Asked me the same question 100 times

'Those are interesting questions Timmy. I suggest you ask your search engine.'

Well, not everything is perfect, but the not so good lessons can teach us something, right?! Let’s see what I can take from this episode.

Like most teachers, I am not a big fan of having to explain the same thing many times. Whether it is instructions for an activity, some language feature, or the meaning of a word (we are not dictionaries!). I have been trying – since ever! – to minimize questions by using some techniques:

  • Class Menu – every lesson I write a menu of the activities we are going to do so that students know what to expect. Sometimes I even write the material they are going to need (books, notebooks, colour pencils). I also include the aim of the lesson and elicit the day of the week and date. So, whenever a student desperately needs to know if we are going to play a game in the lesson, I just point to the menu on the board and it saves time and teacher-talking-time! 🙂
  • Routines – incorporating routines is a TTT minimizer and time-saver. Students just know what to do. It takes time for them to get used to the routines and they may vary for different groups and ages. With my current students I have a routine for: how are you today? (by throwing a big dice and asking each other the questions), leaving the classroom (by saying a password, something they have learned in the lesson) and evaluating their English use.
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary – before any reading or listening activity, I try to make sure to work with some language I think may be difficult for the students. I also try to have students use their predicting skills by focusing on pictures and titles, and I teach them reading and listening strategies, so that I can remind them (remember that it helps to underline the same words in the questions and in the text…).
  • Ask your friend – last but not least, when I just don’t want to answer the same question for the 50th time, I just tell them to ask their friends.

So, today, despite using almost all of the techniques above, my students kept asking me how to say ‘great-grandmother’, what the meaning of ‘loudest’ was, and so on. It was very frustrating, but, looking back, I believe I could have used a simple miming game for them to practice the adjectives before having to use them in the writing activity. However, students were especially misbehaved today, so I am not entirely to blame.

'I find the best way to stop students from always talking to each other in class, is to keep asking questions. Then they have nothing to say.'

Classroom Language Flashcards

Since the beginning of the semester, it has been one of my main teaching goals to get my students to speak only L2 in class. I have already shared some strategies I have tested, and today I brought something different.

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A very valuable thing I have learned from other teachers was to teach students Classroom Language in the very first day of class, especially for beginner students. There is a lot of material available online, but I have never found something that was truly useful for my context. I needed just a few phrases students can use for asking for the page, going to the restroom, etc. Having a little drawing ability – just enough to doodle things students can understand what they are – I have come up with eight drawings to represent:

  • Ms Duda (teacher, whatever you’re called), come here, please?
  • I’m sorry, I’m late! May I come in?
  • What’s the page, please?
  • May I have a pencil, please?
  • May I go to the restroom?
  • I don’t understand. Can you repeat, please?
  • How do you say ‘casa’ in English?
  • May I say something? / May I go next?

You can download the flashcards by clicking here 🙂

Of course, the language can vary, depending on how formal your school is, or what you want to teach them. The drawings are in black and white so that young learners can colour them. Here’s an example of how I use them in my classroom:

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Started a Reading Club

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This is a project I wish my teachers had done with me when I was a student. Its main goal is to help students develop the reading habit.

Every week, students choose a book in the school’s library and take it home to read. After reading, they must rate it by colouring stars in their reading log. Sometimes they will have some kind of activity to do about the book, such as describing their favourite character.

Parents are involved in the project by having to sign the log and helping their child choose a good time to read and a comfortable place in the house. Even if they cannot speak English, they can help by providing an adequate reading environment.

After reading five books, there will be a bigger activity where students will produce something for the community. For instance, they will choose their favourite book, take it home again and read it to as many people as they can and report the experience. Or maybe they will write a book recommendation for the school’s library’s bulletin board saying what were the best things about the book.

My students were really excited after the first week of the project. Even though some of them forgot to return the book, they all read their books and filled in the log and were excited to take another book home – or sad they could not take it home because they can only take a new book when they return the other one.

It is a very simple project anyone can do if there is a library at school. I believe it is very important to share projects like this, especially in our sometimes ‘over-technologic’ environment, so that children can see that there are other fantastic worlds to be discovered away from the computer screens. 🙂

Image via Pinterest.

Talked about places in town

After the lesson where my students learned about London, it was time to expand their vocabulary on places in town. They already knew many items, so I decided to try a mind-mapping system with them. This was the result of the brainstorming phase:

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Mind map – Places in town (I wish I had a bigger whiteboard 🙂

They had some time to copy the mind map on their notebooks. As there were some fast-finishers I asked them to do some spelling practice, which is something they are used to doing whenever there is a vocabulary lesson. Then, they talked about their town, by using the structure “there + be”, which I had introduced in the past lesson. It wasn’t even a proper task, as I prefer to set a clear goal (e.g. comparing two towns, making a list of things there are in their town and they wish they had, and so on). Even though they tried to use “have” instead of “there + be”, I could correct them on the spot and they came up with nice sentences. We will need to further practice the structures in order to consolidate the language, though.

In a perfect world, where students would take 10 minutes to copy a mind map – instead of half and hour! – I would ask them to get in pairs and write sentences about their town and compare to another town (maybe London or somewhere they like) and share with the whole class. I would have them try to improve their friend’s sentences – this groups is really cooperative, so they would enjoy doing this.

We still have a few lessons in this unit and there are many projects coming up – something related to fish, and I know nothing about fish!

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Talking about the blog a little… Last month I was very excited to write about my lessons, but in April we had so many holidays and I had to teach so many “boring” lessons that the rhythm wasn’t as I intended. I hope in May I can stick to the schedule. I’m planning on changing things, like how I talk about my lessons, doing a more straightforward kind of posts. Let’s see how it goes. Happy Labor day!

Wrote about their favourite books

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Today we continued our project that we started in the previous lesson. I wanted my students to write about their favourite books, focusing on the description of a character. I was quite happy with the results.

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I decided to follow a Process Writing approach with elements of Product Writing because they had a model to follow. Here it is step by step and a picture of the board with the:

  • Students had the information they needed for the text (title, author, type of book, favourite character, description);
  • I wrote a model of my text on the board, by eliciting student’s suggestions on how to phrase the information;
  • Students wrote a draft of their texts on their notebooks and gave me to correct;
  • Students wrote the final version of the project (posters) and drew their favourite character.
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I am quite proud of my board skills in this one 🙂

It was a very simple approach that required little preparation on my part. It wasn’t very open for students to produce ‘new language’, though. They had quite a fixed model to follow, but some of them did try to include some plot details, like the one who wrote about the adventures of Tin Tin, who asked me how to say ‘ the captain was a drunk’ (haha!). However, to me, they needed just to be aware of how to write about the basic details of a book and to make the connection with what we have been focusing on by describing the character. And this objective was met by all of them.

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Told me they liked my lessons

If there’s one thing I have learned during almost ten years teaching young and very young learners is that they are going to show you when they like or don’t like your lessons. They can do that through naughty behaviour, cooperative actions, by hugging you or they will just simply say “I don’t like this lesson”.

When they don’t like your lessons, there’s always the option of developing an action plan in order to ask them what they want (games! songs!) and what they specifically don’t like doing. They usually have strong opinions on those matters and will (hopefully) help you.

When they tell you they like your lessons, it means you’re on the right path. However, as much as teachers enjoy hearing that, it may makes us wonder “what if I don’t live up to their expectations anymore?” or “are they going to enjoy my lessons forever?” or even “when are they going to stop liking my lessons?” :O

It’s been two months since the beginning of the year and things are going well so far. Because this unit’s main topic was describing people, I was able to bring many different games for my students, such as Guess Who?, describe and draw, and guess the thief. Also, thanks to the course book, there were chants to work on pronunciation and a really nice song about a thief who gets away. Therefore, I can say that lessons have been quite fun, and students highly motivated, which makes me want to prepare even better lessons.

However, as I have mentioned, how do I keep my students motivated? I have read a few things on motivation in the ELT classroom, but there always seem to be the consensus of “whatever suits your students”. You can’t always please them because they need to do some things that, even if they do not like them, we know they are important and will bring good results in the future. We also need to ensure students can see their progress, even if it is in the form of “what have I learned today?” by the end of the lesson.

Anyway, I just hope they keep their motivation high and come to class with a smile on their faces because that’s what I am here for: to see them happy to learn! 🙂

Practiced describing a person

Today it was one of those days where nothing very special happens, but yet students did produce much more than they normally do in my lessons. We played a simple back to the board game where students had to describe the features of a face that was projected on the board for the others to draw. Then, we voted on who drew it more similar to the original drawing. It was a lot of fun!

Regarding language production, they did try to use L1 and they did try not to speak and use gestures instead (and take their friend’s pencil of their hands to draw it themselves). However, the sentences they could produce were appropriate and there was a lot of new vocabulary that I wrote on the board (e.g. eyebrows, lips, eyelashes, fringe, etc.).

Then, it was time for Movers exercises. I love working with Fun for Movers and the activities are very well thought of for children, the book is colorful and so on. The only thing is that students find it boring. I don’t know why – they couldn’t say specifically what made it boring – so I can only guess. Maybe the activities are done at random, sometimes they have no connection with the main course book, so it may be hard for the students to make the connection. However, I always try to do the Movers activities on Mondays, so there is at least the time difference between the usage of books. It is something I would like to investigate more with the students, to see if I can improve the way we use this course book.

Finally, for the following lesson, we are going to continue describing people. Hopefully, we will be able to finish the Unit on Thursday because I think they are tired of describing faces (if they aren’t, I am!). I plan on doing some writing production because we have had many speaking exercises, but for writing there were only grammar activities.