ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: May 2015

10 Tips for Lesson Observations

My previous post, 10 recommended books for the CELTA course, was somewhat well received and I have been thinking about a suitable follow-up for this post. Anyhow, after observing teachers during the week, I thought I would write up another post to support those teachers that have been successful for the CELTA course or those that have inspections or lesson observations due. In this post, I will recommend ten things to remember for any formal lesson observation.

1. What are your lesson aims?

You have planned your lesson, have a great idea for starting the lesson and also have cut-up all your material and you are ready to teach. However, look at your lesson plan and think very carefully what your aims and objectives are. I would really encourage any teacher to write their lesson plan by starting with this sentence: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to …”. It is important to know what your students will achieve by the end of the lesson. Ask yourself “Why am I teaching this? How will I know that I have achieved my lesson aims?”.

Get some practice by writing up a list of quick lesson aims on the whiteboard for students to know what they are going to do during the lesson. If you are using a coursebook with your learners, it will help your lesson aims as most coursebooks, these days, have language aims and “Can Do” statements adjusted from the Common European Framework. Unsuitable aims or objectives in lesson plans could include the following:

  • My students will learn vocabulary about …
  • Students will have some speaking practice about …
  • By the end of the lesson, students will have completed listening.

2. What’s in a name?

It really does show if teachers don’t remember the names of their students during observations. You cannot just wave your finger like a magic wand and say “You there! What is the answer to …?”. Not only does this illustrate that you do not know your learners’ names, it also suggests that you have not really thought about your learners when preparing a lesson. It is important to remember the names of your students and there are a few things you could do to help you out with this:

  • Keep a floor-plan of those students and where they are sitting. Refer to this when you are stuck and test yourself when you have a chance.
  • Get students to make a name card which can be made in the first lesson or with new students joining the class. Ask students to move around and then test yourself with students to remember their names.

If you can remember the names of your students, you are half-way there to generating rapport with students and learning more about them as individuals. Students will know if you don’t know their name. They will not be very happy if you cannot remember their name. How would you feel if you were in class and the teacher couldn’t even remember your name? You wouldn’t be happy.

3. Have a walkabout

When you are teaching a class, it is important to walk around a bit from time-to-time to monitor students. It doesn’t help if you are stationary during the lesson at the front of the class. It is important to walk around the classroom during lesson activities. Follow this basic advice and you will not go far wrong:

  • Whole class instructions should be given at the front of the class
  • Students are completing pair or small group activities and the teacher should try to walk around each small group or pair of students
  • Students are doing a presentation and the teacher could sit in the corner of the class or among other students at the back of the classroom

If you are constantly present at the front of the classroom, it may appear top heavy with the teacher controlling the lesson and the students’ contribution. It is better to merge within the classroom and this will reflect well in your lesson observations.

4. The computer says “No!”

If you are using interactive whiteboard (IWB) or a computer as part of your lesson, make sure it works. It really is soul destroying to see all your hard work fall flat if the technology decides not to work and you are left rushing around to try to find a solution. It inevitably ends up getting the IT person involved to help with the situation. What is more annoying is if you boot up your computer with five minutes to spare and then it decides to update and you are left with a PC that is just sitting in the corner and you cannot do what you planned to do as the computer is now out of action. There are a few things to consider when preparing your lesson observation, if it includes any form of technology.

  • Check that all equipment is working on the day and that you have a quick run through
  • Make sure that the PC you are using has been booted up and it has updated itself
  • Have a backup plan, should the unexpected happen, with a ten or fifteen minute activity to keep students occupied while you remedy any technological alarm

If you organise yourself well in advance and have a backup plan, you will be fully prepared for any situation or emergency. Teachers that are well organised are those that think about the unexpected happening.

5. Keep it short and sweet

You have nailed your lesson plan, you remember the names of all your students and, so far, the computer is not playing up. However, you have a task for students to do and you are about to give some instructions. You have not planned what to say but you know what the students have to do and so you commence this rather long commentary.

Okay everyone. We are going to do a speaking activity now so I want everyone to sit down. I am going to hand out this piece of paper. On this paper there is one word such as ‘Detective’ or ‘Nurse’ and you have to act out that particular character. Now, when you receive your piece of paper you must try and not show anyone else in the classroom but you must try to act like that person. The other person you are talking to must try to guess your job and write it down on this other piece of paper here. OK? Any questions?

When looking at the instructions above, it can seem rather daunting to begin with and how to improve instructions but with a bit of preparation and awareness of the activity, it is rather easy. Think how to say a sentence between 4-10 words in length and you will improve your instructions and students will not be fazed any longer. If you have a chance, demonstrate the activity if it is quite complicated. For example:

This paper has a job title. You must act like that job. What is my job? [You act like a bus driver and students guess the job]. Good! You write the job on this [show another piece of paper]. All students have a different job. Keep it secret [place the paper to your chest].

With some preparation, your instructions will improve and observers will recognise the effort you went through to ensure the setting up of an activity.

6. Heads or tails?

You are handing out the first worksheet but you have not even given instructions to the students just yet so you decide to give instructions once you have finished the act of handing out worksheets. You then decide to tell all students what to do just to ensure that they know what they are doing. However, when you talk to all the students on what they are about to do, all you see is the top of their heads. They are not listening to you but are staring at the newly received worksheet. This is an example of how not to stage a lesson for worksheets until learners have received some instructions. Here is some advice for you to consider the next time you are about to provide a worksheet:

  • Tell students briefly what they are about to receive, what they are to do and a time limit.
  • Ask students some instruction concept questions (ICQs) to ensure understanding.
  • Hand out the worksheet to students and monitor.

If you follow the staging above with any worksheet, you will not have any problems with instructions, worksheets or student attentiveness.

7. Photocopy the day before

It is important to prepare as much as possible the day before your observation and this includes any photocopying you may have to do. Should you arrive in the staffroom the day of your observation with a plan to photocopy your worksheets and activities, you are bound to come across problems. Paper may be in short supply, it could be located in a different part of the building or there is a huge queue to the photocopier. No matter how tired you may feel, it is important to get all your photocopying and preparation done the day before. It will save any last minute issues and if there is an inspection, it will really stress staff if there is a battle to the photocopier.

8. Death by worksheets

All teachers, at some point in their career, have printed out worksheets to keep their students busy but this should not be considered a possibility during any observation. Worksheets are fine to consolidate and practice a language focus but you should not take a whole lesson with any form of worksheet. If you want to exploit a worksheet or a page from a vocabulary or grammar book, try to bring it off the page and personalise it for your students. Some ideas for exploiting material could include getting students to finish different parts and practising in context or creating their own worksheets for use in a future class. It is important to teach the learners rather than teach the material, as this will not go down well during any formal or informal observation. For example, if you want to teach a grammar lesson, refer to a grammar book, consider how you could present it, how the students could use the language in context and how it could be reinforced with language consolidation. Should you wish to teach a lesson using the Present Simple, you could do the following:

  • Present the grammar point by showing daily routine: I wake up at …, I get up at …, etc.
  • Show a time line and ask students to put the daily activities in order on a time line
  • Ask students to now write about their own routine but using their own personal time line
  • Get students to share their time line but to also think of questions as well as answers that could be considered about daily routine
  • Review the grammar focus by consolidating the lesson with the use of some grammar exercises (gap fill, sentence prompts, etc.)

It is not difficult but you just need to think about trying to get the students using the language in context and reviewing the language focus as a class. Stick to this, and you will not go far wrong.

9. The whiteboard

The whiteboard is sometimes one of those pieces of equipment which is often overlooked while planning a lesson. It is always used during the lesson and something to write up vocabulary, functional language, etc. When being observed, it is important to use the whiteboard effectively during these lessons and show that you are a ‘whiteboard wizard’. There are some simple tricks to keep you on top of any whiteboard issue:

  • I probably do not have to say it, but keep the whiteboard clean and free from smudges during observations.
  • Use margins on the whiteboard to split up between lesson aims and objectives, vocabulary and the main area for brainstorming language/ideas.
  • Try to use colours which are easily readable during the lesson. One pet hate is when teachers use a red pen on the board and then expect students to read it at a distance. Use black for main text and colours to highlight pronunciation, intonation or other lexical collocations.
  • Get students to copy down language and things from the whiteboard before erasing everything. It seems simple but the number of times that I have seen a teacher erase the whiteboard while students have not been given a chance to copy from the whiteboard or half-way through their copying is more common than thought. Do not be a whiteboard demon, get students to copy things from the whiteboard.
  • Write neatly and at a correct size for all to read. It seems such a basic idea but there are still teachers who write things on the board and both the observer and the students are unable to decode what has been written. If it is too small or too messy, both parties will have difficulty reading your board-work. It is best to write in non-cursive writing which is more reader friendly for language learners.

10. Relax and be yourself

Formal, as well as less formal, lesson observations can be a rather stressful time for teachers. With all the paperwork to prepare before the lesson observation, there is the prospect of a colleague, line manager or external observer coming into the lesson to see how things are going inside of the classroom. To make all our lives bearable, it is best to keep any negative comments to yourself and not to criticise those that are coming in to observe you. It is important to be as professional as possible and also relax a little. Take a deep breath and then just jump in with both feet. Essentially, lesson observations should not be a witch-hunt but they are not easy for everyone.

If the observation is part of professional development, then the feedback session will be a point of reflection for both the teacher and the observer. If you are observed, it is important not to defend every single thing that is pointed out in the reflection process but it is merely used to prompt a discussion to better understand why and how things were decided and staged during the lesson process. If the organisation is supporting those teachers that need assistance, there will be clear and attainable goals highlighted to consider and it is very important to follow these up and share your development with the person who observed you. Consider asking whether it would be possible to undertake peer-to-peer observations as these will be more beneficial and they will give you some more practical ideas which you could incorporate into future lessons.

Relax and be professional, as observations are there to help you.

There are some final tips for lesson observations and things which should be mentioned:

  • Don’t be late and try to arrive 5-10 minutes early in your classroom so that you are able to arrange the class for your lesson.
  • Don’t forget to print off your lesson plan the night before. It will not be a good idea to print the lesson plan on the day.
  • Don’t stress your students about the lesson observation. They are still your students and keep things as natural as possible.
  • Don’t change your entire lesson 5 minutes before you are due to be observed. It is a recipe for disaster.

Best of luck with your observations and I hope you enjoy them.

‘Sounding out ELT hiring policies in South Korea’ by Martin Sketchley

Thank you to Marek for letting me share more about my experiences of teaching and recruitment in South Korea.

10 Recommended Books for the CELTA Course

It has been a number years since I took the CELTA Course, at least seven years since I actually completed the course at the British Council Seoul. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTS) and Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTS) resident in Korea wishing to develop professionally as teachers. We all shared our commitment to the profession and wanted to improve our skills as teachers. I enjoyed the course so much that I created a CELTA Group on Facebook to keep in touch with the other trainees. Anyhow, I have been thinking about books that were recommended before starting the course, as well as books that I have come across after the CELTA course, and I thought a blog post suggesting potential books to aid the CELTA trainee would suffice.

1. “Learning Teaching” by Jim Scrivener

Learning TeachingThe first book, Learning Teaching, that was recommended for trainees as part of pre-reading and preparation before as well as during the CELTA course. It is an incredible book which looks at teaching various skills (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) and proposed approaches for the classroom, which when learning to teach English to language learners, is invaluable. Also, there are sections within the book which assist teachers, both experienced and less experienced, which cover classroom management, various styles of teaching, methods and approaches to language teaching as well as professional development opportunities to consider. I remember the CELTA trainers advising that this book should be our bible during the course and we should attempt to read the various sections when required. Not only is it a useful book for before and during the CELTA course, but it has always been a book that I have constantly returned to, when getting ideas on developing a curriculum or planning courses and lessons.

2. “Advanced English Grammar in Use” by Raymond Murphy

AGIUAnother book which I had discovered invaluable as part of lesson planning, language awareness and teaching practice was Advanced English Grammar in Use. It was incredibly helpful when I wanted to look at particular grammar points in context and in more detail. For example, Raymond Murphy offers additional focus the use of the Present Simple in context with daily routines or habits. You could look at some of these suggestions and personalise it for your teaching practice. As well as the demonstrating of isolated grammar points, Advanced English Grammar in Use offers some thoughts on written grammar practice and this again could either be recreated and personalised in your teaching practice. If you are new to the teaching of grammar, you could purchase the lower levels of English Grammar in Use to better understand the premise behind certain grammar structures.

3. “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan

PEUThis was another book which was on my recommended reading list for the CELTA course and I ordered it specially from the UK and it was delivered a week later in Korea. It is incredibly informative and will help trainees with preparing lessons focused solely on key vocabulary and grammar. This book is very well organised alphabetically from ‘abbreviated styles‘ to ‘yes and no‘. I have used this book to prepare lessons on vocabulary for higher learners such as newspaper headlines as well as focus on grammar. When you combine this book with other recommended books in this post, it is really really useful and I would urge any potential CELTA trainee or experienced teacher to go and buy this book. It is most likely in most English teacher’s staffroom but it is one of those books that you will return to and those teachers that have completed the CELTA, who had not bought this book, should really purchase Practical English Usage.

4. “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener

TEGThis is the second book by Scrivener that I am recommending but this is not to suggest that I swayed by his books. Although Teaching English Grammar had not been published when I took the CELTA course in 2008, I was introduced to it when it was first published. Had this been available in my course, it would have helped immensely during the lesson planning stage. Scrivener aids the reader through various things to consider when teaching areas of grammar with suggested context building activities, language practice ideas, suggested concept checking questions  (CCQs) as well as possible learner errors occurring for each grammar item. It is incredibly useful and despite not having this book during my CELTA days, it has been great to get some ideas for teaching.

5. “Grammar for English Language Teachers” by Martin Parrott

GFELTThis is a wonderfully organised book which breaks down grammar into easy-to-understand chapters. As with some of the previous books which I have recommended, Grammar for English Language Teachers was recommended for the CELTA course as it could be referred to during the written assignments. As with previous reference books, this grammar book offers the reader the chance to consider some key aspects, provides the key forms of the referred grammar, typical difficulties for language learners, as well as some consolidation exercises to practice what has been learnt and improve your skills as a language teacher. When I speak to other teachers, they always tell me this is a good place to start when preparing lessons for teaching grammar.

6. “The Book of Pronunciation” by Jonathan Marks and Tim Bowen

TBOPThere are a few books that focus solely on pronunciation and after my CELTA course, I purchased Sound Foundations, by Adrian Underhill. I just found this book a little too theoretical yet with a bit more reading and focus, there were some suggested practical ideas and they were great. I do in fact recommend Sound Foundations for those that are interested in pronunciation as an area. However, with The Book of Pronunciation, the authors have created some fantastic ideas for isolated lessons on a range of pronunciation areas such as homophones, stress, intonation, as well as many other areas. This book offers some interesting areas which CELTA trainees could incorporate as part of their lesson and had I acquired this book before my training, I would have been able to experiment during teaching practice.

7. “An A-Z of ELT” by Scott Thornbury

AAZOEWhen you start your CELTA course, there is a lot of acronyms you need to get your head around; TTT, STT, CCQs, ICQs, PPP, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming to be honest and you have a lot of other things to think about such as your lesson planning, assignments and input sessions that you need to attend. Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT offers a quick reference for all those hard-to-learn acronyms and abbreviations, and as everything is in alphabetical order you can find terms quite quickly.  As well as this, the book provides the trainee some background reading into some of the theories and ideas behind language acquisition and learning. Once you have finished the CELTA, Thornbury’s book can be referred to as you develop as a teacher and is also recommended for the DELTA, should you decide a few years later to do this.

8. “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

CMTApologies but this is going to be the third and final book that I recommend which is written by Scrivener, but to be honest his books are great for those individuals undertaking or wishing to undertake the CELTA. Nevertheless, one key element which is focused on the CELTA course is the area of classroom management which is heavily focused upon during the observed teaching practice. I remember the trainers telling me to improve my instructions and reducing teacher talking time (TTT). Of course it is useful to receive such feedback about classroom management but there was minimal reading with relation to this. However, with Scrivener’s latest publication, Classroom Management Techniques, he hopes to fill this void. The book is easy to read with some great illustrations, and it great for any teacher training sessions which I focus on with experienced teachers. There are many areas that Scrivener focuses on which include; the classroom, the teacher, the learner, lessons, etc. As with previous recommendations, this book is invaluable for the day-to-day running of a course and it offers some wonderful ideas to think about should you have trouble with a class or selected learners. At the end of each chapter, there are some questions for reflection on particular areas of classroom management. Unfortunately, this book had not been published when I took the CELTA course but it was one of those books that I purchased immediately as soon as it was available.

9. “ABC of Common Grammatical Errors” by Nigel Turton

ABOCGEThis book, by Nigel Turton, seems to be in short supply but if you can get your hands on ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, it would be highly recommended. The book is organised alphabetically with particular words and grammar forms. Nigel illustrates some common errors – these could unsuitable words, word order or grammatical errors – as well as their corrections in a systematic and organised way. This book can be easily referred to during the CELTA course to assist in anticipated errors for students and this could be written into lesson plans.  It would also assist in the developing awareness while teaching English and the potential pitfalls that language learners may encounter. With this book, you will be armed to to write your lesson plans in the best way possible. Get this book and you will not regret it. However, what this book lacks in possible errors that particular nationalities may encounter is recommended by the final book in this post.

10. “Learner English” by Michael Swan

LEThis is the final book for this list and also the second recommended in this post which is written by Michael Swan. Learner English, much like ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, is a highly informative book which prepares trainees in teaching and possible errors and first language interference possible language learners may encounter while acquiring English. Swan’s book focuses on potential phonological and grammatical errors based upon particular language speakers and this is invaluable for trainee teachers or those teachers new to particular speakers of a language. Each focus on language speaker, such as Arabic, has a general breakdown of phonological areas which are common in their first language and those phonological sounds which are not transferred to English. As well as this, the book also covers grammar and sentence construction with a literal and more reader-friendly translation to aid readers in judging how particular nationalities create sentences in their own language and better anticipate potential first language interference. As with other books, this book will help teachers develop their awareness of teaching various learners as well as monolingual groups of students. It is really useful and I would always recommend this book to trainee and experienced teachers.

So this is my top ten list of recommended books for the CELTA but what books would you recommend? Do you have any favourite books that you like to refer to on a daily or weekly basis? What books do you always read? As always, leave your comments below.

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