Jonathan Last has taught English to adults and children in Europe and Asia. In this extract from his hilarious autobiographical novel Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline, he lists the teaching tool that he can’t live without.
''I’ve come to the realisation that I would be in big trouble without flashcards. They’re my flexible friends, three boxes of cards itemising, amongst other things: jobs; clothing; sports; school subjects; food; action verbs; classroom items; animals; household rooms and objects; prepositions of place and movement; transportation; weather; and countries – each with the word written underneath in English.
They’re adaptable for all lesson topics and ability levels. Lower levels can simply try to read the word, based on just the picture, or they can get into groups and arrange the cards into likes and dislikes, or draw and label the other examples of the same category. Higher levels can play card games with them, or put them into the appropriate place in a sentence written on the board, or even make up a story using random cards from different categories.
Other classroom items I can’t live without are Blu-tac (for sticking stuff up and bribery – it’s not sold out here, and continues to fascinate the children), colouring pencils, and my glue gun for making wall displays. Honourable mention should also go to dice, coloured paper, and tennis balls, the last for throwing back and forth between teacher and students, saying a new vocabulary word or the next word in a sentence each time – a great way to liven up vocabulary exercises.
The group I’ve dubbed ‘Older Class’ are less impressed with props, so my most vital tool with them is something intangible: the confidence to try new things. My supervisor Soon-yi’s still adamant that they should cover a certain amount of the textbook per week, but we rarely get as far as I plan, since they always want to chat to me in English.
Coming up on six months in the job, I’m starting to trust my instincts on what to do with my students and, in this case, my instinct tells me that these young people enjoy talking in English, whether it’s Lindsay telling me about breaking up with her boyfriend (then getting back together with him, then breaking up again), or Tom recounting his favourite WWE wrestlers, or Brian telling me what he did last weekend and asking me about how I spent mine.
So I decide to let Older Class go off on their talking tangents at the start of every lesson and also add free talking time at the end of class when I need filler – hangman and Pictionary are a bit beneath this lot. Feeling that I’m building genuine confidence in their speaking, coupled with getting a little insight into their lives and characters, makes this the most gratifying part of the TEFL experience so far. After all, drumming the correct sentence forms and grammar into their heads is one thing, but helping them to be comfortable just chatting away in English is surely invaluable.''
Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline is available to download to PC, Kindle, Ipad and other e-book reading devices.
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