#BlogChallenge: What did you teach today?

I first caught wind of this blog challenge on Hana Tichá’s blog, where she wrote a post in response to Anthony Smith’s original idea, the ‘blurb’ for which I quote below:

Have you ever wanted to observe the class of someone you follow on Twitter? Have you ever wondered what magic and wonder the most prolific ELT bloggers make in their classrooms? Are teacher’s lessons as grandiose and amazing as their blog posts make them seem? Or, do they have troughs and peaks of engagement, excitement, and learning – just like anyone else?

Blog Challenge: out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

I was hooked. I have only been properly teaching English since I finished my CELTA in early May of this year, and have since tried to read as many books and blog posts in an effort to keep improving my teaching skills. Therefore, I thought I’d give a little something back and contribute to this blog challenge since I enjoyed the last challenge I did so much. And perhaps some of the wonderful followers I have out there, who are far more experienced than me, can give me some pointers along the way!

So, here’s my turn!

Day: Tuesday 6th October 2015

My general context: always adults, always 90 minutes per lesson, but a mixture of intensive courses, one-to-ones with private individuals or company classes. The large majority take place at the big school in the centre of Berlin where I work, but sometimes I have to travel to the companies themselves.

Lesson 1 (8.00 – 9.30): company class comprising 7 C1-level lawyers who work for a governmental consumer organisation

This is the third class I’ve had with this lovely bunch of lawyers – initially I was totally terrified by the concept of C1-level lawyers, but they’re all absolutely wonderful students and I really don’t mind coming in so early to teach them.

We started by checking the homework I’d set on conditionals 0, 1 and 2 the previous week and I did some explanations on the board for the ones where some students had made mistakes. As they are all very busy bees in their business lives, not everyone always does the homework, but they’re all happy to give it a go in class spontaneously if they didn’t have time to do it at home, which I appreciate.

Then, once everyone had arrived and had coffee (they seem to all run on coffee and almost everyone gets through 2 cups a lesson!) I started a mingle activity with some second conditional cards, as that had been the most problematic of the three the previous week (proven true in homework feedback too). They initially seemed a little unsure of the whole mingling concept, but they got into it eventually and there was lots of animated conversation, which I was pretty pleased with at 8.30am.

I did some brief language feedback on the board and then changed the subject a little, as I didn’t want to overkill the grammar for those who are less grammar-keen. When we had our Needs Analysis chat in our first class, email language was mentioned, so I had looked through the wonderful book that is Email English and pulled out a page on the language of complaints, which I thought would be useful for their work in consumer law. We worked through the exercises, sometimes together, sometimes in pairs and sometimes individually, and thankfully finished the lesson right at the end of the double-page spread, which led perfectly into me setting them homework to write a similar email. They all seemed a) adorably excited by the concept of written homework and b) amused by the concept of being able to email it directly to me, as if my email address should be top-secret (!) and I was delighted when five from seven students did actually send me (really good!) homework.

Lesson 2 (9.30-11.00): intensive course of seven A2 adults

Normally I cross off this lesson on the availability sheet we have to hand in every Wednesday, as I find it a bit stressful to run from the 8am class with the lawyers straight into an intensive course lesson on grammar (as they always are in the morning), but I’d been asked to swap this week to cover for an ill colleague, so I hot-footed it into the classroom and was grateful that only one from six students was there already, so I had time to grab a coffee from our staff kitchen.

As we always do in the first lesson on the intensive courses, we checked the homework from the day before and then I asked if any of the students required a projector or laptop for the presentation lesson they were doing the following day (also a regular feature of our intensive courses.) Three of them wanted to show some photos, so I made a note to book the necessary technology and then got started on my own lesson on modal verbs.

For the intensive courses we follow a plan, so we are told which grammar point / skill / function we are teaching, and can choose to use the recommended material (normally 2-4 options) or something else. I usually use a mixture of coursebook and my own material, and this lesson started with some eliciting of rules at our school to introduce the idea of ‘can,’ ‘can’t,’ ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to.’ Interestingly, the more recent editions of course books seem to be phasing out the idea of ‘must’ which I think is probably since so few people actually say it these days! This is also very good for my German context, as the Germans have ‘muss’ and ‘muss nicht’ for ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to’ and are consequently very confused if you teach ‘have to’ and ‘must’ together. So the combination of ‘can’ and ‘have to’ worked much better, and I liked the exercises I’d chosen from English File. We did some controlled practice once we’d established the rules, and then I let students work on a communicative activity I really like, where they are allowed to decide the rules for their own hotel using these structures. I always try to encourage them to be creative and think of stupid rules, but normally at A2 they write pretty standard rules like ‘Guests can’t smoke in their rooms’ or ‘Guests don’t have to pay extra for breakfast’ but at least the concept always works well. I ended with some language feedback, set homework for the following day and then said goodbye to the group until Thursday afternoon when they’d deliver their presentations.

Lesson 3 (11.15-12.45): intensive course of 5 C1 adults 

In the break between the first and second intensive course lesson, I normally have a cup of tea and a cereal bar for some energy until lunch, which always works like a charm! Then I headed into teach the C1s, which is the other intensive course class I’m team-teaching for this two-week block. It’s a lovely class of five incredibly keen adults: three Germans, one Lithuanian girl about my age and one older Polish lady who has the most fascinating career history. They’re always super sweet and say that my voice is very calming so they always give me a welcome reception when I walk into their classroom, which is lovely and very encouraging as a new teacher who is sometimes intimidated by C1s!

Today it was a vocab topic lesson: at the start of their intensive courses, all classes from A2 and beyond are presented with a list of 8 vocab topics and they have to choose 4 as a class, which then form the basis for 4 lessons, or parts of lessons, over their two-week course. (And we have four rotating plans for students who stay longer than 2 weeks!) This group had chosen vocabulary about the media, which is a topic I’d not done before, and it was quite a juicy one. The ‘topics’ are mostly taken from various course books and then slightly adapted, and this was from Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate, I think.

We worked through the various exercises, but I had made a few of my own activities to intersperse between the slightly dry matching exercises. These little speaking activities with cards ended up forming the basis for some really interesting conversations, and we actually spent the whole lesson on the vocab activity and didn’t have any spare time for the pronunciation exercises which are also planned into that slot.

When I first started at this school, I used to really worry about not getting through material like this, but I’ve since learnt that it’s much better to carry on with something that students are really enjoying as opposed to rushing them through everything to get to the next activity. And in this case, I really don’t think it mattered, as their pronunciation is generally pretty great!

After three 90-minute lessons pretty much in a row, I’m normally in need of a little brain rest, so I was grateful to have the third intensive course slot (normally 13.15 – 14.45) free for some planning, some coffee and some catching up with WhatsApp and co.

Lesson 4 (15.00-16.30): one-to-one with a lovely lady who works for a big German bank

This is one of my favourite classes. My student D is incredibly motivated and very hard-working: she always reviews her vocabulary, often asks for additional practice exercises and has already shown noticeable progress in the 3 or 4 months that I’ve taught her. She was determined to have one-to-one lessons working through a textbook, as she describes herself as ‘old-school,’ and I took her on from her previous teacher when she was about 60% through the book. Every now and then I give her extra exercises, but she is more than happy to plough through the book each week. Thankfully I really like the book (the new, third edition of International Express Elementary) and it also has a great Teacher’s Book with extra resources, so it’s also an easy class to prepare for.

This week we were in the penultimate chapter and learning about the Present Perfect. This is tricky for Germans, as their own past tense looks a lot like the Present Perfect but is used differently. As ever, D picked it up very quickly and we whizzed through a few more pages, with bits and bobs of board work here and there. We finished a double-page a little bit before 90 minutes were up, so I did a quick vocabulary review with her and then some language feedback on the board.

I decided early on in my job at this school that more than 4 90-minute classes in a day is a bit too much for me in terms of brain ache and preparation, but one of my morning classes was added after the printing of our timetables on Friday to cover for an ill colleague, so today I happened to have 5. It’s a new company class which is normally at 5.30, but which was postponed for an hour due to a training course.

Lesson 5 (18.30 – 20.00): a group of 6 B2ish adults at a software company in Kreuzberg; 5 of whom are Eastern European software developers (3 from Lithuania and 2 from Romania) and one lady from Berlin

The guys finished playing table tennis (so Berlin!) and then joined me and the only lady U in the conference room. It’s only my second lesson with this new class, but they’re all so keen and easy-going, it’s a really great atmosphere.

We checked the vocabulary homework from last week, which was too easy for them, but I hadn’t been sure of their level before our first ever lesson, so I always aim a little lower to be safe. I made a mental note to always use material from Intermediate sources or above in future; this exercise from a Pre-Intermediate book was far too easy.

My warmer involved photos of Twitter, Facebook and friends and a conversation about why and what for we use them – both in general and specific to the class members. I learnt that a large proportion of the company’s communication is done over Skype! Then we talked about a reading from International Express Intermediate (the new, third edition which I love) and then worked through the exercises I had adapted from the textbook on the Present Simple and Present Continuous, which I’d chosen after hearing tonnes of mistakes the previous week. This grammar dissection and board work took about 15 minutes, and then I gave each pair a set of prompt cards to make questions in the Present Simple or Present Continuous. This was a great test, particularly for using state verbs in the continuous. I noticed that they really enjoyed this free speaking, and they really give it a good go, so I’ll definitely try to go more textbook-free in future. It’s nice to have a creative class!

I signed out of the hipster software company, treated myself to a naughty falafel wrap for surviving such a long day, and then hopped on the U-Bahn for the long journey home!

Phew, who knew it took 2200+ words to talk through a day’s lessons!

About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog berlingo18.wordpress.com charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
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4 Responses to #BlogChallenge: What did you teach today?

  1. ven_vve says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Your post took me back to my language school days – I enjoyed reading it! I think I remember talking to you once on Twitter and mentioning that I now teach undergrads online, but until around 3 years ago I worked for a (and ran my own) language school in Zagreb (with a friend). Anyway, it was interesting to see that you use all the same coursebooks we used to – English File, Int’l Express, Cutting Edge (though probably new editions now) – and the Email English reference book. I used to like that one as well, and would dip into it with most of my groups.

    I completely agree that 8 teaching hours per day is plenty – do you guys have a set number of hours you have to teach per week/month/year? We used to have 750 a year and anything more was overtime.


    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks so much for the comment Vedrana, and a huge apology for the delayed response!
      I remember you saying you taught in a language school in the past but I hadn’t realised it belonged to you, that’s so cool! I attended a German language school in Bamberg in Bavaria back in 2011 and I had such a fantastic time, I thought(/dreamt!) about starting my own language school, but I imagine it’s an awful lot of work!
      As for your question about hours… Sadly I have to sigh and say ‘I wish!’ In Berlin, the vast majority of language teachers are freelancers so I’m only paid €30 per 90 minutes – so every minute outside of that is my own time unfortunately. The benefit is you can more or less decide when you want to work, but I like to try to be loyal to my company classes for the sake of the school’s reputation so I have at least 7 regular company classes a week, which is thankfully something to rely on.
      It’s so interesting to hear about all the different systems though, so thanks again for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a long day! Are you always this busy? It seems a very different style of running things to Korea.


    • BerLingo says:

      Not always but often! We’re freelancers so it’s sort of a case of work as much as you care to bear!
      How does it work in Korea then? Some colleagues have taught in Japan and say that’s also very different!
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂


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