Young Learners, Level 4: Art for art’s sake.

16th May 2019

This is for Saturday morning’s class, 10.10 – 12.10. Seventeen students, a little noisy and raucous but a breeze compared to Levels 1 & 2.

Today, there is a a lot of work already set for the students, including a major spelling contest, and a story-writing project. Additionally, I always over-plan the lessons, meaning that they will always be work that I can use in subsequent lessons. Such is the case today.

We can start with descriptions of people:

Warm up: Student description

In a previous lesson, the class learnt about basic adjectives to describe appearance. I will therefore choose a student and describe the physical characteristics, e.g. this student has long straight hair, is not very tall, and wears black glasses. I will choose some students and give them a student to describe, while promoting the value ‘be polite‘.

To continue the theme of Art and creativity, I will show some artists. The class already met Frida Kahlo but I thinks it’s time they met Dali !

Dali normally get a reaction (especially when we have fun elongating his name as long as possible). It’s also a chance to learn a few new words:

creative / genius / unusual / strange / surreal

The last word maybe a little advanced, but it’s a good way to introduce new words; inside the word is ‘real’ so surreal has something to do with reality … but what ? Here’s a clue:

This is a mixture of reality and fantasy. The students can say which is which … and why does Dali give the elephants tuba faces … is there a reason or is it just crazy ?

I will then expect the student to form basic sentences using these new words, and not forgetting new vocabulary from previous lessons.

Next up, is a scene from the popular Children’s classic, ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

Again, a mix of reality and fantasy. How would the students describe this ? It could be turned into a game … students put into small groups and given boards and markers. Points for the best vocabulary. What is happening ? Also, how to tell a story – an introduction and then mentioning items point by point, linking with appropriate discourse markers. YES ! I’m going to make the students study hard today.

Always good to give a model answer, tell the students what I expect to hear, or WILF as I’ve heard it termed in some schools (What I‘m Looking For).

Now, to continue the theme and introduce some listening and reading skills, a video. This is the singer-songwriter Don McLean with ‘Vincent’, about the artist Vincent Van Gogh:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxHnRfhDmrk

This version also has the lyrics, as well as various paintings by the artist such as:

Then, with time against us, and a lot to get through, we’ll turn to the book work. They will watch a video which also shows sculpture, mosaic and photographs. The book also mentions Van Gogh, and a sculpture based on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from ‘Alice’.

A useful lesson will be the subjectivity of art – it is a chance for the student to think and to give their views, and to try to develop the English skills to express their thoughts. Clearly, this is a perfect opportunity to introduce some fixed expressions to express opinions:

In my opinion …

I feel that …

For me …

And even an idiom – it’s not my cup of tea !

Finally, to wrap up after the spelling tests and writing projects, a little bit of fun. Who better than Dali (or at least a great actor playing Dali) ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q1V_xjHhLM

Surfin’ Safari, Level 1: ‘t’ time.

3rd May 2019

Lesson notes for the penultimate class, Sunday morning (5th May).

I want to do a general review of vocabulary and basic sentences that the students have been exposed to and practised over the course. They include:

Nouns – animals, clothes, food, classroom accessories

Verbs – walk, run, fly, swim, stomp, hiss, roar, jump

Prepositions – on, in, under

Colours

Numbers – 1 to 5

My name is …. // I’m …..

Do you like … (rice, cake ?)

I have / you have

Today’s letter is ‘t’, and to end the class, the students have a project; colouring and cutting out rockets.

I don’t want to introduce any new games or activities, but to encourage as much inter-student talking as possible. It’s great to see some of the quieter students opening up and joining in more of the lesson, and starting to gain confidence in speaking English. And so, without further ado, the lesson plan:

Warm Up: I say a verb and the students must pretend to be that creature.

Hiss / stomp / walk / jump / swim / fly / roar

Put the ….. This tests knowledge of nouns, colours and prepositions.

I arrange two chairs, one green, the other yellow, at the front of the room, with a red bag in between. Around the room I will have real items that the students know (pen, book, ball, monkey) and, one by one, tell the students to put an item on/in/under a certain chair or bag. For example, put the red pen on the yellow chair.

The more advanced students can then act as ‘thay’ and instruct other students.

What’s your name ? Here, the students make a circle and one starts by saying, “My name is …. What’s your name ?” The person to the left answers … and so on. To make it fun, we can try to speak as quickly as possible, or to shout (this sometimes helps the shier students).

Focus on ‘t’

I start with this great video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHEqOLZ0hr4

After, we drill the ‘t’ sound both at the beginning and end of the word.

Board Slap: I’ve made a basic slide with five ‘t’ words. Class can be put into two teams. One team shouts out a word, and one member of the other side has to slap the appropriate picture.

This is following by a drilling of the ‘t’ sound again and a test; can the students identify it in a word ? I shall say a simple word and ask the student if it has a ‘t’. They can run to one wall (with a ‘t’ flashcard) or to another, blank wall). The words:

cat / cap / hat / ham / pet / pen / one / two

Do you like … ? To review food nouns and to get the students forming basic questions, they can ask each other if they like … cake, rice, salad and pasta.

It’s always best to model speaking exercises. First I will ask one of my TAs, then two top students can demonstrate. The students sit at small tables, four or five at each, so one student could ask the others. The answer must be in a sentence: “Yes, I do,” or, “No, I don’t.”

Next up, time for some fun and movement: Musical Chairs. Today, a fun song, ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4aQiFaCod8

When the music stops, the students who haven’t found a seat have to answer a question, then we continue. If we need an extra, food-related song, we can use ‘Sugar, Sugar’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9nE2spOw_o

Lastly, I would like to review some basic grammar we touched upon last week; first and second-person use of the verb ‘to have’.

I model with a TA (we both hold an item or flash card). I say, “I have a pen, you have a book.” The TA then replies, “I have a book, you have a pen.” Some of the top students can model, then we can line the students up in two rows, giving each student an item. They face each other and say, “I have a …. , you have a …..”. This can be done all together, so the class become confident speaking, then we can listen to pairs speaking one at a time.

This is probably too much for one class, but it is always a good idea to have a lot of activities planned. Anything that isn’t used can be in subsequent lessons, thus cutting down on lesson planning.

Next week is our final class, so more of a party atmosphere, culminating in the presentation of certificates, and the taking of class photos. Maybe I will continue with the class at Level 2, maybe an entirely new class … we shall see.

Young Learners, Level 4: Be creative !

1st May 2019

Lesson Notes for class Saturday 4th May. Seventeen students around the ages of nine to eleven. The class is reasonably well-behaved and willing to work, and is certainly my easiest class of the day (the others being a Level 1 & Level 2).

By this stage, the students are able to form basic sentences, though they need constant encouragement to develop speaking skills, as well as being told to write down new words and expressions … and then USE them.

The lesson should involve all skills, and allow the students some active sections, to break the monotony of sitting for two hours. New vocabulary should be introduced and recent lessons should be revisited and revised. Today’s theme is ‘be creative’ so we’ll start with:

Warm up: Word Bomb (mind map)

Board ‘Free Time’ and ask the students what they do for fun, making them speak in sentences, not just shouting out single words. We can develop this by asking secondary questions for example, ‘I play football,’ ‘Where do you play ? With whom do you play ? Are you in a team, or play with friends ?’

Pre-teaching: New vocabulary

Today we have six flash cards, all in the present simple (e.g. sing songs, write stories). The class repeat the text and I check for pronunciation and meaning.

Activity: What do my friends do ?

Around the room, I stick six sheets of paper, each with a single word:

Fashion / Art / Music / Cinema / Models / writing

I then show a single Powerpoint Slide with six of my ‘friends’ and ask the students to match the friend to the activity. I will board the six names on two sides of the whiteboard and the students, divided into two teams, have to match them. My ‘friends’:

My friends are: Nicky, Ian, Stella, Bill, John & Frida.

After the students have guessed, I’ll show the following pictures:

Nicky likes music. He sings songs
Ian likes model trains. He makes models.
Stella likes fashion. She designs clothes
Bill likes writing. He writes stories.
John loves cinema. He makes movies.
Frida enjoys art. She paints pictures.

Next, a chance for the students to get up and mingle, so I’ve prepared a questionnaire, utilising a lot of past tense verbs:

Student Questionnaire 

NAME:

What did you do on May 1st ?


What was the last film you saw ?Was it good ? Did you enjoy it ?


When did you go to the dentist or doctor ?


Have you ever bought a backpack ? What colour ?


Have you ever lost anything ? What was it ?


Do you like painting or drawing ? Do you go to museums ?


Who bought clothes for you last time ? Did you like them ?


Have you read Harry Potter ? What is your favourite book or story ?


What are the best games in school ?


We can listen to some answers, and the class can correct any errors in grammar. This will also help the students speak to each other in English, so that not all communication goes through the teacher.

Next up: Student description

In a previous lesson, the class learnt about basic adjectives to describe appearance. I will therefore choose a student and describe the physical characteristics, e.g. this student has long straight hair, is not very tall, and wears black glasses. I will choose some students and give them a student to describe, while promoting the value ‘be polite‘.

Video time: listening & new vocabulary

In our first class, we watched a kids’ guide to London and I boarded the following:

I reckon / huge / a little bit

The students were told to ALWAYS have a notebook and pen handy, and to write down new words. However, this is not a common practice in Vietnam, so they have to be told … and retold.

Today’s video will be a short clip from a kids’ parade in the USA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llEAqex8qM4

We only need show the first minute, but the students can be asked to identify various creative activities that they see. Then it’s time for some action !

Board Slap

I’ll stick three of today’s six flash cards on the cards and select three students. They’ll be given a swat, and they have to run to the board and swat or slap the card they like best, saying, “I like … movies, painting etc.” This leads into:

Thay Student.

One of the top students plays the role of teacher. They come to the front and ask students, “Do you like …. songs, models etc ?” Students must answer in a sentence: “Yes, I do,” or “No, I don’t.” Thay Student will follow-up by asking why or why not …”Because it’s ….”

Here we need some good adjectives. To give them a good pool of words, we can have a quick hangman game first, so we have adjectives such as:

boring / exciting / interesting / fun / educational / creative / difficult /

Finally, I like to play a song for the students to listen to and pick out key phrases. Today’s singer is actually Swedish, but she sings in English. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upnTg2GPgTM

This is Lykke Li, and we can start the video around the 1-minute mark. The title, and the key phrase is something the class should, by now, be familiar with; ‘a little bit’. It’s also a good lesson in how Standard written English differs from spoken English, as we often swallow the ‘t’ sounds. Have a listen … you don’t need to play the whole song if it’s not your cup of tea … just a little bit.

Young Learners, level 2: Hello Dolly, this is Louis …

26th April 2019

A lesson plan for a very active, very loud young learners’ class. They are certainly a handful, but they are good at English; there is simply no way to control them for two hours. Just have to use their energy and make very kinetic lesson plans to keep the class occupied.

After break, we focus on book work and workbooks (though some students complete these at home, and I’m faced with ‘Teacher, finished !’). I insist on fast – finishers to say ‘Dear Teacher, I believe I have finished,’ while having a stack of worksheets at hand so they have something fun but educational to do while I check individual work.

This is for tomorrow afternoon:

Warm-up: Magic Bag. I’ll pretend to have various items of clothing in my bag. I’ll mime putting them on and the students have to shout out the answer. This reviews vocabulary from a previous unit.

Yes / No game. Can be very fun – I just ask the students questions and they have to answer within five seconds BUT are not allowed to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, shake or nod their heads and make any other yes/no word (yeah, naw etc).

Hello Dolly. For fun, and to expose them to some REAL music, they can listen to Louis Armstrong and try to imitate his unique voice. Points for the best version (s):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7N2wssse14

Run ‘n’ Write. The last weeks have focused on rooms in the house. I will ask in what room do we …

sleep

cook

watch TV

wash

Then, with the class in two or three teams, one member must run to the board and write the correct room. It can be made lively by assigned a colour marker to each team and hiding them around the room, or even outside the classroom (though security probably won’t care much for that).

Who has what ? Here I choose six students and give each a flash card which they show quickly to the class, then hide behind their backs. The class must answer but using the correct form of ‘to have’, i.e. He has a sofa, she has a computer. This is a fun memory game but also drills the third-person verb form.

Picture Description. I’ll show a picture and ask the class to tell me what they see, especially asking about relative positions, looking for ‘next to’, ‘behind’ and ‘in front of’. This is from the famous toy shop, Hamleys, in London.

Vocabulary boost. A quick game to review some recent words and their antonyms. I’ll board these words, the students have to write the opposite. For this, I’ll hand out small writing boards and they can work in small teams.

clean

quiet

polite

friendly

The class probably won’t know the last two, so it’s a chance to show how we form opposite words. I can follow this up by asking the opposite of happy, well, tidy etc.

Student Survey. These are a great way to get the students talking to each other. I prepare a short questionnaire, and they have to ask three other students the questions. These are based on today’s lesson of counting, and recycled vocabulary.

How many …. do you have ?

pens / books / brothers / sisters / pets / computers

After that, it’ll be break time, then book work … and then my day will be over !

Young Learners: Let’s get them speaking !

24th April 2019

This is the plan for my early morning class on Saturday. To set the scene, there are about 19 students, aged around 7 or 8. It’s a standard classroom; chairs with built-in desktops, and there’s not a lot of space for movement or activities. The students, therefore, are mostly confined to their seats for the two-hour session, not conducive to a productive lesson. Add to that loud students, slow students and the (seemingly obligatory) special-needs student(s), and we have a potential catastrophe … but there are ways to mitigate these issues …

Firstly, the assignment of a class captain. I choose the loudest, toughest boy and he becomes proxy teacher. Usually, they love the responsibility, while I’ve turned a problem into an asset.

Secondly, the ‘montage of attractions’, lots of different but related activities to prevent boredom as well as promoting as much participation as possible. To this end, I try to vary the lesson plan (the first hour is activities, the second, devoted to book work where I can also check students individually).

Thirdly, I really want to break the teacher – student dynamic; I want the students talking to each other in English. Sometimes I have the top students act as teacher, ‘Thay’, and address the class, but today I want everyone speaking to their partner in English. To do this, I’ve prepared a short series of questions they have to ask and answer. But first, a review about ‘what can you see ?’ and prepositions.

I’ll show this landscape and then attach various animal flashcards, asking ‘Can you see a frog ? Where is it ?’ and so on …

Now for the speaking interaction: with all speaking exercises, it’s good to model first. The questions I’ve chosen represent language they have already learnt and should be able to use. I’ll show the following questions, then drill an appropriate reply:

To prepare, I just need to stick some flashcards around the room (food, animals).

Can you see a tiger ? IF there is a tiger picture the answer is Yes, I can, if there is no picture then No, I can’t.

Do you like pizza ? / Yes, I do or No, I don’t.

What are these ? (showing flash card of toes) These are my toes.

How many marbles are there ? (showing picture of marbles) There are seven marbles.

How old are you ? / I’m …..

What can an elephant do ? An elephant can walk and swim and run.

I will then hand out a short questionnaire and, with the invaluable aid of my TA, monitor the class, making note of those who will not or are not taking part. The questions will be:

Can you see a zebra ?

Do you like cake ?

How many puzzles are there ?

How old are you ?

What can a bear do ?

When the first partner has finished, the second will have these questions:

Can you see an ant ?

Do you like rice ?

How old are you ?

How many games are there ?

What can a zebra do ?

The next activity is a ‘run ‘n’ write’. The class is split into teams and have to run to the board and write a word that has appeared in a previous lesson:

penguin / kangaroo / giraffe / science / animals / flower

We also get to review the plural form of nouns (games, marbles) plus the ‘an’ article before a vowel noun (an elephant). Next up … music time; an old favourite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vpvFx0-uyI

When the band… This could be used as a background to a musical statues game, but the names of the instruments will be highlighted. They then have to identify them:

Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong … the one and only.
Kid Ory on jazz trombone
Johnny Dodds on clarinet
David Carradine as Bill playing Japanese flute.

Again, Thay Student time: a top student will ask the class:

Can you play …. trumpet ? … piano ? … guitar ?

Now a miming game. I will tell a student an instrument, and they will mime playing it. The opposite team has to guess, getting points for correct answers. Any kind of game or competition can really raise energy and motivation levels.

I want to move the lesson closer towards today’s subject (science, specifically parts of the body), so will select six students, giving each a flashcard from last week’s class. Very quickly, they will show their card to the class. Then I will ask ask which student has which card, but using the verb ‘to have’, i.e. “He has toe”, “She has arm.”

Finally, and if time allows because this already could be too long (no problem with that … a plan should be overlong in case any activity falls flat and a Plan B, C & D is needed), more ‘Thay Students’. They will review questions from last week, namely:

What are these ? These are my arms

What are these ? These are my toes

What are these ? These are my fingers

But, to stop them getting too complacent, some good old British irregularities:

What are these ? These are my feet.

Adult Class, Level 3: If I make them learn, it’ll be a miracle !

22nd April 2019

Cutting it a bit fine, as this lesson begins in just over four hours. I’ve substituted this class before and, being diplomatic, they need a non-standard teaching method. Just going through the course book, expecting students to do the assigned work – to talk together in English, to practice and produce – is for the birds ! It ain’t gonna happen, brother !

What we have here is a class of teenagers … yeah … an adult class comprised solely of teenagers … to answer Bob Geldof, that is WHY I don’t like Mondays.

The answer … simply to be crazier than the students. It has the element of surprise.

Last time, after preparing thirty minutes of activities and getting no response, I sat next to the students and MADE them speak to me. I asked one boy (yes, he was still in school uniform) a question and it was a deer caught in the headlights – “He’s asking me a question … in English … and expects me to answer ?”

So, without further ado, tonight’s lesson plan which involves First conditional, future clauses, reading and speaking. On the surface, I’m dead in the water – however, I have some tricks up my sleeve ….

First activity will be something I learnt from my time with a theatre group (never more than five people but that constitutes a ‘group’). I’ll draw a red dot on the floor and get all the class to stand around it (yes, I know getting the class up from their chairs will probably take up most of the lesson). The exercise is to focus all of our energy at the spot. We start be pointing our right hand at it for eight seconds, then changing to our left hand, our right leg followed by our left. This is repeated for four seconds, two seconds and finally one second. I think it’s a fair bet that none of the students have started a lesson in that manner before.

Next, I shall invoke the help of my friend Dali. I shall make the students say his name, elongating it as long as possible, while twirling my (imaginary) moustache. Then I shall show them his photo and an example of his work:

I will try to elicit, to get feedback, from the class. Last week, I covered this class and I did a lesson about personality adjectives. How would they describe Dali, just from his picture, and what do they think about his art ? I will guide them towards the subject, the colours, the background. Hopefully, it will be inspiring to at least some of the students.

Now, grammar time, First Conditional.

If I have 10 million VND, I will buy a Honda motorbike.

Conditional + subject + verb …… (comma) sub + will + verb …

First conditional uses present tense ( have) and will do something. It is used when something is very possible. In Vietnam, 10 million VND is not an impossible amount for a basic motorbike.

HOWEVER, If I had 100 million VND (not so likely) I would buy ….

To test comprehension, I’ll board some incorrect sentences and see if the students can change them:

If you’ll learn English you are get a good job

My mum will hit me unless I does get good grades

She won’t going to bed until he came home

If you buy an Apple X, you would be happy

After you leave the class, you would be terribly sad.

Finally, in this rather short post, some pre-teaching for the reading section.

The words are:

prodigies

controversy

determined

forbidden

outstanding

excelled

rebelled

took up

resent

How could they apply them to the following pictures:

Both Mozart and Beethoven were incredibly gifted children. Mozart’s first composition was written when he was just five years old.

President Trump plans to build a wall between USA and Mexico. Not everyone thinks this a good idea, while some totally approve of it. It has made many people very angry.

Now, how about this sign I saw in Indonesia (Yes – this is genuine, hand on heart) ?

How would they describe this young lady:

And finally, what do they students understand by this picture ?

So, we shall see how my little rebels deal with the lesson. If all else fails, I can make then sit through some REAL music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egMWlD3fLJ8

Now, that’s a chopper !

IELTS Unit 6: ch – ch – ch – ch – changes

16th April 2019

Tomorrow night I’m substituting a new IELTS class which is going to be very heavy on reading. In order to offset this passive activity, I want to promote and encourage as much speaking as possible AND to make the students take notes of any new words or phrases. Apparently, note-taking is not big in Vietnam; for a teacher, it can seem that the students are expecting to be entertained. It’s quite amazing the amount of students who attend class without notebooks, writing implements or the motivation to open their mouths and practice the language they are paying to learn.

Therefore, I have to make it clear at the outset what I expect them to do if THEY expect to get a good grade. Taking a photo of the board is not good enough, they need to physically write and practice the new vocabulary. Wether I am successful is another matter (for another blog).

And so, without further ado, tomorrow’s plan.

The theme is about changing lives, making decisions, trying something new. Consequently, I’ll play three songs which feature a change of one description or other. Let’s start with the song alluded to in the title, ‘Changes’ by the British legend David Bowie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCgzX7vwlFk

David Bowie in the early 1970s … going through many changes

Next we have USA Soul-singer, Otis Redding. He sings about a life-changing move: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISxskvJ9FwI

Otis Redding who left his home in Georgia …..

Finally the use of change in a more abstract way, a mental activity. If someone makes a decision then has a different view, we say they ‘change their mind’. That is the subject of our last song, ‘Baby, Don’t Change your Mind’ by Gladys Knight & the Pips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IjDftWaXpA

Gladys Knight

The first task is to identify the type of change mentioned in the song then subsequently moving on to a second task; what do they think of the music ?

This will involve forming opinions, and using special vocabulary pertaining to music. To begin with, the students have been given several opportunities to practise these:

In my opinion

For me

I feel that

From my point of view

Then some new phrases to express like or dislike:

I really love it / I quite like it / I’m crazy about it

I can take it or leave it / I don’t mind it

I’m quite keen on it / I’m not so keen on it

I’m into it / I’m not really into it / I’m not into it at all !

I can’t stand it / It’s excruciating / I can’t bear it

It’s not my cup of tea / It’s right up my street

Now vocabulary pertaining to the actual music:

melodic / tuneless

catchy / boring

repetitive / interesting

rhythmic / great beat /

uplifting / depressing / melancholic

The students will have to move around the room (always a challenge as most students are glued to their seats for the whole three-hours and simply will not move) and interview each other. It’s my job to get them to elucidate and expand their answers, to illustrate that a basic, ‘I like it’, isn’t what is expected from an IELTS student … and isn’t going to be accepted by THIS teacher.

Thereafter, I want to move from music to cinema. I’m going to show some stills of Asian films and let the students work together to create possible scenarios. As always, I’ll model one example. This is from one of my favourite directors, Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai, and the film in 1994s ‘Chungking Express’.

Brigitte Lin

This still doesn’t give much information … but it has some. The figure wears a long trench-coat as worn by detectives or private eyes in US crime films). Her blonde hair is a wig and she wears sunglasses … at night. What does that suggest ?

Furthermore, the scene is well-lit by the store; what area of Asia could this be, where there is so much light, neon, brightness and excitement ?

In answer, the film is set in Hong Kong. The lady is organising some smuggling. If it works, she will make a lot of money. If it fails, her life is certainly in severe danger. Whatever happens, this night will change her life.

Now, the students have to look at these stills:


Where is this film set ? What could be the life-changing situation ? For a clue, consider the ages of two of the characters. On the other hand:

Take Care of my Cat

Where is this set ? (the signs give a clue). This is a film about five young ladies who have just left school. What changes are they facing ? Finally, a film closer to home:

The Owl and the Sparrow

The students will probably recognise the setting and the situation. How do they read the body language of the actors ? What could change ? How are the girls in this situation in the first place ?

After this, it’s time to hit the books.

To make reading more of an active activity, the students can work in pairs. One will read one paragraph, then relate the information to their partner. This is then repeated with the second partner reading then relating. Thus they practice reading, speaking and listening.

Furthermore, they can try to rephrase some lines, a useful ability to have in an IELTS test.

To end, we could show some clips of films, then pause and ask the students what they think will happen next, and to describe what they see in the shot. This helps develop the use of adjectives and discourse markers. And who knows … maybe they will change their habits and actually get up from their chairs.

IELTS Revisited

10th April 2019

I’m now taking my second IELTS class, and the great thing is that I’ve already made lesson plans. Additionally, my class is much smaller – seven students as opposed to 17 – and they seem slightly more motivated and animated.

But there is still room for improvement … and I’m referring here to myself, as a teacher. My centre tries to promote as much student talking-time as possible, ideally aiming for as high as 80% student conversation … ideally. In reality, the teacher has to face a number of obstacles. I’ll save those for another, more general blog, as I want to dedicate this post to extra work, and tips to get the students talking.

First up, I need to make the students take notes (Vietnamese are not in the habit of doing this, as my centre manager explained). Instead, they will often just take a photo of the board. Secondly, once the student has sat down, they generally will not move until it is time to leave … three hours later.

I will now insist that they take out and use notebooks, the rationale being that the active process of writing will help them remember the words or phrases much better than taking a photo (which they may never look at) or relying on their memory.

Likewise, I will strongly recommend that instead of sitting and talking with the same person all class, they get up and move around, practice with different people (“But teacher, I am tired, I am lazy,” – I have actually heard these from people half my age ).

Now, without further ado, some extra work.

In Lesson Two, I started off with some compound nouns, based upon shopping. This was a way to introduce new vocabulary as well as filling time while late students arrive.

My manager suggested that this could be developed into a speaking exercise. For example, using the compound nouns ‘bulk shopping’, ‘window shopping’, ‘binge shopping’, ‘impulse shopping’ and ‘dumpster diving’, make a presentation with questions:

Have you ever made an impulse purchase ?

How often do you go window shopping ?

Do you ever buy in bulk ?

Is dumpster diving popular in Viet Nam ?

Then, what are the pros and cons of:

Typical street market … but is the fruit safe ?
District 7 shopping mall: food courts, cinema, shops and stalls.
Souvenir store in District 1. Are the prices fixed or does it depend on how rich the buyer looks ?

Basically, get the students speaking as much as possible. To help them develop longer, more complex sentences, I’ve given them sheets of discourse markers, and each week we focus on one type and select three words. For example, last week was ‘addition’; instead of saying ‘and’, they could use ‘additionally’, ‘furthermore’, or ‘moreover.’

This gets practiced when they have to link two basic sentences:

I like coffee. I like tea.

They could be linked by a simple ‘and’, but try using new discourse markers.

Sentences can be built up by using adjectives, adverbs, discourse markers, and by the use of clauses. This will entail relative pronouns … but that is for another lesson. The students have two months and hopefully they will see improvements after every lesson.

Young Learners: It’s all happening at the zoo.

9th April 2019

I’m getting a head start on my weekend class planning, and here’s the projected plan for my early morning class of nineteen young learners (13th April). It’s a mixed bag; I have some ideal students, some good but hyper-active students, some ultra-shy students, some recalcitrant students, some who are learning nothing, some who want to learn nothing, and some special-needs students. Thankfully my TA is amazing, but we both end up with vocal chords ripped to shreds, and questioning the meaning of life, or at least the meaning of doing this job. And after, we have two other classes.

One technique is to use one student as class captain, usually the meanest and noisiest. The responsibility can make that student an asset in the un-winable war on noise. I also have recourse to employ John Bercow, Speaker of the House in the UK Parliament for assistance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4v7wddN-Wg

John Bercow has it easy; he only has to control 650 politicians. I have 19 Vietnamese kids … no contest.

And so, without further ado, the plan (and the best laid plans of mice and men …)

In small teams, the students have to write the name of an animal that can fly, one that can swim, then jump, then hiss. This will help review names of animals and give writing and spelling practice.

For this, we pass out small, wipeable boards and marker pens. We also make sure that a different team member writes each time. I know some students will NOT participate, so I will make a note of their names and pass the information onto to Student Support.

Following this, I want to see if the students can use the prepositions ‘on, in, under’. We have 14 flashcards of animals. I’ll ask one student per team to put a flashcard in a certain place e.g. ‘Put the elephant on the board’, or ‘Put the turtle in the bag.’

After I have given one or two instructions, I’ll use the best students to act as ‘thay’ and they can continue giving instructions.

I also want to revise ‘Do you like ?’ and the response, ‘Yes, I do’, or ‘No, I don’t.’ In pairs, the students can ask each other this question, relating to various flashcards that I hand them. Again, I’m sure some students will refuse to open their mouths, and again, their names will be taken. Hopefully, once the parents are informed, the students will start to work in the class.

Next it’s back to old-school grammar drill, and we’re still on the verb ‘to have’. I’ll choose four students and hand them an animal flashcard. I shall model first:

I have a tiger, you have a monkey, he has a turtle, she has a lion.

The students repeat the pattern, while the cards get changed. This helps them learn animal names and the subject-verb agreement.

Finally, before the book work, a chance to practice ‘Can you see .. ?’

I shall model one question: Can you see the rhino ? Where is it ?

After, the students can come up and ask. I’m looking for the students to answer in sentences with correct prepositions.

Then we hit the books and do a project. Fast-finishers can do a work sheet learning new vocabulary and doing a word search. This gives me a chance to hear as many of the students as possible read a few lines from their work books and assess how they are improving, or otherwise.

This weekend, I have a break until 13.00 … and no doubt I shall need it.

Adult Class Level 3: Sharks and dragons

18th March 2019

Tomorrow night I’m substituting this adult class. I’ve taught them before, so most of the faces should be familiar. I’m not sure they will be over the Moon to see me again; maybe their hearts will sink. So, as a warm up, while students turn up and get settled, a quick review of new and recent expressions. I’ll board five expressions and let the students match with the meaning:

  1. over the moon
  2. complete waste of time
  3. lose your temper
  4. must be a nightmare
  5. my heart sank

Now they have to match with these:

a. A terrible situation or experience

b. to be totally happy

c. to be totally disappointed

d. to become very angry

e. doing something but it produces nothing; it is useless and pointless.

Now practice – which expression would you use here:

He lives above a shop that has open-air karaoke every night.

She got 95% in her test and is incredibly happy.

John was nearly hit by a motorcycle; he was furious.

When the students saw Thay Paul, they were unhappy and disappointed.

Trying to teach physics to dogs is not going to do any good !

Who doesn’t like a cute dog picture ?

Next up, a review of a previous lesson: how to complain. First, I’ll show a short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF41XxbFbr8

I’ll ask the students what the woman is complaining about (the woman is complaining about some Asians speaking Korean in a USA coffee shop).

This is also a good chance for the students to hear other accents; the clip is from USA, so the voices will be different to my British. Furthermore, this can promote some new vocabulary. Is the lady being reasonable or unreasonable ? Does she have a fair point ? Is she right to complain ? How would the students feel if this happened to them ?

Following this, we can board some ‘dos and don’ts’ about complaining, then I’ll give a situation or situations. Students have five minutes to prepare a short conversation:

The food in a restaurant is cold and not properly cooked

A new smart phone doesn’t work properly

A hotel room is not as good as expected

A neighbour is having a loud party with karaoke … and it is 11.30pm on a Monday.

Following this, I’ll move onto the book work but with a difference. I’ve noticed how many students’ hearts sink when they have to open their books. After a conversation with a colleague, I hit upon an idea: I will do the book work, but as an activity or game. For example, the first exercise is pronunciation. How to pronounce ten words with correct stress and intonation. Instead of the students working from the book, I’ll say each word three different ways. In small teams, the students must then decide the correct version and say it. By saying it as a group or class, it prevent people from becoming embarrassed. The words include ‘experience’, ‘qualifications’ and ‘apply.’

Another book exercise involved writing questions about someone’s job. I’ll turn this into a questionnaire, students having to get up and ask each other questions. This involves speaking, listening and writing (& reading the questions) so it exercises many skills, as well as getting the students up from their seats (hopefully) and moving around.

This is basically one third of the book work covered without opening the book. But then, we have to finally take out the bad boy, open it up and start reading. Tonight’s reading is quite a chuck of text; the subject is asking rich business people to invest in a new idea. There is a show in the UK called ‘Dragon’s Den’, which features this concept, and apparently the US version is called ‘Shark Tank.’ What do these names suggest ? Into the dragon’s den is a British expression for going into or doing something unpleasant or dangerous.

As with any reading, the teacher must go through the text first and look for any problem words, or highlight useful, everyday expressions. These are then pre-taught.

Still, looking at a page of text can be daunting for a student, especially after a long working day. One way to break it down, is for students to work in pairs. One reads the first paragraph, then paraphrases it to the other. The process is then switched. However, the students may just prefer to read alone.

The last part of the lesson is speaking. Students are given some time to think up an invention of their own (they are given guides, for example, a new type of gadget, or food, or phone app. The point here is to get the students talking, learning how to ‘pitch’, what kind of language and presentation skills are needed. As a quick break, I can show some examples of people pitching ideas … but things don’t go to plan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSSYm0b2wk

This is from the UK ‘Dragon’s Den’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4PZywrm6TY

From 0:46, I’ll ask the students what this man’s pitch (idea) is and what is special about it ? Do they think it’s a good idea ? Would they invest in it ?

The last section of the lesson is for winding down, some games, some general speaking, some general questions. And, who knows … maybe some will leave with better English and a great business idea.