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Thursday, September 16, 2010

First Lessons: Teaching T(w)eens Part One

I only have one new group this year as I really wanted to continue teaching last year's classes. This new group has been learning English at the school for around four years and I'm guessing they are somewhere around the Pre-Intermediate level. They are about thirteen years old, which can be a difficult age group to deal with, especially if the first day doesn't get off to a good start.

I have titled this post First Lessons: Teaching T(w)eens because although these learners are actually teenagers in their own right, many of them still have the maturity of an eleven year old. I don't really know the kids in question, having never taught them previously, but I get the impression that they are more "tween" than "teen". They don't seem to be at all interested in the opposite sex yet, which is probably a good thing, even though this usually makes it difficult to pair up girls and boys.

So after this bit of background about the students (although after today I may have to rewrite this post) I was thinking of what to do in the first lesson.

I thought of doing the typical "rules" lesson, so that everyone is aware of what is expected and permitted of them, but maybe they are a bit old to enjoy thinking up rules, after all, teenagers are there to bend or break them. I don't want to play games with them, except maybe as a bit of vocabulary revision from last year, as I want to start off the term in the way I want to continue - and that will not be playing too many games! I don't want to get right back into where they left off in their course book either - it is the first day (and their first proper day back at school).

So after a bit of umming and ahhing, this is what I've decided to do:

I'm going to give each learner a sheet of paper and a pen and I'm going to tell them to write down anything that they would like to do throughout the course. I will give them the following titles to start them off on the right track:

  • Things I like doing.
  • Activities, people and places I'm interested in.
  • Things I enjoy doing in class.
  • Topics I would like to study in class.
  • Problems I have with English.
  • Doodle space.
The students will divide the piece of paper into six sections, each with one of the titles above. They will then have around ten minutes to write something in each section. After that, they will talk together in groups and share ideas. This will let them write down ideas that they hadn't originally thought of themselves but that they would like to include. I will take in the papers at the end and make a list on the board, giving the class an idea of some of the topics and activities we may be doing alongside the course book.

What about the doodle space? you may ask. Let me ask you a question. How many times have you set a free-ish task such as this one only to see half the class chewing on their pencils with a blank piece of paper on their desks? My point is made! It can be difficult to get started, and the doodle space is there to give the students some thinking time, allowing them to write or draw anything that comes into their head. This may be an idea that they can then put into one of the other sections, or it may just help them to focus on the task.

The doodle space is actually a double-edged sword, since it also has another function - doodles can show what really interests someone. The learners may have likes and interests that they don't want to write down for others to see, or things that they don't even realise they like! Tweens are very conscious of what is accepted by their peers - if they write down "Hannah Montana" and the rest of the class thinks she is too babyish, they will be mortified. However, if in the doodling section they include the lyrics to one of Hannah's songs, no-one will even notice. They may also write "I hate Hannah Montana" in which case I know never to bring up the topic in class! (By the way, I have nothing personal against HM, I even had her calendar up last year in the classroom!). It also gives me the chance to see who the class artists are, and who prefers writing.

The other sections are, I think, quite self-explanatory. Having students think about both what they like and what they like to do in class gives me a wider view of their personalities. Getting them to think about the parts of English they have difficulties with gives me an idea of what they need to work on. Asking them what they would like to do is actually allowing them to negotiate a small part of the syllabus. I will substitute some of the exercises from their course book with the activities they have chosen.

Finally, I will have a piece of writing from them on the first day (even if it is only notes) which can serve as a diagnostic tool, allowing me to see what their writing skills, their vocabulary and possibly grammar are like.

See the results here.
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