Zero Materials

Do you find yourself spending hours preparing your lessons? Are you getting very little support from colleagues? Is it difficult to know what to teach your children without a syllabus? Would you like some tips on how to create a good lesson when you find yourself with ten minutes to prepare a lesson, a broken photocopier, and your bag of teaching goodies safely locked up at home?

Jo Bertrand

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions then I hope the following will help your plight!

Covering someone else’s lesson

  • Obviously the more information you can get about the pupils you will be teaching the better. However, you may find that all you know is their age.
  • Don’t forget you can subtly get more information from the children themselves. Ask them to write down on a piece of paper one word they learnt in their last lesson. Collect the words and read back to them. If any words are repeated this should be a good indicator of the theme of the lesson.
  • The way they react to this task may be a good indicator of the personalities and levels in the group as well. You may have those who say ‘I don’t know’ and sit there. There may be those who can remember lots of words and ask if it matters if they write down more than one word. This is useful information to have as it will help you manage the class.
  • Don’t attempt to recreate the lesson that the teacher was going to give. It’s extremely difficult to teach from someone else’s notes. However, if you do have notes at your disposal then use them as an indicator of the subject area they are working on as you don’t want to give them a completely irrelevant lesson.

Having a set of stand-by activities
For some reason ‘Hangman’ seems to be an old favourite that every teacher has used at some point when confronted with an unplanned class. It’s true that it gets pupils thinking about spelling but for primary children there are so many more fun and stimulating activities you could have as backup. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Pass the emotional clap
    In a circle you clap the hand of the person sitting next to you. They in turn clap the person sitting next to them and so on. The clap that is ‘passed around’ the circle begins as ‘happy’. Everyone must show a happy face as they clap. The emotion changes either when you or the child decides. They can copy the person before them or choose a new emotion to demonstrate.
  • Word review
    Split the class into two teams. Sit a child (#1) from each team with their backs to the board. Write a word up on the board and the teams have to describe or mime the word to #1. Use words you have already used with the children in previous classes.
  • Chinese whispers
    With the class in two teams whisper a word to #1 from each. When you give the go-ahead they have to whisper this word to the person sitting next to them etc until the word reaches the end of the line. The team to finish first gets a bonus point if the end word is the same as the word you began the game with.
  • Back drawing
    Draw a simple object (e.g. the sun) on a piece of paper. Split the class into pairs (As and Bs) Ask all the As to come and have a look at your picture. You could ask the Bs to close their eyes while you display your picture quickly. Then As must draw the object onto B’s back who in turn must try and guess the object.
  • Noughts and crosses
    Draw a grid on the board and in each square write a tense, simple grammar point or draw a picture. Split the class into three groups: noughts, crosses and triangles. The concept is the same as with normal noughts and crosses except that they have to make a sentence to win a square.
    • Once the team has chosen which square they want they have a minute to come up with a sentence.
    • The other two teams decide if the sentence is correct or not. If they think it is incorrect they can offer the correct version to win the square.
    • They shouldn’t just offer up a new sentence though. With the pictures they have to describe the scene. ‘The girl is playing football’ for example. The tenses squares must be correctly placed in a sentence.
  • Sentence auction
    This is easier if you have prepared the sentences in advance but once you have mastered the activity you will be more at ease to improvise with it.
  • Demonstrate an auction by showing them a ring, a phone, or drawing a Matisse on the board!
  • Write ten sentences onto the board. Six should be correct and four incorrect.
  • The errors should correspond to what the children know. Listen to sentences they themselves produce to give you ides of errors they make and need work on.
  • The idea is that the teams must bid for correct sentences.
  • Take your time explaining the rules. You will only have to do it once well and then once the have played this once the next time they will understand immediately. Explain as you go along though. There are lots of things they need to know and they will understand better if you demonstrate as you go.
  • Allocate imaginary money to each team.
  • Together they decide if they want to buy a sentence as you go down the list.
  • At the end of the auction you tell them which sentences are correct and they count up how much money they spent and how much they have left. You should keep a tally on the board, especially the first time you do this activity. They see how many correct sentences they bought and how many incorrect.
  • You should leave all questions until after the auction so as to not detract from the momentum of the auction.
  • The winning team is the one with the most correct sentences and the most money left.

Teaching without a photocopier

  • Have a set of slides with you at all times or at least know where you can find some in your school. Write out what would have been on the photocopy once onto a transparency and put it onto an OHP (Overhead Projector). If you don’t know how to use one then find someone who can tell you well in advance. Once you know how you’ll find you’ll never look back.
  • You’ll also need a set of transparency pens with at least a couple of different colours.
  • Make the slide interactive by transposing it onto the white board and letting the children use the board pens to add to your picture.
  • Dictate what you wanted to photocopy. The children will then be working on different skills such as listening and spelling. This will take up more time than handing out a photocopy so cut the amount of words you initially planned to use.

Cutting down on prep time

  • Start taking notes of what you do in class. Put a tick or a cross next to everything you do as to whether it went well or not and write down the time it took to do the activity. This will help you a great deal for future lessons when you want to repeat an activity with a different group, you’ll know what worked well and will have a rough idea of how much time to allow for it.
  • When I first started teaching I would spend hours preparing an hour lesson and would never cover all that I had planned for. My main fear was standing in front of a class with nothing left to do. This has never happened yet! And if it ever did I’d have my handy stand-by activities to fill in with.
  • Time yourself when preparing and allow half an hour for an hour lesson. There are so many exciting ideas out there that you could spend forever on just one lesson and it simply isn’t feasible.
  • Don’t go to the other extreme and try and get away with not preparing your lessons. The above situation of being stuck and needing back-up material is an exception to the rule. Not only will you constantly feel on edge and nervous but your pupils will see straight through you!
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