26 September 2009

How to plan for your first ESL class

Your first time teaching can be a stressful event; mine was almost enough to drive me from the teaching profession forever. I was stupid enough to believe people in Bangkok bars who told me that no preparation was needed and that you just had to keep the students entertained for fifty minutes. This was terrible advice, and I no longer accept any advice from people in bars; in fact I don’t even go to bars anymore. The truth is that if you do not plan your first lesson then it will be a nightmare. Anyone coming to teach in Thailand will most often be expected to give a demonstration lesson when they apply for their first job; for a lot of people this will be their first time teaching ever. Here are five tips to make it go easier on both you and the students.

1. Arrive to the class with a clear idea of what you want to teach. It is better to have too much material than not enough. If you are going to be monitored by interviewers then it is a good idea to have some teaching resources like handouts or flash cards. It is important to check with the school first to find out what will be available in the classroom when you come to give your sample lesson; it will be disappointing for everyone if you arrive with a well-made power-point presentation, but there is no computer and projector in the classroom.

2. Avoid giving a class which focuses on material which is too simplistic. If you want to bore students then a sure way is to devote an hour to introduction phrases like; “What is your name?” and “Where do you come from?”. The students have likely been taught these phrases ad nauseam, and even the most lowly English class in Thailand will have likely mastered this topic. You are unlikely to impress anyone with this type of class; believe me I tried. Don’t spend the hour playing games like hangman; these are lesson fillers and not lessons and should be avoided when you are trying to impress.

3. Focus your first class on a subject that will engage your students encourage them to participate. This will all depend on the age and language ability of the student, but one class which I enjoy is using English songs. If you plan to use this as the main subject of your class then you need to first ensure that the class will have the facility to play these songs; i.e. speakers. It is important to decide on your target vocabulary prior to class and arrive with a worksheet based on the song or songs. This worksheet will contain different exercises based on the lyrics of the song; such as fill in missing words from the lyrics or using single words from the songs to make new sentences.

4. Begin the class with an introduction and the goals you plan for the hour. Tell the students about the target vocabulary you will be focusing on and what you would like them to take away from the lesson. Finish the class with a review of all that you have covered during the class.

5. Do not overwhelm the students with too much information. Constantly monitor the class for signs that they are getting bored or getting lost in the content. Be prepared to change direction if you feel that you are losing the students. An important part of teaching is being able to adapt and change to conditions on the ground.

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