The use of the multiple intelligences approach to EFL teaching helps teachers restructure the learning environment as it focuses upon organising the classroom in such a way that different areas are dedicated to specific intelligences. In this concern, Language Learning Centres (LLC) are a wonderful way of differentiating EFL instruction. LLC are ‘intelligence-friendly’ areas where several students with similar profiles of intelligence work together (or individually) on a specific assignment. Learners have the possibility to choose a centre, in conformity with their profile of intelligence. Once there, they are able to take responsibility for their learning by studying or working at their own pace. The activities vary from simple to complex, concrete to abstract, structured to open-ended. The more open-ended the tasks, the less anxiety they cause, due to the fact that they provide choices to all students.
In a LLC, students have access to resources ranging from photocopied exercises with answer keys to computer software for learning. The major advantage of a language centre is flexibility, as it gives students the opportunity to tailor the course more to their learning needs and styles than a more traditional mode of teaching. Instead of sitting in rows and working individually as in a traditional classroom setting that emphasises competition, students have the chance to work collaboratively. In a LLC, EFL learners can use different sensory organs to speak, listen, write and read by interacting with a variety of materials and tasks provided by the centre.
Learning Centres are fluid and can span multiple levels. They are based on targeted standards that are designed to meet the needs of a variety of learners. This gives both students and teachers insight into how a particular individual learns best. LLC provide students with opportunities for choice and with a voice in their own learning, which builds a sense of autonomy. The teacher’s role is not a ‘frontal’ one anymore, but that of a facilitator, who interacts with students, answers questions and monitors progress.
Restructuring the classroom to create ‘intelligence-friendly’ areas or activity centres can greatly expand the parameters for students’ exploration. LLC can be an extension of the lesson so that students can review and practise what they have been learning in class. They are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes or topics. The activity in the language centres can take place after a topic is presented to students, during the presentation of important concepts or as an introduction to the new topic. Different educational approaches such as games, music, stories and drama can be used in a LLC. At the end, during circle time, all students may share what they did and learn from one another.
No two centres will ever look the same. They can have any number of designs, each limited only by the teacher’s creativity and imagination. The primary criterion is that they match students’ interests with curricular needs. LLC can be formal or informal, organised on a daily basis or at least in specific days of the week. Teachers should be free to ask for students’ collaboration in creating a language centre. This will make students more willing to engage in the activities.
Next we are going to give a short description of three types of Language Learning Centres: Enrichment Centres, Skill Centres and Interest/ Exploratory Centres.
Enrichment Centres or Centres for Concept Development are designed to offer students a variety of learning alternatives to a common unit of instruction. These self-access centres are typically used after the presentation of new concepts and are designed to provide students with opportunities to enrich and enhance their understanding of the topic through individual experiences in the centre. The teacher asks students to rotate through the different centres and solve the tasks in certain order and in limited time. All students go to all learning centres in a clockwise manner until everyone has had experience in all eight centres. Enrichment centres require teachers to be aware of their students’ intelligence profile as well as their proficiency level. This approach to teaching process is very efficient for struggling learners, as well as for the advanced ones, who want to extend their skills.
Skill Centres or Centres for Application of Skills are similar to Enrichment Centres in that they are used after the initial teaching of a concept/skill. The difference lies in the fact that students are assigned particular tasks in the centre as opposed to having free choice. Teachers must be aware of the various skill needs of their students to effectively assign individuals to the activities through which they can strengthen and enhance these skills.
A colour-code can be a very efficient technique when assigning activities. Students’ names are listed at the centre and beside each name there is a colourful sticker. Each student works on a task contained in the folder that matches the colour of his/ her sticker. The teacher can also construct a set of cubes and colour-code them by learner intellectual profile. Each colour would indicate an intelligence-based task.
Interest or Exploratory Centres are designed to capitalise on students’ interests. They may not necessarily match the content of the textbook or the curriculum. On the contrary, the theme may cross curriculum areas. Each interest centre draws on one of the intelligences to explore the theme. Exploratory Centres provide students with hands-on experiences they can pursue at their own pace and level of curiosity.
The materials address a wide range of levels, profiles and interests. These types of centres can be set up throughout the classroom, with students engaging in their own selection of activities during free time, as a ‘free-choice’ activity during the day, or just prior to dismissal.
Teachers can choose from a range of learning centres. For the elementary students, they might consider: ABC/ Spelling Centre, Art Centre, Craftwork Centre, Free Reading Centre, Big Book Centre, Numbers Centre, Puzzles/Blocks Centres, Science Centre. As for the intermediate/ upper-intermediate/ advanced level students, they can choose from: Listening Centre, Writing Centre, Readers’ Theatre Centre, Free Reading Centre, Drama Centre, Music Centre, Poetry Centre, Map Centre, Invention Centre, Computer Centre, Biography Centre, Nature Centre, Personal Work Centre.
The implementation of LLC can be very challenging for the teachers, as it is time consuming and requires serious planning. But it definitely pays the effort. Children love the movement and the independence of the learning centres. They serve as oases in the desert for many students who are thirsting for active learning, apart from the boring worksheets and individual work at their desks.
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Gardner, H. (1993), Multiple Intelligences – The Theory in Practice, New York: Basic Books
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Nicholson-Nelson, K. (1998), Developing Students’ Multiple Intelligences, New York: Scholastic Professional Books
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Tomlinson, C.A. (1999), The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (2nd edition), Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development