Final Thoughts

This Friday is the last day of Autumn Term at the language school where I work. The A1+ group I’ve taught since November has gone from 8 people to 14 to 10 to 4 to 6. I’ll be teaching A2/A2+s from January and will meet some of my ex students, which makes me happy because I do miss having them in the classroom. I’ll also have one online student in my class. Hello, hybrid teaching! I’m a tad nervous about it but my new classroom is a bit better equipped for this (there’s an actual monitor on the wall, not just a whiteboard and an OHP) so I guess I’ll be fine, especially considering how supportive my colleagues are.

So, what have I learnt in the past 2 months of working at a big language school in England?

  1. Environment is the key
    I’m extremely lucky to work at a school where the main rule is that we teach students, not the coursebook. This means that the coursebook is just a springboard. However, the best thing is that I am not pressured to finish the coursebook in a certain amount of time as I had to do in some of my previous workplaces. It’s all about how what I teach matches students’ learning needs. Awesome! I eneded up teaching a mixture of coursebook-based lessons, lessons designed by other teachers, and self-designed lessons. I also had a chance to get as creative with the coursebook as I possibly could.
  2. How to get the most out of coursebooks
    The coursebook we have been using this term is Speakout Elementary. Since I had all the time in the world, I made sure to exploit each listening and reading task as much as I could in order to help my students build language skills they had problems with.
    Audio recordings in this textbook are quite natural and fast (at least in the second half of the book), so we did a lot of decoding practice with them. I especially love the DVD sections which feature authentic clips from various BBC programmes – those are even better for decoding! My students enjoyed decoding practice tremendously and got quite competitive 😀
    As for the texts, I used them to teach students how to recognise different parts of speech and analyse word order (a big problem for Arabic and Japanese students), as well as look at how familiar words are used in context. These tasks appeared to be less exciting for my students but definitely useful.
    Another great thing about Speakout is their pronunciation section. For A1 level, it’s mostly weakening, contractions and basic intonation, and I made sure we looked at all those features. The dialogues used in the FL sections are really good for working on intonation and connected speech.
    An interesting anecdote: there’s a dialogue on p.95 in which an angry passenger lashes out on a flight attendant who failed to get him a vegetarian meal. I was really unsure if I should use it with my students since this was definitely not the way I wanted them to speak to other people, but in the end I decided to give it a go and see how they react. My students said it was very rude, and one of them remembered being told off by a bus driver for using ‘What?’ instead of ‘Sorry, could you please repeat that?’. We looked at the intonation, i.e. which melody and tonality the passenger used that made him sound angry. I then asked my students to look at the transcript and rewrite the rude phrases making them more polite. This task was a bit challenging for them but they did their best.
  3. Teaching low levels is not as scary as it seems
    It’s actually quite the opposite! Working with low levels is extremely rewarding because they tend to progress faster. We have lessons 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, and I can’t express how amazing it feels when a student who could barely produce a clumsy sentence in Present Simple starts producing nicely structured sentences using the words we’ve learnt and Past Simple (and even Past Continuous) just in a month or so! We even ended up doing a bit of Dogme and just chatting about things that were important to them, e.g. education, job hunting, etc. The vocabulary that emerged was quite high-level at times but they were so eager to learn and use it. We all felt inspired.
  4. It feels a bit weird to teach students whose L1 you don’t speak at all (I only know 2 words in Arabic). I belive in the positive use of L1 so I do not prevent them from having a chat in Arabic as long as they’re doing it for the right purpose. However, because I have no idea what they’re talking about it’s hard for me to judge. They do try to briefly fill me in on what they were talking about, but still. Oh well, the drawbacks of monolingual classes. Or maybe I should find an Arabic tutor 😀

Back to Basics

After a really long, long time I’m back to teaching A1+ learners (up until recently, the lowest level I had ever taught was A2+). To make things even more interesting, I don’t know a single word in their L1 (I happen to have an almost monolingual group).

During my first week at work I was so nervous that I could hardly eat anything. I realized that I don’t really remember how to teach low levels. I spoke too fast and demanded too much from them.

After reading a bunch of articles about teaching low levels and getting observation feedback from a senior teacher, I finally felt better. I learnt to adapt my speech when needed, scaffold more and explain new words by mimicking (my mom says I could become an actress).

I also decided to try doing authentic listening with them. I had no idea how it would go and tried to choose one of the easiest videos on Tubequizard.com. And you know what? It turned awesome! All students were engaged, including those who tend to zone out most of the time. They were so surprised how simple words they knew sounded together. They were able to describe some basic processes, e.g. “he didn’t say don’t – he said doun!”. We tried saying things the same way – just for fun. I emphasized that they don’t have to speak this way, but if next time they hear doun and understand that it’s actually don’t, that’s great, that’s why we’re doing this.

Here’s a photo of my board work:

Authentic listening for A1+ learners

P.S. I know that /n/ in don’t doesn’t really turn into /m/ but there’s is certainly some lip rounding happening there. In fact, some students were uncertain if they had heard /n/ or /m/ so we ended up looking at it.

P.P.S. We actually work on connected speech and intonation a lot, and it’s so much fun! More fun than I expected because I usually do this kind of stuff with higher levels. My next challenge is to analyse texts a bit more intensively in terms of sentence structure and use retelling to develop their sense of language.