Learning Beyond the Classroom

Jack Richards

In this webinar catch-up, Key Issues with Language Teaching author, Professor Jack Richards discusses how teachers can maximise the opportunities for learning outside of the classroom.

input versus output

In the internet age, the classroom is no longer a student’s primary source of interaction so far as teaching English is concerned. It remains the starting point but, with communication outside of the classroom increasingly easy, it is now only a small part of that interaction. The learner can receive input from a wide range of sources beyond what the teacher gives them: for instance, reading articles, chatting on social media and watching English speaking films. So, as a teacher, being able to influence what that input is, by setting tasks outside of the classroom, is increasingly important.

There are 2 important dimensions to English language learning:

  • Input: anything we hear that could prove a source for language learning.
  • Intake: anything we receive that can serve as a trigger for language learning.

For input to become intake, you need to have sufficient knowledge for the input to build upon. Opportunities outside of the classroom can turn input to intake, such as watching English films with subtitles.

Teaching tools to increase intake of knowledge

Once the learner has a base of language to build on, there are many tools that the teacher can use to build upon that base outside of the classroom. This will encourage interaction and increase intake of knowledge. Some examples of tools and ways of using them are below:

  • Chat rooms: these are a great tool for real time communication and interaction outside of the classroom with other learners and native speakers of English. They provide a low stress environment which can often be the opposite of communicating in the classroom!
  • Self-access centres: SACs can provide a social learning space where students feel relaxed and supportive of each other.
  • Interviewing: This is another tool that encourages interaction and works well outside of the classroom. This can build students’ confidence and encourage them to use their initiative.
  • Language villages an intensive yet stress-free context for real interaction. Common features of language villages are incidental (rather than deliberate) learning, high motivation, and non-threatening contexts.
  • Listening logs use real events and interactions to improve listening ability. They are an ongoing assignment through which students document their participation in out-of-class activities and reflect on how such participation helped them improve their listening abilities.
  • Online spoken and written materials are a great source for learners; a good example of this is Written transcripts are also available, allowing learners to listen before or after reading the transcript. Options include having students listen to the English recording while also having access to a transcript in their own language. TED Talks work particularly well if the subject interests students or is related to what is happening in the classroom.
  • Social media can also be successfully used to develop the skills needed to read authentic texts.
  • E-mediated tandem learning involves two students, each of whom is learning the other’s first language: the two students communicate on mutual topics of interest, helping each other to learn through questions, suggestions.
  • Voicethread: students communicate via voice recordings, collaborating on projects like video documentaries, or topical public service announcement videos.
  • Television can be a learning tool- using dead time whilst travelling to watch TV programmes in English.


These sources and approaches are useful because they introduce learners to truly authentic texts with different styles of spoken and written discourse, and encourage the use of technology in ways that reflect their out of class learning. Activities vary in location, modality, learning aims, who is in control, type of interaction, logistics and demands. There are significant benefits for students and teachers, enabling links to be made between in and out of class learning. They help develop aspects of linguistic, communicative, and pragmatic competence and can reflect the learners’ needs and interests.

To watch the webinar recording, press play on the video below. To find out more about Prof Richards’s new book, Key Issues in Language Teaching, click here.


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