Look at each of the questions in turn. Think carefully about how they relate to your own training experiences. Then click on each box to see tips, advice, guidance and further information.
Use a range of participant-centred, interactive strategies and activities
1. Think about training sessions which you have attended. Which did you enjoy the most? Why? Which did you enjoy the least? Why?
In every training session there has to be a balance between ‘trainer input’ and ‘participant discussion’. In general, most people enjoy training sessions in which they can actively participate and where their opinion is valued. If we just sit in a session and don’t do anything, we generally don’t learn much and don’t have a positive experience.
When training, we need to model what we want teachers to do in the classroom.
2. Think about a training session which you have given or which you might give in the future. How could you make it participant centred?
There are many simple ways you can make training more participant centred. If you can do several or all of these in a session, it will be very participant centred, and the trainees’ learning outcomes and experience will improve.
Some questions which you might ask yourself include:
- How can I make sure that everyone, and not just a few people, is actively involved?
- What is the right balance between the trainer talking and participants talking?
- What language(s) should we use?
- Are there hierarchies within the group which mean that some people are less willing – or less able – to participate?
- What impact do the seating arrangements have on people’s ability to participate?
3. What seating arrangements could you use to maximise participant involvement?
The seating plan in a training session says a lot about the pedagogy and methods which are used. When seats are arranged in a typical ‘rows and column’ format, your trainees are more likely to work by themselves, be less active, and talk to the same people much of the time.
It is worth spending time rearranging the classroom seating (or getting the trainees to do it themselves, and explaining why) as the session will be much more interactive.
See below for information about different seating arrangements and their benefits.
- Semi-circle or U-shape: A U-shaped layout allows the trainer to easily work with all the trainees. You can move around, and nobody can hide at the back!
- Inside out: Desks are placed around the wall, with chairs placed in front of them facing inwards towards the middle of the room. Speaking and listening becomes the primary focus with this arrangement (but writing can still be done if necessary). There is no barrier between you and the trainees.
- Islands: Trainees sit in groups of 4–6 around tables. This makes communication easier and they can collaborate effectively.
- Family table: The whole group sits around one table (or many tables placed next to each other). This can create a feeling of unity and working towards a common goal.
If your training takes place in the same room, and people are generally sitting in the same places, you might also consider swapping people over. In a room, there may be good places to sit and bad places – it’s not fair if the same people are sitting in the bad places all the time. This may affect their ability to actively participate.
4. How does groupwork make training more participant centred? How can you ensure that groups work as well as possible?
When you are training (as with teaching), it’s important to vary what you do. This will keep participants interested and involved.
So, while it’s important that you share main ideas and content with the group, it’s crucial that there are regular opportunities throughout the session for participants to work together. This way, participants will be able to reflect on the input you have provided and respond to that. They can think about the content in relation to their own context.
When participants work in groups, make sure that you give clear instructions about what they have to do. Their discussion will be more focused and therefore valuable.
It can help to say how long participants have, and also to give people specific roles. This will make them feel more valued, and also ensure that the task is more successful and effective. For example, don’t just say ‘Discuss in groups’, say ‘Discuss in groups of four for five minutes. One of you is the chair, one is the secretary, one is the timekeeper, and one is the reporter.’
5. How does the choice of language affect participant involvement in training sessions?
Ask yourself, what is a training session for? To improve the teachers’ English or to improve their pedagogical skills? Usually, it is the latter. Therefore, use the language(s) which people in the training group want to use as this will increase participant interaction and involvement. Participants may be less willing to share their experiences or to actively participate if they are expected to use a language that they are not comfortable speaking in.
6. What problems do you anticipate in making training participant centred? What could you do, and what could you say to participants, to minimise these?
Training participants – like students – can sometimes feel nervous when changes are made to the ‘normal way’ of doing things. If you make your training participant centred, and their own teaching is very teacher centred, they may find it uncomfortable – and even resist what you are trying to do. Whenever this happens, it’s important to talk to them about why you are doing this.
Below are some typical examples and what you could do/say.
- ‘I don’t want to move seats’: Teachers, like children, might want to sit with their friends in a training session. They might also feel slightly threatened if the traditional seating arrangement is changed. Explain to participants what the benefits of making this change would be. You might also introduce the change slowly, e.g. at the end of one session.
- ‘I don’t want to share in front of everyone’: Participants may be worried about their language or ‘losing face’ in front of their colleagues. Let them give feedback in their own language, and emphasise it can be very short, e.g. 10–15 seconds. This will build their confidence. You could also stand near them when they give feedback if you think this will support them.
- ‘I don’t want to talk to others, I want to listen’: Explain that the best way to learn is by discussing the main ideas. In doing this, you are actively engaged – rather than just passively listening to information.
- ‘We should be speaking in English’: Emphasise that the main purpose of training is to develop professionally as teachers rather than learning English. Using other languages can be more inclusive.
What changes are you going to make in your training sessions to make them more participant centred and interactive?
This is up to you. But be confident and try things out. Realise that things will not always work first time – but don’t be discouraged by this. Be honest with yourself afterwards; think about why it didn’t work, and make the necessary changes for next time.