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Teaching Tips 6

Lesson beginnings
Placement testing for large numbers of students
Vocabulary Cards

Lesson Beginnings

Do you have set things you do at the start of a lesson? It all depends on the group you're dealing with. Some students may always arrive late so you may need to fill in before all are there or they might be particularly chatty & want to talk about what has happened to them since the last lesson.

Here are a few ideas:

- chat about the day/weekend/news - a nice natural start

- review what you did in the last lesson(s)

- go through the 'menu' that you've written at one of the top corners, a brief outline of what you have planned to cover e.g.
2.grammar: present perfect simple
3.written practice
4.speaking practice
Tell the students why you are doing this lesson, how it relates to what has come before & how it will help them.

- give a 'warmer' activity - could be tied into the theme of the lesson or unrelated. For a list of warmers.

- by way of a weekly warmer the Economist magazine at issues two weekly summaries of
'Business This Week' & 'Politics This Week'. These consist of three/four line summaries of world news relating to the two areas. Great discussion points as it is inherently interesting for everyone & the students really appreciate you taking the material in each week.

- check out 'Planning Lesson to Lesson' by Woodward et al (Longman) - here they talk about timetabling threads & one of the many ideas, is to provide newspaper articles for the students when they arrive in the class. The teacher chooses the articles given to individuals based on what is known about each student's interests. A bit of work but if you usually read English language newspapers then the materials are there in front of you.

- give back & take in homework - this might be a chance to talk to individuals about work you're giving back while everyone arrives.

It's a good idea to get the group speaking in English to each other in the first five minutes of a lesson. Because of the nature of the tasks you set it might be easy for the students not to have talked to each other until way into the lesson.

Have you got any other ideas for beginnings? We'll look at endings in another tip.

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Placement testing for large numbers of students
You might be about to start intensive courses & contemplating all the placement testing before you can get the actual course going. A few years ago I worked a couple of summers at the Bell School in Cambridge & we had to sort out 150+ students before they began a three week intensive course.

So instead of the usual written gap fill/multiple choice & oral test, we gave a dictation. This consisted of ten sentences which went from easy to very difficult. Each sentence was written out with slashes where we should pause i.e. in tone units. For example one of the (easy) sentences might be: The old man / who lived in Paris / lived round the corner / from his friend Charles.

All ten sentences were dictated to a room full of students & then their scripts were collected & marked - the number of errors were counted up. Then the scripts were grouped into similar marks. There were six teachers so we had six groups. The students were grouped according on their dictation mark.

The teacher, on the first day or so, then decided what level they were & what coursebook to use. Any outstanding misplacements were then resolved & it was surprising how few changes there were. It all took a small part of the time that it would take to traditionally test the students.

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Vocabulary Cards
How do you keep track of the vast amount of vocabulary that is either presented or crops up in the lessons? There's just so much of it that is vital to a student's progress & if it isn't recycled then it's lost. So it's up to you to help organise the student with their notebooks & give them strategies to recycle language.

In the class a nice idea to stay on top of the vocabulary is to write each word that comes up on a card. The word, stress & phonemic script is on one side & the meaning on the back. These are collected in a box with the most recent put at the back. Each lesson you can choose the activity - warmer, cooler or filler - to do with the next six/eight words at the front of the box. This could be a guessing game or a spontaneous conversation where they have to use the words as much as possible. After the activity these six cards are then put at the back of the box, so the cards continually rotate.

It means that you have to be disciplined each lesson & make sure you don't forget. Better still, you could get the students to write the cards!

The cards also provide you with a record of the vocabulary to draw on for progress & end of term/course evaluations. An organised approach to what can be a chaotic area.

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