In any class, I can reliably expect three groups of students:
- 2-6 students have read the text before class and thoroughly understand it
- 8-16 students have skimmed the text before class, but mainly understand it in Spanish as the teacher explained it previously
- 4-7 students may or may not have looked at the text, but even if they did, they don’t understand it at all
Group 1: These students raise their hands to answer every question. They would do this all year long if I would let them, and the other students in class would love it and use the class to do other homework. I have to make sure my lesson does not move so quickly that I see other students doing unrelated homework.
Group 2: These students are quick to respond to “recognize” activities like multiple choice and true or false, but require vocabulary review at the start of class before they are confident for “recall” activities like short answer or long answer. Even if they know the answer, they may not be confident enough to volunteer, so I have to make sure I call on students randomly to get them to participate.
Group 3: These students can usually follow along, but can only answer very simple questions and get frustrated easily when trying to express themselves in English. They are likely to respond with, “I don’t know” if randomly selected unless they can read the question and write their answer down first. They need a lot of structure in the classroom or they get lost and begin to daydream.
It is challenging to plan a lesson that is basic and structured enough for Group 3 students without boring the Group 1 students to tears. After some trial and error, I have decided upon the following lesson plan structure:
I begin each lesson with a light-hearted review of former material. This is usually in the form of a game or a quick quiz that reinforces prior vocabulary and hopefully instills some confidence in reluctant participants. I call on students in pairs in order to minimize stress, which also helps me include as many students as possible. My biggest obstacle is making sure my bright students don’t blurt out every answer and end the entire activity in 2 minutes. I’ve also learned not to use a funny image on my “Incorrect Answer” slides or my students will sabotage the review for laughs.
After this, I introduce new material. This usually consists of a new text or a video with a transcript. We tend to go through the material piecemeal. I try to ask a variety of short-answer and long-answer questions in order to check for comprehension and to engage learners at different levels. I focus on picking out key vocabulary and concepts. I’ve got tried-and-true questions.
The short-answer questions:
- What is another word for…?
- What is the opposite of…?
- What is the noun form of this verb?
- What is the adjective form of this noun?
- Who did …?
- Where did …?
- When did …?
The long-answer questions:
- Could you use … in a new sentence?
- What does … mean?
- Why did …?
- How does …?
- What does …?
Going over new material for the first time, especially when I’m sure that half the class needs to re-read the text in order to participate in any meaningful way, is my biggest challenge of the entire lesson. I try to strike a balance between modeling fluent phrasing, correcting their pronunciation, and individual reading, but when varying reading levels means that some students complete a paragraph in 35 seconds where it takes another student 2 minutes, pacing is delicate indeed.
My favorite game to get my young students to read at the same pace is called No Way, José, a name which the students love… and more importantly, love to yell out. I model read a short text of 1-3 paragraphs to the class. Beforehand, I pick out some key words to change while reading aloud. When the students hear me say a wrong word, they interrupt me and yell, “No Way, José!” They tell me my wrong word, what the right word is in the text, and we go on. It’s a good listening exercise, and when we say the right word together as a class, it’s a good pronunciation exercise.
Once we’ve covered all the new material, we review the new material with another activity, worksheet, or game. If students have already read the text before class, this part of the lesson can be the most time-intensive. It can also be the most fun! We reinforce vocabulary and concepts, and I try to provide ample small group work that we can later discuss as a class.
One of my favorite things to do at this stage is to have the students teach other. They write activities on the board, drawing diagrams or correcting sentences. I like to put a struggling student at the board with the marker while the other students direct each new step.
Another reinforcing activity I really like is to have the students draw a relevant concept as a group and then explain their drawing to the class.
I’m still trying to come up with new activities that give many opportunities to speak, but which are more engaging than reciting answers to worksheet problems. Sometimes I get bored doing the same things every day in every class, but in other ways, the structure allows me to be more flexible. If the class is moving too quickly or too slowly, I have an arsenal of “What should I do in this part of class” methods to re-plan the class… even while it is in session.
A part of me thinks this would have been a lot easier if I had … oh, any training at all before starting this job. Another part of me thinks there was just no way to know until I did it for myself; I’ll admit it: I’m contrary. I still wish I could find someone to comment on all my lesson plans! For now, I guess this blog will have to do.