What I learned at school…

Matt | Teach English in China | Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Recently, I decided to make a few life changes – got married, moved back to Canada (for now), and went back to school – and they all have provided me with great learning (and terror) opportunities.  For now, I’d like to touch on what I learned at school…so far.  At teachers’ college the things they are focusing on are the same as what my first ESL teaching mentor, Nancy, taught me before going to China:

1) Get to know your students, and

2) Make it fun so they don’t realize they’re learning

Now I don’t know if I should be surprised that Nancy’s advice matched closely with what they are teaching at school.  But it shows me a little more into why she is such a successful teacher.

Get to know your students

Know what they like and dislike.  What is motivating to them?   What else is going on in their lives that could be influencing how they are acting in your classroom?  (and yes, for a lot of students learning your subject is actually not the highest priority for them!)  How do they learn best?  This last one was a bit of a shocker for me, because I slowly realized that everyone learns differently (visually, auditory, spatially, by themselves, with others, using numbers, or using music/drama/arts).  So by getting a better understanding of your students will allow you to teach more focused lessons.  Next, is to get them IN…

Make it fun so they don’t realize they are learning

If your students aren’t interested, or engaged, with what you’re teaching you’ve lost them.  So by making it fun is a great way to get them in.  Once they are interested you have a chance to teach and model some new information to them; you have a chance to teach them something new.  But first is you need to capture their attention.  You need to get them in.  You need to get them interested.  You need to get them engaged.  Some ways to do this are: to have movement in your classroom and stop lecturing so much.  Do more role plays.  Add music, art and drama to whatever you are teaching.  Insert creativity into your classrooms.  Add games that have a purpose.  Make it fun, so they don’t realize they are learning.  Please…

Oh, one last thing that we are being taught at school and that Nancy demonstrated without needing to state it directly is to be professional.  Teachers are professionals.  We need to create effective lesson plans.  We need to assess and evaluate our students.   We need to continually grow and learn how to become better teachers and learners.  This is something I need to continue to focus on.

Warmer Exercise

Matt | Teach English in China | Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

I usually struggle for some warm up exercises and recently I found two, and now have seemed to used them both up.

The first exercise is a simple warm-up exercise for Survival2-3 up to any level.  It is a fun movement, realia type speaking exercise.  You review with the students what you do or say when you first meet someone.  Such as:

  • :) Hi/Hello, How are you?  How do you do?
  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • What’s your job?
  • What are your hobbies/interests?

Then you get the students to ask 3 different people these questions and to ask at least 3 questions to each and remember names.  During this exercise, I can also remind them the proper use of “Excuse me” when they spend too much time with their first partner.  This exercise works well to get some movement and excitement into the beginning of the class.  It also allows the students to use the English in a relaxed (and loud) way.  To take it up sometimes I get one person to introduce one of their partners.  For the lower levels (Survival 2-3) I’d ask who spoke to…”Johnny” and what do we know of him?  This allows for very low risk answers.

Lately, this exercise has become dull, so fortunately I found a nice little derivation that I “commonly” use for my higher level students.  This one is done seated.  And I can review the topics we’d cover in a first time meeting.  But instead I get them to Find out 3 interesting things about their partner and to make sure they remember their name.  In trying to find out 3 interesting things, the students usually get pretty animated.  In taking it up, this time I get the student introduce their partner.

These are two warmers I “commonly” use.  I need to find more.

Eye Contact in the Classroom

admin | Teach English in China | Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I never realized how important eye contact was in the classroom, until my student told me.  She said, why didn’t you look at me in the class? She said it made her feel uncomfortable, my not looking at her.  Luckily it was my girlfriend, who was doing a mock lesson with me, so she felt more comfortable giving me this feedback.  But before that I never realized how eye-contact could affect the classroom.

Since then, I make a point early on in my lessons to make good eye contact with the students, especially during the introduction and warmers to show them I’m listening and I’m interested in talking with them for the next 55 minutes.

Here is a great resource The Internet TESL Journal, I recently stumbled upon that talks about eye contact in the classroom.  I had known and used this site before for English Corner questions, but I didn’t spend time digging around the other tabs, mainly because I didn’t like the look.  Today, as I had a class cancelled and some free time, I started digging and found out that this site is a gold-mine for an ESL teacher or someone who is interested in learning a second language.  I highly recommend you look around the different tabs and I’m sure you can find a few articles, lesson plans, or games that can improve your classes.

Want to be a better teacher? Join Toastmasters

Matt | Teach English in China,Toastmasters | Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Do you want to be a better teacher?  Join Toastmasters.

Do you want to be a better student?  Join Toastmasters.

Do you want to be a better leader/manager/all-around person?  Join … well… you know.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m a big fan of Toastmasters. Actually, it’s the main reason I’m teaching English here in China.  And now that I’ve found a club in China (there are many by the way) I’m quite happy about it again.  The reason I say Toastmasters can help you is that it’s a Communication and Leadership program. So anytime you need to communicate and/or lead this program can help.

How can Toastmasters help me become a better teacher?

Toastmasters helped me become a better teacher in many ways.

First, it helped me get comfortable standing in front of a group of people speaking.  A few years back I was deathly afraid of public speaking.  Joining Toastmasters helped me overcome and tame this fear.

Toastmasters also helped me get to China.  I was able to network and meet new people, “a friend of a friend, knew a recruiter in China, who was living in Toronto and who needed teachers”  and I landed my first teaching job in China.  So, Toastmasters is a good way to network and to meet such interesting people from different backgrounds.

But specifically, how can Toastmasters help me in the classroom?

Planning

In preparing speeches, or planning and organizing a TM meeting, one of the first steps is to decide on your objective.  Do you want to inform, entertain, persuade or inspire?  What’s the objective sentence of your speech?  This step, usually, is what makes the difference between a good speech and a bad speech.  Funny enough, having an objective is also what makes the difference between a good class and a bad class. When I look back on my bad classes, or English corners, I realized that usually the big reason was that I didn’t have a focused objective to the class

Giving Feedback

Through Toastmasters, I’ve learned and continue to learn better ways to give feedback.  I used to not give any or I would simply give very positive comments to keep up my students’ confidence.  But through Toastmasters I’ve learned that giving feedback, giving constructive comments, is how we can learn. It’s only through knowing these weak points and strong points can we do something about them; only by knowing our mistakes can we learn and improve them.  So now as a teacher I can give better feedback.

I’ve also learned that people don’t always like hearing all their faults, especially if you are like me and have a few (ahem ok more than a few).  Again, Toastmasters has helped me learn how to give feedback with the hope that the person listening will actually listen to what I say, take my advice and act on it.  The approach is called a sandwich approach: give some positive praise; give the negative feedback with specific details on how to improve; then end with a positive comment.  Again the more specific the better.

Evaluating

At Toastmasters we give a lot of evaluations, pretty much every kind you can think of: verbal: written; speech evaluations; meeting evaluations; grammar and word usage evaluations; clear speech evaluations (“Ahs, Uhms, nei ges”); time usage evaluations.  I’m learning that to be a good evaluator the first step is to be a good listener and to be able to focus your listening, usually, by listening through your eye contact and engaged body language.  I’ve also learned a technique called WCILFH. I often write this at the top of my page if I sense my interest leaving the speaker, which stands for

What Can I Learn From Him/Her?

As Confucius and Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, we can learn from everyone, and so in that everyone is my teacher. These evaluation and listening skills have helped translate into better evaluations by me to my students.

I still have lots of room to learn and to grow, but I’m quite sure that my teaching skills have improved dramatically because of Toastmasters.  I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here teaching in China without Toastmasters.
Thank you Toastmasters.

Need an Idea for English Corner? InsideOut.com

Matt | Insideout.com,Teach English in China | Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Recently I was scrambling to get an English corner topic ready a few minutes beforehand and a friend of mine gave a great tip: go to InsideOut.com, become a member for free, and check out their e-lessons.

This site has some fantastic ideas that are perfect for a one hour English corner lesson. They come with student notes, teachers notes and supplemental material. A great site for teachers on the rush.

4th August – Beijing Olympics

This week’s lesson focuses on the huge international sports event beginning in China on 8th August: the Olympic Games.

Level
Intermediate and above (equivalent to CEF level B1 and above)

Student’s Worksheet
PDF (40K)
DOC (66K)

Teacher’s Notes
PDF (22K)
DOC (32K)

Glossary based on the Macmillan English Dictionary and the Macmillan Essential Dictionary
PDF (28K)
DOC (43K)

Example:

The Beijing Olympic Games worksheet A

There is no (1) _________ that the Olympic Games, which begin on 8th August in Beijing, China, will be one of the biggest sporting events in history. Around 3 million Chinese and foreign visitors are expected to arrive in the city during the games, and more than 10,000 athletes will be (2) _________ at a total of 37 different venues. By the time the closing ceremony takes place on 24th August it is (3) _________ that between 3.5 and 4 billion people, out of the Earth’s total population of 6.7 billion, will have watched some part of the games on television.

This year’s Olympics consist of 28 different sports, some of which are divided into various different ‘disciplines’. Athletics, for example, consists of ‘track’ events such as (4) _________ races, and ‘field’ events such as pole-vaulting and javelin-throwing. Athletics is widely (5) _________ as the most glamorous part of the Olympics and probably gets the most international TV coverage, with hundreds of millions of viewers watching the finals of races such as the 100-metre sprint. The athletics events always take place in the largest (6) _________ , in this case the Beijing National Stadium, which has the nickname ‘the bird’s nest’ because of its unusual

(7) _________ from the outside.

Other Olympic sports that attract large TV (8) _________ in many parts of the world include basketball, football and gymnastics, while sports such as canoeing and archery have smaller audiences.

All the different venues in Beijing have been ready for some time – unlike in many previous Olympics, when some of the (9) _________ work was only completed at the last minute. There are, however, concerns about the possibility of air pollution affecting the competitors.

As always, some countries are very likely to do well in certain events – such as the East African nations (particularly Kenya) in the long-distance running, and Brazil and Argentina in the men’s football. The United States finished top of the medals

(10) _________ in the last Olympics in Athens in 2004 (with China in second place, Russia in third, Australia in fourth and Japan in fifth), and not many people would (11) _________ against their athletes repeating the achievement this year. However, it’s also the case that there are always some (12) _________ , such as when Argentina won the men’s basketball in Athens.

The Beijing Olympic Games worksheet B


Exercise 1

Fill in the gaps in the text on Worksheet A with the correct words from the table below. There are four extra words.

feared

journalists

venue

bet

winning

running

surprises

seen

table

disaster

competing

building

appearance

doubt

expected

audiences


The Beijing Olympic Games worksheet C

Exercise 2

Below is the text from Worksheet A, but it has been copied incorrectly and now contains twenty mistakes. Find and correct the mistakes.

There is no doubt that the Olympic Games, which beginning on 8th August in Beijing, China, will be one of the biggest sporting events in the history. Around 3 million Chinese and foreign visitors are expected to arrive in the city during the games, and more than 10,000 athletes will be competing at a total of 37 different venewes. By the time the closing ceremony takes place on 24th August it is expected that between 3.5 and 4 billion people, out of the Earth total population of 6.7 billion, will have watch some part of the games on television.

This year’s Olympics consist 28 different sports, some of which are divided to various different ‘disciplines’. Athletics, for example, consists of ‘track’ events such as running races, and ‘field’ events such as pole-vaulting and javelin-jumping. Athletics is widely seen as the most glamorous part of the Olympics and probably get the most international TV coverage, with hundreds of millions of viewers watching the finals of courses such as the 100-metre sprint. The athletics events always have place in the largest venue, in this case the Beijing National Stadium, which have the nickname ‘the bird’s nest’ because of its unusual appearance from the outside.

Other Olympic sports that attract large TV audiences in many parts of the world include basketball, football and gym, while sports such as canoeing and archery have smaller audiences.

All the different venues in Beijing are ready for some time – unlike in many previous Olympics, when some of the building work was only completed at last minute. There are, however, concerns about the possibility of air pollution affecting the competers.

As always, some countries are very like to do well in certain events – such as the East African nations (particular Kenya) in the long-distance running, and Brazil and Argentina in the men’s football. The United States finished top of the medals table in the last Olympics in Athens in 2004 (with China in second place, Russia in third, Australia in fourth and Japan in five), and not many people would bet against their athletes repeating the achieve this year. However, it’s also the case that there are always some surprises, such as when Argentina won the men’s basketball in Athens.


The Beijing Olympic Games worksheet D


There is no doubt that the Olympic Games, which begin on 8th August in Beijing, China, will be one of the biggest sporting events in history. Around 3 million Chinese and foreign visitors are expected to arrive in the city during the games, and more than 10,000 athletes will be competing at a total of 37 different venues. By the time the closing ceremony takes place on 24th August it is expected that between 3.5 and 4 billion people, out of the Earth’s total population of 6.7 billion, will have watched some part of the games on television.

This year’s Olympics consist of 28 different sports, some of which are divided into various different ‘disciplines’. Athletics, for example, consists of ‘track’ events such as running races, and ‘field’ events such as pole-vaulting and javelin-throwing. Athletics is widely seen as the most glamorous part of the Olympics and probably gets the most international TV coverage, with hundreds of millions of viewers watching the finals of races such as the 100-metre sprint. The athletics events always take place in the largest venue, in this case the Beijing National Stadium, which has the nickname ‘the bird’s nest’ because of its unusual appearance from the outside.

Other Olympic sports that attract large TV audiences in many parts of the world include basketball, football and gymnastics, while sports such as canoeing and archery have smaller audiences.

All the different venues in Beijing have been ready for some time – unlike in many previous Olympics, when some of the building work was only completed at the last minute. There are, however, concerns about the possibility of air pollution affecting the competitors.

As always, some countries are very likely to do well in certain events – such as the East African nations (particularly Kenya) in the long-distance running, and Brazil and Argentina in the men’s football. The United States finished top of the medals table in the last Olympics in Athens in 2004 (with China in second place, Russia in third, Australia in fourth and Japan in fifth), and not many people would bet against their athletes repeating the achievement this year. However, it’s also the case that there are always some surprises, such as when Argentina won the men’s basketball in Athens.

This was a life saver site for me and I highly recommend you visit for future ideas for your class.

Olympics Class

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08,Teach English in China | Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Now that the Olympics are on in Beijing, and that China is doing well, there is (added) excitement in my class. Having a TV in our school also creates a buzz, and background noise, but unfortunately the coverage is all in Chinese. Still it has provided some interesting discussions about events, for example, “What’s this event called where two people dive into the water at the same time…oh, it’s synchronized diving.” But, in watching my students addicted to the TV and to China’s performance it has created some challenges for me as I need to watch what I say.

There are many topics I’d like to talk about in class, yet I’m not sure how well received they’ll be, such as:

  • Is China cheating with their girls’ gymnastics team? (most of the girls look like they’ll still be under 16 for the London 2012 games). Is cheating ok if you don’t get caught?
  • Is coming in 2nd losing? It seems like all the focus is on the athletes and events that win gold medals only, but what about the athletes that come in 2nd, or 3rd. Is it failure or success to be the second best athlete in the world at their sport? It appears the results/performance is all the matters. Win or go home.
  • What is sportsmanship?

This one, Chinese understanding of sportsmanship, upsets me the most. Being someone who’s played sports for most of my life I’ve always grown up with the thought of being a good sport: it’s not whether you win or lose, but if you gave it your best effort; then you can’t lose, you can only get outscored (I borrowed this quote from the legendary Coach John Wooden). So when I saw my students cheering happily, screaming with joy every time an American female gymnast fell, made my blood boil. The sight of pure joy on my students’ faces and the painful sadness on the American athletes’ faces was such a contrast that it made me want to scream. But instead of screaming, I sent the crowd of watchers my most disgusting glare and tried to evaluate why it upset me so much and what I could do about it.

Really, most of things i thought were about me, that it was my problem, not theirs, and that I had to handle things better. I didn’t think a lecture on sportsmanship would work. I could try to hold some debates in class, but like other sensitive topics in China that would be dangerous. So instead I tried to understand things from their probable point of view: most of my students aged 20-40 have never played organized sports, as this really isn’t in the culture, yet; it’s fair that they are proud of their country being the host country and having done so well, so far. Also, can you judge someone for something they might not have any concept about: if they’ve never been taught about sportsmanship, can you really blame them for not being good sports?

So I decided to take this as a learning opportunity for me. I used this as a chance to learn how to handle my stress better: I took 10 deep breathes; I went out for a walk; I stopped watching TV with those students. I figured control what you can, right?

Still, when I ask my students which Olympic sport they like best and their answer is, “Whatever we win in,”; when I see the female shooter who was supposed to win the first gold medal, crying like a baby because she didn’t and that she felt like she failed her country; when I hear of Chinese fans only watching events their athletes are participating in, then leaving right after; when I hear and see all these things I feel like … turning off the TV, putting in my DVD and waiting for these games to end.

But, when I hear one student’s answer to my question, “Who was best Chinese athlete in the Games?” trying to get – Liu Xiang, Yao Ming, or Guo Jing Jing – and instead someone said Michael Phelps, who truly is the best athlete in these games (though not Chinese), when I heard this I thought, maybe there are more eyes that are open, more minds that are open and more hearts that are open than I originally thought.

One can hope. One can dream.

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