I apologise to people not interested in the English Language teaching side to this blog because it will probably just be gobbledegook to you!
But, for anyone currently on a CELTA, or considering doing one of these wonderful courses, I hope this post might be useful. I am officially halfway through the course now and have taught three out of the required six hours of lessons, so I thought it would be a good time to collate all my pages of notes on all the Teaching Practices from the first two weeks and pull out some general tips from them. As trainees, we have each taught three 40-minute lessons on productive or receptive skills, and one hour-long grammar lesson so far. We have also watched our tutors Eoghan and Helen teach, as we are a group of five rather than a group of six so there is always one slot left over (due to Jim’s early departure from the course.) Furthermore, we were able to watch one of the teachers from the main school part of the Berlin School of English (which is on the fifth floor, as opposed to our CELTA area on the second floor) and I found that incredibly helpful. There will be more information on that in my Week Two post, once I publish it!
During all these observed lessons, as well as during all the trainees’ lessons, I have been taking notes, so here are my tips for Teaching Practice from halfway through a CELTA course.
Disclaimer: they will not be complete, they might not be correct, and I will continue to edit them, but perhaps they are useful and helpful to other trainees like myself! And for the more experienced ELT professionals reading this blog, please correct me where you see fit!
Teaching Practice Cheat Sheet
- It’s really important that you understand the labels for each stage of your lesson (‘Lead-In,’ ‘reading for gist,’ or ‘listening for specific information, for example.) This will help your lesson follow a logical thread throughout
- If you’re ever using a dictionary to look up definitions for learners, make sure it’s appropriate for the level you’re teaching (don’t use an Advanced one for B1 learners, like I did in my first ever Teaching Practice!)
- Keep your plan to one or two pages, and print it double-sided. That way, it’s hard to lose a page or confuse it with students’ worksheets during the lesson
- Specify through which particular topic your aims will be achieved. For example ‘students will have practice in reading for gist and detailed information using a text about an award ceremony’
- Try to open the lesson with a quick overview of what will be happening in the lesson: ‘We’ll be doing some work with a text and then practising some listening later’ or similar, so learners know what to expect (it also keeps you accountable to your timings, too!)
- ALWAYS set tasks before reading or listening texts, so that students have something to focus on
- add the actual time to your timings on your plan (so if you start at 3pm and your lead-in has been allocated 5 minutes, then write 15.00 – 15.05 on your plan) so it’s super-easy to keep on top of your schedule
- Tell your students how long they have for each exercise, and tell them firmly when they have a minute left (don’t count down too much and stress them out!)
- If students have a multi-part exercise, gently say something like ‘you should be on the second side by now’
Teacher’s role and stance
- try not to stand up or sit down all the time; standing is obviously more authoritative for instruction-giving etc., but sitting is better for discussions and feedback
- try not to move around too much if students are doing a listening exercise, as it’s distracting
- when monitoring, write down the names of students who gave good answers to questions
- if strong learner(s) are dominating, then move them around or nominate weaker students to make it fair
- moving students around at the start of a lesson often gives you a minute or so’s grace to arrange your things and your composure!
- If students arrive late, try to accommodate them when you can; don’t let them interrupt your flow
- If teaching students with a common native language unfamiliar to you, check in Learner English for common problems
- To expose students to the maximum amount of possible interaction, get them to do a little pair/group check after most activities, and then feedback together
- Sometimes it’s nice to give learners the choice between two activities, but don’t do this too often or they’ll think you’re unsure and not sufficiently authoritative
- Tell when they can and can’t use dictionaries
- keep instructions simple and use short sentences
- cut out jargon (students don’t know ‘gist,’ ‘contraction’ or ‘scan reading’!)
- be direct: cut out all the ‘would you like tos’ and the ‘if you like, you cans…’
- draft out instructions in advance if possible, and highlight them on your plan
- hold up worksheets (‘chest’ them in front of your body, and actually point to the bits you want the students to do), give the instructions and then hand them out, so learners aren’t distracted by reading the papers you give them
- ask Instruction Checking Questions to make sure your students know what their task is
- if some students don’t stop when you ask because they want to finish, be confident in yourself being firm and telling them to stop
- don’t point to students
- if you want students to report back on what their partner said in feedback, make sure they know this so they can at least try and remember some useful things
Feedback and correction
- It’s a good idea to give students feedback after almost every activity, as it gives them a chance to talk. If they are ending on a free practice activity, you can write some of their errors on the board whilst they’re still talking, and then cover them up
- take notes of students’ mistakes whenever you can. That way, even if you don’t get time for group feedback at the end, to notice some mistakes to write on the board, you can just use mistakes which were made earlier
- getting time at the end of the lesson to write up a few good and bad items from students’ writing is a good idea, particularly if you allow them to help you correct the sentences
- When listening in to students’ working on their own, you can get quite close to them, but don’t interrupt! Take notes and give the class feedback at the end of the exercise / class
- When feeding back to students at the end of class, make sure you include some positive things (nice phrases, good use of vocabulary which was introduced earlier, for example)
- If you’ve seen that almost all students have all the answers correct, you don’t need to do feedback properly (you could just rattle through the answers)
- It’s often nice to ask other students ‘Do you agree?’ when you are in a feedback situation
- If a student is struggling to formulate an answer, make sure you give them sufficient time to think. If they are really struggling, then you can ask one of their peers to help, or step in yourself (peer correction is fine, if used sparingly)
- Rather than ever saying ‘that’s wrong’, a nice way to phrase it would be to say ‘well I think it’s….’
- If you’re really unsure of the answer to a student’s question, tell them you will check and get back to them, and then make sure you do get back to them
- Be very wary of trying to elicit words from cold; it’s often a better idea to give students a ‘word bank’ on the board and then some definitions/explanations from which they can choose
- When showing learners pictures of new words, don’t assume this automatically means they’re certain what the word means à Checking Questions would then be useful!
- A great way to get students to learn some key new words is a collage picture matching exercise
- Good idea to look in the book of the level below the level you are teaching (or on Cambridge Learner Dictionary Online) to see whether your class should know that word
- When introducing new words that the learners haven’t yet seen (for example, when pre-teaching before a reading activity) try to tell them there are ‘only 6 words’ they need to know, so they don’t get worried they’re about to be bombarded by new vocabulary!
- DO NOT ASK the following questions (to learners at almost all levels!):
- Can you tell me what X means?
- Can you give me an example of X in a sentence?
- Try to focus on a specific context and derive the maximum amount of examples possible from it (to give students a frame of reference)
- Keep questions very specific
- When presenting grammar, be sure to either tell students they will get a handout (and therefore don’t need to write what you write on the board) or tell them to write notes
- Good option to give students options: ‘Do we use the Past Simple for ongoing or completed actions?’
- Don’t ask students to make sentences negative unless you have checked the negative versions for intelligibility: ‘She used to have long hair’ à ‘She didn’t use to have long hair’ doesn’t make much sense!
- Highlight positive, negative and question forms where relevant (and if you decide to leave one out, make sure it doesn’t later come up in your lesson)
- Be clear to students that contracted forms (like ‘shouldn’t’) are still correct grammar
- Prioritise meaning over form in instances (such as the Present perfect) where the form isn’t tricky, but the meaning is
- Don’t ask any of the following question types:
- When do we use the Past simple?
- Can you give me an example sentence using the Present Perfect?
- Be consistent: if you’re going to write out definitions of words, do it for them all; if you’re going to translate them (which not recommended), do it for them all etc. Otherwise, your students will feel cheated!
- If at all possible, plan out where you will write key things on the board (such as the form of a new grammatical structure.) I found it very helpful to draw little circles where I wanted the positive, negative and interrogative forms to be, so that I could ensure they were sufficiently well-spaced for the students to read and understand
- Ask students if you can rub parts off before you do (polite, and ensures no-one is missing notes they might want to copy down)
- Give students a very specific question or task to focus on for all activities, even if they only have to read through /listen to fairly short texts
- Always try the activity yourself
- If students do a matching activity, keep the new words/phrases stuck together on one side, and just have one set of ‘movable parts’ to make feedback much easier, as everyone will be working from the same order
- Always give students time to read through instructions or options where relevant (for example before a listening when they need to tick boxes)
- If you ask students to make predicts, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes discussing whether they were right or wrong after they’ve done the discovery activity (be it a reading or a listening text)
- Try to include some flexi-tasks for fast finishers
- If doing role plays, it’s a good idea to use role play cards with learners
- If students struggle with a particular part of a listening text, play only that bit again to save time
- Texts written by or focusing on the teacher are often far more interesting to students than coursebook texts
- Don’t take students’ sheets away from them (or ask them to turn them over) and ask them to remember what they said, without having given them a specific task in the first place
- Try to only drill potentially problematic words, so it doesn’t become tedious
- When practising sentence prosody and sentence stress, use your arms to conduct your students!
- Take notes on everything you see that’s good and bad – I write good things with a little + sign, and, unsurprisingly, not-so-good with a little – sign. It’s then easier to scan down your lists for your Lessons from the classroom assignment