I particularly focussed on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills this time around. It was overwhelmingly fulfilling to watch my learners argue, discuss, negotiate and plan fervently in their groups. AND EVERY BIT OF IT WAS IN ENGLISH…..:))))))

You might have seen a similar lesson plan elsewhere, but this one’s definitely as original as it can get, and no, it wasn’t inspired by the series “Lost”. 🙂

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Lesson Plan                    : A month of survival on an island

Proficiency Level      : Elementary and above

Activity Type               : Collaborative task (Group Discussion and class presentation)

Learners’ Age               : Teenagers, young adults and adults

Skills focussed             : Language skills (speaking, reading, listening with a bit of writing)

Time                                   : Depending on class size 

Materials                          : Task sheets, Manila paper (1 per group), colored permanent markers and papers.   

The Plan

1. Divide learners into groups of 3. 

2. Get learners to select a team leader.

3. Distribute the task sheet to each team.  Give them around 5-10 minutes to :

      a) read the task              

     b) underline the keyw    

     c) discuss what they’ve understood from   the task

     d) write down questions arising in their minds 

4. Discuss the tasksheet together as a class.

5. Distribute the materials for the group presentation (blank manila cardboards, markers).   

6. Presentation to the class.

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Important Notes:

1. I used this lesson for purposes of teaching them presentation skills, soft skills, as well as practice the target language of the day. This can be the 1st conditional, or even the 2nd conditional. You can customize this lesson to fit your aim in any way you want.

2. If you look at the task sheets, there are some blanks in the instructional rubrics. I deliberately did that for you to be able to personalize this task according to wherever you teach in the world. I find that learners get truly engaged if the task is personalized to their needs. Personalization actually enables learners to truly imagine themselves in the  situation highlighted in the task.

3. You can expand this lesson to include the introduction of presentation skills and language to your learners. This could be done between steps (5) and (6) in the lesson plan above.

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 And How did the lesson go?

 I guess the photos below could help answer the question…

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 They pretty much loved it, I must say:))) Totally engaged and truly believing that they were stranded on an island! 

Please do try this in your classroom. You’d surely enjoy it as much as I did. Perhaps you could even improvise it and leave a comment here on how you did so. I’d jolly love to hear what you’ve got to say!

In case we don’t meet again, happy happy new year, friends….

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(image courtesy of http://momentsofharmony.com)