Every lesson should be prepared beforehand. For every one hour in the classroom, expect to spend half an hour’s preparation time. Fail to do this, and your lessons will be disjointed, confused, and unsatisfactory. Well, that’s what the EFL trainers would have you believe anyway. BUT. Take a look at the teaching schedule of an average EFL teacher in Asia. Thirty-two contact hours per week. Classes ranging from pre-literate four-year-olds (twenty of them in one class, would you believe) to TOEFL preparation. Written assignments to mark, tests to mark, student reports to write. And, oh yes, perhaps a little private social life squeezed in here and there. Now let me ask you, is that teacher going to spend another sixteen hours on lesson preparation? Will the world be destroyed by a meteorite at ten past two tomorrow? Will Lady Gaga admit that she really is a man? Unlikely. Bloody unlikely.
So, you will get teachers walking into their classes without so much as a minute’s lesson preparation. Or perhaps they’ll engage in some door-handle preparation – as they enter the room they’re asking themselves ‘What the hell am I going to teach them today?’
Now, here I’m going to stick my neck out and make a bald, bold statement. A statement which could be my downfall, and nix my chances of ever landing an EFL job again. But nevertheless, fearless, undaunted, I’ll make it anyway. You don’t need to spend time preparing lessons. Perhaps in your first four or five months on the job, yes. But once you are in the swing of things, no. And your lessons won’t be the disjointed, confused, unsatisfactory disasters that the EFL trainers predict they will be providing you apply a couple of smart little ploys. “Ploys? Smart ploys? Wot smart ploys?” do I hear you asking?
OK, I’ll tell you. (I hope you’re taking notes.) First, you have in your bag a little arsenal of handy fillers.
Photo copies of information-exchange exercises, half-crosswords, word-searches, vocab pics, gap-fills, blank clock-faces, etc. Now of course you don’t fill up your lesson with a non-stop succession of these things. You teach from the book, then every fifteen minutes or so, or when the class’s attention level starts to flag, you haul one out.
That’s the paper stuff. In addition, you have stored away in your head a series of five-minute games, distractions, and fun activities which you also trot out from time to time. You don’t need many – three or four is enough to see you through most lessons. Our esteemed EFL trainers might dismiss these as a cop-out, but I hold that they are essential ingredients for a successful lesson. Two straight hours of book, book, book is the recipe for a boring class and a bunch of bored students. You only need to watch your students to prove that. When you introduce a fun activity you’ll see them sitting up straighter in their chairs, smiles will appear on their faces, and the undercurrent of murmuring in their native language will dry up. And when, five minutes later, you return to the lesson proper, you’ll notice a heightened level of interest and enthusiasm. Yes, regular injections of fun distractions are the way to go.
So, lesson preparation? Yes, all very nice if you’ve got the time. But I don’t know many teachers whose busy schedules afford them that time. Especially not if those teachers plan to devote some time in their day to a little bit of socializing.
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