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For those people who are newer readers of this blog a brief explanation of my teaching situation (if you know me or have been reading for a while, feel free to skip this section):

I teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in the south east of London. Because we’re in London (an attractive draw for learners of English) and this is ESOL, I potentially have in my classes learners who have obtained the equivalent of masters degrees or phds in their first languages alongside others who may not be able to read or write in their mother tongue. I may be teaching English to people with a vast amount of experience of education and others with no such experience at all…

It’s this latter category, potentially labelled as lower-educated in some contexts (although focusing on the formal educational environment, and not the day to day learning we do) that I’d like to focus on here. Sometimes, usually in the lower level classes (Entry 1 and 2 if you know the UK ESOL level system, broadly pre-A1 to not quite A2 on the CEFR if you don’t) I come across learners who just seem to be, for want of a better expression, ’empty’.

I’d never blame any particular learner who seems to be like this, for there could be any number of reasons as to why they don’t participate as much in class as others. They might simply not be used to the college surroundings, or even any kind of educational establishment. They might be learning English formally for the first time. They might not have been exposed to communicative approaches to language teaching and they may not be aware of the potential learning that can be done when we communicate.

They might have had to leave their country for very serious reasons. There might be a war going on. Genocide. They might have been persecuted and threatened with death for their beliefs, their lifestyle, even their day to day choices, which we would take for granted.

No wonder there are those learners who just don’t seem to want to join in.

I sometimes don’t know what to do. I’m not sure if how I operate in the classroom is helping them as much as it could. So here is an appeal:

Do you recognise the kind of learner I’ve described above? How do you deal with them in class? How do you possibly address whatever it is that may be affecting their level of participation, if you indeed can do this?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated