Monday, October 4, 2010


I have been officially working as ESL teacher for nearly four years. The little French school I teach at, Courte Echelle, has become an important part of my daily routine and I can't believe I've told you so little about it! Today's post might be a bit off topic if what you're interested in are exotic African stories. However, I have been thinking about what I've learned while teaching small children (clearly, still so much learning to be done!) and I really feel like putting it in writing. So today's special is a bit different from all the other ones: ESL tips for those who must confront a bunch of scary 6-year-olds on a daily basis.

Routine is not always a bad thing
Actually, kids happen to love it. They need a sense of continuity and they like the safety of knowing what to do. Of course, I am not suggesting that you do the same thing every time! However, I keep the framework of my class pretty much unchanged throughout the year. This means that we start by singing a hello song (and I must admit that we dance a little bit, too) and waving at one another. Then, I take my little magic ball and throw it to one of the kids, asking the question I want to drill (usually two questions, always starting with What's your name?, as this is a relaxing easy English they all know). The first child throws the ball to whoever s/he chooses and now it's her/his turn to ask the question. While all the kids have a go (and, even though it might seem boring, they just love throwing the ball!), I stick the name tags they had made in their first class on the board. Now that all the students' names are up on the board, the class can officially start. And it will always finish in the same way: with a bye-bye song and praising/scolding.

Discipline is a must
English classes are special. We sing, we dance, we play games and the teacher, who speaks in a funny way, is always a bit of a clown. It's not difficult to forget that we're still at school and appropriate behaviour is still a requirement. Believe me, even good children can get extremely naughty if you let them. I still occasionally have discipline problems and I do get exasperated at times. My method is probably the oldest one known to mankind: carrot and stick. I know, I know, there surely exist new fashionable methods to deal with the little monsters, but praising and punishing seems to be working best. At the beginning of the class, all students get a little plus next to their name tag. If they keep it until the end of the lesson, they will get a prize (five minutes for playing a game, singing their favourite song, or simply a sticker). If they lose it (chatting, no homework or no work done in class...), they must watch their diligent friends happily stick their smiley on a behaviour chart, and re-think their strategy for getting one themselves next time. Promising a cool game usually works but remember to be consequent: kids never forget a promise made to them! And when the whole group gets naughty? I punish them by making the next class extremely boring: no songs, no ball, no name tags, no game. Instead, filling out handouts in complete silence. Appropriate behaviour next time guaranteed!

If it's pretty, if it's active, then it's fun!
Kids have to like the materials you bring in. When I started here in Gabon, I had practically nothing when it comes to teaching materials. Internet was my only solution. Surprisingly, it turned out that, if you know where to look, there are thousands of activities available in the web. I downloaded hundreds of colourful flashcards, boardgames, crosswords and ideas. Children love to look at pretty pictures (colourful ones, above all), they want to touch them, they are happy to name the objects and the number of flashcard games is infinite. I let them play with most of the materials (some of which are simply toys, as the mentioned ball or Teddy the teddy bear), and they love it.
Also, don't forget that your little students are, well, little. It's difficult for them to sit calmly in one place and focus on what you're doing. They need to change the activity every ten to fifteen minutes and it's best to include active games - running, jumping and dancing are always a hit - in your lesson. Change the pace as often as you can: after a song do some colouring or writing, then a game including running or hopping, then a quiet activity, and so on... Until the bell rings. Remember not to be in the middle of a game when it does, though - your students will be disappointed!

Important links for desperate teachers
And the not-so-desperate ones, too. I've downloaded tons of wonderful flashcards with matching worksheets from ESL Kids, and MES English was extremely helpful when it comes to all kinds of worksheets (customized ones, too) and games ideas. You can download great ESL songs from DreamEnglish, and Genki English is an amazing source of ingenious games. Oh, and don't forget the downloadable English books that you can print out, colour in and read!

This is only the first load of my ESL conclusions. I will bore you with some more soon. For now, join me in singing the bye-bye song and... I hope I managed to keep my plus!

Top picture: me at school during School's Day. Carrot and stick picture comes from here.

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