Welcome to the blog! Over the coming months we will be taking a trip through the alphabet of Teaching English, and discussing the elements that we need to consider to provide effective lessons.
Before we begin, a couple of important points:
1) My A-Z of areas is not meant to be definitive or exhaustive. Please feel free each month to add you own!
2) I will comment only briefly on each of my areas. Please expand on them or discuss them as you wish!
So the idea of the points I make are for them to be seeds of discussion, and for the blog to be truly interactive. I know there are many great teachers out there who will be able to contribute to make this a living dialogue with benefits for all!
A is for…
“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it!” A good lesson – and indeed a sequence of lessons will have an overall linguistic and communicative aim. We need to think not just about the language we are going to introduce, but what the students are going to do with it by the end – debate something? Write a story? Make a presentation? Tell an anecdote? Within the lesson, each stage too should have an aim – in what way does the stage contribute to the overall outcome of the lesson?
- How do you plan a lesson and define your aims?
This is a massive area, and one that we will revisit when we get to ‘E for Exams’ and ‘T for testing’. Here I would like to draw out the distinction between formal assessment (tests and exams) and informal assessment. We should be assessing our students informally all the time. So what does this mean and why should we do it? Taking a speaking activity as an example, keen monitoring by the teacher will reveal common areas of success and common areas of difficulty. An awareness of these is vital in influencing future teaching – and ensuring that we are really teaching the students and not just following the book.
- What means do you use to informally assess your students?
A good rule of thumb is that the younger the learners, the shorter the attention span. Boredom can set in quickly with younger age groups, and of course boredom means disruptive behaviour… so short activities are the order of the day, longer activities becoming possible as the students get older.
- If you have any favourite short activities that you use with young learners, why not share them?
Attention – Getting It
My memories of primary school include the teacher always shouting to get us to listen. A tiring and stressful approach to getting silence if ever there was one! Silence itself is one of the greatest classroom management tools we have. To get the attention of a class, issue one clear instruction, then stand still, make strong eye contact and… wait. The energy level will fall rather than rise, and very soon the group will be silent. Shouting a) increases the energy and noise levels and b) leaves the teacher with nowhere to go when they really need to make a ‘special’ impact on the class!
- What other means have you successfully used to get the attention of a rowdy class?
Materials that were NOT written with ELT in mind can be a great motivator if used effectively. Thanks to the internet, as well as to the more traditional sources of authentic material like newspapers, video and songs; we are now totally surrounded with opportunities for authenticity in our classroom. How to use them and why? Many teachers are put off using authentic materials because of the potentially high content of ‘difficult’ language they contain, and the effort involved in exploiting them. An important point to remember is to gear the TASK to the level of the students rather than expect them to understand every word they contain. Authentic material such as DVD or YouTube footage can be used as a stimulus to get students to talk using language they know (they can discuss what they SEE rather than what they hear). In this instance, they need not understand a single word of the audio! Students get a real sense of achievement from successfully interacting with a piece of authentic material.
- It would be great to hear of success stories you have had in this area. Write and share them!
That’s it for this month and for my list of ‘A’s. What do you think? What ‘A’s have I missed? Let us know! Until next month, and the letter ‘B’, happy teaching!