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This time of the year I suffer from RSS, and I’m sure I’m not alone.


You’ll recognise the symptoms –ย There aren’t as many people in your classes as there were three weeks ago; when you ask a question to the group you are met with complete silence; you get your students to talk about their holidays and hear something like this: ‘Did you went to the cinema?’

That’s right. Rusty Student Syndrome. RSS generally hits at certain times of the year. January, after Easter and in September are big ones (if you follow a Western-Europe style academic year). They’ve been away for a number of weeks, haven’t practised much English (if any), they come back to class and it seems like they are worse than when they started!

Below you will find five ideas/resources to encourage your learners to keep their English ticking over while they are on holiday. I know it probably won’t be of use for most people, but at least you can be well prepared for next time! A disclaimer – I’m sure my ideas are probably not revolutionary, and I have taken as a starting point an activity from Conversation by Rob Nolasco and Lois Arthur (Oxford Resource Books for Teachers)

  1. Ask your students to keep a diary detailing what they do during the holiday. They don’t necessarily need to do this every day – one day a week would probably be plenty if the holiday lasts 3 weeks or more. When they return after the holiday, ask your students to interview each other about what they have done.
  2. Slight similar to number 1 but with a different focus. Ask your students to keep a diary of the news. Ask them to listen/watch the news and write a summary of a story that interests them, at least a couple of times during the holiday. The BBC iPlayer and BBC podcasts pages are great if you have students who need to listen to audio a few times before grasping vocabulary and meaning. The latter is probably more suited for teachers outside the UK as it has a programmes from World Service including World News for Kids ๐Ÿ™‚ A lot of scripts are available for the programmes, so have a look around. Here is a Common Craft video on podcasting.
  3. Encourage your students to read newspapers online. Most UK newspapers have lots of online content so there is plenty of reading material out there, and the best part is that it is free! Take a look at these sites: The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, The Washington Post – there’s really no excuse for students of English not to read about the news.
  4. Set your students up on Skype (, that is if they are not on it already. Encourage your students to call each other and talk about what they have been doing.
  5. Ok, so this one isn’t a tip for encouraging learner autonomy, but a useful activity for after the holidays if you’re stuck for inspiration. It could also be used as a review activity depending on the language you want to practise. I can’t claim the credit for this. It was thought up by my friend Isabel Cheung, who teaches modern foreign languages at a secondary school in the UK. The idea might not be too original (I’m sure it exists in some guise or other in EFL) but once you have the props, it should be very versatile. Here are the notes: inTense

I would be very interested to hear if you have any RSS stories or ideas for encouraging learner autonomy ๐Ÿ™‚