Teaching English: I Have My Own English Class! — By Lydian Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America Tips

Teaching English: I Have My Own English Class! — By Lydian Shipp

Some of the classes are big, some are small. I’m mostly going to be teaching private lessons at first with just one or two students.

Tonight I taught an English class for a 10-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. I was told at first they were two 11-year-olds, then that they were 8 and 9, but they both seem their age. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to handle two kids on my own. I’ve worked with kids a lot, but never really on my own in the way I would be working with kids in an English class.

Aloisius (the boy) was supposedly a problem, but to me he seems like a normal 12-year-old. He likes black and red, sharks because they eat flesh, and crocodiles because they’re reptiles. He’s moody and has a bit of an edge, but he asks questions, is open to responses, and comes up with answers if I ask him why about something. He was a little guarded at the beginning of class, but he warmed up to me a bit after I told him that my favorite colors were black and red, too.

The girl, Aranza, is cool. She likes pearl and coral and has five favorite pets. Thinking back on myself when I was ten, I personally think this has to do with kids starting to form an identity by choosing unique ways of looking at the world on purpose. She gets along fine with her brother, it seems, which is good since they’re in a class together.

Their mom came up to meet me at the beginning of their class (not something I’ve seen moms do very often), and then stayed downstairs with their dad (I think) for the entire 2-hour class. After, she asked me what I thought about how they were doing. I’ve never had an experience like that working with parents in the States. I was able to talk to her in English, so thankfully I could express what I actually thought about their progress.

In terms of the English class itself though, they both seemed to like the Wordchain game, which sort of surprised me. (The Wordchain game is where the teacher writes a word on the board, and then the students have to continue by writing words that begin with the last word’s last letter. For example: Dog – Good – Done – Ear – Read – Duck – Kitchen… This is also known as “Last Letter, First Letter”) I wasn’t sure how this one would work, but it was important because it helped me figure out what they knew quickly. And, I was able to then teach them by correcting their spelling and making suggestions if they couldn’t think of a word (that way they learned some new words).

Aloisius made a blue cat, and Aranza made a green dog. While Aranza was finishing making her dog, Aloisius made some kittens and a food dish for the cat.

The other “game” they seemed to like is what I’m calling Flashcard Sentences/Questions. I put out a three-by-three grid of flashcards facedown on the table (making sure they don’t have English on the back) and replenished the grid every once and a while. Then, they took turns choosing flashcards. For instance, if one got a flashcard for “table,” then they had to form a sentence or question with the word “table.” If they ask a question, the other person has to answer (double practice!). Whoever has the most flashcards at the end is the winner.

At the end of the class, I pulled out some clay and had them make animals (I told Aloisius to make a blue cat and Aranza to make a green dog). I was somewhat concerned about this activity, because I couldn’t quite picture how it would work… Would it be boring? Was it actually a valuable language learning activity? Or… What if I couldn’t pull it off and give it meaning in terms of learning English?

Everything turned out, though.

They were both really good at it! It was a more low key activity, since there wasn’t as much talking while they were working with the clay, but in terms of language learning I think the key was exploring the smaller details of the item being made. For instance, they were making animals. So, I’d sometimes ask them about what they were making or what something was in regard to things like paws, whiskers, and fur. They had told me at the beginning of the class that they had a lot of pets (over 20), so I thought that having them make a cat and a dog and then discussing vocabulary related to these two animals would be interesting and useful to them in their everyday lives.

With these particular kids the silence in this activity gave them a chance to ask random questions about English. For instance, Aranza asked how to say, “it’s raining.” I assume that this wouldn’t be the case with all kids, but it worked this time.

I got out the toy animals in this class, too. I’m definitely going to need to figure out how to work the whole toy animal thing better. It’ll take some thought… I’m thinking that I need to prepare some specific topics and questions to work with so I don’t get lost. The animals did give them something to do with their hands while we talked, however. The boy had chosen a lion as his animal, and the lion kept going over to prey (hippos, whales, birds, etc.) and trying to eat them.

At the end of class, we discussed homework. Because they had another class the next morning, I thought I’d try a writing assignment where they had to write four sentences about their pets. My mom and I have talked about how writing assignments can be boring and irrelevant if the classes are too far apart, since you forget a lot of what you wrote and stop caring about it (which means the opportunity for learning is lower).

Aranza showed her my notebook at the very end of class, and it had a lot of worksheets in it. I asked her if she liked worksheets… I remember having fun with worksheets sometimes when I was a kid, and I still find them valuable in some situations. But, both kids said that they didn’t like worksheets. In my opinion, if the homework isn’t fun and engaging, then they won’t learn (or at least, they won’t want to). So, I’m gonna try and figure out what they get excited about and work with that.

It was a fun class, though, and I hope I get to keep teaching them! They’re cool kids, and they’re fun to teach, so I’d be very excited if I got to.

(UPDATE: I get to keep teaching them… they liked me, so now I get to keep them as students! Yay! I’m super excited for tomorrow’s class… we’ll see how it goes! :-D)

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