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Teaching Tips 211

Planning ahead

Planning Ahead

In the northern hemisphere, quite a lot of summer intensive courses will be starting up or already underway with teachwers planning their timetables. In an attempt to provide as relevant a course as possible, here are a few things to take into account:

* Practical stuff - length & intensity of the course, classroom situation, aids available etc..

* What level are the students & how does the school know this? Is this from the students' application forms or have they been tested? What did the test include - all four skills, grammar etc? Are you able to see the tests?

* What do the students need English for? Why are they attending this course?

* Personal stuff - Do the students need English for similar reasons & will their target situations be similar? Age, nationality, mother tongue, proficiency in other languages, country/city of origin, occupation, learning background, language learning background, hobbies & interests etc.

* Will it be a monolingual or a mixed-nationality group? How can the class makeup be exploited to the students' benefit?

* What materials are available, a prescribed coursebook or use of a variety of materials or a mix of both? What does the school expect you to cover by the end of the course?

* What skills & language & content might be covered? Would a task-based approach be suitable or does the situation demand a more traditional approach?

* How 'intensive' is the course? Quite a lot of summer intensive courses tend to be a little more relaxed than year-long courses as the students are on holiday & there is a holiday atmosphere. A balance between progress & fun might need to be found.

* Are there any 'unmovables' to take into account - time each week in the self-access centre, computer room, tutorials etc?

* Is the English course tied in with other modules such as English in the morning & sports/sightseeing in the afternoon? Is there a way of linking the two through the content in the morning?

* If situated in an English-speaking country, where are the students staying & is pastoral guidance part of the job?

* What level are the students? Low level students may need more functional language so that they are able to operate efficiently outside of the classroom. Higher level students may need more skills-based accuracy work, helping them to become more sophisticated communicators.

* How will the students be evaluated at the end of the course? Will they be given a test? What kind & who writes it?

If the time is taken & the above accounted for, a clear, varied & balanced course can be planned which takes the day-to-day stress off the teacher, making it an enjoyable experience for all.

If you are interested in course planning do check out the excellent 'Teachers as Course Developers' - Kathleen Graves, ed. Cambridge Language Education Series (CUP). The above points are loosely based on the seven 'framework components' found in the book. Graves begins by talking about the framework then uses this to examine six teachers & their courses.
To buy the book from
To buy the book from

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Rounding Off

Of the different stages involved when teaching a group the major stages include starting out & getting to know each other, settling down to business, keeping the group on course & closing the group. This week we'll have a look at the last stage, finishing with the group.

The obvious place to begin is to review the work covered. The students could:

1. Go through the timetables you handed out during the course.

2. Look through the units of the coursebook covered.

3. Review the end of course evaluation.

4. Fill in a blank timetable of work covered.

5. In small groups a poster could be made of the course work. This could be presented as a timeline, above the line, the work covered, & below the line things that happened to the group as the course progressed eg. Pablo became a father, Maria got a new job etc..

6. Course walk - the students walk around the room, recounting what happened at each stage of the course, commenting on how they felt at each stage. They could carry the timetable of work covered to help them remember.

7. Have a snail race:

8. The students could choose three or four times in the course when they thought they were really making a breakthrough. This could apply to learning aspects of new language or involvement in communicative activities. The students explain these moments to each other.

9. Language gifts - the students 'give' bits of language to each other as gifts. They write down a language item - present perfect, articles etc- one for each of their mates & then mingle & hand them out & explain why they chose that item for them eg. that student found it particularly easy/difficult, they answered a question well during that period....

10. Looking to the future, the students look at what they need to review in the near future.

11. Focus on reviewing techniques & study skills, plus recommended materials for future learning.

12. Give individual tutorials followed by a group tutorial, focussing on the successes of the course & how the students can continue to develop.

With more interpersonal group dynamic aspects, depending on how the course went & the people involved, the following could be carried out:

1. The students are allocated a group mate to write a reference for, focussing on them as a group member. Clearly this has to have a positive slant & only to be carried out if you are sure it will all come out well for all.

2. If you have been using learner diaries, the last entry is focused on a summing up & closure in terms of the learning & the group experience.

3. Advert design, the students imagine the course has been a television series. They design a poster about the 'series'. The poster could include the group photograph, the cast.

4. The students individually make a list of the things that they 'got' from the group. Followed by a mingle to see if they have similar ideas or they could swap ideas.

5. Compliments - used as an icebreaker/trust activity, it can also be used to finish on a very positive note. Students mingle & take time to compliment each other. You could give preparation time, three things for each of their mates. The compliments could be about anything, their accent in English, their dress sense, an idea they had....

6. Study buddies - assign study buddies to stay in touch after the course & keep the learning going, possibly before the next course begins.

7. Staying in touch - other ways for the group to keep contact would be to set up an internet-based contact; email, forum, website & chat room.

There are lots of other ways to finish a course. It is important as it emphasises that what has been covered is for the future as well as the present, that time was well spent & that there was more to the course than language learning.

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Scribbling away

It is a fairly standard procedure to take a couple of notes when listening in to some freer speaking activity in class & then give the students feedback on a few areas that they had problems with. This could be through putting on the board three sentences said well & three that need correcting & getting the students to decide on the incorrect & sort them out & then you give them a pat on the back for the good utterances. Typically the errors would be things that when they see they can easily correct themselves.

Is this really enough though? What about those other stages in the lesson where the students are discussing different things: brainstorming, working out rules, comparing answers etc.. These classroom activities are just as important & possibly more so if the class is not in an English-speaking country as the classroom might well be the only place they speak English, making the classroom language the most relevant language for their immediate needs. There's an awful lot of language that students need to function well in class which can continually be refined & developed, which is all usable in other contexts outside of class.

There's also the selective picking up of mistakes by the teacher that can be doubtful at times. We tend to become immune to certain mistakes if we teach a nationality for long enough, living in the students' country. Perhaps it might be best to take notes at regular intervals, when you are free to do so, of anything that was said & analyse it all later on at your leisure. This distancing allows you to time to think of alternatives that might be useful, rather than going with the first thing that comes into your head.

A notebook for each group is a good idea. You can see how the group & individuals are getting on by looking back through your notes. And this information can then be fed into future timetables & lesson plans as you really deal with their immediate needs. And then how do you organise your notes? - more on this in a future Tip.

From the students' point of view it also looks good to have the teacher taking notes on what they say. They feel that they are being noticed & the speaking they are doing monitored at all times, maximising the time available in class. Feedback & a relevant course are two of the main things they are paying for after all.

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