I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “there’s no time like the present.”
Well, the present is 2021! I know, hard to believe.
But what does this mean for the world of ESL? Will we see classrooms full of students strapped into virtual reality headsets speaking English with bots? Or will the role of a teacher become completely obsolete as growing trends in teaching methodology and a focus on self-education push us out of a job?
The ESL industry is set to explode, creating about 100,000 new jobs every year. And with growth, come changes. Some of the new trends will barely leave a mark in the long run, while others may change the game forever.
Although the coming decade is indeed tech-dominant, one ingredient remains consistent across the years: excellent teaching and a positive classroom setting.
The big question is how do we merge the two to create the ultimate classroom for learning and self-discovery in 2021?
Let’s dive in to the beginning of the new decade together and explore some of the biggest trends in the English language teaching for 2021.
Welcome to the future!
6 English Language Teaching Trends for 2021 You Don’t Want to Miss
1. New Technology, Video Platforms and Social Media
New Technology to Watch: Virtual Reality
Imagine your students strolling along a traditional English street, weaving in and out of lanes and listening to a guide deliver a historical account of the famous landmarks—all while sitting in an ESL classroom in Vietnam!
It may sound farfetched, yet virtual reality is seeing greater prominence in the classroom. With the introduction of user-friendly apps such as Google’s “Expeditions” and the predicted growth in the virtual reality market, this trend may see greater expansion in the years to come. Google claims that “with ‘Expeditions,’ classrooms have no boundaries” and VR is the perfect example of a move toward the concept of a global classroom.
What does this mean for you?
- Due to the constant developments in the VR world, a number of well-crafted applications are already at your disposal though you may not have considered them for use in a class yet.
- The capacity for immersive experiences could soon become limitless with the broadening of VR development.
- Virtual Reality is one of the most exciting and cutting edge trends that could lead to a real shift in the way we blend tech and education both in and out of school.
- The students will take greater control over their learning and be able to enjoy “native” learning experiences and immersion simply by downloading the right app and purchasing the correct equipment.
- Mobile phones and devices are going to play an even greater role in the classroom setting as the technology trickles down to mobile platforms.
New Technology to Watch: Augmented Reality
If you haven’t heard of augmented reality, here’s a brief explanation: It’s essentially an enhancement of reality or digital overlay of your surroundings using tech. “Pokemon GO” is the most well-known example of augmented reality.
By overlaying the natural world with digital enhancement, new apps such as Mondly are able to create an immersive and modern learning experience. With the growth of digital literacy—especially among younger students—and the coming generations of digital natives, tech-savvy students in the know will be looking to AR for future language acquisition and supplements to classroom time.
How will this help you and your students?
- Using AR, students can receive greater input of images and video to match with vocabulary.
- Visual learners will be able to play to their strengths with a multi-sensory approach.
- Motivation will remain high due to the cutting-edge nature and excitement of using these modern technologies.
- Children will learn that, on occasion, there’s no problem relying on or using phones in class.
Take a look at some possible apps you may wish to use in the classroom to get you started with AR tools.
Video Platform to Watch: FluentU
The role of immersive technologies is becoming a definite trend for both teachers to utilize in class and students to rely on in the home. In a perfect world, we could all jump on a plane with our students to Edinburgh to practice our British slang and culture. While this may be out of reach (and a very expensive class), thankfully, FluentU brings the native experience to your screen.
By using a tried-and-tested comprehensible-input style approach, FluentU gives a native touch to your ESL classroom. As more and more video platforms are being used as classroom supplements, FluentU is your go-to, manageable and adaptable resource. It allows teachers to personalize classes for a motivated audience and utilize content that millions of English speakers engage with day in and day out.
Video Platform to Watch: Netflix
Netflix has caught on to the language learning trend, with many now turning to this international company for an accessible and easy method to practice passive listening skills.
While it may not necessarily be the most comprehensive platform to develop your students’ language capabilities, guided watching can take Netflix “study session” to the next level. Of course, it’s still recommendable to utilize platforms specifically for language acquisition, but a little Netflix for some homework in 2021 can’t hurt and some knowledge of pop culture can be of great benefit to an ESL classroom.
Social Media Platform to Watch: TikTok
Think Vine, only perhaps a little bit more perplexing. This social media app has seen unprecedented growth since its inception and is slowly making its way into the education world.
While at first glance, it may seem like a weird platform showcasing an endless stream of challenge videos, quirky memes and lip-syncing, TikTok has, in fact, already jumped on the trend of digital education early by launching the India-based program EduTok in late 2019. By blurring the line between education and entertainment, the potential of this social media to target large sections of the population has already seen positive and rapid expansion.
The result is often creative and humorous “bite-sized pieces” of English learning content that can be easily implemented into a classroom setting to liven up difficult exercises, phrasal verbs or vocabulary.
In the coming decade, we may see a new breed of influencer, one who merges a combination of personality, reach and a consistent production highly valuable content to the English learner. And as an English teacher, it’s important to be aware of just how many available sources and new mediums there are at your disposal.
There’s no problem with encouraging students to explore social media to develop their language skills. Just make sure that they don’t fall deep into a TikTok hole of watching endless videos of useless content, and be sure to continually encourage positive uses of such resources!
Social Media Platform to Watch: Instagram
By following the right accounts, English students can use Instagram as an effective and engaging tool to develop language learning skills. In 2021, we’ll see new features, updates and consistent growth of daily content which means the savvy teacher could implement some of the more prominent updates into their classrooms.
By simply following key hashtags such as #learnenglish, adaptable and short lessons from the new world of digital-education can form part of a contemporary and tech-literacy syllabus. In addition to this, students are able to get much needed daily input and turn often mindless scrolling into a more meaningful activity.
2. Mindfulness and Social-emotional Teaching
While the digital focus may seem an overriding trend, many are noticing that the big shifts in ESL are about turning inward to the classroom environment. The role of the teacher is shifting to one of “creator.” They’re tasked with crafting the perfectly balanced social and emotional environment that promotes learning and allows their students to feel comfortable in their space.
Nowadays, students and teachers are super stressed! Distraction, frustration and lack of awareness can be prominent in the English classroom as students struggle with the complexities of grammar and frustrations that come with limited fluency.
Programs such as the Mindfulness in Schools Project have realized the necessity of mindfulness and its importance in an educational context. Many organizations are now actively promoting the benefits of mindfulness and the impact it can have on a socially sound classroom—and 2021 is just the right time to get on board.
But what does this mean for you? Well, implementing some mindfulness activities in your classroom may just lead to better outcomes and happier students. Apps such as Smiling Mind and Headspace can prove not only useful in the home but in the classroom, too: Studies have shown improvements in sleep, concentration and overall wellbeing of young learners.
With the increase in technological reliance, naturally, comes a decrease in attention and awareness. Teachers must be aware of the benefits that mindfulness can bring to the classroom atmosphere and implement the foundations to create an optimal learning environment.
Lucky for you, it’s entirely possible to blend both ESL and mindfulness into the curriculum, and it can be done by taking some simple activities and tweaking them for your class.
A sample exercise based on progressive muscle relaxation for young learners could be as follows:
1. Ask your students to stand up and gather in a circle.
2. Encourage students to focus on their breathing as you take a big breath in and out together 10 times and get them to count along in their heads.
3. Allow children to relax and lie down on the floor.
4. Ask your students to tense and loosen each muscle (a good way to practice anatomy vocabulary!) one after the other,
5. Remind students to retain continued focus on the breath and the sensation of the tensing and loosening of the muscle groups.
6. Remember that mistakes, mishaps and lapses in concentration are totally OK.
7. Reiterate the vocabulary and practice, practice, practice!
You can model this exercise or draw on an online resource.
The need to facilitate and educate within the lens of social-emotional learning will see a massive boom in 2021 as conferences across the US and the world are being hosted that focus on this new and massive trend.
3. Task-based Learning
Task-based learning is based on a simple premise: that students learn when they collaborate on meaningful and communication-based tasks.
But what will task-based learning look like in 2021? Many task-based learning activities simply lack a purposeful and helpful connection to the real world. The nature of these skill-based activities and the way they’re composed could see a massive change in the coming decade as teachers of ESL will be required to construct more helpful and purpose-driven activities.
This could come from a variety of sources but it should primarily be focused on the consideration of students and their areas of interest. This collaboration factor and contemplation for future skill necessities should help you rethink how you approach task-based learning.
Overly-theoretical and traditional task-based activities should be replaced with modern equivalents and the students should be encouraged to consider their own areas of interest and how this may fit within the task-based learning context.
How can you implement this modern view of task-based learning?
- For example, you can let your students develop an app from an initial discussion to its full inception. The practical skills and modern context would serve as a useful and job-ready activity.
- Consider activities such as escape rooms and challenge-based activities as a great way to invigorate and modernize the ESL classroom while focusing on both collaborative and communicative skill acquisition.
- Push the boundaries of what a “task” might include and always have an eye to the future.
- Play around with blogs, video games and other technology-oriented tasks.
While not necessarily a “new” trend, translanguaging is set to see greater importance in the coming year and decade!
What exactly is translanguaging? Simply, it’s the use of various languages in an educational context.
Translanguaging incorporates a number of different theoretical approaches. Previously, it was thought that the best approach in an English classroom was to keep a policy of separation between the native language and English. However, over the years, this line of thinking has been challenged quite convincingly.
A translanguaging class, for example, may see students write an essay or discuss a topic in their shared native tongue(s) before grouping with the class and presenting their findings in English. In this case, students are using whatever language resources they have to best achieve a more accurate picture in English.
In my ESL classroom, I often have students explain difficult English grammatical points to a partner using their native language to reach a more particular understanding if required.
Let’s break it down.
Translanguaing is defined by:
- Use of various language skills to designate meaning in a language class.
- A methodology and pedagogical approach to language acquisition.
- A method that seeks to push boundaries and question the benefits of a single language classroom.
- A classroom tool that’s an important and often comforting approach to language acquisition in a multi-lingual and diverse context.
- As a result, students hopefully retain a component of their identity through a shared language and a classroom becomes a space of global communication.
- Essentially, translanguaging reflects the diversity of culture and society.
What will translanguaging look like in 2021? As we move toward an even wider world of diverse cultures and language, it’s important for students to draw on whatever resources they have to aid their language learning journey. By blending and relying on a variety of linguistic sources, students are able to better communicate ideas and bond with their fellow students and teachers.
This is currently a highly studied area of growing fascination and research is constantly being conducted to manifest the potential of viewing language as a cultural and “sense-making” as well as communicative device.
Here’s how to implement translanguaging in your English teaching in 2021:
- Empathize! Ask questions to your students, especially if you’re learning their native tongue/s (they love to play the role of teacher every now and then!).
- Make sure to learn some cognates before each class to be prepared.
- Tie the translanguaging classroom to culture as much as possible.
- Encourage pairing and grouping based on language proficiency and interest.
- Consider language as a piece of a wider puzzle rather than a skill.
5. DIY Learning
Do-it-yourself learning is set to become a major trend as we move to a more independent and interest-based learning style. Students should be encouraged to follow particular areas of interest to promote engagement and enjoyment in the classroom and home.
But what does this mean for teachers? It sounds like the dream situation as we just kick back and let the students take control… Well, not quite.
While most of the learning does, in fact, take place in the hands of the students, teachers must remain diligent. By exploring the needs of the children and their particular areas of interest, you’ll become more aware of the students’ personalities and potential learning direction. Using this information, it’s up to the teacher to devise interest-based activities.
What Exactly Would a DIY Homework Assignment Look Like?
For younger students, a DIY assignment may simply involve time-blocking or gym-blocking sections of homework for students to explore their own passions.
For example, you might allocate 20 minutes out of a 60-minute homework project for YouTube, reading or other passions that can be presented in the coming class. This should coincide with class homework but it’s entirely up to the students how they wish to approach this time. Of course, it must be in English!
For older students, DIY learning may see a greater focus on the “job-ready” or “skill ready” side of DIY learning. Students may be encouraged to undertake projects at home regarding the writing of CVs, emails, job applications, college papers or literature reviews, which can be assessed in class. Here we’re incorporating both English study and important life skills.
Essentially, when setting DIY homework, students should be encouraged to allocate time to work on specific or “desired areas” of study and create blocks of time during which they focus on areas of research and discovery. This could come in a number of formats and is up to the discretion of the student.
If you’ve ever spent any time teaching ESL in China then it’s likely that you’ve heard of this final one!
Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (I know, it’s a mouthful!) stems from the concept of comprehensible input. The idea is that context and meaning play an important role in the acquisition of new language and native phrases.
While it was developed in the late 1980s by linguist Blain Ray, the concept is consistently being updated and modernized to promote high-input environments that lead to better understanding.
By presenting tasks based on storytelling and reading in a highly contextualized setting, teachers are able to teach vocabulary, phrases and large chunks of language. It’s a move away from traditional textbook-based learning and relies heavily on the competencies of the teacher. While some countries have seen stalls and even decreases in their English capabilities, many see this as a lack of practical and comprehensible teaching methods in the classroom and a more traditional style “grammar-book” approach.
It’s incredibly, deeply necessary to be up to date with the latest in TPRS methodologies and strategies.
So what would a TPRS class look like?
How about watching a teacher in action as he skillfully blends storytelling, questions, illustration, student engagement and enthusiasm?
Here’s what is to keep in mind about TPRS for 2021:
- TPRS is constantly being developed and refined.
- Significant changes in the method are being developed.
- Comprehensible input is the basis of this action and a solid understanding of how this impacts your students’ (and your) learning capabilities is a must.
By keeping an eye on these English language teaching trends, you’ll be able to construct fun, modern and life-changing English classes in the new year.
We’re in the future, so our teaching methods should be, too! 2021 doesn’t look too scary after all, now does it.
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