Monday, 20 February 2012

Tips for teaching English

Well, if you’ve found this page you’re either considering working as, or already working as, an English language teacher. Whatever the case may be you’ll see that at the backbone of teaching is knowing your material. Knowing its flaws and rectifying these to suit your learners’ needs is often a trial and error process.

Coursebook material is sometimes beyond redemption as it is produced for a mass market. Many issues and topics are watered down to avoid offending different cultures often at the expense of content and realism.

How odd is it that we can have a reading text on cigarettes in a coursebook but homosexuality is a no-no?! I’ll leave the debates for the staffroom. Obviously, when coursebooks fail to meet your learners’ needs you can create your own material.

Sue Wharton and Phil Race have a very practical book which can be bought in digital or paper format called ‘500 TIPS for TESOL’ (ISBN 0-203-01730-7 Master e-book, ISBN 0 7494 2409 5 (Print Edition). The book is a good reference for both novice and seasoned teachers. There are no quick fix recipes for magic lessons but it does contain some useful tips when broaching a new area of TESOL. Delta module 3 candidates, for example, would find the course design section as a good overview to the section 3 of their assignment! In ‘500 TIPS for TESOL’, the section on designing your own material caught my eye this morning. Here, in my opinion, are the tips in condensed format (there were originally 11) and in order of importance, 1 being the most important:

1. Clear achievable outcomes.

Aims, aims, aims!!! We’ve heard it a thousand times over and here it is again. Ask yourself what you want the students to be able to do at the end of the task and work backwards and forwards between the ‘topic’ of the material and the aim. Consider the timing- how long does it take you to do it? Multiply by 3 for a pre-intermediate/elementary level, by 2 for an intermediate level, and add on a couple of minutes for higher levels…just a very rough guideline there!

2. Choosing texts.

Obviously, you will have some sort of text in your material-be sure that it is pitched at the right level. If it’s not, you could always grade the language down. Yes, contrived material is not ideal but all coursebooks contain contrived material with good reason!

3. Consider your learners.

A class of middle aged people might not have much interest in the GLEE characters but they may well like MADMEN! Beyond the popculture topics you could provide content which is directly related to your learners’ lives. Don’t forget the fun factor-whatever you do! There needs to be enjoyment and pleasure in the learning process. Why not let students try to create materials? You will need to screen their materials before using them in the classroom. A good place to start here is songs!

4. Using your staffroom.

No matter how clear it is to you what your instructions for tasks are, there is always room for misinterpretation. Get a colleague to check your instructions on materials-it’s that easy! Your colleague could also screen your material for slips and typos. So, two birds with the one stone. Why not create a material’s file for everyone to contribute to? This tends to act as a motivator in materials creation long-term as well!

5. The ‘look’ counts.

Layout, font and pictures all add to the appeal of material. Remember to add the school logo as it gives the material an air of formality. If you are not a competent computer user the old scissors and glue technique is OK but won’t look as good as computer generated material. Unfortunately, this is true and people are now judged professionally on their computer literacy. So, take the time to learn how to use Microsoft Office, Open Office or other word processing software – the basics will do. It will serve you well in the long run!

My own tip? Enjoy the creativity!

Margaret Horrigan

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