We’re now into our third week of the second semester at our high school teaching job and there are a few things I’ve learned from the gig itself and from my 900 7th and 10th grade students. They’re fresh, bright, eager to learn again and I’m wondering what’s changed in them over our school holiday. Wondering, how can I keep their interest throughout the semester this time? Here are a few thoughts on what I, the Teacher, learned from my own classes last semester…
My #1 Teaching GOAL: Lessons Must be Fun and Interesting.
Well, duh…. right?
This is incredibly important. My students are at the age where they don’t quite understand why they should learn something, so they don’t want to learn it. I discovered early on if my students are having fun, often unknowingly, and can play around with the English language, they’ll want to learn. I have to be both an entertainer and a source of knowledge.
1st Method to Reach #1 GOAL: Keep it Simple, Silly.
The lessons have to be simple. There are a million reasons why. Here’s a few:
- if the games are simple, students will understand how to play and will find it easier to engage.
- if the games are simple, students can concentrate on practicing their speaking and listening skills instead of concentrating on some crazy scheme the teacher has dreamed up.
- Since I expect them to play the game in English, I give my game instructions in English. They have to understand the instructions in order to play, so I keep the instructions, hence the game, simple.
Talk to the students. Everywhere. They can get discouraged easily (pulling a spontaneous sentence together in front of a group of friends is surprisingly difficult). But I persist. I start as many conversations in the hallways, to and from class. It keeps them on their toes, allows them to think of English as a social medium instead of an academic chore. Since the second semester began, I’ve noticed that not only do more students say hello, their responses have become quicker, broader and sprinkled with eagerness to speak. Ah-ha! Progress!
…These few lessons didn’t come easy. When I began my first semester teaching, I was excited, eager to introduce my students to the great beauties and nuances of the English language. I wanted to teach Shakespeare to my older students, listen to music with the younger ones. I wanted to watch movies, laugh at jokes and bask in the great world of English. It took me all semester to realize that I couldn’t just hand them a nicely wrapped package of English. Language learning takes time and occurs best in small bite-sized chunks. I couldn’t simply bestow upon them marvelous soliloquies of the Bard, or the implied meanings of colloquial English in modern alternative rock lyrics.
I learned (slowly and painfully) that I needed to introduce the students to English one skill at a time, slowly build their linguistic toolbox instead of barraging them with academic resources and information. It’s a tricky process this language building endeavor. Not to mention takes a heavy dose of patience. I’ve developed a simple recipe for each lesson. Mix as follows:
One grammatical point per lesson blended thoroughly with a few practice sentences, (don’t forget to include all the varying English rule-exceptions), ten(ish) vocabulary words (With Pictures!), plenty of chances to hear proper pronunciation (activate Teacher Katie: The Human Pronunciation Machine!), and most importantly make it fun! A heavy dose of fun makes the lessons a whole lot tastier.