By Cambridge CELTA instructor, Laura Greenwood

Why should you activate your ESL students’ background schema when teaching English as a foreign language?

When doing receptive skills work (listenings and readings) with your students, it is important to take time at the very beginning of the lesson to activate your students’ experiences with and knowledge of the topic of the listening/reading. In TEFL this is called activating background schema. Doing this immediately engages your students, gets them using English, and sets them up for more successful listening/reading comprehension.

• This component of a receptive skills lesson is called a ‘Lead In.’

• Include visuals, realia, discussion, and personalization – a broad look at the topic/subject/content area of the listening or reading.

• Ask some general questions and have your students brainstorm ideas/knowledge of the listening/reading topic or ‘What I want to Know’ (about the topic).

• Read a background text, watch a video clip, listen to others discuss the topic of the listening/reading, etc. to stimulate discussion.

• Make an explicit link between the topic of the text and students’ own lives and experiences in order to prepare them for successful listening/reading.

If you don’t activate your students' background schema when teaching English as a foreign language, your students might not be interested in listening/reading, have a purpose for listening/reading, or even be ready to successfully listen/read.

Beyond all of the above excellent reasons for activating background schema when teaching English as a foreign language, is the fact that you will learn a lot of interesting and remarkable facts about your students.