Dealing With Dominant Students

raised_hands1.jpgIn any group of people there are likely to be some members who talk more than others – in most cases things just unfold that way, but in the EFL classroom the teacher is generally expected to organize things so people have a chance to speak more or less equally.

Sometimes, though, there is that challenge student: a highly motivated or especially fluent speaker who is full of opinions and ideas and ready to share them all the time. On the one hand, students like this are every teacher’s dream – they are genuinely interested and tend to contribute to a positive dynamic. On the other hand, their presence and strong personalities may make other students feel that they don’t have as much chance to speak.

One solution is pairwork. Pair two talkative people together or change partners frequently, so it won’t always be one person who has to deal with the more dominant speaker.

You can also choose to nominate quieter students by name, and if the dominant ones answer when there is a pause, acknowledge them, perhaps by promising to come back later, perhaps by making a joke of it (Peter? Oh, you look different today in that skirt.) if it can be done without appearing rude. But make sure to return to the quieter person.

Also, if you need to nominate students to speak, nominate the quieter ones first so they feel they have more to say – if the more dominant ones have to wait a bit to speak they may find many of the topics on their idea list already said (but don’t worry, they can usually come up with something). Because I don’t think it’s best for a class to always rely on me to decide who speaks, sometimes I do just let the discussion unfold naturally. At the end I may ask a few students who haven’t spoken what they think.

Do keep in mind that you don’t need to and in fact probably can’t have total control over the dynamic. Especially if you’re teaching adults, realize that students need to take responsibility for this too. There is nothing wrong with letting them know that you are making an effort to give everyone a relatively equal opportunity to participate in discussions and ask them to help. You have the ability to shape the environment and push things in the right direction.