Who to ask?(2) or What do students want?

08 Jun

I believe in coincidences. When two events happen at the same time, they enhance each other and the connection between them becomes strikingly obvious. A coincidence gives you an unprecedented chance to have a broader view of the events.

Such an eye-opening coincidence occurred when I was doing a survey with my Moscow State University students at the Physics faculty this spring. (For the general overview of the survey, please see ) The survey coincided with the arrival of the parcel with Teaching Unplugged.  The ideas in the book and the survey results were so much in line with each other! Both the authors of the book and the students expressed one and the same idea – COMMUNICATION is central to language learning.

This idea is concisely expressed in the quotation from the Common European Framework of Reference for Modern Languages: language learning should “satisfy …communicative needs”, enabling learners to “exchange information and ideas … and communicate their thoughts and feelings.” (I came across this quotation in Luke Medding’s story in the Introduction to Teaching Unplugged)

I believe this is a key point in teaching and learning languages because, as stated in Teaching Unplugged, “conversation is the fundamental, universal and default form of language. For this reason, most language learners feel cheated if their course includes little or no conversation practice.” (Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury, 2009) Unfortunately, this is so much common a case in Russian Post-Soviet schools and Universities where conversation isn’t given much priority. However, students are eager to socialize with, learn from and exchange their experiences with each other. As you will see from the detailed description of survey results below, most students expressed the wish to speak and interact with each other more. Moreover, learners would like to talk about things that are most relevant to them and what they can engage with.  One of my students said that the discussions in class shouldn’t necessarily be about physics (my students’ main subject at the faculty). This once again confirms that teachers should unplug from time to time to give room for students’ initiative and creativity.

All this became so clear to me after I looked through the responses my students had given in the survey.

So now it’s right time for me to step back and give floor to my students  🙂

Below I comment each question of the survey and provide some quotations from students’ feedback sheets.

Q#1 – What is your general impression of the lesson today?

In general, this question is an indicator of the efficiency of your teaching. If your teaching meets your students’ needs and interests, most of the answers to this question will be favourable. If favourable comments constitute only half of the responses, it’s time for a teacher to revise their methods.

I’m happy to say that almost all of my students are unanimous in their opinion of my lessons. Here is what they say:

  • “I think it was very interesting and useful”
  • “I really liked it! There was a comfortable atmosphere (as usual)”
  • “It was interesting. I had slept about 3 hours last night but it wasn’t a problem. Great job!’
  • “Sunny time” /The day was really sunny and bright! /
  • “I think it was very funny and interesting.”
  • “It was incredible.”
  • ”I liked the lesson! On the one hand we didn’t do much, so I’m not very tired after the lesson. But on the other, I realize that I’ve learnt some new facts about the language.”
  • “It’s always interesting. I really like the atmosphere in the classroom. It’s positive and friendly.”
  • “I don’t know how to describe it, but I think all your lessons are great!”

(Dear students, believe me, I always try to do my best 🙂 I’m glad you enjoy my lessons! 🙂 )

Q#2 – What have you learnt today?

First of all, I’d like to give a brief description of the lesson we had that day. It was a grammar revision lesson on verbs followed by Gerund or Infinitives.

  1. Warming-up speaking activity on what students had seen, felt, heard, smelt or noticed on their way to the University: S-S/T-CL (10 min)
  2. Oral drill of verbs in the form of peer check in pairs. Before the pair check, I checked each student individually. (15 min)
  3. Homework check: students were given their classmates’ home tasks that they had prepared for that lesson. They checked them individually then with those whose homework they had checked. Then there was the whole class check. (15 min)
  4. Controlled practice on Gerund: S/S-S/T-CL (20-25 min)
  5. Freer practice on Gerund: discussion of questions that included some verbs with gerund. Students were arranged in two rows. Over some time one row of students moved forming new pairs of students. (15 min)
  6. Feedback survey (7-10 min)

On the whole, the students found it easy to recall what they had learnt during the lesson. I’m not going to give students comments on this question because they were almost the same, stating that they “learnt new rules on gerund after certain verbs and what [their] friends had been doing in the morning, [their] feelings and other.”

At first sight this question might look unnecessary. Why to ask an obvious thing? But I find this particular question very beneficial for the development of students’ learning autonomy. By looking back at what they have studied during a lesson, students will learn over some time to set clear learning goals and revise them and also their achievement on a regular basis. I think it could be a good practice to include this question in our lessons plans, making students get used to such summarizing and revision.

Q#3 – What part of the lesson did you like in the class today? Why?

The answers to this question led me to the following conclusion about what students really like to do in class.

Firstly, students like to act as teachers and check each other’s knowledge or homework:

  • “I liked the part when I was like a teacher and checked homework of my classmate…”
  • “I liked checking the verbs in pairs.”

Needless to say how beneficial the peer check is. It never fails to raise students’ awareness and concentration on the task. This leads to a better class work efficiency and students’ better performance and quicker progress.

Secondly, the students like cooperation:

  • “I liked when we did exercises and then checked them together but first in pairs.”
  • “I like to compare our results.”
  • “I like when we worked in pairs, because I have terrible English speaking skills and don’t feel stressed when I work in a pair.”

This once again reminds us how important the pair work is. It reduces stress, fosters cooperation and increases students’ speaking time.

Next, students like competitions:

  • “I like the spirit of competition, it makes me work better.”
  • “I liked the part of the lesson when we had a some kind of gerund battle.”

Well, yes, people do like to compete! This is natural after all! So why to neglect this sort of activity? Even a traditional grammar exercise check can be turned into a competition. The competition takes the boredom away and brings fun and joy into the classroom. Competitions can be made even more enjoyable if the winners get some small prizes such as a sweet, an eraser, etc.

Finally, students like communicating with each other:

  • “It is interesting to talk with classmates.”
  • “I like to chat with my classmates.”
  • “I like the part when we speak with each other.”
  • “I like intercourse with the friends. I think it is very interesting to know something new about people who are round you.”

Well, it’s all about communication 🙂 We are humans because we communicate. And we communicate because we are humans. It’s in the human nature to speak, to share and to interact. Languages were invented for this purpose. However, when it comes to teaching a foreign language, speaking turns out to be the most disregarded part of the learning process. At least it’s true for Russian Post-Soviet educational traditions, according to which learners of foreign languages have mainly been taught reading and writing as if they have been trained for the roles of scanners or printers.

So, the teacher’s duty is to allocate as much class time as possible to developing speaking skills through conversation. To quote from Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury , “there are at least five reasons why conversation should occupy a key role in language learning. These are:

  • Conversation is language at work
  • Conversation is discourse.
  • Conversation is interactive, dialogic and communicative.
  • Conversation scaffolds learning.
  • Conversation promotes socialization.” (Teaching Unplugged, 2009)

But how to increase students’ speaking time in the classroom if teachers are often forced to meet the deadlines and tight schedules? In my opinion, the best way out is to try to turn each task or activity into a conversation.

The students’ responses to this question naturally take me to the last fifth question of the survey.

Q#4 – What part of the lesson did you dislike in the class today? Why?

We can’t avoid criticism, can we? 🙂 So, here is the point of the survey where the students were asked to express their criticism and ideas how my lessons can be improved.

I was really glad to find out that a lot of respondents had left this section blank or said something like “I don’t have anything to say here” or “There wasn’t anything I disliked about the lesson.”

However, this question is one of the most important in the survey because it provides the teacher with invaluable information about what is going wrong or what the students are not happy with. This is a sort of a diagnosis of what should be immediately dealt with and improved.

Some students expressed their worries about being publicly tested. They felt nervous and even frightened. I understand those students’ concerns and next time I probably change the order of the activities. I’ll first ask students to check each other in pairs and then I’ll quickly test each student individually. This order will help less confident students to get better prepared for the test and might reduce their tension.

However, I think that a bit of nervousness is healthy: tests shake students up a bit 🙂

There was one more comment to this question. The student said that s/he didn’t like the part of the lesson when the lesson was over and they had to leave the classroom 🙂

I hope that this will be the only regret our students express about our lessons! I also hope that the questionnaire will help you to achieve this.


I would like to address to all of my students and to thank them for taking part in the survey and sharing their impressions and observations with me.

My dear students, I also thank you all for attending my lessons, for doing all your home tasks and for contributing to our lessons.

I apologize for not quoting all the responses here. It was done to save time and post space. But it no way means that some of your responses are more important than others. Let me assure you that each and every comment of yours has been taken into consideration.

I wish you every luck and success in your studies and life. It’s been pleasure to work with you! 🙂

I also would like to thank everyone who has read my post to this point 😉 Thank you for taking time and reading my post. I hope it wasn’t a waste of time for you and you have found something useful in it.

Thank you!


Here are the beautiful flowers my students gave to me at the end of the semester 🙂


Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Young Adults


5 responses to “Who to ask?(2) or What do students want?

  1. Chiew

    June 10, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Wow! Great post. Detailed observation. Fabulous flowers! It’s great when students are cooperative and are hungry to learn – that’s half the battle won. Having said that, it’s also the teacher’s role to try to get the students interested and keen to learn, and you seem to have achieved that!

    You know, the question “What have you learnt today” is important in several aspects. It encourages the students to refresh the lesson in their memory; it makes them more attentive if these questions are often done; and it also confirms (or otherwise) that the students have understood what the teacher wanted them to understand.

    I want to be your student, Sasha! 😉

    Well done!


    • Alexandra

      June 13, 2012 at 12:48 am

      Thank you, Chiew! Your words are the best praise for me! 🙂 Thank you for inspiring me! 🙂


  2. Barbi Bujtas

    June 21, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Wheeeeyy! Awsome! I’m in a trial period of a version of these questions, different levels, age groups, class types… the responses are surprisingly positive! It all makes me feel I do a good job! Highly recommend it! If you want to boost your self-esteem just go ahead and try it! Trallala-trallala! 😀


    • Alexandra

      June 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you, Barbi! 🙂 I’m glad you liked the idea. And you’re sure right that it not only boosts self-esteem but is fun too. I’m curious about the results of your playing with the idea! Please, keep me informed on them! 🙂



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