What if… I can’t control my class?

copy-of-what-if

You start to sweat, and you’re sure the redness starting at your hairline is beginning to creep up over the rest of your face. Your stomach feels like a whole flight of butterflies are on the loose in there, and you’re not quite sure if you’re going to spend the class twitching with nervous energy, or simply be pinned to the spot in fear. Five years on I don’t remember much of the minutiae of my TEFL course, but I do remember just how terrified I was of actually teaching – my biggest fear being that my students wouldn’t listen to a word I said and the entire lesson would just end up veering off out of control.

I look back now, and all of that seems, well, laughable. But it’s been a long journey, and there have been some hard-won lessons along the way (for me, as well as for my students!). Are you worried you won’t be able to control your class? This is what I wish I’d known starting out.

First thing’s first, let’s dispel some common myths.

You don’t need to speak L1 to be able to control your class. Bellowing ‘Be Quiet!’ at them in their own language isn’t likely to have any better effect than doing it in English, and if anything may even have the opposite to the desired effect – on the couple of occasions I’ve tried to use ‘Quiet!’ or ‘Sit down!’ in L1 my pronunciation has normally ended up reducing my class to howls of laughter.

You don’t need to have a really loud voice to be able to control your class. Although at times shouting over any noise your students make can seem like a good idea, loud often isn’t better – in fact raising your voice can lead your students to raise their voices too, turning the whole thing into a shouting match and turning an otherwise positive atmosphere into something negative. If you’re tempted to raise your voice for any longer than a few seconds, stop, breathe, and consider whether or not the same result could be achieved in a different way.

You don’t need to be a really strict disciplinarian to be able to control your class. There’s a time and a place to be strict (more on that later!), but you don’t need to resemble a Sargent Major to get your students to pay attention and listen to you.

What things will help you to stay in control of your class? Well…

Prepare well.

If you’re worried you’ll completely dry up and forget what you were planning to do next, if you have the kind of students who ask hundreds of questions (most of which are off topic) and you struggle to deal with their queries whilst maintaining the logical flow of your lesson, or if you lack confidence in what you’re saying or in yourself as a teacher, preparation is your best friend.

You don’t need to write a full CELTA style lesson plan every time you teach (you won’t have time anyway and will likely go insane if you try) but having some kind of written plan can really work wonders when it comes to keeping you on track. A hasty glance at your plan can be the difference between a minor blip in an otherwise good lesson, and a complete confidence-shattering dry. Planning grammar presentations means that you can check any uncertainties you have beforehand, and can anticipate potential problems before they occur. If you keep your plans together (for example using an exercise book, with one page per lesson) it also gives you something helpful to refer back to: you can make a note of if students need extra practice, if a particular activity worked well (or the opposite!), and if students asked any questions that you said you’d get back to them on.

TOP TIP: Even if I’m really pushed for time, I always try to make sure that I have a well-planned starter activity. Not only does it start the lesson off on the right foot, but having a clear starter activity in mind gives me the confidence to walk into the classroom knowing exactly what I’m doing (and feeling confident in myself and in my teaching!) even with a new or difficult class.

Find out what your school’s policies are regarding student behaviour/discipline.

Another thing you can do before you even set foot in the classroom (and yet which will really help ease your worries) is to find out exactly how to deal with an uncontrollable student. This information is more likely to apply to young learner classes, however these are also the students you are most likely to need to discipline! Every school is different here, so it’s wise to check with your senior teacher or DOS before making any assumptions. Hopefully you’ll never need to use any ‘last resort’ sanctions, but it’s helpful to know what you can do in the worst case scenario!

To focus briefly on the positives as well, it’s helpful to know if there are any suggested rewards for good work/good behaviour, and if there are opportunities to give parents positive feedback on their child’s progress – often parents only hear if there’s a problem, but it’s lovely for them to find out the positives about their offspring as well!

Make your expectations clear early on.

Just to make it clear, this doesn’t mean that you need to stride into the classroom with a list of demands and lay down the law during your first lesson. However, your students aren’t psychic, and although (with the exception of very young learners) they are likely to have some idea of how to behave in a classroom, they’ve never been in your classroom before. If you don’t want them to speak in L1, or you’d like them to put their hands up before answering a question, tell them!

As with many things in life, in classroom management prevention is generally better than cure. If there’s a problem, don’t let things slide and hope that it won’t happen again.

Be proactive: If you let students know that problem behaviour is unacceptable the first time it happens, you’re one step closer to it not happening again.

Use appropriate strategies for the age group you’re teaching.

Not all EFL classrooms are equal. Treating your class of five-year-olds in the same way as a class of adults is a recipe for disaster (as, indeed, is vice versa).

In the case of adult students interrupting, not paying attention or otherwise disrupting the lesson, a quiet word with the individual at the end of the class might be the order of the day. Remember, although it’s likely that you’ll face more discipline issues when teaching young learners, it’s not unheard of for adult students to be difficult as well (being reluctant to listen to their peers,refusing to speak in English or arguing with the teacher are not uncommon!). With younger classes, using a behaviour chart system might be more appropriate. To help establish discipline with teens or older children, it can be helpful to use one of your early lessons to create a ‘classroom contract’, where the students suggest (and perhaps vote on) their own rules for the class. This could be extended to include potential sanctions for unacceptable behaviour, and could include expectations for the teacher’s behaviour as well!

If you’re uncertain how best to deal with a particular age group, do some research! Ask other teachers, or search online. If you’re teaching kids or teens for the first time, check out my helpful short guides here.

Be firm, be fair, be consistent.

This old adage has stood the test of time when it comes to teaching, largely because it’s true! If a student is behaving unacceptably in the classroom, don’t be afraid to be firm and do something about it! I’ve sometimes found that channeling a really confident person here helps (especially if it’s an adult student who’s being difficult and you’re nervous about ‘telling off’ someone who’s the same age as or older than you!)

Be fair – sometimes cultural differences can influence how students behave in the classroom. Punctuality is a big one here! Bad language is also quite common: students (even quite young ones!) pick up English swear words from TV, film or music, but often have no idea of the relative severity of them, or whether or not they’re at all appropriate to use in the classroom. If a student’s unacceptable behaviour is likely to be culturally linked in some way (as in above examples, or racist comments in some cultures) treat a first offence as an opportunity to educate the whole class as to what you do/do not consider acceptable in your classroom.

Lastly, and most importantly when it comes to any aspect of classroom management, be consistent. It’s fine to shake things up a bit and try something new, but things like rules and classroom routines only work effectively when used regularly and consistently. If something genuinely doesn’t work with your class, don’t be afraid to change it – but also be prepared to give it some time. Using routines and establishing some expectations (for both the students and the teacher!) can make a real difference in your classroom (and can make you feel far more in control), but don’t expect them to work miracles and improve everything overnight.

I know it’s far easier said than done, but even if you’re really struggling with a class, remember that tomorrow is another day. Yes, it can be easier to establish control of the class if you do it right at the very start of the year (or when you first start teaching them), but that doesn’t mean that today (whenever today is) is too late. It’s never too late to start over. 

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Teaching Teens 101

Teaching

Teenagers often have a reputation which precedes them. Moody, rude, unmotivated and uncooperative, they’re many teachers’ least favourite age group to work with. What many teachers don’t realise is that teaching teens can be just as fun and rewarding as teaching other age groups – you just have to approach it in the right way. 

Thrown in at the deep end and have a class of teenagers to deal with? Here is what I wish I’d known when I first started teaching teens. 

1. Remember that they’re not adults.

It sounds obvious, but especially if (like me) you’re not overly tall, it can be a bit of a shock to walk into a room of 15 year olds and realise that they all tower over you. One of the mistakes people often make when teaching teens is that they assume that because their students look like adults, sound like adults, and sometimes act like adults, they can teach them in the same way that they would adults. With some classes, you can – however as a general rule, I’d say ‘don’t’. Teenagers don’t have the same attention span as adults. Hormones lead to fluctuations in both mood and energy levels. Often teachers complain about their teenage classes being ‘bored and lethargic’, when actually their students are just tired. For more information about the differences between teenage and adult brains, I really enjoyed this article.

Teenagers can be interested in very ‘adult’ topics (and by this I mean things like politics and the economy, as well as the other interpretation), but they can also surprise you by suddenly being interested in something that would strike you as being very immature. I remember one occasion when my teens begged me to let them write letters to Father Christmas – simply because they’d seen the letters my younger students had written and for whatever reason it had tickled their fancy.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that teenagers do need stricter boundaries than adult students. In most adult classes, there isn’t much classroom management to ‘do’, students don’t tend to be badly behaved and students are generally respectful of others’ points of view. Adult students also don’t have quite the same propensity to say things simply to ‘get a reaction’. Your teenagers need to be aware that if they wish to be treated like adults, they need to behave like them.

2. …but they’re not kids either.

Given what I’ve just said, it can be natural for teachers (especially those used to teaching younger children) to go too far in the other direction and treat their teens as though they are simply bigger children. Again, this tends to not work well. Teenagers are becoming ever more aware of themselves and the world around them, and as they get older they are increasingly able to engage in adult topics. I’ve yet to encounter a teenager who doesn’t hate being patronised – and if you ask them to do too many activities which are seen as ‘babyish’ this is the risk you are running.

3. Let them provide the input.

As I’ve touched upon in my last two points, teens can often be changeable, and surprising! It can be hard to work out what they will (or won’t) be interested in, and even if you weren’t a teenager too long ago yourself, it can still be difficult as an adult to try to keep up with the latest popular singers, films, books, and trends. Rather than guess what your students might be interested in or which celebrities they might be familiar with, it’s far safer to plan your activities so that your students can provide as much of the input as possible – even if it means asking them about things they like, and planning a subsequent lesson based on that.

4. Let them talk about themselves.

A useful addition to the above point. Teenagers are often pretty self-absorbed creatures, and are far more likely to engage with an activity if it gives them the opportunity to think, write, or speak about themselves. It also means you’re guaranteed a topic that everyone is interested in – win-win! The teenage years are also when children move from only thinking about their own little world to having opinions on more diverse subjects and issues, so if something does come up (or a textbook activity on the environment or laws is unavoidable), be sure to ask if they have an opinion on it.

5. Respect them!

I cannot stress this enough, as I’ve always found this to be the most important factor when teaching teens. If you respect them, they respect you – and vice versa. Teens need to be allowed to express themselves, to engage with themselves, each other and the world around them, and they need to be able to do so in an atmosphere which is open, friendly and supportive. Conversely, they should know that there is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the classroom, and any words or behaviour which are intended to hurt, belittle or intimidate other class members, or to disrupt others’ learning, will not be tolerated. Make your expectations know, be clear, be firm, and above all, be consistent.

6. Give them some responsibility.

With respecting teens, comes giving them some responsibility. Show them that you trust them, you respect and value their ideas and opinions, and their behaviour is almost sure to reward you. Not sure how to give your teens responsibility? Allow them to determine the consequences when rules in the class contract are broken. Allocate a certain student or group of students to be responsible for preparing/leading a game each week or each lesson. Spice up a revision lesson by asking each pair to prepare and present a short summary of a topic that will be covered in the test.

7. Don’t police them too rigidly.

Part of treating teens with respect and giving them some responsibility means trusting their ideas and opinions. Sometimes it can be worth giving teens a bit of a free rein and allowing them to talk about a potentially controversial issue – they may well surprise you with their maturity!

8. Ask “why?”

Often we associate constantly asking ‘why?’ with toddlers or small children. However it’s something I like to use with teens, as it forces them to think a little more and express themselves more clearly and in more detail. Often teens tend to try to cut off a conversation by giving a quick/silly answer. ‘What did you do on the weekend?’ ‘I slept.’ ‘What did you do yesterday?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘What can you tell me about the person in the photo?’ ‘He’s stupid’. Rather than try to pressure students into giving an entirely different answer, another approach can be to take their original answer and then run with it. ‘You slept? All weekend? Do you like sleeping? Why do you like sleeping?’. Be warned, this will make you incredibly annoying. It will also make your teenagers talk more, and in time they will give longer, more thought-through answers.

9. Expect the unexpected.

One of the joys (and the challenges) of teaching teens is that you never quite know what to expect. A normally chatty, lively class can be impacted hugely by a pre-lesson argument. School exams can have an effect on how motivated (or even how awake!) your students are. You may carefully plan a lesson, only to find that for whatever reason, on that day, your students aren’t interested in it. Yes, it’s annoying. But often going with the flow is the only way.

10. Hold the coursebook loosely.

Maybe whatever coursebook you’re meant to be using is fantastic, ideal for teenagers and really suited to both the level and the interests of the students you’re teaching. Chances are this is not the case. You may want to think about adapting the coursebook, leaving out or changing some activities altogether. Particularly if your coursebook is a few years old, don’t hesitate to replace the material (or particularly the songs!) for something a bit more up-to-date. The coursebook is there to help you – but provided you’re teaching whatever grammar, vocabulary and skills that the students need for any exams they are taking, don’t feel as if you have to follow it slavishly.

I hope some of this helps with your teen classes (particularly if you’re new to teaching this age group!). You can also read my Teaching Kids 101 post, which focuses on teaching 6-12 year olds. 

 

 

Teaching Kids 101

TeachingKids101

Teaching kids can be one of the biggest challenges new (and even not that new) EFL teachers face. You’ve done your CELTA, you’ve taught a few adult classes, everything has gone well; and then, suddenly, you find yourself in front of a class of 8 year olds. These are my top ten tips for anyone new to teaching kids.

1. Choose shorter activities.

One of the main areas where teaching children is different to teaching adults is that children have shorter attention spans. It seems obvious when you put it like that – but it can be easy to forget in the classroom. Your adult students may be perfectly capable of completing a reading/writing/grammar activity that takes them 15-20 mins. Try the same thing with your class of 8 year olds, however, and the result will be pandemonium. The younger the student, the shorter their attention spans – the general rule of thumb is the students’ age + two = the maximum amount of minutes they can concentrate for. When teaching kids, plan accordingly – you’re looking for lots of short activities, with different types of interaction – pair work, group work, individual work, so that you can vary what you’re doing every few minutes.

2. Let them move.

Children fidget – especially if they’re coming to your class after they’ve already done a whole day at school. It’s wise to incorporate some activities where they can move around – this could be a running game, a miming activity, or cutting up a text and putting it around the room for students to read. This will also help any lively students to burn off a bit of energy and help them to concentrate during the periods where you do need them sitting down!

Connected to both activity length and letting students move around is an idea called Settle/Stir. Some activities are ‘settling’ – they calm down excited students and can also be helpful transitions between one activity and the next. Think taking a register, read and draw activities, or using stories. Other activities are ‘stirring’ – they energise and excite students and can be useful both at the beginning of a class or at points during the lesson where students’ energy levels are flagging. Think miming/movement games, mingle activities, or many flashcard games. In your lesson you need a good balance of both settling and stirring activities (alternating between the two as much as possible) – too many settlers in a row and the students will become bored and lethargic, but too many stirrers and they’ll become overly excited, find it hard to concentrate, and you’ll risk losing control. You can find some good ideas for stirring and settling ideas for the primary school-age EFL classroom here.

3. Consider what they know/can do/like doing in L1.

If you don’t know, ask them/ask a parent/ask another teacher/Google it! Textbooks for young learners often include information that may not be at all helpful for your students – for example teaching them to tell the time in English when they cannot yet do it in L1, including CLIL lessons on photosynthesis or the water cycle, or asking a group of 10 year olds to write a job application letter for a job (I have encountered all of these!). Needless to say, if your younger students have yet to encounter something in their first language, it’s probably not that meaningful to teach them all about it in English. Conversely, if they’re learning all about woodland animals in L1 at school, it could be really interesting for them to learn some of that vocabulary in English.

4. Get them creating.

It’s unusual to meet a child (at least under the age of 10) who thinks that they ‘can’t draw’. Make the most of your students’ creativity by getting them to draw, imagine, design and invent.

5. Play games.

Playing games is almost always considered central to teaching kids – to the extent that I’ve been to training workshops on ‘teaching kids’ that have only consisted of game demonstrations! The fact of the matter is that most kids do love playing games, and in their English lesson is no exception. After a while you’ll have an idea of what things work and don’t work with your classes (and most of them will probably have favourite games) – but in the meantime ask colleagues for ideas, search the internet, or look at some of the other ideas on this blog. It’s also worth pointing out that often a class will develop a love of a particular game – and then request it every single lesson. Often we think that children want new and exciting things all the time – but actually, if they love a particular activity, it can take them months to tire of it. If they enjoy it and ask for it, run with it!

6. …but don’t think you have to make everything a game.

Once you are teaching school-age children (as opposed to VYL – very young learners) your students will generally have some idea of what sort of behaviour is expected of them in the classroom. Regardless of how they feel about it, they know that this is an English lesson, and they do expect to do some work. On a related note, if you aren’t naturally a cheerful, bouncy person, don’t think you have to become some kind of all-singing, all-dancing clown in order to successfully teach kids. If you force it, they will notice; and who’s to say that there won’t be a quieter, more reserved child who would prefer a more relaxed approach.

7. Have routines.

(and stick to them). I had worked with children in various settings for about 8 years before I became a teacher – but this is what I most wish someone had told me in my first few months of teaching. Children need routines – it helps them to feel safe and secure, it means that they know roughly what is coming next, and as a teacher it both makes managing your lesson a lot easier and helps to give a framework to your planning. As with younger age = shorter activities, the amount of routines to use also depends on the age of your students. Again, the general rule is that the younger the students, the more routines. When teaching grade 1, for example, you might want a routine for everyone coming into the classroom, a routine for starting the lesson, a routine for everyone sitting down/making a circle etc, a routine for transitioning between different stages of the lesson, a routine for packing away and a routine for finishing the lesson/everyone leaving the classroom. For 10-12 year olds a routine might be as simple as playing a game at the start of the lesson, followed by an activity to review what was studied last time, followed by new material, and then checking homework at the end. What’s also important is that once you have your routines in place, stick to them. Routines will take time to develop – the first few lessons may be a bit of a mess, but it is well worth persevering.

8. Have a classroom management system.

Classroom management is one of the most important aspects of teaching kids/teens of any age. Adults, as a general rule, know how to behave in a classroom, what is expected of them in a lesson, and then don’t try to test the boundaries. With kids this is not necessarily the case. Ideally, set up your classroom management system in your first lesson with the group. Again, other teachers or Google are your friends here – there are lots of different ways of doing classroom management, from class contracts, to star charts, to making positive behaviour into a competition between the students and the teacher. Find something you like, and then, unless there are clear indications that it isn’t going to work with your class, stick to it. As with routines, children need to know what is expected of them, what the consequences will be if they do not behave in an appropriate way, and most importantly, they need to know that these consequences will be carried out, rather than simply being empty threats.

9. Expect the unexpected.

Often I’ve put a great deal of time and effort into planning a lesson, only for it not to work. When teaching kids it’s perhaps more important than any other age group to remain flexible. Make sure that you have some back-up plans, some extra activities that fast-finishers can do, and above all, if it becomes apparent that something isn’t working, don’t keep trying to force it to work.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Other colleagues, books and the internet can all be great sources of ideas when you first start out teaching kids. Don’t be afraid to use them!

 

Project ideas for Summer School

Project Ideas

 

One of the loveliest things (for me, at least) about summer school is having a bit more freedom in your classes than you often have the rest of the year. The combination of mixed nationality (and potentially mixed level groups), seeing the same groups of students every day, and potentially quite long lessons (my last summer school had three 90 min classes a day, pretty long for 7-13 year olds!) all lends itself to one thing: project work.

Film Project

I have to admit that these are hands down my favourite type of project. I’ve done them at summer camps in Russia, summer schools in the UK, and even managed to slot them into the last few weeks of term when my students have desperately needed a little ‘something different’ as a pick-me-up. Ideally for a film project you need at least a couple of 90 min lessons – they work best if you can spread them out over a whole week. It sounds like a lot of time to spend on one project, but I’ve found that the rewards of seeing a film through to the end are enormous, a lot of language learning will be taking place, and once the ball is rolling, the students will provide most of the input, meaning minimal planning time!

  • The first step in any film project is for the students to understand what is being asked of them. They’ll all be pretty familiar with films, but I find that often they don’t have much of a clue about scripts, and what they tend to include. I’ve found that the easiest way to introduce this idea is simply to show the students some short sections of simple scripts – some can be found here  or here. Ask them what is different about the scripts compared to a normal story – that they contain stage directions (telling you what you can see, when and how people enter and exit, and how people say things), and that they are generally laid out ‘Character name: What the character says…’ – but that they lack lots of the information that we normally include if we are writing a story (adjectives, long descriptions of people and places, lots of background information etc).
  • Once the students understand what format a script normally looks like, explain to them that they are going to write a script – which they will then act and turn into a film. Brainstorm film genres and then vote for the most popular one. At this stage you have multiple options: if you have a very small class, they can all work together to write the whole script. In larger classes you many want them to roughly outline the story as a whole group, then allocate smaller groups of students to each write a section of the script. Alternatively (ideally with teens) each smaller group could plan and write their own script, for a different short film.
  • Monitor and help the students as they are writing their script – you may need to remind them of the format, or help them to make sure the different sections of the story fit together seamlessly (if they are in smaller groups who are each writing a scene of the film). Once the scripts are complete make sure you read them all through and check that they make sense!
  • Ideally set aside one section of a lesson (or one lesson!) for students to make/find the props that they will need in their film.
  • Allocate the different roles in the film, and practice reading through the lines – it’s easier to correct pronunciation at this stage rather than waiting until everyone is acting! (It could be helpful at this point to make some photocopies of the script so that everyone can see it easily – particularly your main actors).
  • Record your film! The great thing about technology these days is that you can now record film on most cameras, tablets, and other handheld devices – eliminating the need for a video camera. Even if you don’t have the ability to record video yourself, chances are that one of your students will have some kind of device that can. If your summer school is based at a school, you will normally have access to some kind of video editing software already installed on the computers – if not this programme is a free download which I’ve used before. Either the teacher or one of the stronger students can act as director.
  • Once the film is complete, make sure the students have a chance to watch it! Ideally have a screening so that they can show it to the rest of the school too.
  • To extend the start of the project: This one is pretty easy to extend, as you can use it as a follow up to any other kind of work on film – discussion of students’ favourite films, reading about films/film making, or film related vocabulary such as different film genres.
  • To extend the end of the project: Especially if you have had several groups/classes making films, you can make the screening into a big event – your very own film premiere, complete with red carpet and interviews of the stars. The students can review the films they watch, and you can have an awards ceremony with prizes for Best Actor, Best Actress, etc.

Dragon’s Den

Again, a tried-and-tested project that I’ve done multiple times, with both kids and teenagers. This is a really good one for getting students to work on their presentation skills, and gives them a great opportunity to be creative! For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Dragon’s Den is a TV show in which contestants showcase their new invention or business idea. They present their idea to a panel of ‘dragons’ – successful businessmen and women, who are all looking to invest in new projects – and successful candidates receive money towards their business, in exchange for shares in the company or part of the profits. It all sounds very ‘adult’, but some years ago the BBC produced a great kids’ version for BBC Children in Need – and it’s been lovely to show my young students that just because they are young, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a taste for business!

  • Show the students an extract from Dragon’s Den. I tend to use the BBC Children in Need version which can be found here – but be warned, I’ve found that this clip is not available outside the UK. For those teaching elsewhere, I’ve found that the best option available is this Irish version of the same concept, but be warned, the accents can be quite tricky for learners to follow! Tell the students that it is a TV show/competition, and ask them to find out: Who are the dragons? and What do the contestants (preteach if necessary) have to do? 
  • Collect feedback, then ask the students to watch the extract again – if you’re using the BBC version you can choose a different business idea if you prefer. This time ask the students to write down as much information about the business idea as possible. They should be looking for things like: What is the idea, why did the contestant decide to produce this product, how do they make the product, how do they sell the product, how much money have they made so far etc. Again, collect feedback.
  • Explain to the students that they are going to do something similar – they need to design their own product/their own idea for a business, and present it to a panel of judges. Put the students into groups, and then allow them time to brainstorm ideas and decide on a final product/business idea.
  • Once they have decided on a product, encourage the students to think about it in as much detail as possible. They should think about what it is made of, its size, any possible variants on it (different models, different colours etc). If you have lots of time on your hands and creative students, they can draw or make a model of their finished product.
  • Having designed their product, the students need to work in their groups to create their presentations. It’s worth reminding them at this point that everyone in their group needs to speak, rather than just one person doing all the work while everyone else stands around awkwardly! At this point, as well as the specifications of their product, they should also be thinking about things like how they will sell their product, how much it will cost, how much it costs them to make, and how much profit they have made already.
  • Now it’s time to host your very own version of Dragon’s Den – the dragons can either be a panel of teachers/other staff members, or be all of the other students in the class! There are different options when it comes to prizes – I’ve had students request the number of housepoints/raffle tickets they would like (rather than the size of the investment) – and then granted the winning students’ request (tying in with a whole school reward system), but I’ve also simply awarded a small prize to the group with the highest number of votes.
  • To extend the start of the project: Students can discuss other inventions, or read or discuss ideas about entrepreneurship. Students can study useful vocabulary/structures, eg. passives, vocabulary for describing objects/materials, presenation skills.

Design a Game/Sport

Coursebooks aimed at children/teenagers often include a section on sport. However, as we all know, playing sport tends to be far more fun than simply talking about it! This project combines the best of both worlds – and makes for some interesting discussion about some of the wackier aspects of British culture as well!

  • Show students some pictures of weird and wacky sports – we have some great ones here in the UK! Examples can be found here, here and here. Tell the students that the pictures each show a real sport – and put them in small groups to discuss a) what each sport is called, b) what equipment you need for it, and c) what the participants have to do. Collect feedback, and let students know if their predictions were correct!
  • Put the students in small groups. Tell them that they are going to design a new sport – it should be interesting, and unusual, but remind them that it also needs to be safe! Let them know at this stage that provided it is possible (ie. the equipment and space are available) they will be able to try out one of their new sports.
  • Remind the students that they need to plan: What equipment is needed for this sport, where will the sport take place, how many players/teams are needed, what you do to play the game, how players/teams score points (and how the scoring system works), how players win the game, and how the game is won. Give examples using some well known sports (ie. how do these things apply to football, tennis etc). Then leave time for students to discuss their ideas – you can ask them to prepare a poster/presentation about it.
  • Students present their new sports to the class – hold a vote to decide the best/most interesting one!
  • Provided you have time, space, and equipment, get the winning group to teach the rest of the class how to play their sport – and then play it! (This is the most fun part of the activity, so ideally while monitoring encourage students to prepare something that they can actually play – eg. no pig riding/broomsticks/shark-infested swimming pools etc.)
  • To extend the project at the start: Discuss students’ favourite sports/popular or strange sports in their own countries. Turn the ‘wacky sports’ information into a reading activity/running dictation rather than simply telling the students the correct answers. Teach useful structures/vocabulary, eg. must, have to, don’t have to, sports equipment, verbs relating to sport eg. shoot, score, hit, kick, win, lose, draw.
  • To extend the project at the end: Students can review/evaluate the game they played. Students can create an advert for their game. Students can create a kit and badge for their game. Students can teach their game to other people/another class.

What’s your favourite thing about summer school?

Do you have any great project ideas? I’d love to hear them! 

5 Getting to Know You Activities for Summer School

Getting-to-know-you activities

Most English teachers have the bulk of their new classes at the start of the academic year – in September or October, or around January in many Asian countries. What sets teaching at summer school apart from this is finding that you have new students every week or two! Here are a few ‘getting to know you’ activities to make things a little easier, and to prevent you from racking your brains to remember what you did last September!

Some team-building activities can also be good ice-breakers with a new class – see my post about them here.

Paper Faces

Time: 15 mins                               Level: Beginner +

Materials: Paper plates – 1 per student, slips of paper, felt tip pens/coloured pencils

If you don’t have paper plates, an alternative would be simply to use paper or card, and ask students to draw a circle after handing out the paper and pens.  This activity also helps to revise parts of the face, colours, and simple adjectives such as big/small, long/short.

Procedure:

  1. Give each student a slip of paper, and ask them to write their name.
  2. Collect all the strips back in. Randomly distribute them to the students/ask them to draw the names out of a hat – but if they get their own name they must put it back and take another. They must not show the other students the name they have.
  3. Hand out the paper plates – 1 per student. Tell the students that this is a face, and they are going to draw the person whose name they have.
  4. Tell the students that they have 30 seconds to draw this person’s eyes. Draw their attention to the different aspects of the feature by asking them to think about what colour the person’s eyes are, are they big/small, etc.
  5. Now give the students 30 seconds to draw the person’s mouth. Is it big or small? Do they look happy or sad?
  6. Repeat the process asking the students to draw the nose, ears, hair, and then giving a final minute or two for students to add any other features (eg. glasses, eyebrows) and to colour.
  7. Collect the plates in and either blu-tak them to the board, or place them around the room. Ask the students to run to the one they think is (student’s name). Repeat until all the students have been correctly guessed. This can be done as a team activity, in which the students who reach the correct plate first get a point.

To extend the task: Students discuss whether they think the plate is a good picture of them – why or why not? Students vote for the best drawing (the one which looks most like the person) or the most imaginative drawing. Students write a short description of their/another ss’ plate; then match the descriptions with the people.

Find Someone Who…

We’ve all done them – but honestly, that’s because Find Someone Who activities work. You can easily find one appropriate for your students’ age group and level online, such as this example, or you can simply make your own in a few minutes.

Time: 5-10 mins                                      Level: Beginner +

Materials: Find Someone Who worksheets – 1 per student, make sure all the students have a pen/pencil!

Procedure:

1. Hand out the worksheets. Allow a minute or two for students to read all the sentences and make sure they understand. For lower levels this would be a good time to check students know how to correctly form the appropriate types of questions.

2. Model the activity using one or two students. Make it clear that they need to speak to individual students, not simply call out and ask the whole class (they will try!) and emphasise that they need to speak English throughout the activity.

3. Allow around 5 mins for students to mingle and speak to as many people as possible.

To extend the task: Students find the person in the class who is the most similar to/most different from them. Students write a short description of one person in the class based on the information they have found out. They the read this description out and the rest of the class guesses who it is. Students answer teachers’ questions about their classmates – either as a whole group or as a team activity.

Snowballs

Time: 10 mins                                          Level: High elementary +              

Materials: paper for each student, music

  Procedure:

  1. Give each student one piece of paper. Ask them to write down 5 facts about themselves (eg. I can play the piano, I like eating pizza, I am 10 years old…). Tell them that they must keep the facts they are writing secret – they mustn’t show anyone else! Teacher can model/provide ideas if necessary.
  2. When everyone has finished, ask all the students to screw up their paper. Modelling is needed for this one – normally they all stare at you blankly when you ask them to screw up their work!
  3. Explain the rules: You will play music. When the students hear music, they must throw their balls of paper. They should keep throwing the paper until the music stops (pick up any that come near them/go and find them and keep throwing!). When the music stops, they must stop throwing, find the ball nearest to them and pick it up.
  4. On the count of 3, everyone must unfold their paper, and try to guess which class member it belongs to.
  5. Repeat the activity several times.

To extend the activity: Students can write questions instead of facts, mingle and ask and answer when the music stops.

2 Truths and a Lie

Another common one, but adults and young learners seem to love it alike.

Time: 10-15 mins                                      Materials: Paper and pens only

  1. Explain to the students that you are going to tell them three facts about you. However, while two of the facts are true, one of them is a lie. They can ask you 5 (or more if you desire – alternatively you can set a time limit) questions about the facts, but then they must decide together which things they think are true and which is false.
  2. Tell the students the facts (and write them on the board as a reminder/model).
  3. Students ask you the questions – you can choose whether or not you lie in your answers or whether you tell the truth, but I find that attempting to keep up the illusion that the ‘lie’ fact is true makes for a better game! After they have reached their limit, they must explain which fact they believe is the lie and why.
  4. Students then repeat the activity, writing their own facts and guessing about their partner.

Quiz the Teacher

Time: 15-20 mins                                       Level: Pre-intermediate +

This is my favourite ‘getting to know you’ type activity with teens and older children. It really gives them an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about their new teacher, and is also a great practice of question forms, giving opinions, and justifying ideas.

Procedure:

1. Ask the students what information they want to know when they meet a new person – eg. name, age, hobbies, where they live, etc. Write their suggestions on the board (in one/two word note form).

2. Elicit what questions you would need to ask about these topics in order to find out the answer: eg. age = how old are you?

3. Put the students in pairs/small groups. Tell them that you are going to give them 5 mins (or more if you have lots of ideas on the board!) to guess your answers to the questions. They must also say why they have chosen each answer (eg. We think your favourite colour is yellow, because you’re wearing a yellow t-shirt). Tell them that after 5 mins they can ask you the questions and find out if their guesses are correct or not.

4. Monitor while the students are discussing/writing their answers. Then ask each group at a time for their guesses and reasons, before confirming the right answer. Students can then work in pairs and complete the same guessing/asking/answering activity with their partner.

To extend the activity: Students discuss what they thought was the most surprising/interesting fact they found out about their teacher/about someone else in the class. Students write a mini-profile of themselves or a classmate using the information discussed.

Have you tried any of these getting-to-know you activities in your classroom?

What are your favourite getting-to-know you activities? 

If you enjoyed this post please check out my series on Surviving Summer School – you can find them all here.

How to Become a More Confident Teacher.

to buildyour confidencein the classroom

Everyone has been there: you’re confronted with a new class, a new job, a different type of course or age group… and the nerves kick in. Whether it’s your first teaching job or you’ve taught hundreds of classes, there are some simple things you can do to help yourself feel more confident standing in front of those students.

1. Plan!

Every lesson you teach should have clear goals to achieve by the end. Lesson aims are not just for CELTA! It sounds too obvious, but planning your classes well can have a two-fold effect on your confidence. Firstly, knowing what you’re going to do next can help avoid those panicked ‘now what do I do?!’ moments. Secondly, planning carefully means that you can ensure you include a good balance of activities, and that they are relevant and interesting to your students. Engaged students = a more confident teacher.

2. Slow down and breathe.

When at a loss how to go on, cough.

A while ago I came across this wonderful Greek proverb: ‘When at a loss how to go on, cough.’ Don’t worry, you don’t need to start coughing in the middle of your lesson! However the essence of the advice still holds true. If a student asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, questions something you say or otherwise puts you on the spot, stop, slow down, and breathe. If you don’t know the answer to a students’ question, it’s better to admit that you’re not sure than to wade into a garbled explanation that’s going to simply get everyone (including you!) more confused. There’s no shame in telling a student that you aren’t sure and will get back to them – if you simply need a little more time to think your answer through you can return to the topic at the end of the lesson, otherwise tell them you’ll tell them next lesson. Just make sure you do! (You could even encourage learner autonomy by setting them a little research task and getting them to find out themselves for homework…)

3. Don’t be (too much of) a perfectionist.

Most teachers I know (myself included) are their own worst critic. Teaching as a profession in some ways encourages this – most other careers don’t entail at least annual observations! However, you don’t need to teach perfect lessons all the time in order to be a good teacher. Students will ask questions you didn’t expect, things will happen in the classroom that you didn’t anticipate – generally neither of these things are your fault, and they certainly don’t mean that you’re a terrible teacher. Remember this, and cut yourself some slack.

4. Focus on your strengths.

Are you your own worst critic, or your own best friend? Often our confidence depends on how we talk to ourselves. If a lesson goes badly, or you receive negative feedback from a student, parent or observer, don’t allow yourself to dwell on it for too long. Take negative feedback into account (if it’s relevant, helpful and accurate), but make sure you are taking the time to remind yourself of the good things that happen in your classroom too. Positive behaviour – happy, engaged students, is a good thing. So is any learning that is taking place. Give yourself credit for these.

5. Act confident!

I’ve left this until last because in all honesty, it’s always been the thing I’ve found hardest to put into practice. But simply subtly changing your body language or the way you use your voice can make you appear (and feel!) far more confident. You can find lots of tips online about confident body language – for example here, here and here. Don’t feel like you need to suddenly change everything about yourself and try to incorporate everything all at once! Rather, try to notice your typical unconfident mannerisms (are there any particular things you normally do when you’re feeling nervous in class?) and then work on one thing at a time.

I really hope these tips help you feel more confident the next time you stand in front of a class! What other things help you to feel more confident?

2 Ways to Make it a Game.

2009

We’ve all had classes at some point where there is time to fill, or some sort of pacing schedule which limits the amount of ‘book material’ we can cover in any given lesson. For me, teaching became a lot easier when I figured out a few more ways to fill time!

In an ideal world we plan everything well, everything goes exactly as expected, and all the time in our lessons is filled with carefully thought out, educational activities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world! Every teacher at some point finds that they just need something to pull out on the spur of the moment, no planning required, and that will take a good 10-20 minutes of the lesson. Here are two of my favourite ‘pull out of the bag’ fillers – they can be used:

  • To make feedback for an activity/homework fun
  • To motivate students to do grammar/vocabulary exercises
  • To liven up a lesson by adding in a team game
  • To provide you with a game which requires minimal prep, but will provide a good while of classroom fun!

Typhoon

(or ‘Toilets’ as it was christened by one of my groups of Russian tweens)

There are other, more complex versions of this, but I have to admit that they are too complicated for me to keep track of. This version has just enough complexity to make it interesting, while also making it perfectly manageable. It works well with students 9 and upwards, although is particularly good for tweens and teens. A small amount of prep required for this one: before the game you need to draw a secret ‘crib sheet’ like the one shown below. You can even be uber-prepared and keep one with your lesson plans just in case – just be careful not to use the same crib sheet twice with the same class!

image (9)

  1. Ask the students to work in teams (around 4 students tends to work well). Give them a minute to decide on a team name, and while they are doing this draw your blank chart on the board. You can make for a longer or shorter game by using a larger or smaller number of squares – I normally opt for either 3×3 or 3×4.
  2. Explain the rules: the teams will take it in turns to answer a question. Here you have several options – the questions can be: a standard exercise you want the students to complete (or that they have already completed if you’re using this to check homework, for example), questions the students have written for each other in advance (great if you want to make this activity into a review lesson), or simply questions that you make up on the spot to ask the students (great if it’s a completely spur of the moment ‘help, I need an activity!’ decision). If a team answers a question correctly, they get to choose a square. You will then reveal what is in that square. In the squares there are four different options: it might be one pointtwo points (self explanatory), a tornado, or a house. If either team selects a square containing a tornado, both teams lose all their points. The one exception to this rule is if either team has a house. Houses keep points safe – a tornado will destroy the house, but not the points inside it.
  3. Once you’ve explained the rules, you’re ready to play! If my students are clamouring for a longer game (which at the end of it they often are) I sometimes incorporate a ‘bonus’ set of boxes which have one house, one tornado, and then higher numbers of points – up to 8 points per box.
  4. The winning team is the one with the highest number of points after all the boxes have been revealed.

I find this activity tends to work particularly well in classes where you have one student who is much stronger – in this situation I’ve often found students are reluctant to play team games as they automatically expect that whichever team has the stronger student will win. The element of chance here means that this isn’t necessarily the case! If a team does not answer a question correctly, however, they do not get to choose a square and so have no chance of gaining points; thus there is some skill required.

Give or Take

I originally heard about this game in a traning seminar at IH Moscow some time ago – unfortunately I’ve forgotten which teacher showed it to me. It has a very similar format to Typhoon, in that it entails the teacher having a hidden crib sheet, a parallel set of boxes being drawn on the board, and teams needing to answer a question correctly in order to choose a square. In terms of the content of the squares, however, it’s a very different game. I’d recommend caution with using this one with anyone younger than teenagers – it can get quite vicious.

image (8)

Here is an example crib sheet for Give or Take. As you can see the squares contain numbers of points – 50, 100 and 200, and also small pluses and minuses. Once the students have answered a question correctly and chosen their square, the procedure as follows:

  1. Teacher reveals the number of points in the square, writing it on the board. Do not reveal if this number is positive or negative.
  2. Teacher asks the team ‘Give or take?’ The students must decide among themselves if they wish to give these points to another team, or whether to take the points for their own team. It’s wise to give a time limit for this as I think some of my teens would happily spend half the lesson deliberating!
  3. Teacher then reveals if the points are positive or negative, and subtracts or adds the appropriate number to the chosen team’s points accordingly.
  4. The winning team is the team with the highest number of points at the end of the game (once all the boxes have been revealed).

 

I hope one or both of these are useful to you! Do you have any favourite filler activities?