Inter-Disciplinary lessons are a hot potato at the moment – these days it seems like teaching one subject at a time just isn’t enough, and that teachers are integrating elements from different subjects into their classrooms. Similar ideas are being introduced in EFL classrooms.

While you might not be finding yourself brushing up on maths or history to deliver alongside your standard English lesson, you might be asked to incorporate character development into your lessons. Even if your school isn’t following a character development curriculum, it can’t hurt to introduce a few of these elements into your EFL lessons for children. After all, character development for children doesn’t just come from their parents – even if you only see them for an hour a week, your students will benefit from activities which promote character development as well as improving their English. Let’s take a look at what character development in the classroom is all about, and see if any of our sample activities could work for you.

What is a Multidisciplinary EFL Lesson?

A multidisciplinary/inter-disciplinary EFL lesson is a class where the students are not simply studying English from their English textbooks. The class will contain games and activities which combine two or more subjects, mingling together for a multidisciplinary experience. For example, in a lesson which combines EFL and art, a student may be working on a creative project using English only (‘please pass me the paintbrushes’, ‘I need a green pencil’, ‘my clay model is finished’). Another example is combining EFL and music – students can learn songs in English and play musical instruments while they sing.

Multidisciplinary lessons which combine EFL and character development are slightly different because the character development element will probably not be overtly clear to the students. Carefully chosen games and activities will give students the opportunity to grow in certain character strengths, such as compassion, grit/perseverance, self-control, independence, kindness, teamwork and patience. These are all character strengths which develop naturally as you grow, and as teachers, we are in a position to help students develop their characters.

Including integrated character development is not the same as having a theme or topic for the lesson – you won’t walk into the classroom and say ‘Today, we will be developing our self-control!’ and write it on the whiteboard. If your character developing methods are well integrated, the students shouldn’t even notice it’s happening. You don’t even need to focus on one particular strength – in fact, it’s better to take a broader approach because focussing on different strengths will give you opportunities for a better variety of activities. Take a look at some of our suggested activities which you could easily incorporate into your language lessons. If you wanted to explore this way of teaching further, sign up for Coursera’s MOOC (massive online open course) on Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms. The online course is totally free, delivered by passionate professionals, and will completely change the way you approach your classroom.

An Activity to Promote Sharing

Sharing is a vitally important character skill for children to learn, particularly in cultures where students are not used to doing so. For example, the one-child policy in China means that many children are without brothers and sisters, and are used to getting what they want all the time – which makes them not so inclined to share. One way you can encourage sharing in your classroom is by not providing enough materials for all the students to have one each. For example, if you’re doing an activity which requires scissors, only give out one pair of scissors per two or three students. Make sure you tell the students that they need to share the scissors before you start handing them out! You might have a riot on your hands the first time you try it, but the students will adapt to it.

An Activity to Promote Patience

If you are teaching boisterous, outspoken students who love to talk and answer questions, such as chatty Mexican or Spanish EFL learners, patience is a great strength to encourage – mainly because it gives you some peace and quiet! If you want students to act more patiently, have a ‘talking toy’ such as a soft ball or small cuddly toy, and make it a rule that you cannot talk unless you are holding the toy. This will force students to zip it until it is their turn. You can make a joke of it when you are first introducing the talking toy by, when explaining what it is, ‘accidentally’ drop the toy and immediately stop talking, as if a switch has been flicked off. Students will also enjoy playing along – wildly flapping their arms to indicate they want the toy because they know they can’t shout out ‘Me next! Me next!

An Activity to Promote Grit/Perseverance

If an activity is easy to complete, students feel very little satisfaction when they’ve finished. However, if something is a struggle and requires them to put a lot of effort in, they feel great once they’ve completed it. Providing opportunities for this sort of experience isn’t always easy – make something too hard and your students could feel disheartened and give up altogether. An activity which promotes grit requires careful planning and tailoring for your students. One way you can promote grit is by giving the students something difficult to do for a short period of time (so they don’t struggle for so long) but then when you do it next time, increase the time limit. For example, you could ask your students to brainstorm descriptive adjectives for 30 seconds, and then in the next lesson, try again for a minute. Gradually increase the time to give them more opportunities to push themselves.

An Activity to Promote Leadership

Activities which require a ‘leader’ are easy to come up with and give the student in charge the chance to develop in all kinds of ways. Pick the leader yourself, have them elected by their peers or pulled out of a hat for variation and to ensure everyone gets a chance.

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Want more teaching tips? Check out our blog here. Or for learning tips to pass on to students, visit our Language Learning Tips blog.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specialises in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.

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