a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
So this is the first in hopefully many posts which respond to teacher’s problems.
Feel free to send me issues you may be having in your classroom or otherwise and I’ll dedicate a post to you.
A colleague of mine is teaching English in South Korea. The thing is, one of her classes is a class of Chinese teenagers, which shouldn’t really mean anything except that they are obviously more interested in learning Korean than English – since they live there. So not only are they teenagers, but they are disinterested teenagers.
I actually quite enjoy teenagers because they are in a place where they can still absorb like sponges as Young Learners do, but also have the intellect to respond like adults. But with teenagers they really need to be interested, so that may be the issue here: motivation.
So what I would recommend for this dear colleague are a few ways to make the English lessons less lesson-like and more like real life-like: English in disguise.
Leave the coursebook out of it
The obvious option would be to be more conversation-based and jump in with a Dogme lesson. Try leave the coursebook out of it for a lesson and let the language come from the students. Write a controversial (though be careful) prompt on the board and hope and pray that they can be bothered to talk about it.
If you are met with a deathly silence, you can start it off yourself or divide them into groups to get them talking. As the discussion goes, make a note of language points you can pick up on later. You can also get them to write down a few statements themselves.
Or you could do something like this.
If the idea of abandoning your coursebook gives you heart palpitations, allocate just a portion of the lesson to try it out and see how it goes.
Find out who they are
Which brings me to the next point. Teenagers are only going to talk about what they are interested in. Now, I would have very little idea of what South African teenagers are interested in let alone Chinese teenagers living in South Korea, so ask. Talk to them. You can use some sort of activity to get them talking about what they enjoy doing outside of the classroom and on weekends and make a note of this for future classes.
You could do a pyramid ranking activity, for example. In pairs, the students must come up with the 5 best ways to spend a weekend and the 5 worst ways to spend a weekend. After a few minutes join two groups and they must negotiate a new list. Continue joining groups until the groups are two halves of the class and they are debating one list.
If you keep your ears open, even the options which don’t make the list will give you insight into what they enjoy doing.
Turn it into a competition
Always a winner; find ways to introduce competitions into your lessons. Turn grammar activities into races, do quizzes, play Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, get involved in team games. Anything you can do to introduce teamwork and group collaboration usually works like a charm.
The key here is to use your usual classroom activities (a reading, a test, a grammar exercise) and adapt how you usually do it and add in the competition element.
…with your materials. Use audio-visual materials as the basis for your lessons. Short clips from films, TED talks, songs or even just a rad picture can make all the difference. The key to getting your students’ interest activated in the lesson (no matter the age) is in the first few minutes, so start off with something awesome and they are more likely to respond.
And that’s all I got, for now. I have other ideas too but this post is getting quite long already (2-cups-of-tea long) so I’ll leave it at that. Give these ideas a try and if they bomb, we can try something else. If they work, awesome.