Friday, 7 December 2012

Teaching Little Kids

(and I mean little kids)

I’ve got to do a demo class at 5:30 tonight. There’s a fair bit riding on it, because depending on how well I acquit myself, and the students’ reaction to my teaching, the school management will decide how much I’m to be paid at this new job. Fair enough, that’s pretty standard over here.

“OK, 5:30, then. I’ll come in fifteen minutes early to check out the book. Oh, by the way, how many students, and what level?”
“Twenty-one students, aged four to six.”
Oh my God. A demo in a pre-literate class of four to six year-olds? And a crowded class at that? Death, where is thy sting?

I’ve started preparing the demo already. I don’t know what book they’ll be using, or what language is to be covered, but I do have a fair idea of what to expect. I’ll be required to cover two text book pages, which will contain a minimum amount of language; probably five or six new words, e.g. ‘red, yellow, blue, green, orange’, plus the question ‘What color is it?’ So, how does one keep 21 kids interested for 90 minutes, when all you’ve got to do is teach five words?

Let’s get back to basics. Ingredient number one: movement. Kids need to move around. Sitting still is anathema to them, and pretty-near impossible to achieve. So, the hopping game. The school will have color flash-cards. (I hope to hell the school has color flash-cards.) Lay them out in a row on the floor, and get the kids, one by one, to hop along the row, naming each color as they land beside it. That’s a good ten minutes of lesson time. Tack the cards on the whiteboard. Have the students form two rows. Sorting out the rows will take three or four minutes. If there’s an even number of boys to girls in the class, fine. If not, you’ll have lots of grief getting any boy to join the girls’ line, and vice versa. Explain the rules of the game. The Teaching Assistant will need to translate. The class will have a TA. (Please God, let the class have a TA.) Issue the front student in each line with a fly swat. When you name a color, these two students rush forward and try to be the first to swat the color. He/she then hands the swat to the second kid and goes to the back of the line. Fun, shouting, excitement, and the occasional shoving match.

So, that’s two active games in a row. Time to slow down for a bit. Get them to sit down, and drill them on the vocabulary. Introduce and drill the question. Hand the flashcards around in a chain, each student asking the next: “What color is it?” Wander around the class, pointing out various colored items. Tommy’s t-shirt, Sarah’s bag, James’s pencil box; “What color is it?” Play a kids’ video dealing with colors. (Presumably the school has such a thing, but I won’t set my heart on it.)

Another movement game. Tack the flashcards on the walls one in this corner, one in that corner, one on the door. The kids stand in the center of the room, and when you nominate a color they rush over to it. Fun, shouting, excitement, a few kids getting knocked down and trampled, a couple of outbreaks of fisticuffs.

A change of focus before they get bored. (There’s a theory I read once, that children’s attention spans are equivalent to their ages. A six-year-old has a six minute attention span, an eight-year-old eight minutes, etcetera.) A song, preferably an action song. Chances are they’ll already know some of the old standards: If You’re Happy, Head-Shoulders, The Wheels on the Bus, This is the Way I Wash My Face.

A game of statues. You play a music CD and the kids dance in time. When the music stops, they do too. Fun, excitement, pushing, arguments.
Siddown again. “Let’s repeat the colors, ok?

Well, that’s a good hour’s lesson time covered. In my pocket I will have the good old standby in case I run out of things to do; a balloon. It never fails. Batting a balloon around the room for five minutes has nothing to commend it in the way of teaching English, but you won’t get any of the kids complaining about that.

So that’s it. Nothing cutting edge about it, nothing state of the art methodology-wise. Just a fast-paced mix of movement, music, competition and repetitions. Not to mention fun, excitement and fisticuffs. Hopefully I’ll be able to pull it off.

Please God, let there be a Teaching Assistant.

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