Learner Autonomy


One of the things I really like about my new school is that they really encourage learner autonomy. In the first instance we can encourage learner autonomy in the classroom – allowing students to have a say in how they learn, reducing the amount of scaffolding used, and offering students choice in the media they use to present their ideas, or the topics or texts they study. Sooner or later, however, in order to become really successful language learners, they’re going to have to put in some work at home.

Over the last week, the higher level students have all been suggesting ways of practising/consolidating their knowledge while they are at home – their suggestions will be compiled and then added to the website so that other students can benefit from them. Our students have come up with some good suggestions, but I’ve also been itching to share my own ideas. So what exactly can our students do, and how can we encourage them to take their learning into their own hands?

Keep a diary/blog

One of my students has got into the habit of keeping a weekly diary in English. It’s a sweet idea, and one that’s pretty easy to adopt. I’m considering setting aside a few minutes at the end of a lesson for my students to write a paragraph about what they learnt, how they found it, and any questions they still have – a kind of ‘learning diary’ if you will. Obviously it’s important to be clear about how much input you as a teacher will have in this process: if you commit to reading, marking and providing feedback on it, you need to do so regularly.

Change your phone or Facebook into English

Important reminder: make sure that they know how to change it back first! Throughout my many attempts at language learning over the years, I’ve found this to be really helpful. Using their phone or Facebook in English exposes your students to lots of new vocabulary (think log in/log off, privacy settings, drafts, etc), but at the same time it’s quick, easy to do and doesn’t involve blocking out large amounts of time for ‘English study’. It can also be a helpful bridge towards ‘thinking in English’ for higher level students.

Watch your favourite film/TV series in English

Watching films or TV series in the language you are trying to learn doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking, but particularly for low-level learners, I want to stress it should be their favourite film or TV series – something they’ve already seen multiple times and that you know well. The simple reason for this as it allows them to think about the language used, rather than struggling to follow what’s going on. It also means they don’t run the risk of not enjoying the film, simply because they don’t understand!

Use a language learning app/website

There are lots of language learning apps out there, such as Quizlet, where you can use ready made (or create your own) flashcards, the British Council LearnEnglish apps, where you can listen to podcasts, practice grammar, or play games (and they have apps especially for kids too!) or the Cambridge apps to help your students to prepare for PET, FCE or IELTS. Using language learning apps mean your students can brush up on their skills while waiting for/on public transport, out and about, or at home. Why not involve a whole class and ask them to choose an app, try it out, and then review it – would they recommend it to their classmates?

Speak to a friend/partner in English

Obviously this is dependent on students having a friend/partner who speaks English! This can however be where the internet comes in – and it’s also important to stress that this  friend doesn’t have to be a native English speaker! Two students from the same class will also get a lot out of having a conversation with each other in English, although it should be a genuine conversation rather than a structured ‘classroom discussion’ type one. Students in English-speaking countries could also have a chat to shop assistants or waiters.

Read in English

(something students would normally read in L1). I’ve come across countless students who think that because they are reading in English, they need to read a broadsheet newspaper or Dickens or Austen. If they wouldn’t read those types of things in L1, they shouldn’t be trying to read them in English! Reading outside of the classroom should at least in part be reading for pleasure, and forcing yourself to plough through something you don’t enjoy certainly won’t be that. If students do want to read the news (and aren’t yet at the point where they can easily read an authentic newspaper/news website) News in Levels is a good resource. Otherwise, there’s no harm in reading an English translation of a favourite book or magazine. It doesn’t have to be originally written in English for it to be valuable!

How do you encourage your students to learn outside the classroom?


4 thoughts on “Learner Autonomy

  1. Hi Elly,
    This is a really useful list of tips. For learners who want to use Quizlet but don’t know where to start, they might find my guide helpful: http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/quizlet It includes links to Quizlet classes for each level of the CEFR.
    If you want to find out more about developing learner autonomy, I’d recommend Lizzie Pinard’s blog: https://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/ Section 6 on the home page will take you to all of her posts about LA.
    Hope the new job is going well!


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