A web site for the developing language teacher

by Alistair Dickinson
- 1

This article is in three parts:
1. Organisational ideas
2. Activities that use the student, the teacher & the classroom
3. Ideas on using one object of realia as the focus for a lesson


Which of the following statements refer to you?

1. I spend minimal time on preparing classes as you never know how the class is going to go. I like to make it up as I go along. That way I can cater for the needs of my students more accurately.

2. I spend ages on preparation. I think of an idea but inevitably change it as I work on the class. I enjoy the time spent on preparation sometimes even more than actually giving the class.

3. I don't spend too long on preparing classes i.e. lesson planning. I like to do a fortnightly timetable over which I might spend a couple of hours and then I use each class timetabled as my lesson plan on the day.

4. I can't really quantify the amount of time I spend preparing. I might be thinking about a class on the bus or while I'm eating.

5. I spend a sufficient time preparing, I think. When I run out of ideas I tend to give up and revert to the boring stuff I've been doing all along. I suppose it might have something to do with the awful coursebooks I have to use. There's not much you can do with them.

6. I really can't spend too long on preparing classes as I teach 35 hours a week. If I gave adequate attention to each class then I probably wouldn't have time to teach them. I have to make do and rely on my wits a lot.

7. I spend much less time preparing now than I used to when I first started teaching. Nowadays it's a question of pulling out the same old lesson plans.

A few reasons why preparation time might take a long time.

Time - too many classes. How much time do you devote to each class if you're doing 25hrs/wk, 30hrs/wk or even 35hrs/wk?

The school environment - not conducive to preparation and spending time in the school due to interpersonal problems, management/staff problems etc.

Problem classes - class doesn't 'gel' & time taken up with hunting for solutions.

Personality of the teacher - the class has to be just right and then takes longer than necessary.

Lack of space in the school to prepare.

Lack of experience & confidence.

Lack of interesting ideas - teacher not into the job, tired etc.

No coursebook to use as a syllabus.

Lack of materials in the school to provide ideas.

The materials are not very interesting and it takes time to think of different ways of using them.

Not exploiting coursebook/materials enough

Time taken up with getting materials together.

Nobody in the school to help out and provide ideas.

Difficult to decide on stds' needs - what to teach & then trying to decide how to teach it while creating balance and variety of activities, recycling language etc.

Overpreparation - too much time spent on the classes.

Teachers personal life interfering e.g. too many late nights.

Ideas on cutting down on preparation time

- using the stds
- using yourself
- using the classroom

1.Organisational - a few obvious suggestions

Organise yourself
Plan your month, weeks in the month, your days and your hours. Teaching can be an exhausting business so the more you are personally organised the less wasted energy you will expend.
Planning and timing the activities in your day/week in advance can be very useful. Make yourself up a chart, a more detailed diary really, and give yourself strict time limits on activities. Afterwards compare your estimate with the reality and you should see how much time you actually waste in the day.
You might also like to try filling in the motivation graph (see end of this section) taken from 'Learning To Learn' by Ellis & Sinclair (CUP). Each column could be for a day. At the end of the week analyse the results and draw conclusions.
Another way of monitoring your progress/daily performance is to keep a diary and keep reviewing it.

Do it for the coming month/two weeks. By timetabling you can ensure that there is balance, variety, continuity and a sense of progress for both the student and the teacher. Just because you have a timetable doesn't mean you have to stick to it - change it on the way.
It also doesn't have to be very detailed either, just a basic outline to show you (& the stds if you give it to them) where you are going. Sunday afternoon/evening is a good time to spend a couple of hours getting everything together to start confidently on Monday morning knowing that all you really have to do is get the materials together.
At the beginning it does take longer but it certainly does help cut down on preparation time in the end.

A procedure for approaching timetabling might be as follows:
1. Analyse the needs of your students.
2. See if what is coming up in the coursebook corresponds with their needs.
3. Decide what you're going to use of the coursebook.
4. Decide what else you're going to add. re.input
5. Get an idea of the supplementary materials you're going to use.
6. Draw up a grid.
7. Fill in things like progress tests & tutorials, if you plan on doing them.
8. Fill in the boxes. They don't have to be too detailed & make them into lesson plans & leave a couple of blanks which help you to catch up.

Know the materials
Put in a fair amount of time getting to know the materials that are available to you. It will be time well spent as you will always have them to draw on and you will be providing your students (and yourself) with interesting and varied materials.

File timetables & materials & ideas
Keep your old timetables and lesson plans. Create an organised file according to levels and do the same with your stock of materials that are lying around in a pile. Try and get your colleagues to donate copies of their timetables and materials to the school and create organised easy to find files for all to use. Write out role cards carefully and make sure the stds don't write on them , chew them or eat them and get them back after the activity to use again next time - it's a good idea to plastify them.

Organise your staffroom
Not quite but it's worth suggesting that someone (you?) sort out the materials into easy to find sections. Start up a well-planned filing system for homemade materials. All that the teachers do is put a copy in the relevant file for others to copy.

Buy yourself a copy of 'Use Your Head' by Tony Buzan (BBC 1989 new revised edition). Lots of ideas on becoming more efficient with your study skills in areas such as reading skills, increasing memory ability & note taking. Very thought provoking and useful information to pass on to your students.

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