Marcela Cintra

“All learning has an emotional base.” (Plato) It may seem a very simple and straightforward statement or an inspiration to deeper discussions: what kind of emotional base to what kind of learners? In any case it is a reminder that we cannot ignore that teaching is about the people involved in the interactions and that their emotions need to be taken into account.

When discussing how to better cater for learners’ affective needs with a group of teachers, questions such as What should I care about?, Why should I care?, How should I show I care? came up. The reply to the first question was unanimous: we should care about learners because they are central to our professional choice. Learners are essential for our job to be done and if we prioritise the variety of activities or the language we are passionate about, we risk becoming great technicians at the expense of learners’ success. On the other hand, if look at lesson planning and language through the learners’ profile/ needs perspectives, we teach people to use language and develop skills and strategies to achieve their goals.

From this point of view, it is important that teachers develop sensitivity to the classroom atmosphere in order to encourage learners to better understand their motivations and attitudes and how to progress in language learning. Observing learners’ behaviour, listening to their spontaneous contributions, we have a chance to build group cohesiveness and share responsibility with learners for making lessons successful – as socialising is one of the core life and career skills*, team work is core to language learning. Here are three things we can do to manage classroom atmosphere for positive teaching and learning experiences:

  1. Purposefully focusing on learners’ affective needs when setting a task. You may propose activities that focus on learners’ sharing personal information with their group to generate interest in learning about other students, developing their own confidence. A variation, depending on how well learners know their peers is to choose activities in which they need to point out positive qualities they see in others. Andrés and Arnold (2009) have a variety of ideas in their resource book.
  2. Focus on your behaviour. Learners will be affected by your mood, by the way you talk about each learner, other teachers, the course book, the activities, the school… Share the positive vibrations, the enthusiasm (Brophy, 2004) and be honest when giving feedback. Your mindset and attitude will impact the classroom atmosphere and learners’ motivations to be there.
  3. Embrace conflict. Making the classroom a welcoming environment and building group cohesiveness is not transforming the lesson into a space devoid of conflict. Disagreement, frustration, lack of motivation will be part of the scenario every now and then. Acknowledging the diverse needs, traumas or clashes will help you think clearly and manage conflict in a more productive manner. A resolved conflict may well bring a sense of achievement to the whole group or, depending on the situation, a sense of cohesion where collaboration among learners (and teacher) is strengthened in sorting issues.

Overall, all efforts to make learning more enjoyable will surely take into account learners’ emotions, needs, motivations and deal with their frustrations, overcoming challenges. What have you been doing to cater for classroom atmosphere from an affective perspective?


* Source: Partnership for 21st Century Learning:


Andrés, V. & Arnold, J. (2009). Seeds of Confidence: self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom. Cambridge: Helbling.

Brophy, J. (2004). Motivating Students to learn. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Recommended reading:

Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (1999). How languages are learned. Oxford: OUP.

Williams, M. & Burden, R. (1997). Psychology for language teachers. Cambridge: CUP.