Teach English in Daming Zhen - Chifeng Shi

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I have been teaching English for almost 30 years. I started during my college years when I tutored primary school children individually or in small groups. At that time I had many young students and I enjoyed teaching so much that it definitely influenced my choice of profession in the years to come. During my long career I have taught all age groups at almost all levels. For me, each age group is different but equally interesting to teach. The younger the children are the faster they respond and show results. School children are fun to teach but quite demanding as there is usually a problem with maintaining discipline in the classroom. Teenagers are the most difficult age group to teach as it is hard to engage them and keep them focused but once you have reached them, they respond well. As for adults, they are the least demanding group, highly motivated, eager to participate in class but sometimes impatient and with unrealistic expectations. I will never forget my first kindergarten lesson. It was back when I was still in college with very little practical experience in the classroom. I was asked to substitute for a colleague and I gladly accepted. I was given the lesson plan, the list of students’ names as well as all the teaching tools and instructions. When I entered the classroom all my plans and preparations vanished in an instance. I remember being totally shocked with the noise level, constant chatter and my inability to bring order to the classroom. It seemed as if there were 50 children in a group whereas there were only about 13. I do not remember the content of my lesson but I do remember vowing never to teach small children again. Needless to say I have broken this vow numerous times and learned to love and appreciate teaching small children. People who are not teachers think that teaching small children is much easier than teaching adults but the truth is exactly the opposite. When you teach a group of five-year-olds you are not just a teacher, you are more often an entertainer whose task is to create a fun lesson which will result in children learning something new and interesting. For small children learning a language is (or it should be) like playing a fun game with their peers. However, in order to prepare an interesting and successful lesson a teacher needs to take many elements into consideration. I will list just a few. Young children have very short attention spans and it is important to have several 5 -10 minute activities prepared and some extra, just in case. The activities need to vary. You may want to start the lesson with a game which will engage the children and prepare them for the next part of the lesson or you may want to ease them into the lesson by reviewing songs and vocabulary they already know. I usually kick off the lesson with a simple ‘Simon says’ activity which all children find interesting and as they learn more vocabulary this activity gets more and more elaborate. (“touch your friend’s ear”, “point to the blue book under the table”, etc.) Sometimes we turn this activity into a competition but only if losing does not upset the children. After that we do our ‘circle time’ reviewing songs and vocabulary they already know. This activity is very important as repetition is essential for language acquisition. Other activities are games involving various teaching aids like pictures, board games, cards, real objects, masks, puppets, etc. or games involving movement. I strongly believe in TPR method which is the most natural way for a child to learn a language so I try to include as much action and movement into each of my lessons. The choice of materials is also of great importance. Children prefer colorful activity books with interesting characters which they can identify with. Although I bring a lot of extra materials into the classroom, I think their ‘book’ should be filled with age appropriate activities which keep them occupied and entertained at the end of the lesson. Sometimes when I teach a mixed ability group I tailor the lessons to meet the needs of students with different range of abilities and I do not use a class/ activity book at all. However, having a book gives the course better structure and it definitely makes the teacher’s job easier. When choosing a course book it is important to thoroughly review it and listen to all the audio material (songs and dialogue) as some of them might be quite boring and useless in the classroom. My students enjoy role playing and acting so I often transform well-known fairy tales and assign roles. They never get tired of repeating the same lines over and over again as long as they are role playing. Also, I have to mention the problem of classroom management. Creating and maintaining a disciplined class can be very challenging. To avoid problems later, rules of behavior should be introduced at the beginning of the course and the teacher needs to remain firm but fair and consistent. Unfortunately, I am one of those teachers who still occasionally has ‘difficult to manage’ classes. Although, the quality of my teaching never suffers, I sure do. So, in order to avoid my mistakes the best advice I give young teachers is: “stick to your rules, have a ton of activities prepared and try to keep the children busy and entertained”. Of course, there is so much more I could say about this topic but I hope what I wrote clearly shows that after all these years I still enjoy teaching little ones. Nothing beats the feeling when your four-year-old students run to you in the street just to give you a hug or when your ex-students, who are now parents themselves, bring their kids to your school to be taught by you.