Some people were wondering how I make my magic:
First off, organizing this thing called teaching, would be a heck of a lot more difficult without my wonderful teachers from the Concordia University TESL/TEFL Certificate Program. Those women are idea masters, and while I’m sure they’d look at my lesson plans and find tons of areas for improvement, including my inability to set concrete objectives, I know I’d be doing worse without having basked in their wisdom for three weeks last summer.
I have an English curriculum but my kids are so behind that I’ve barely looked at it. We started the year by reviewing the present simple (Rabbits hop. Do you hop? They do not hop.), present continuous (Those damn rabbits are hopping!), past simple (The rabbits hopped all night long.), and the past continuous (While the rabbits were hopping, the students failed to understand this tense.). That carried us through the first two parcials. Now in the fourth parcial, we’re slogging through comparisons, including similes (She is as ugly as a monkey. My feet are smellier than your feet. They are the smelliest in the world!). Along the way we’ve started and quit Holes by Louis Sachar, a wonderful book but too difficult for my little bilingualites, studied parts of speech, basic sentence structure, the paragraph burger, spent an entire term on pronouns, and are about to explore the future simple and “going to.” We will probably wrap up the year with a review of prepositions. If this were third grade, I’d feel rather accomplished!
I’ve seen others’ lesson plans and can only drool at their simplicity—“Grammar tense,” “Do stuff,” “The End.” My memory is crap, as are my improvisation skills, which years of theatre games only reinforced. My lesson plans are detailed and color coded and written in Excel so I can have everything aligned and indented just right.
I plan my week around a short list of goals, usually a grammar tense, to be practiced in reading, writing, speaking, and listening (RWSL), and a specific writing skill, like paragraphs, and build my lessons from there. Starting with the third parcial, each day of the week has a certain task or skill area we always do. For example, we start every class with a Phrase of the Day to work on pronunciation and do an activity with that week’s vocabulary. Mondays always introduce new vocabulary; Tuesdays and Thursdays include reading a short story; Wednesday, a listening activity and review of troublesome sentences from the vocabulary homework; Thursdays, Bingo; and Friday, vocabulary quiz. Well, those are the goals, anyway. Inevitably, the activities take longer than anticipated and things get shuffled around, but the outline of the ideal week saves me so many hours of wracking my brain for a variety of activities that work on all the skill areas. The first two parcials found me floundering in a sea of how to fill my all of those minutes. Now, I still flounder, but less.
As for the day to day…here’s what it looks like:
Phrase of the Day: I found a TEFL site with silly limericks. We practice a line a day and then put it together at the end of the week. Pronunciation is tricky to practice because the kids feel self-concious about speaking alone, and I can’t correct them too many times or they retreat.
Vocabulary: There are only so many activities I can do. Some activities found online look fun, but I can’t imagine my kids understanding them or cooperating, or having the resources for them. But we have a staple, including the race-to-the-wall-to-find-the-paper-with-the-correct-word-once-Miss-T-has-read-the-definition-but-do-not-attack-your-competitor game.
Grammar: Look on the internet for exciting, limited resource, kid-appropriate activities, that will also accommodate their miniature attention span. Eliminate the numerous websites that promise “exciting worksheets,” an oxymoron if ever there were one. Consider low-tech alternatives to high-tech ideas. Consider prep time. Superlatives lead to a boon of activities the kids liked, including “Best of the Class.” The kids voted that Joe is the most handsome and romantic and that Kim and Jojo are the silliest. Krissy, by a landslide, is the strongest. An ideal activity can be exploited to cover more than one skill. Writing—students had to make a correct superlative sentence for their vote to count; speaking—students had to discuss with a partner if they agreed or disagreed with the results (not that the students ever talk in English unless I’m hovering over them); writing/paragraphs—students had to write about one of the results and why they agreed or disagreed with it. Later I might copy out some of the paragraphs and use this as a How to Improve Your Paragraph study.
If I can’t find useful ideas online or in my Azar grammar book, especially for speaking, I attempt to create my own, with varying success but almost always with slips of paper with drawings or words on them that the students have to pull from a pile to utilize in some way. Some work in reality, others, only in my mental classroom. As for worksheets, the few times I’ve downloaded them from websites, they’ve been for too difficult for the students, or just really bad, so I write my own, an exercise in tedium.
Tap dancing: In general, this is how I feel as a teacher, that I have to entertain my kids every moment. Be the most interesting thing in the room, make learning inspiring and dynamic, blah blah, all the responsibility is on me. I completely agree that a teacher should try to make lessons as interesting as possible, but the kids take this one step further and expect playtime. Sometimes I get that old fart feeling akin to the “When I was a kid we walked up hill both ways to school.” Boring or not, I/we did our work. I don’t remember my classes being activity filled. I don’t remember working for parties or behavior points. Yet, that’s what I’m expected (by the kids) to do, and if I don’t, all I hear are whines of “This is so boring” or “You never let us play football.” They’re kids, I get it. I take this all too far too heart. I’m not meant to teach kids at this level. What would it be like to teach people who wanted to be there? The occasional moment I hit on something they like is such sweet relief, this happiness, that learning or no learning, I want the moment to continue. I make note of the wins and failures and hope for the best.
As the end of the year nears, it’s tempting to just phone in the lessons, give them free periods, try to avoid bumps. But, like I tell the kids, I’m mean. Yes, it’s 100F outside and in, and I still expect them to know the difference between a noun and a verb. I refuse to be sorry. (Okay, I wish I were that firm…but I’m just so tired.)
Back to the whiteboard,