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Experiencing (active) language learning

“I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand”
Chinese Proverb

Active learning is a must for teachers of all areas of knowledge (including interdisciplinarity) and contexts of teaching nowadays. Fortunately, as language teachers, we benefit from having heard of student-centered learning long before. Among the advantages, we can highlight: focus on the learner and learning, information retention, communication skills, higher level thinking skills, teamwork, motivation, new learning resources and variety of learning styles (JONES: 2007). So how can we, teachers, promote active (language) learning? Two aspects must be taken into consideration beforehand: the mediations in the learning processes and our learning contexts.

For Vygotsky (2007) the intellectual functions of human beings are not mere results of biological maturation, as if they were something natural and innate for all human beings. Instead, the intellectual functions are socially constructed with the fundamental assistance of language. In this sense, cognition emerges not only from biological functioning, but also from the integration of biological and social practice. This Vygotskyan basis for Cultural Historical Activity Theory serves to us, teachers, as inspiration. I like to say that we are “architects” or “designers” of learning, since we can put in practice a plan of intervention in order to promote students’ learning and development (DAVYDOV:1988).

Another important issue to reflect on is context: some of us teach at a foreign language context, either regular schools or language schools. Some of us teach at international schools or bilingual schools. The context makes the difference when we are designing learning in the following crucial point: the students’ level of proficiency in the additional language. Students that have few hours of education delivered in English need a lot more scaffolding for language learning than students that are delivered long hours of education in English per week. “Although students who are learning an additional language only in school are probably always going to have some gaps in competence, the role of additional language educators is to fill as many as those gaps as possible. Including systematic and explicit instruction of specific vocabulary, grammar and discourse patterns” (GENESEE & HAMAYAN:2016, p.34).

I have cited Genesee and Hamayan, as well as Vygotsky, to reinforce that, even if we teach English through CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) it is still our responsibility to improve students level of output in the target language, which is English. As Active learning is most of the times related to the learn “by doing”, it is important to mention that this “doing” does not necessarily involves using students’ hands. Instead, other senses rather than tactile must come into action. For example: think about a situation in which learners will make a house model using cardboard and other materials. They will be totally involved in that process. However, what are the benefits of language learning in such task? How does this Art task improve students output of the additional language?

Having said that, we are now ready to start designing active learning in our contexts of teaching. The Station Rotation Model (BACICH & MORAN: 2018) is the one I love most in order to implement active learning. In order to promote this kind of teaching model, we must think about the teaching objectives in our own teaching contexts. The rotational model brings movement to our classes, which provides students with curiosity in relation to what is coming next. From this perspective, we are not going to teach everybody the same way and at the same time. Instead, students will be engaged into different activities in different groups. They will be participating in a way that they will experience using the additional language. For instance, we can plan three kinds of tasks for a class that lasts more than an hour, or we can plan two kinds of tasks for a class that lasts 50 minutes. One of the tasks can be a game, the others can be a reading task and speaking task. These tasks are the learning “Stations” in the Rotational Model. Now picture yourself in a classroom of 25 students divided into 3 groups: each group will be experiencing learning in a task for about 15 or 20 minutes. Then, groups will switch tasks (learning stations) in order to have the chance of engaging themselves in all the different tasks planned. In the end, students will have experienced all the learning stations. The teacher will be mediating students, which will learn by “doing” in the stations provided by the teacher.

The example I have provided above is a simple example from the perspective of foreign language context. What about you, teachers? What about your context? What about your teaching objectives? What about the techniques to implement experiencing (active) language learning among your students?


BACICH, Lilian & MORAN, José. Metodologias Ativas para Uma Educação Inovadora: uma abordagem teórico-prática. Editora Penso. 2018.
DAVYDOV, V. V. (1988b). Problems of developmental teaching: the experience of theoretical and experimental psychology research. Soviet Education, 30(8), 6-97.
GENESEE, Fred and HAMAYAN, Else. CLIL in Context: Practical Guidance for Educators. The Cambridge Teacher Series. Cambridge University Press. 2016. JONES, Leo The student-centered classroom. New York. The United States of America. Cambridge University Press. 2007.
VYGOTSKY, Lev Semenovich (1930, 1984 e 1996). A Formação Social da Mente. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2007.

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