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Things I have to have in my lesson: Part 1

I was reading a magazine the other day. It was one of those magazines about making your home beautiful, a-la Martha Stewart. I don't particularly like home making magazines, and I don't like cooking, but there was an article in it by a famous chef I had never heard of, and he was waxing lyrical about the 10 things he could not do without in a kitchen when cooking one of his meals. One of them was canola oil. I don’t even know what canolas are, but it got me thinking. As an English teacher, what would my list of ‘must have’ items be for one of my award winning lessons?

Ok, I haven’t won any awards, but I have taught a lot of lessons, and thinking about it, yes, there are certain things I can not do without in my lessons. So here we go: “Steve’s Five Essentials in the Classroom” for a juicy and wholesome lesson:

  1. A whiteboard marker. Schools in Asia mostly use whiteboards now, though there are a few that still have chalkboards. Now in the ‘chalkboard schools’, there is almost always an abundance of chalk in a variety of soft hues to make your boardwork lively and colourful. Not so with ‘whiteboard schools’. Let me warn you, wars have been waged over whiteboard pens. Never mind the fuel crisis, this is serious. If there is a whiteboard pen lying around in a classroom, you can bet your bank account it’s a dry, lifeless facsimile of a whiteboard pen that died a gruesome death years ago. Carry your pens with you wherever you go! Watch them with a beady eye.

  2. Pictures. While whiteboard pens are great for writing and drawing on the board, nothing gets students’ attention more than a nice big colourful glossy picture. I’m back onto magazines now – they are an excellent source of interesting, colourful and hardy pictures. With a stash of these, you don’t need to try to waste time trying to draw. You get to play games with pictures too: you can show half of the picture, and get students to guess what it is; hide it somewhere in the room and have students find it; or if there are a lot of pictures, you can turn them over and have students play a pelmanism (oh man, you’re going to have to google that now); or cut the picture up and give everyone a little bit of it and have them reassemble it. The possibilities are endless. The more pictures, the more colourful and interesting the classroom!

  3. Students. These are crucial. In fact, without them, the lesson is a dismal failure. Don’t waste any of this great resource by ‘teaching the book’. If there are students, use them as much as possible: get them moving, talking, shouting cutting up your pictures, writing on the whiteboard with your precious markers, whatever. The busier the students are, the more fun the lesson is, and the more learning takes place. Now, here’s a funny thing – students are very predictable: they all love talking about themselves. How cool is that? I wish the teachers I had at school had known this – I’m pretty sure that to them we were an nuisance rather than a resource.

  4. A watch. I get carried away in lessons, and so lose track of time. Not every school in Asia has a bell system, and teachers are expected to monitor their own progress and wrap up their lessons in good time. Even if there is a bell, it catches you off-guard if you aren’t careful, and students get restless if you say something inane like “Let’s finish this before you go to lunch.” Best to watch the time. Watches can also be good for games, especially if there is a stop-watch built in: “You’ve got one minute. Let’s see which group can think of the most things you can do with a lemon. Go!”

  5. A lesson plan. In the TESOL course, planning is one of the first things you get to learn about, and then you practice making plans- lots of them. They can be tedious, but a good plan acts as a guide, jogs your memory when you get lost, ensures you have thought the lesson through properly and give you the confidence to take control of the lesson right from the beginning. Plan well, and lessons work better!

Right then. Those are our Five Essentials for Ultimate Lessons. Never leave the staffroom without them.

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