Any lesson is not a single entity but rather a part of the whole educational process. It may be an introduction to a new topic, or its development, consolidation or the final testing. The important factor to remember is probably the following one: NONE of the above-mentioned stages is an isolated episode.
We cannot, say, introduce the concept of the article, then “forget” about it and proceed to various noun categories. Once we manage to explain the idea of this little word which has to precede many nouns, though never all of them, we need to remind our students to actually use it in their speech. It is especially difficult if there is no such thing as an article in our own native language. So we recycle the explanations and reminders, invent new exercises and drills to keep this elusive concept in sight. This seems to be true about any other grammar theme and any new topic we have to teach according to the national curriculum. Thus, all we need to remember as EL teachers is the vision, the ability to picture every lesson as one of the many threads which make up the subject tapestry.
Easy, isn’t it? Piece of cake, to use a popular informal expression. But of course, we educators know that nothing is ever easy.
We can envisage our lessons; we can write down lesson plans, read up on continuous education including that of adults. Then we may get a new class or some new additions to our familiar class, and all our best-laid plans may go out the window.
- The Best Scenario. We come back to school after a summer break, greet our classes which we have had these three-five-seven years, conduct a few tests to see how much they have forgotten during their vacation, listen to those who went places and even read books in English. We know our students well; they know what to expect from us. We arm ourselves with the term plans and proceed to teaching. Naturally this is never plain sailing. If for instance our familiar younger pupils just became teens, we may get all sorts of outbursts, sudden performance drops and raises, not to mention the inevitable first love and puppy love problems. But these are the children whom we know really well; we are also acquainted with their parents or guardians. We may hope for a relatively straight path without any insurmountable obstacles.
- The Medium Scenario. We come back to school after a summer break and get all new classes, of any age. Step one is simple introduction, we learn their names, they learn our names. Step two is more complicated, since we need to quickly assess their level, find out what the problems are. It is also good to identify the disruptive, the slow, the gifted, the reliable kids fast. Once we know where we are, we can extract our term plan and see how it fits in with the class. Suppose we get children who have zero knowledge of English, though they are supposed to be pre-intermediate level. I have often had ninth graders who would stare at me during the very first lesson, some with tears in their eyes, then the bravest pupil would tell me, “Our previous teacher never spoke English at our lessons, we don’t understand a word…” Or, “Our teacher never taught us any grammar, we don’t know what the modals (the articles, the conditionals, the participles etc.) are…” Most often there would be no idea of phonetics; no, I don’t mean “accent” here, I mean a total absence of the English sounds. WYSIWIG is one of my favourite modern abbreviations. Meaning, as an experienced teacher I would adjust any plan, any curriculum to fit the students’ needs. Once I get them to the required level, I would stick to the curriculum.
- The Most Difficult Scenario. We come back to school after a summer break and we get a few new students in our familiar old classes. I would not call this one “the worst”, for the simple reason that we are teachers, educators, so we must be able to cope with any situation we face. But this is certainly a difficult situation, both for the teachers and for the pupils. Here we were looking forward to meeting our final year classes, ready to perform all the exercises necessary for their good results at the final exams. We come into the class room and see a few new faces. Some of them may be apprehensive; others may try to assert themselves at once. The class may greet them favourably, or not at all. The best approach is probably to try and include them into whatever you are doing with the class at once. If their level is good, they will try to show off, and you will note down any problems. If their level is below the one that your class has, you may also take notes and decide what to do, how to help the newcomer.