Tuesday, 22 July 2014



We’ve all had those moments, when it’s time to go into a class, switch on your cheery, enthusiastic, A-Plus personality and do a two-hour lesson, but all you really want to do is go home, have a beer, and sink gratefully into bed.

These moments don’t necessarily reflect on a lack of professionalism or dedication on the teacher’s part. No, they are more likely to be the result of an overloaded teaching schedule, the knowledge that the class you’re about to teach is a bunch of unmotivated, unresponsive dead-heads, you’re coming down with flu, or it’s your best friend’s birthday party and you’ll miss most of it. Or possibly you’ve been asked to cover for an absent teacher with just two minutes’ notice, (and you know, you just know, that the reason he’s absent is that he’s gone to your best friend’s birthday party).

But there’s a class that’s paid for two hours of tuition, and you’re the lucky teacher who is expected to deliver it. So how do you go about it? You can’t stomp into the classroom with a haggard, disgruntled, “here we go again” expression on your face; that would spell doom for the lesson from the kick-off. You’ve got to summon up all your acting skills and deliver them convincingly and memorably, leaving the students with smiles on their faces and perhaps, just perhaps, better English than they had two short hours ago. Actors regularly face the same predicament that you are now facing. The audience is expecting a convincing performance even though you’ve delivered the same lines night after night ever since Sir Laurence Olivier first took to the stage. So, you have to think show biz, performance arts, improv, edutainment. Then go in there and do the Grammy award-winning performance of your life.

Now, in these circumstances, chances are you’ve done no lesson preparation at all, but that needn’t detract from your performance. No EFL trainer worthy of the name would agree with me, but lesson preparation isn’t the make-it or break-it key to a good lesson. All the preparation you need is a bit of experience, and a good memory. And a little arsenal of hand-outs, games, and bits and pieces in your bag. Whatever the students’ level, it’s a good bet that they need to brush up their telling- the-time skills. (It’s something we teach at elementary level, then never again bring up, and most of your students will have forgotten all they ever learnt about it.) So, from your bag you produce a cardboard clock and a handout of blank clock faces. There’s a good ten or so minutes’ lesson time taken care of. Also in your bag you have some food flash cards. Ergo, you have a vocabulary exercise for elementary levels, a countable/uncountable, “some/any” exercise for intermediate levels. Remember, flash cards are not just for flashing. You’ll get far more value from them if the students have them in their hands, passing them around and asking questions about them. “Have you got any lettuce? / Yes, we’ve got some.”

When you’re tired and would prefer to be anywhere but here in the classroom, you don’t want the students’ attention to be focused 100% on you. So, make sure most of your activities are student-centered rather than teacher-centred. Which means info exchanges, role plays, pair and group work, milling exercises, and perhaps a little bit of writing thrown in. And a song. And a competitive game. Hot Seat’s good value. So too is miming, charades, and Stop the Bus. You haven’t tried Stop the Bus yet? Here’s how to do it. Issue one slip of paper to groups of three or four students. They have to write seven words on a topic you’ve nominated. Jobs, forms of transport, food, sports without a ball, or articles of clothing, for example. It’s a race, and when a group has finished they don’t say “Finished!” but “Stop the Bus!” Don’t ask me why, but this little catch-phrase immeasurably adds to their enjoyment of the game. A little bit of silliness goes a long way in an EFL class.

If you go through the routine well, you could find yourself, mid-session, actually enjoying the lesson. And you might even get a text message from your best friend mid-lesson too, saying he’s put back the starting time of the party two hours because most of his mates are teaching.


EFL minus the B.S. is the best book I’ve ever written, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.  

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