THE BEST TEACHING AID EVER!
Nina MK, Ph. D
When all else fails, what is left? Several times in my life, I came to deliver a lecture on ICT in the Classroom at a teacher refresher course, and the power was cut off. Surprisingly, computers and projectors do not work when they are not plugged in! An even better experience is one when you are an attendant at an event and suddenly the organizing committee approaches you asking if you could stand in for a presenter who could not come. What do you do when you find yourself facing an audience with no presentation, no texts, and no aids at your disposal? Well, what remains are yourself and your audience; both may prove to be the best resources ever.
• Know yourself. You are good at some topics; you can play-act at the drop of a hat; you remember some poems, songs, proverbs; you can mask your stage fright well. Set the mood at once. Start with a simple phrase, like, “I am happy to see you here today!” Students of any age will react to this greeting positively; they may even reply in the same vein. Be sure to explain what you are going to do, use the blackboard to write down a couple sentences to focus their attention not exactly on you but on the person standing in the center. You will ask one or several of them to come out in a few minutes. Remain on your feet, walk around checking their progress and distributing exercises. Do not sit down unless you are certain everybody is busy with some task. Amazingly, the simple act of standing up and continuously surveying your group or class helps maintain discipline and ensures relative order. Children are noisy by nature, so some noise is normal. If it becomes too loud, use this formula: “The level of noise exceeds the desired limits!” Deliver it in a loud “teacher” voice with a straight face and watch the effect.
• Whole group or class activities are much more difficult to organize than working in pairs or small groups. If you conduct a lesson with no resources but the human contingent, start with the old standby: write down any theme on the board and ask your students to compose dialogues. Be sure to set the time limit, and begin checking their progress in about two minutes. If you point at a pair and they start hemming and hawing, say “Thank you” and point at the next pair. You can always play it out as a continuous dialogue, with every pair presenting just one sentence.
• If you cannot come up with a quotation or an example suitable for the topic, ask your class to suggest one. Somebody is sure to come up with something. You have to praise the volunteer, and then ask your class to offer comments and questions. If they find this task too hard to perform, be ready to fill in the blanks yourself. Alternately, you may suggest that they try to formulate why exactly this particular exercise is so difficult. Have one or two students come out to the board to write down notes and then try to summarize them. Any answer is acceptable as long as it is produced in English. Quite often students clam up when you ask them to comment and produce questions simply because they are afraid of making a mistake. If their level is still wobbly, you may suggest that they first formulate a sentence in their own language, and then ask if the class can help translate it into English.
• As the lesson proceeds, you will see how it goes and think up more activities on the fly so to speak. Throw more questions at your students and see how they react to the new challenges. How do you think we ought to start? Do you think it is a discussion topic, or is it better to write about it? What are the most important points you would like to emphasize? When does this problem appear? Why does it become an issue at hand? Who is responsible for the state of affairs?
• If any of your impromptu activities overflow the set limits and grow into a lively discussion, encourage your students to take part in it and to continue until they run out of steam, or until the bell rings. Communication in English is our main goal. Remember, when your students start gesticulating, speaking English spontaneously, we have reached one of our main goals. The students activate their vocabulary and actually use the English language to communicate with each other!
• There are cases when a lesson with almost no resources is a planned event. On many occasions, I conducted Open Lessons for my colleagues from the region, with my class plus about fifty adults in a large auditorium or assembly hall. Many lessons were filmed, some for an educational or news program, others to be recorded, issued by a publishing house and distributed around the country. We knew what was expected from us: in a nut shell, I had to demonstrate a lesson conducted completely in English (this still remains a problem for some teachers). We would discuss with my students how to do it, what topic to choose, and mentally gear up for this rather stressful experience.
• A Round Table works really well. Students would move their tables to form a circle and sit around as they like; I may sit with them or remain in a corner taking notes, with my best student playing the leader of any discussion. The visitors would sit all around them also taking notes, asking questions, talking to students to clarify a detail or simply to check their understanding and reaction to strangers. When the lesson flows smoothly and I can see that my interference is not needed, I have a unique opportunity to observe my own students in action, to gauge their comprehension and reproduction skills, and to plan my further course of EL teaching.