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Commandment 6 – Make the Language Classes Interesting

I was positively giddy on the first day of my TESOL certificate’s Teaching English Grammar class. Although we were all there to learn how to be good language teachers, I was probably the only one who was that thrilled to get into the nitty gritty of English grammar. Most people probably don’t find in-depth discussions on the classification of gerunds all that exciting.

And as cool as I think gerunds are, I probably don’t need to try to explain them to my students. Despite my enthusiasm for the subject, I can imagine their eyes glazing over already.

Generally, my advice is that in order to make a class or assignment interesting, YOU should find the material you’re teaching interesting, too. It’s my greatest trick for surviving 500+ renditions of the same assignment. But, that’s not always possible or appropriate.

It’s not hard to find advice online about incorporating technology and games into your lessons, but I have seen the same level of disengagement with iPads and with textbooks. Changing the tools you use isn’t going to magically change your lessons. Even games can get boring after awhile if you’re not even sure why you’re playing them.

I once read a blog about “Grecian urn lessons” – lessons that seem to be interesting and relevant on the surface, but actually have no substance or relationship to the curriculum. This has stuck with me. I was definitely guilty of planning games or activitieswith only the thinnest veneer of relatability to the lesson I had to teach.

At one of my schools, ALTs were actually forbidden to play games by the head of the English department. Not all of my JTEs agreed with this decree, and we maybe bent the rules a bit here and there, but I now understand why the department head felt this way. It can be very easy to fall back on games and become so absorbed in making the class interesting that you don’t actually end up teaching anything!

Now, this was at a high-level senior high school. At lower levels, the main purpose of English lessons isn’t to pass exams or even necessarily build concrete language skills, but to provide positive and encouraging exposure to English. Games are what it’s all about! But you can’t really teach 5-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the same way.

My most successful lessons have been the ones that actually gave my students the tools they needed to complete the task I’d assigned, and gave a little room for creativity. If I left it too open, they felt lost and overwhelmed.

One of my favourite annual assignments is making yonkoma, or four-panel comic strips to prepare for the Benesse GTEC test. Since the test uses comics to prompt a response from students, this is valuable practice. We start by practicing describing single images, then move on to connecting related images, like in comic strips. Then, I have the students make their own and share them with the class.

A quick checklist I use to at least attempt to make a lesson interesting is this:

  • Am I going to be bored to tears teaching this?
  • Is this activity ACTUALLY related to the lesson/content I have been asked to provide?
  • Can my students actually do it? Is it too easy/hard?

If the only “No” is the first one, I am on the right track.

What do you do to make your lessons interesting? I’d love to know!