Teaching with Chopsticks #1


Delving into my mind can be a dangerous adventure.  There are millions of self-help guides littering shelves of local and international bookstores.  This is not intended to dictate or to be taken as gospel.  Teaching English is very much like tasting Marmite – you either fall in love with it, or you hate it.  Like most long-standing sandwich spreads, you’ll adapt, innovate and reinvent.  The cycle of normality will be broken.  Back off textbook simplicity.  I want to offer five tips, not in the fly-tipping or gratuities sense but these little boons:


  1. Teaching should be very personal.

When you meet someone interesting, they stand out.  Why do they stand out?  They’re interesting, you switch on.  Give the students what they want and they’ll want more.  You’re a teacher from a far off mystical land.  More is less, less is more and so on.  Using the imagination and your passion will drive their interest.


  1. Fear nothing. Lead the way.

The worst that can happen will only happen if you panic, the little monsters in front of you choose it or life dictates Murphy’s Law is due an appearance.  You are your class leader.  Dictate the pace, the content and the smiles.  Speak in a natural way, slow but clear and fill your words with feeling.  Acting like the latest version of Leslie Nielsen [if you’ve used Baidu to search for this, shame on you] is all part of the game.  Loosen the students up, make them aware that your class is about relaxing and stepping off the plateau of norm on to the steppes of an atypical day out.  Your class is an enjoyable escapology act and you are the next provider of mystery and queries.


  1. You’re having a laugh. Share it.

We all switch off 15 minutes into any presentation, apparently (source unknown, I switched off before that was presented).  Some things demand light-hearted jolliness, other things need a belly laugh or two.  English is a fantastic language and versatile as a cockroach in a kebab shop.  It can bend, it can twist and it will find some meaty content to live on.  I find students will engage you more if you’re more Patch Adams than Louis Pasteur.  Often students here sit through strict, highly rigid and lifeless mathematics or history classes.  Making a connection to the students is key, whether it is straight-faced or outright gurning.  The level of humour obviously mustn’t disturb neighbouring classes.  That said, if the neighbouring classes hear the odd chuckle, they’ll look forward to your classes…


  1. Game on.

Structure in a lesson is important.  Tricking students into learning by thinking they’re playing games is far more important.  From the off I tend to award points for simple tasks, like remembering my ever evolving class rules to simply giving a good example of oral English.  A warm-up game between two to four small or large groups can dictate reward points from the off.  Every now and then an actual reward, be that of the sweet kind or the stationery kind enters the classroom.  The students sit up straight, are on their proverbial collective toes and knuckle down.  Routine, expectation and a hunger to win can seriously gear up your classrooms.  I often find there is always a brainy team or each group has stand out students.  But beware.  Beware imbalanced point awarding.  Take control and steer the results in a way organisations connected with a major World Cup would take pride in.  I recommend a visiting game shops, using online resources (www.tes.co.uk; http://www.eslprintables.com/; or sites like http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en), popping into Decathlon for softer versions of the dartboard or researching old playground favourites.  Get on it.  I have and I will never turn back.


  1. Realia Manchester.

Realia, is a funky latin word, for meaning real stuff.  Real stuff has several benefits.  The blackboard/chalk board/white board/projector screen can scatter.  It can properly do one, out of the room, no longer needed, make them as redundant as tone washers on the Great Wall.   The realm of authentic artefacts begins.  Be the subject winter, bring a scarf, hat and gloves.  Be it holidays, produce postcards, a backpack and some holiday snaps.  A bag is always a great way to smuggle items into class.  Place it on a raised chair, upfront and central to invoke the curiosity of your audience.  So far, my most praised classes by observing teachers have involved a Powerpoint [other methods are available] presentation entirely stocked with photographs.  Alongside this has been a carrier bag, costumes, and special effects.  Are you a budding George Lucas?  I hear you say.  No, I reply.  The classroom can be pre-prepared to have areas of interaction, props and posters or maps.  Why not go orienteering indoors?  Remember everything is possible.


这是所有乡亲/ Zhè shì suǒyǒu xiāngqīn (That’s all folks).

{check the above again and again}

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