On the board I’ll write some collocations – reading palms, telling fortunes, predicting the future.
Role-playing: the students can pretend to tell their partner’s fortune. The subjects, more appropriate to this age, can be: school, future job, university, holiday, a surprise, travel, making a new friend.
Real-world examples are a great way to introduce new vocabulary and phrases. In this clip, I can focus on: former / iconic / sparking interest / pass up the opportunity.
On slips of paper, I’ll write the ten sites, while on the board, I’ll write ten countries. The students, in pairs and as a race, will have to find the site associated with the country and stick it on the board. A chance to burn off some energy before the book work. If the class is too rowdy after a fun game (which can happen, a victim of its own success), I’ll do a quick Hangman game using vocabulary from a previous lesson (sonnet, conscious, reporter, lawyer, suddenly, meanwhile …)
After the bookwork, I can do some more run ‘n’ write games. I’ll write an incorrect sentence on the board and a student from each team must rewrite. First one to finish, including punctuation, wins.
I’m not expecting a lot of motivation so close to a major holiday, so we can end with a video of their choice. As long as it’s in English … teaching without teaching, and letting them leave with a smile … hopefully.
One of the less interesting aspects of teaching is lesson planning; I can easily spend an hour or more trying to make activities or find suitable video clips for a class. It can be worthwhile if said activity is a success, but quite often the reverse occurs leaving one with a sense of futility. All that time wasted …and for what ?
To counter this we can, with the necessary tweaking, use and reuse parts of previous lessons for different classes and thereby justify the time spent on creating slides that may only have been employed for a few minutes (having taken considerably longer to create).
It’s early afternoon, I have two more classes at my centre this week, one for young teens the other for actual teens, and I’m not entirely enamoured of either class. Still, needs must … so I open the student book, and see the subject is UNESCO (which should be interesting) but then I see the vocabulary; words such as ‘heritage’. I see the general knowledge section, mentioning places such as Pompeii, then referencing the Tower of Hercules. My students are Vietnamese and most, if not all, attend public schools. At age ten, eleven, twelve, it is highly unlikely they will know these places. It is also highly unlikely they will want to know these places.
There’s going to have to be some pre-teaching before the main book work and, as it’s Tet Holiday next week, I’m think I’m justified in making the lesson more game or activity based. Tet is also a time of tradition and superstition, which was the subject of last night’s adult class, so I will be able to re-use some slides, video clips and class work. The adults were at level 1, so their language skills are about the same, if not less, then these young teens. Furthermore, I will adapt and recycle for tomorrow’s class thus making the effort totally viable in terms temporal (“I never knew you wrote such bloody awful poetry,”).
As in cinema, my centre favours a ‘show don’t tell approach.’ Therefore, I’ll show a short YouTube clip about Unesco. There will be ten sites, and I’ll write the countries on the board. On paper, I’ll write the names of the sites and I’ll stick them around the room, making sure that they remain there and not torn down, eaten or generally mutilated in some way. Telling students (at least in Vietnam) NOT to do something is an sure-fire invitation for them to do exactly what they have been admonished NOT to do and I kid you NOT. In my first centre, which was modest and low-tech, the rooms had old, cantankerous CD players. Students were told not to touch them. I walked into class one day and found one boy sitting with the plug in his mouth, sucking happily away. He wasn’t a Kindergarten child … he was in his early teens.
Back to the use of video clips; I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for appropriate clips. So many videos take forever to start, with opening credits and endless introductions that are merely exercises in tautology. If one can find a clip that “does what it says on the tin,” bookmark it – It’s gold.
I can also reuse slides showing various aspects of Tet Holiday and ask the students what they mean – what is ‘lucky money’ ? What special food is eaten, what clothes are worn … and why ? At this age, some role-playing could be fun … the students can act out for me the procedure for giving and receiving lucky money.
Another useful teaching ‘trick’ is to reverse the class dynamics, and have the students teach me Vietnamese, correct my pronunciation and grade my performance. They learn different English skills here, to instruct as opposed to being instructed, and as it’s fun and they are in control, it doesn’t seem like a lesson … but it is. We teachers can be a pretty sneaky bunch … we have to be … however the only object is to make sure the students leave the class having learnt new words and been given the chance to practise using them. The ends justify the means.
This type of class is very divisive among teachers who either love them or hate them. I am firmly in the former camp, so please allow me to set the scene.
The class size is relatively small (a dozen – twelve – or so students), the room has three brightly coloured tables and a variety of coloured chairs. There are vibrant murals on the walls, somewhat reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ ‘Smiley Smile’ LP cover
My teaching props include Polly – a puppet parrot of a psychedelic green hue, and Mike the mischievous yet well-meaning Monkey. Yes – I get to play with puppets AND get paid for it. Sometimes life ain’t so bad.
The students are around four or five in age, and love Mike and Polly – they tolerate my presence as a necessary evil.
I am admirable assisted by two very sweet young ladies, TAs, whom I ‘love to bits,’ (expression indicating a strong liking – in English we use ‘love’ quite liberally – we love coffee, love TV shows, love a shirt etc. This is not the same in other languages – in Swedish, for example, love is ONLY used for personal relationships.)
My class this Saturday is at level 3, so they are able to count, are familiar with the alphabet, can sing basic songs, follow instructions, ask basic questions, know colours, and are continuing to expand their vocabulary.
I want to push them further because they are motivated and, at this age, can absorb a new language easily. I am rather older, and find it a Herculean task to learn even one or two new words (and as for pronunciation – forget it !). As such, I’ve banned the use of the word ‘fine’ as in, “How are you ?” “I’m fine.” (see my earlier blog ‘Don’t say, “I’m fine.” https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2018/12/19/dont-say-im-fine/
Instead: I’m good, great, very well, thank you … I’ve also started to make the students use the terms ‘Activity Book’ or ‘Pupil Book’.
Also, we can impart language in a more natural way; we can use various words / expressions repeatedly so the students acquire language as opposed to being taught the vocabulary. For example, a student’s work can be described as ‘excellent’, or being told ‘well done.’ Apart from the new words, they are hearing longer, multi-syllable words, and basic collocations – words that go together to form one unit of meaning. Another ‘trick’ I have is to sing to myself the Kraftwerk song ‘We are the robots.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_8Pma1vHmw
I sing, under my breathe, the chorus and then mime the four notes played on synthesiser. Just four simple words, but so effective for English learners, especially Asian countries where plurals are formed in a different style.
For are start we have some basic grammar – subject + verb ‘to be’. Vietnamese verbs do not alter according to subject. Students may start to learn ‘I am’ but here are introduced to ‘We are.’ The noun is robots – can’t go wrong there – everyone loves robots ! From a pedagogic view, the plural sound in introduced and drilled, repeatedly. By copying the song, they automatically repeat the -s plural sound AND apply it here after a difficult ‘t’ sound – the ‘ts.’ Lastly, we employ the notorious English ‘the’ ðə sound. The students are having an English lesson without even knowing it !
With younger classes I use a ‘montage of attractions’, a term I came across in a book on the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, and itself adapted from engineering. It means placing different elements together to form a unified whole, as in cutting a film, or attaching pipes. We need to keep interest and motivation / energy levels up, and this is achieved by varying the games and activities, changing after five or so minutes, before boredom and apathy set it. Thus, after musical statues (in which I am ably assisted by Mike the Monkey to see which of the students are really NOT MOVING), we’ll have ‘student as teacher’ session. One student will mime some action from last week and the class have to shout out the correct expression (sit down / open a book / put the bag on the table etc). They can then continue this at their tables, changing the ‘teacher’ so all students are active.
Next, I’ll repeat the ‘on/in/under’ song – quite simply, the three words sung with accompanying gestures and then a four-beat hand clap. It’s a fun way to introduce the students to prepositions. We could then put Mike around the room and ask where is he ? “Under the table,” “On the chair,” and then extend their speaking skills by asking for an adjective (usually a colour) + noun construction: “Mike’s on the yellow chair.”
After, I’ll distribute some writing boards and marker pens, and start saying the alphabet … when I stop, the students, as a team, have to write the next letter, both capital and lower-case, i.e. “A, B, C ….. ?”
Following, there will be a CD song, re-inforcing prepositions and adjective + noun sentences.
For a new activity, we turn to phonics – sound production / pronunciation. Today I’ll focus on the letters ‘R’ & ‘T’. I’ll prepare a slide of various words beginning with the two letters. The class will them form two lines and are given a sticky ball to throw. One side shouts out a word and one member from the opposing side must throw at said picture. Points awarded for direct hits, sound effects for total misses !
Then time for a fun song to practice the ‘R’ sound. What better than this famous British song:
‘Run, rabbit, run’ – sung quite slowly and clearly enunciated.
This should bring us to the book work and the introduction of continuous verbs. The subject is ‘What am I doing ?’ followed by five illustrations. The students will listen to a CD, then repeat.
Lessons usually end with a colouring session, allowing them to choose a picture and encouraging values such as sharing, being polite and being fair.
Then it’s High-Fives all around (to Mike; they don’t care a fig about me !) and good bye, see you next week … By this time, it’s lunch. I need a break, I need a coffee, I need a fresh shirt and I need to know how I can be as popular as Mike the Monkey. Somehow, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. To quote Kurt Cobain, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”
I’ll be using abbreviations throughout these blogs so for clarity, here’s a short run-down of the most common ones:
Back to Board (B2B). Any activity where a student can’t see what is behind them, but has to guess or deduce from clues by the other students. It could be the name of a famous person, or a small YouTube clip. I often show a funny film and drill students how to describe what they see using the subject – verb – object formula.
Call My Bluff (CMB). Based on the British TV show, students are put into groups and given a list of higher-level words. Each word has three definitions, two false, one true. The students have to read out the word, maybe varying the pronunciation each time, state the type of word (noun, verb etc) and a definition. The other team has to guess the correct answer. This can be a fun way to introduce new vocabulary.
Family Fortunes (FF). This works well with larger classes. Students are put into small groups and given a board and marker. The teacher then asks for four answers to a general question. The students ‘win’ imaginary money for each answer that matches the teacher’s four. Example: I have been to four places in Viet Nam, not counting HCM City. What are those four places ? Other good questions are my four favourite Vietnamese dishes, four things I like (and dislike) in VN and favourite types of films or music.
Snakes and ladders (SNL). Based on the popular children’s board game, ideally, space permitting, I use the floor of the classroom. With markers (NOT permanent markers, mind you), the students mark out a board, a large square. On some squares there is a red dot meaning go back 2 spaces, or a blue square, go forward 1 or 2 squares. One square is ‘haha’ – the player has to return to their original place. In a big enough room, I use students who begin at opposite corners, and have to complete one circuit to win. I ask questions which any one in the team can answer – or you could ask students individually – and then they roll a die. In a smaller room, I just make the game on the whiteboard. This can be very exciting and it’s a good idea to establish the rules first i.e. is it first past the end square OR exact number to finish. This game can sometimes be too popular and become too boisterous.
Stop the bus (STB). This is a simple question and answer games, used to warm up or wind down classes. The teacher asks a question, the students shout out the answer, but first have to shout, “Stop the bus !” If they answer without the STB, no points are awarded. The game can be slightly varied, using different nouns e.g. Stop the Taxi, Stop the Grabbike or even, with a lively class, make them get up and sing, “Stop in the name of love.”
Word Battleship (WB). I often use this as a warm-up exercise. On the board draw a 4×4 grid, labeled A – D and 1 – 4. Assign different scores to each square on a separate sheet. Ask sixteen questions (can be general knowledge or a review of recent lessons, grammar, vocabulary). If the student gets the answer right, they can choose a square and you write in the number. I usually have 5 as the lowest, then 10, 20, 50 and one 100-pointer. To engage all students, you could ask them questions individually.
Word cards. I got this from an IELTS website. Make a list of recently – learnt words and expressions. The number and complexity will depend on the level of the class, but at least five or six but no more than ten. Print out and cut into individual word units. Put them in a small container. The students are placed in small groups and given the container with words. Each student has to speak on a basic theme using as many words or cards, as possible, within a set time. They can spread the words in front of them and drop them back into the container once they have been uttered.