Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Working without materials and guidance

Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery

One teacher explained his problems:

I however, have no book. No photocopying availability, no overhead, but an ample supply of chalk. And my own head. I love teaching these students, they usually respond to me quite well, I think I do quite a good job, and yet I face the task each weekend of composing next weeks classes.... the Chinese teachers keep telling me all I need to do is talk English to the students, etc).

Yes, yes, yes! I was there last semester. I had to teach three textbook-less classes: Video Conversation, Newspaper and Magazine Reading, and Advanced Writing. When I asked my supervisor what sort of conversation/reading/writing tasks do the students in these classes need to be capable of doing by the end of the term, she looked at me like she had never asked herself that question before.

She told me to just tell the students some interesting things that only native speakers know. Well, I tried to imagine what the students would need/want to learn in those areas, but I ran out of ideas about midterm. And I had had a TEFL course, so taking a course isn't the answer.

What I needed was a syllabus (in case that is an Americanism, I mean an outline of the topics for study, including a schedule of when each one will be discussed in class). It's not too late for you to create one. Try listing some general topics (dating, aliens, study habits, the future of China, clothing, health and sickness, tourism).

Plan one for each class period remaining in the semester. And start brainstorming now for interesting ways to present them. For dating, you could have pair up students to role play the worst date ever.

Students could discuss questions like (asking the boys), "what do you look for in a girlfriend?" and (asking the girls), "what do boys look for in a girlfriend?" and see if the answers match. For aliens, you could discuss whether students believe there is life on other planets, and have them draw pictures of what that life would look like, if it exists. Then, without showing their partner the picture, they must explain in English how to draw the alien. Their partner tries to draw a matching picture.

The problem is that my situation doesn't fit most of the usual teacher textbooks (where it is assumed, for example, that you teach your class all aspects of English in the same course, ie. alternating writing, speaking, reading, grammar and so on).

My advice is, don't worry about encroaching on the other aspects of English. If it's easier for you to have the students write something, then swap papers and read each other's work, and then discuss it, rather than having to pull discussion topics out of thin air, go ahead and include the reading and writing.

Most Chinese students complain that they can read and write far more words than they can say in English; that they can recite far more grammar rules than they can apply correctly when speaking. They need help relating these other things to their oral English, and that can't happen if reading, writing, and grammar are totally banished from the Oral English classroom.

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