On the way home from work on Friday, I listened to a How Reverse Psychology Works on the How Stuff Works podcast. The two narrators argued that they found reverse psychology to be manipulative, and if anything teaches children to not listen to you. It got me thinking about the way I interacted with my pupils during my year spent in Prague, where I taught English at a primary school.
Here are some of the ideas I adopted to help with the lesson:
#1 – Between Four Walls
As a foreign English teacher, it goes one of two extreme ways. You either get the best classroom, or the worst. For me, as a teacher, it was the worst. It was good in the sense that:
- I had a blackboard and a whiteboard
- The room was colourfully decorated with some English words painted on the walls
- It had access to pens, pencils, glue, paper etc.
However, the school wanted the children to sit on bouncy cushions around car-shaped tables and didn’t bother replacing the mostly-broken wooden chairs we preferred them to sit on. There was also a small stage in the corner of the room that the children could jump on, or hide underneath, or even lift open the heavy flap in the middle of the stage if they fancied some more hiding. And we had a treehouse.
As all teachers know, we learn to adapt. For my Grade 1 class, I wrote their names on the board and gave them a point as soon as they were sat down on a CHAIR at a table and facing the board. They earned other points during the lesson if they did their work quietly, or explained something well, or helped a friend. In regards to the treehouse… well, a treehouse is a treehouse, isn’t it? I’m 23 years old and if I see one, I will still want to climb it.
My way of getting around the Treehouse Saga worked best with Grade 4. I left a small note on the treehouse, saying that if they sat there, they would get a 5 in their Notysek. The Notysek was a small book that teachers marked their behaviour in; 1 good, 5 bad etc. A few would point out the notes and ask me about them; if they played the ‘well I’m going to sit here anyway’ card then I said that was fine, and reached for their Notysek. I stayed calm. I actually gave them the opportunity to misbehave, rather than angrily drilling out the rules at the beginning.
And you know what? It helped the class develop this laid-back environment, which in turn made the pupils more relaxed in learning a foreign language in front of their peers. They knew I wasn’t going to bore the rules into them. Instead I tried to present the rules in a quirky way, and for me, with that class, it worked.
#2 – Videos
There was one Grade 1 class that I really struggled with, as I felt each pupil was a loud and dominant character. One of the only times I could get them quietly together as a group focusing on one thing was if I showed them a video. And so for the last ten minutes of a lesson, we would watch a relevant video.
We had been learning foods, and what we didn’t like, and we watched an animated song that went like this:
“Do you like pizza? Do you like pizza?”
“Yes I do! Yes I do!”
“Do you like broccoli? Do you like broccoli?”
“Yes I do! Yes I do!”
“Do you like…. pizza broccoli?”
“No I don’t! Yucky!”
The kids loved it and sang it back to me. They even made up their own versions, in their own New Generation ways- Do you like cheese? Do you like Cheese? Yes I do! Yes I do! Do you like Wifi? Do you like Wifi? Yes I do! Yes I do! Do you like Cheese Wifi? And so on. I felt playing videos at the end of a class helped, as they didn’t directly think it was part of the lesson when really it rounded up all they had learnt!
You can watch the video here: Super Simple Songs (Link opens in new window)
#3 – Do the Gwen Stefani
That’s right; Don’t Speak. There were so many times with my classes that when I was speaking, my pupils weren’t listening. Sure, I spoke clearly and in a way that they could understand, but that didn’t mean it worked for them. Eventually, I stopped talking so much. I’d set activities up before the lessons, perhaps ones they’d played before, and just said the basic instructions; “Three Minutes. Go!” a countdown; “3, 2, 1”, or if I wanted the next answer “Good. Next! Max?”
It sounded good when they did most of the speaking, and not me. When they did hear my voice, they knew it was something relevant, and not me repeating rules or giving more examples. Obviously this is dependent on a lot of factors, but I found this worked really well, especially with my Grade 3 (9-10 years old) class. I’d ask pairs to read out dialogues, or we’d do the basic amount of work before I gave them free practice.
#4 – Do the Justin Bieber
One final tip: ask them What Do You Mean? In regards to their language! I held an after-school English club on a Thursday afternoon. As the class was optional, it was more laid-back, and so I used that opportunity to ask them things!
“Matyas, why does the man say ‘tady maš’ to me in a cafe? Oh! It means here you are!”
“Franta, when I’m in a shop, how do I ask the shopkeeper ‘I would like…’?”
Basically, being ignorance can help you out here. Going back to the Notyseks, they were divided by months and there was a page for each week. I signed it every Friday afternoon based on their weeks performance. When I first started, did I have any idea about that? Of course not! And do you know how I learnt? Well, my wonderful little pupils explained it to me. They’d list out numbers, do little rolls with their hands, demonstrate, use whatever relevant English words they knew to explain to me that this was a diary I had to sign on a weekly basis on a scale from 1-5, where 1 was good, and 5 was bad. It also served as a funny ice-breaker as they loved my pronunciations!
So these were just four of the ways I learnt to control my classroom. They might be ways you’ve read about before, or even ways you shouldn’t practice.
But they helped me, and I think that each teacher in each class is different every time. If you have any other advice/tips, please let me & my readers know in the comments below! Thank you!