A common mistake most TEFL teachers do while in the classroom is taking lessons and talking about topics that have no relevance or connection with the students. They follow a set curriculum, often prepared by someone else in some other country, which although beneficial and enriching in theory does not resonate with the students. And when you've got students who have no purpose or engagement in the class except for learning the language, you'd find very few who'd strive for excellence.
For example, imagine a bunch of students sitting in classroom at Japan and you're talking about cowboys and Indians. They wouldn't be able to make head or tail of it, even if you just wanted to develop their comprehension or vocabulary. On the other hand, if you were to talk about samurai or meji restoration, the students have something very relevant and closer to home which helps them get involved in the subject apart from bringing out a familiarity and knowledge of it.
This concept of stimulating the experience and knowledge of the students is known as background schema. This hold great potential during TEFL classes especially if you're working on their reading and comprehension skills.
How to make use of background schema theory
• The schema theory starts off with a "lead in" which centers on a topic that the students are familiar about and banks on that familiarity while developing the class plan.
• You could use visual aids, conduct debates and discussions, realia, bring in a bit of personalization while looking at the subject of reading.
• A great idea is to pretend ignorance about the country's culture or history and then ask the students to come up with ideas, discussions, talking points and speeches about it which would educate you as a foreigner.
• Stimulate discussions and debates by showing movies, videos, audio clips and newspaper articles about a topic such a recession or war. Don't go too controversial in your subjects though, lest you want a descent into verbal sling match.
• You can also try and bring about a connection between the topic and the students. For instance, on a topic of war, you can give them an assignment to find out how their grandparents were impacted during it. Or on the topic of work/business, you can ask them to find out the how their parents conduct their day to day lives and come up with an ideal day for their future self.
Background schema technique keeps the students engaged in the class during listening and reading activities, when the foreign language of English would alienate their concentration otherwise. Apart from that it also helps you to learn about the culture and history of your students/host country while building a good repartee with your pupils.