Today I thought I’d provide a slightly more detailed look at how we usually go about teaching English. If you’re a native speaker, it might be interesting to get a look at the rules and structures of the language which you’re not normally aware of. If you’re a non-native speaker, you’ve probably learned this already, but it might be useful to get a top-up!
I’m going to go through a fairly typical lesson, then make a few notes about it afterwards.
Get students to talk in pairs, and talk about their daily routine for 3 minutes. Afterwards, get feedback from one or two students.
Next, give students the following text:
Every Saturday I usually get up early and go for a run. In the afternoon, I generally go shopping and do some housework. I often go out in the evening. Today is different though. At the moment I’m writing this on the beach. I’m travelling around Spain, because I decided I needed a holiday. I’m really enjoying it here!
Then, the students answer the following questions:
- What does she usually do on Saturdays?
- Is this Saturday different?
- Does she live in Spain?
Once you’ve confirmed the answers, elicit or explain the different forms of the present simple and present continuous, and their meanings:
- Present simple: used for routines (e.g. I go shopping)
- Present continuous: used for temporary present situations, either happening right now (I’m writing this on the beach) or in a longer but still temporary present period (I’m travelling around Spain)
Then, get the students to complete the following exercise:
Complete the gaps with the correct form of the verb:
I (work) in the university. At the moment, I (to work) on an important project.
Today I (to take) the train to work. Normally I (to drive), but my car is at the mechanic’s.
I (to live) in Galway. At the moment I (to live) with my parents while I search for a new apartment.
Finally, get the students to mingle freely as a group, asking each other the following questions, and changing partners every two minutes:
Do you work or study? Where?
What do you usually do at the weekend?
Is there anything interesting happening in your life at the moment?
Where are you living?
First of all, this is a pretty basic lesson. I might a point not to try to present the most amazing lesson ever, to give you an idea of a very typical lesson. Also, it can be very easy for a teacher to rely too much on “fun” activities, which can often get draining for students. Plus, this can make the teacher rely on the exercises to do the heavy lifting. A good teacher can do a lot with pretty ordinary materials as long as they bring their own knowledge into the lesson, and encourage the students to figure out the language themselves.
Which is ideally what will happen in this lesson. First of all, the opening of the lesson is intended to get the students to use the target language of the lesson themselves. Ideally, when you’re presenting the language to them, you can use examples they provided in this stage, to boost their confidence, and make them aware of the practical benefit of the language.
This is also the idea behind the text: to present the language to them in a realistic fashion. This is all part of the meaning-focussed approach to the lesson. The point is that the students will first know the meaning of the language, before you hit them with grammatical terms. Starting the lesson by saying Now we’re going to look at the present simple. With the present simple, you begin a sentence with a subject, then you follow it with the present-simple form of a verb, then… will put students off, and make the target language seem abstract and boring. Ideally, the students will first know the actual meaning of the target language, illustrated through realistic examples. Then you can get them to tell you (or you tell them) the names of the tenses, and their structures.
As for the questions after the text, they’re to help the students figure out the meanings of the two grammar forms in question, by noticing them in the text if they haven’t already done so. You could just as easily do these orally, and it’d be a simple way to make the lesson feel a little looser.
You can also get into the details of forming questions and negative sentences, depending on the length of the lesson and the level of the students.
The fill-the-gaps exercise is to confirm the meaning and structure of the language. If you’re just looking at one tense, this will be pretty straightforward. This is why looking at two grammatical forms together, where possible, is effective. You can get the students to figure out which one to use for each gap, forcing them to think of the meaning of each sentence, and therefore which form to use, reinforcing the meaning of each form. Also, I like to keep these exercises pretty short. They’re useful for checking what students have learned in the lesson so far, and helping them fine tune what they know, but they often don’t require much imagination (especially when you’re only looking at one grammar form) and can get boring. Students are also often already sick of them, as language teachers in primary and secondary school can be over-reliant on them.
For all the exercises so far, I’d get the students to work in pairs. This is simply more interesting than working alone, but it also helps the learners to figure things out, and can be useful for pairing weaker students with stronger to help them along.
Finally, the last exercise gets the students to actually use the target language in a realistic situation. This follows the general plan of a typical grammar or vocabulary lesson based on the three P’s: Present the target language, get the students to Practise it, and then Produce it.
You can have a lot of variation within this structure but it’s fairly effective. The main things to consider are making the lesson relevant to the students’ lives, and to involve them in the lesson by figuring things out themselves, rather than just explaining things to them. And that’s what you really want from a lesson: it’s relevant to the students, involves them actively, and demonstrates how the language is used in real life. Once you’ve covered those, you’ve got a pretty effective lesson.