Friday, September 15, 2023
A big warm welcome back to another academic year – be you teacher, student, or simply interested in the online musings of this teacher trainer/part-time blog writer. For those of you about to get settled in the classroom again remember to hang up a new calendar, dig out your favourite coffee mug and restock the pencil case. Class is just around the corner and with it the thrill of new students and more often than not, a new coursebook. But before the pages can be turned, there’s often a brief delay as publishers rush to supply the masses, which usually results in several classes with time to fill. The intention of this blogpost then is to offer several ways in which valuable class time can be utilised before the coursebook arrives. Excited much? I hope so!
New year, new students, so it makes sense that the first few lessons should incorporate different ways of getting to know each other. This is a great opportunity to discover student likes/dislikes, interests and so on because until you ask, who knows whether they are Team Edward or Team Jacob, or what funky music they might be into?! Three easy activities with this purpose in mind are: Find someone who…, writing answers about yourself without questions (to then encourage questions from a partner) and lastly, writing 3 pieces of personal information on a slip of paper which the teacher reads out to the class who then have to figure out which student it represents. Future activities can then be moulded around this newfound information to make it more relatable and relevant to your particular class. So not only can GTKY activities give the teacher some insight into students as people (and their English ability!), but they can also help get the year off to a really positive start.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to put things on the walls of your classroom, why not have your students spend some time creating their own work of art to stand out amidst all the language posters? It’s likely that they’ll be coming to the same room for months so this can really help with their sense of pride and ownership of the classroom. A simple activity is to print their names in a special font (Jokerman works well) on coloured paper and then have them draw 5 things around it that are important to them. This can then be laminated, which will ensure it lasts and as a bonus, it can also be used for some GTKY speaking activities too!
Despite the holiday blues possibly creeping in at the start of the course, this is exactly the moment to take advantage of students’ time off as it provides a treasure trove of stories to exploit. This can be done by guessing the true/false statements about their recent vacation, encouraging students to ask questions to each other, and selecting for example three adjectives/statements/pictures from a list that best represents their holiday. Younger students can even draw pictures of their summer and give them an appropriate title – now you have some more wall art to enjoy!
Language classrooms usually come with a range of language posters or prompts to help students in their day-to-day communication needs. By this, I’m referring to the valuable “How do you say … in English?” or for those forgetful students “Can I borrow a/an…?” and for the daydreamers “Can you repeat that please?”. But apart from the odd pointing at them as a reminder, how often have you taken the time to actually familiarise students with them? Yes, internalisation can happen by repetition but doing some initial active work on using and understanding these language chunks at the start of the course will go a long way towards students subsequently being comfortable with using them in class. One simple activity is dividing students into borrowers and lenders with the borrowers having a “list” of items that exist in a typical pencil case. Borrowers then go (or race!) to each lender to get the necessary items to complete their list first. Other useful chunks can even be practised with dramatic effect such as the teacher speaking really fast and/or quietly to elicit the students to say “Can you repeat that please?” or similar. Wall decoration the posters may be, but encouraging students to speak correctly is their superpower.
Before the course really intensifies with the appearance of a book and the pressure of school takes hold, make the most of this momentary freedom to try out something new. Explore that topical subject, look at and practice those interesting expressions, enjoy those songs. In the words of Nike: Just. Do. It. Besides expanding your own personal teaching repertoire, it is also an opportunity to show your students that you’re open to doing something different and are not purely restricted to coursebook related lessons. And better still, once you’ve gotten to know your students, plan a lesson that relates specifically to their interests – they’ll appreciate it immensely and this will naturally build rapport and generate excitement for the year ahead.
While the holidays provide a much-needed time off to recharge the batteries and enjoy the sights and sounds of summer, the downside is that they may limit students’ contact with the language that they have just spent all year learning. This is why it’s a good idea to go over past content, which is familiar yet possibly sitting in the recesses of their minds, to ease students back into the classroom and help switch them on to learning mode again. However, it needn’t be as explicit as “Let’s look at X which you saw last year”. Instead, liven it up with some past simple irregular bingo, 20 questions for question formation or a GTKY Have you ever…? style activity. Any active practice is sure to be enjoyed and this is also the perfect opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
Dealing with numerous and at times unexpected events is par for the course during a lesson but class with school-age students often comes with its own set of extra challenges: behavioural ones. To help minimise any potential issues and get things flowing in the correct fashion right from the beginning, teachers may find it beneficial to work together with their students to come up with their own class rules or expectations for the year. By doing this collectively, students set what they believe to be realistic rules/expectations for themselves and, in theory, become more responsible for their actions and their consequences. Additionally, and similar to the previous paragraph, it is also likely to involve a sneaky revision of functional language like modals for permission, obligation and prohibition to name but a few. And remember, this doesn’t just apply to the students – expectations should be set for the teacher too!
At the start of the year students are adjusting to all sorts of things, and one more should be getting acquainted with the various activities that they are likely to play during the year. This is likely to include Backs to the Board, Stop the Bus, Noughts and Crosses, Pictionary, and Taboo, which form the backbone of many teachers’ fun vocabulary practice and students really get into them once they know how the activity works. Hence it is well worth prepping students prior to the books arriving because when they do arrive, no time will then be wasted as students will know exactly what to do when you say the name. And who knows, hopefully they’ll even be requesting their favourite!
And there you have it dear reader. Eight ideas for what to do while you are waiting for the coursebook to arrive. I hope you are able to find something useful from the options above and wish you all the best for the year ahead!