Saturday, June 9, 2012

Banishment of One-Word-Responses in the Classroom

I was teaching an elementary class when a student came up to me and said, "Teacher, bathroom." I understood that the student wanted to go to the bathroom so I said sure and let the student leave. It was only later, when I thought about it, that I realized how much poor communication I let the students get away with. This student had, for all intensive purposes, called me a bathroom and I let them leave the class.

Flash forward a few years, to when I started teaching university, and I found that many older students had the same problem. They've learned that they could get away with one word sentences so I found myself teaching students that sounded (sorry to say it, but it's true) unintelligent and rude. Now let me clarify--the uni students were not dumb nor rude, but they were stuck in rut of saying what is easiest and leaving it at that.

Unfortunately or fortunately for them (depends on the student), I no longer allow my students to use one word answers at any time in my class. Every time they speak, it must be in a sentence. This sounds a bit heavy handed, but I think most students actually enjoy this. They know that native language speakers rarely use one word responses and speaking in sentences helps the students to sound more fluent. It seems like such a simple idea, but it is one that is rarely employed in many language learning classrooms.

The big take away: Make it a rule that students must always ask and answer questions in sentences.


  1. Hello, I wonder if you are a Korean? If not, I wonder what your perceptions are of Korea, especially the learning habits of your students? I ask this, because my daughter recently taught an intensive English training course for Korean gradeschoolers in the Philippines, and I would like to compare notes.

    Thank you:)

    1. Hi Monisima. No, I'm not Korean, but I have lived in Korea for the last 6 years. It's good to hear that your daughter has been teaching English. I liked teaching elementary school students, but it wasn't always easy. Korean students are bright and can be hard workers, but the problem is they tend to be overworked. A lot of pressure is put upon students to excel academically. Many students attend public school and then go to after school academies for as much as 6 hours after school. This leads some students to be burnt out. I found that I had to try and make all my lessons fun, with drawing, songs, and activities. Check out my website, specifically the cultural pages ( for more info about Korea and Korean students, and the elementary ESL table on the resources page ( It has some free lesson plans and activities.