When you undertake a 1-month intensive CELTA course it’s near impossible to absorb all the information you’re given. You have to prioritise, and that means getting the basics right. Staging a lesson, introducing new language effectively, anticipating problems, that type of thing. Even learning English grammar rules, that’s hard enough for a native speaker!
However, if you get chance, take a bit of time to consider how your CELTA tutors model good classroom practice during input sessions. Our tutors used a lot of activities and techniques on us which we could in turn apply in the classroom. They didn’t always tell us this, so it’s worth making a note of little things you observe. You never know when a little tip or idea might be beneficial, so you might as well jot it down just in case!
In my first job after the CELTA I made sure my course notes didn’t go to waste. I picked out various little ideas from the input sessions and tried to work them into my practice. Here’s some things the tutors either told me or I picked up on… little tips that go a long way!
‘That Visual Spatial thingy’
In my notes it said ‘young learners have better visual spatial memory than older ones/adults’. I remember my tutor said that we shouldn’t neglect this type of memory training. Here’s an activity he mentioned:
Arrange flashcards for target vocabulary on the board or floor. Point at random to each flashcard a few times and elicit the word. Then take one of the pictures away. Continue pointing, eventually point at the empty space. Students will remember the picture that was there. Remove another picture, and so on, until you are pointing at an empty board and the students are saying all the words. A good sneaky drilling activity.
Once, one of my managers walked in when I was in the final stages of this activity and said ‘whatever they we’re doing, they were having fun’. As it turns out, adults seem a bit better at this than kids. One class memorised 15 pictures!
Negotiating activity length
‘You’ve 5 minutes to finish the activity’. Who says? There’s no point in chucking an arbitrary number out to define the length or each task or activity. Ask the students – they’ll know how long they need, or at least have a rough idea. You’ve just given them a vocab/meaning matching task that’s a bit above their level, so barter with the time:
Teacher: you’ve 2 minutes
Students: teacher no way!
Teacher: well how long do you want?
Student: 10 minutes
Teacher: hmm, there’s 10 words to match, 10 minutes is too long
Student A: five!
Student B: seven…
Why bother? Well, firstly you can learn a bit about your tasks – how do the students rate their difficulty? Also, you learn about the students’ confidence – which students feel more confident with certain tasks? Plus, you provide them with a pressured element to the task which they feel is still a challenge but within their capability. And you can lower the time limit next time! Above all, the whole banter of the negotiation process builds rapport.
Oh yeah, counting down the time is good too.
These tips might sound intuitive, but it’s worth thinking about ways to optimise student interaction and help discussions develop in class.
When preparing questions
- If you are making your own detail questions, make sure some require the students to give a personal response (i.e. what they think about something). This will hopefully prompt some discussion.
- Making answers to True or False statements deliberately ambiguous is another way to get students reading between the lines and discussing the text.
When doing feedback from pair/group discussions
- Ask students to comment on what their partner thought, no what they thought themselves. Warn them before you start an activity that you might do this. This encourages active listening. You could even ask their partner afterwards ‘is that roughly what you said?’, to check that they were listening to the feedback.
Jazzing up gap fills
Grass skirts was an activity we used during grammar input sessions. It’s just a way to ‘lift the course book off the page’, as they say.
I have made it look very complicated (left), but its actually very simple. Write out your gap fill sentences on a piece of paper, then cut a line under each one, leaving a centimetre or two so the slip of paper doesn’t detach. You’ll be left with a dangly piece of paper looking like a hula skirt. Pin one up around the room for each pair/group. Instruct one student in each pair/group to run to the paper, rip the bottom piece off, bring it to their group, fill in the gap, then show you. If they are right then they can get the next piece.
This activity was a pretty common feature of our training, with its many versions. You can do plenty of other things to make gap fills more exciting, but this one always sticks in my mind. It turns things like controlled practice stages (which can be dull) into little competitions. When I get students from Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, who seem a bit grammar gap-filled out, an injection of movement and competition always gets them going. Ten minutes preparation, about 10 mins enjoyment – well worth it.
It’s good to develop a clear set of verbal/visual signals to help with classroom management. I remember my CELTA tutors modelling this well, and I adopted many of their techniques. For example, I remember that when one tutor wanted us to have a discussion in pairs, he would always lean in from his chair as if he was about to tell us a secret or something, and then say – ‘Question’, and then tell us the discussion topic.
I know this sounds simple, but the way he did it was so clear – the leaning in, the tone of his voice, etc. And he did it in the same way every time. I adopted little things like this in the classroom straight away, and it really helps with things like transitions between lesson stages. When I want an activity to end, I always say ‘OK’ firmly, in the same tone, and sit down. There’s no need for more instruction, my students quickly learn that I expect them to wrap up their discussions or activity when I give that signal.
Pairs, pairs, pairs
Last thing. My tutors had an obsession with pair work. Every time we did a task, we had to check the answers in pairs before class feedback. ‘Check your answers with your partner’ was probably the most used phrase during the course. Consequently, I am now a pair work obsessive. And in every observation I’ve had since my CELTA, management or trainers have mentioned how I try to maximise student communication. Don’t get into bad habits, keep the pair work going!
So there are some random tips for you. What did you notice in your input sessions?