Have you ever felt so overwhelmed you didn’t know where to start?
Perhaps you had taken on a big project or a lofty goal and you couldn’t see the steps it would take to get you to the finish. Sometimes planning a language unit can feel that way. Our students have so many needs, there is so much to teach, we can become at best confused and uncertain, at worst immobilized. We just don’t know where to start. No more. Now planning language units can be as simple as one, two, three, and four. Steps that is. Here is a four part process guaranteed to include everything your students need to accomplish their language learning goals and everything you need to walk them through the process.
Before you do any planning of activities, clarify what your goals are. You need to know where you and your students are going before you can plan the route to get them there. Ask yourself, “What do I want my students to know or be able to do? What should they be able to accomplish?” Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you walk through the other steps in the instruction process
4 Steps You Should Have in Every Language Lesson
The first step in planning a complete language lesson is to hit the books. I don’t mean just the grammar exercises in chapter five. I mean any instruction you need to give to help your students accomplish the goal. It might be grammar exercises in a book, but it might also include reading an article or writing a paragraph. It might mean learning new vocabulary or learning how to interview someone. Generally, however, step one is when you give knowledge to your students through instruction and through written materials. It’s probably what you are doing without even thinking about it. And that is great, as long as the language lesson doesn’t stop there.
I have found in my years of teaching internationals, that many students who may be quite proficient at reading and writing have little experience in the verbal aspects of language. Their previous English programs did not stress listening and speaking, and that is only one of the reasons you need to include it in your lesson plans. The point of learning language is communication, and much communication happens through listening and speaking. That’s the number one reason for including it in your lessons. So make a point to including at least one listening exercise in your lesson plans. It doesn’t have to be a dialogue on a cassette that came with the book. Play a video, a TED talk, a movie clip, a song, a weather report, anything that will challenge your students to use the langue they are learning in an aural capacity.
Don’t stop there. Give your students one or more speaking exercises. Have a discussion, plan a debate, let students give presentations, or let them talk to native speakers. This may be intimidating for some students, but when you include it in every lesson, they will get more comfortable at speaking in English and the next time will be easier and less stressful.
Designate Time for Students to Ask Questions
Setting aside a specific and designated question time is important for ESL students. And though you may give your students freedom to ask questions any time you teach, they may not feel comfortable asking questions. Adult students may be afraid to ask questions thinking they may look foolish or they may lose face. Struggling students may have such a hard time with the basics that they do not even know what questions to ask.
To make question asking a bit more friendly, consider these two options. First, you might have everyone in class write a question on an index card, collect them, and then answer each of them. That way, no one looks unintelligent in front of their classmates. Another way to combat this issue is to have a questions box in your classroom. Think of it like a suggestion box, but this box will contain questions from your students rather than suggestions on how to improve customer service. Keep it available in your classroom and let students add questions to it whenever they like.
Whether you choose either of these options or just set aside a specific question session, make sure you answer any and all questions your students pose. If you do not know the answer, tell your students you will find it out and then get back to them. And make sure you do it. Nothing is worse than a teacher breaking their word to a student.
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
Now that your students have all the theoretical knowledge they need, it’s time to apply what they have learned. The best applications are realistic applications, those that your students are likely to encounter in the real world of spoken and written English.
Try to focus on practicing with some real life language sources otherwise known as realia. You may have chosen realia for your listening material, but you can also have students look at English magazines, menus, fill out applications, whatever it is that makes them use English in a practical way that will prepare them for speaking English in the real world. Have them place an order in a restaurant. Have them approach a librarian for additional information. What you choose to do will depend on what you have taught your students and what resources you have available to you. But the more you can get your students in real life language situations, the better off they will be when they complete your program.
ESL teachers have so much flexibility when it comes to planning a lesson. If you make sure you have these four components: Study, Listen, Ask questions, and Practice (SLAP), your students will surely be successful and you will know you have given them everything they need to succeed in the English speaking world.
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