10 ways to spark curiosity in ESL classes


Curiosity is the “secret sauce” of successful learning. When we consider kids, curiosity stimulates natural development and helps kids to cultivate knowledge about the world. In the case of adults, curiosity enhances the learning process and keeps them engaged. ESL learners tend to be quite curious about the way they can learn a new language. Below are the ways to pique curious minds and get better academic results.

Initiate Questions

During the conversations, constantly ask questions that elicit more explanations and challenge common wisdom, for example, «Why?», «Why not?», «How?, «What if?». Soon your students will also use your technique of questioning the unquestionable.

Use Current Events

Discussion of current news is always a great way to trigger interest and keep the curious mind busy. Ask students to choose news reports and present them to their peers. Then the reporter takes up the role of an expert and the fellow students ask different questions about the news. In this way the reporter has the chance to use his imagination to answer and the other students can trigger their curiosity.

Praise for Curiosity

Some teachers tend to praise students when their curiosity leads to the desired outcome or good grade. However, it’s better to reward when you see it in action by describing how their work, questions and explorations are contributing to their own or classmates’ learning.

Rewrite the Book

If you deal with a group of students who are keen on reading, you can mix up the characters and scenes from different stories. Ask “what if” and other open-ended questions, for example, «What if Harry Potter had to fight with the Wizard of Oz?»

Develop creative intelligence

Curiosity drives innovations. Researchers of Harvard Business Review came up with the term «The Innovator’s DNA«. One of the main elements is associating, making connections among seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. In your lessons, you can play different association games, e.g. «What can both humans and computers/a Ferrari and a cheetah/a cat and an owl do?»

Play Devil’s Advocate

Roger Martin, the author of the book The Opposable Mind, writes that curious people have “the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads.” The game «Devil’s Advocate» perfectly fulfils the objectives. How to play it read on the website ReadWriteThink

Make Students Create Questionnaires

Students can be asked to make up questionnaires on any theme (any grammar topic or any target vocabulary) and send them to classmates. When they get the results, they try to interpret them in an interesting way (for example, on a graph).

Explore Your Classmates

Let your students find out more about each other. Play ‘20 Questions’ to learn fun facts about them. Surely, apart from being language-oriented, this task helps the learners to keep the natural interest in learning.

Have some Family Time

  • Who is the youngest in your family?
  • Do we have any famous or infamous people in our family tree?
  • How did your parents meet?
  • What makes a family?

These are great questions to provoke curiosity among learners. Peer learners are always interested in each others’ personal lives.

A family tree can be a fascinating project for those curious about their heritage or sense of belonging.

Visit new places

When learners study restaurant language, hotel language or telephone language you can take them to a cafe, or make real telephone calls (to a hotel, pizzeria) thus giving them the chance for a real experience. This experience can make them more curious about other things they can do in English outside the classroom and open them to new knowledge.

Learning a language is an adventure full of new knowledge and skills. All the suggested activities will help to shift the students’ curiosity to the reinforcement of the language knowledge thus making the learning fun and engaging.

How do you trigger your students’ curiosity? Which activities do you use?

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