As ESL teachers, it makes sense to have a good plan.
We need to plan each day’s activities well in advance and anticipate all kinds of setbacks. Without a solid lesson plan in place, our class could dissolve into chaos. From the games we choose to play to the flashcards we show, very few things are random. We simply can’t do random things. Randomness is bad. Or is it?
Every now and then, it’s good to do something random. Lesson plans are great and absolutely essential, and when you’re a well-trained teacher, you also start being predictable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s great when students know what to expect from class. But it’s not good when they can predict your every move. Why should you even consider doing random things on occasion? Because it helps keep students on their toes. Because it engages them. Because in real life, they need to react to a sudden, unexpected turn of events, and they need to apply their language skills accordingly. And because it’s fun!
Introduce Randomness into Your ESL Class Timely
- When your class starts doing things before you ask them, i.e. they have their homework ready before you ask to see it, or they know what game you’ll play or activity you’ll do next – when you realize you’ve become too predictable!
- When your class looks distracted or bored.
- When suddenly you feel bored (because if you’re bored, chances are your students will be bored, too).
- When you want to add an extra incentive, reward or penalty.
When you introduce something random your students think you’re mad. But there has to be a method to your madness. And here’s where your fabulous Box of Randomness will come in!
What is a Box of Randomness?
Simply put, it is a box that contains cards with random acts written onto them. When you see a student check his or her Facebook feed, bring out the Box and have him/her take a card. You can do the same if a game you’re playing is suddenly no fun. Or if your laptop battery dies, and you can’t play the video you were planning on showing.
Try 3 Steps to Create Your Very Own Box of Randomness
Create the Box
Naturally, you’ll need a cardboard box. Now, I suggest you make it no smaller than a shoe box and not too big to carry around. On the top or side, cut out an opening that is big enough to slide a hand in. Decorate it, paint it, wrap it - make it look fun! Write random words or expressions around it; stick random images on it.
Think about What Should Go in the Box
Think of your Box of Randomness as more than just a way to inject random fun into a class. Think of it as an ally that can also help you review or strengthen things your students need to work on. Make a list of topics you’ll want your class to revisit some time soon. These might include grammar and vocabulary, but don’t forget things like vowel or consonant sounds they have a hard time pronouncing, questions they need to improve or even role plays they need to practice again and again.
Write Some Cards for the Box
Now, look at your list of topics and create tasks that will help your class review them. Let’s see some examples:
- Repeat this tongue twister as fast as you can three times. (Review pronunciation or a particular vowel/consonant sound.)
- Pop Quiz! (Review everything they learned this week/month.)
- Your turn to teach! Today’s Topic: How to ask questions about the past (Questions in Simple Past)
- Name 5 things you can find in an office in 10 seconds. (Office vocabulary)
- Name 7 things you have/haven’t got in your fridge/kitchen in 30 seconds (use the words “some”/”any”) (Countables and uncountables)
- Ask the student sitting to your left three questions about their job. (Getting to know someone/Asking questions)
- Should we all become vegetarians? Discuss for 5 minutes. (Speaking practice)
- Spelling Bee! (Spelling of recently learned vocabulary – great for young learners)
- Name three things you would do if you had a magic wand. (Conditionals)
- Ask the student on your right for directions to his/her house. (Asking for directions)
- Find out something the student sitting behind you plans to do next weekend. (Use of Future tense to talk about plans)
- Finish this sentence: By the time I graduated from high school, I…(Past Perfect)
Managing Your Box
Be sure to open your Box every now and then, and replace items that have gotten “old” with new ones. You might also want to replace a card once it’s used. Depending on your students’ ages you might also want to add some wacky fun with no review purpose in mind, like Random Dancing! (Recommended for young learners! Play a tune on your cell phone or computer. Students have to get up and improvise a dance; those who don’t dance have to take another card from the Box.) The number of cards you have in your Box at any given time depends on what you want your class to review, so that’s entirely up to you, but the more cards you have, the less control you have over what they will get to do.
Nobody likes chaos in their ESL classroom. Teachers need to be in control. But by choosing when and how to introduce randomness, you are still fully in control. The random things your students will have to do will surprise them and engage them. Who says everything has to be planned?
Do you follow a strict lesson plan or leave some room for random fun in your ESL class?
Tell us in the comments below!