Routine Is Important!
Icebreakers, warmers, fillers, beginning and end of the lesson activities are all very important ingredients of the daily routine. Students, especially young children, love rules and regulations; they respond to the customary order of things even when it seems they are completely unruly. They may rush into our class shouting gleefully, or remain gloomily silent, or just slump onto their desks exhausted after a grueling PE lesson or a tough mathematics test. An EL lesson is different from any other because we conduct it in a different language and thus we all role play. We teachers act as if we are British; our class has to respond in kind.
For me, step one is always the GREETING. The very first meeting with the beginners starts in the same way as the final seminar with advanced level: “Hello class, I am very happy to see you!” It takes a couple lessons before my audience reciprocates by chorusing the same greeting back to me. This is a universal icebreaker regardless of the age and level. It is vital to actually feel happy to see your class, otherwise this kind of greeting will not work. Naturally you can work out your own formula and use it, for instance: “This is the only hour in your day when you can all enjoy speaking English!”
Step two is determining whether a warmer is needed for any new topic. Quite often I would compose them myself using the new vocabulary and writing down the Glossary on the board. What works well: time the minutes it takes your class to perform a warm-up in the beginning. You know it should be not more than five minutes, but in reality this activity may take a bit longer; it depends on how much the students already know about the subject. At the end of the unit suggest that your class do the same warmer, time it again, and let them know the result. If they did it in two or three minutes instead of five or seven, they would be very pleased!
Fillers are often quite necessary because we all teach mixed ability classes. I routinely bring in extra tasks for geniuses and exercises for slower students with a smaller number of items to do. If you look carefully at any textbook you will see that it is orientated towards that mythical creature, “an average student”. In real life there is no such thing. Once you form a mental image of your class you are able to gauge every student’s ability and work out an individualized approach. Some of the children may need an extra exercise or a filler activity because they are indeed gifted and perform any exercise very fast; others may be hyper active and need to be constantly occupied. Yet others may lag behind, so they need fillers and encouragement. The average ones may indeed be able to follow your lesson plan and perform as many tasks as they are supposed to. Step three is probably classification of various activities that can be used as fillers. A talented student may be given an extra vocabulary task. Let them do some research using an online dictionary and prepare a short talk for the class. If there is a student who can hear and distinguish a dialogue or a monologue better than everybody else, let them work at an audio in earphones and then present the results. Writing a few sentences on the topic, composing a dialogue, making a presentation, doing web research are all good activities which benefit the whole class. It is really important not only to formulate an individual task clearly but also to allow a few minutes for the reports. If you do not have any time left for them tell the students that they will begin the next lesson with their short talks!
End of the lesson is often a difficult part to arrange. But for the tests when the class works hard until the bell comes, every lesson end needs careful handling. A teacher should always be aware of the time factor. Rather than trying to stop the students who are eager to rush out once they hear the bell ring, or to shout over the din and try to dictate their homework, be sure to have it written down in the same corner of the board in advance. They will remember about it and you will not need to keep them a few seconds longer or to shout. Depending on how complicated the new topic is and how tired your class is, have a few simple activities to hand to finish off your lesson well. Put on a song and sing together; watch a video clip; tell them a joke; show some pictures.
The last two to five minutes may be what they will enjoy and remember best. An activity that always works well for me is the following one. I tell my students in advance that for the last three-five minutes they are to be the Teacher. For the first try I ask if there are any volunteers. I have had situations when the whole class eagerly raised their hands. Another example is of course, no volunteers. In both cases we flipped a coin to choose who was to be the first one. The student then had to think up an exercise which would not last longer than the allotted few minutes. It is not all plain sailing but it helps develop responsibility and thinking skills. Every student performs this task in turn throughout the semester. Have your own end of the lesson activities ready in case your student is absent or not able to do it.
Nina MK, Ph.D