ESL CLASSROOM ISSUE 1: The non-serious partner


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One thing we forget when we embark on learning anything is that we have to apply it. What’s the point of learning something and not doing anything with what we learn. And what our teacher will expect from us is that we get a chance to practice it. Practicing is often done with a partner or in a group.

This is never more true than when you are learning a language. It’s about communication. It’s about sharing something and responding to things, and one of the most frustrating things is if you have a partner to work with is isn’t serious about what they want from the course. In fact they see it as an opportunity to do other things rather than practice.

Your non-serious partner may operate in any of these ways:

  • Not want to talk at all just answer the questions in the book
  • Want to only speak to you in your shared native language
  • Want to fool around with you and others in the class
  • Only want to do the bare minimum and move on
  • Prefer to sleep

There are other scenarios but there is one thing that is true for each of these, the biggest loser is you the alienated partner.

There’s nothing worse than having all the enthusiasm in the world only to have it sabotaged by someone who has no motivation.

Say what should you do?

Well the first thing you should do is stop just following your partner and going to sleep too, or looking around the room and doing nothing until the activity is over. That way you are making it all okay for them and for you to lose out on this activity.

So here are some things you can do:

  1. If your partner goes to sleep – wake him up… if he doesn’t wake up and get on with it, get he teacher involved.
  2. If your partner wants to just answer the questions in the book – ask if you can share your book answers with your partner and make sure you do it in English….always!
  3. If your partner wants to share their answers in a non-English language, always answer in English, to jog your partners memory, if they continue request that they at least try with you in English for now.
  4. If your partner wants to fool around, (this is a tough one because they may be genuinely funny!), respond to them in English and see if they can at least try to fool around in English and use it to show off to the teacher how good your English is! If it gets too out of control you will need the teacher to intervene however!
  5. If your partner only wants to do the bare minimum….well – sometimes we have un-motivated days, so accept it if that’s all they can clearly do. If you have to partner with them all the time and they are always unmotivated, either suggest to the teacher to change partners, or ask the teacher to come to you too and help motivate both of you…not just your partner, you need help too in how to deal with him/her.

Of course, we aren’t all perfect, but we do need to strive to get the most out of every opportunity, but at the same time we do sometimes need to ask the teacher to step in also…part of their job is also to manage the class and motivate everyone.

You can only do so much.

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