In my recent article CELTA: Is It Worth It?, I wrote about how the CELTA helped make me feel like a “real” teacher, and I alluded to practical techniques I discovered through the course that I now use every day at my university in Korea. The techniques I picked up are by no means unique to the CELTA; since getting my certificate, I’ve heard them mentioned in various workshops and teaching forums, and they’re covered in books such as Jim Scrivener’s excellent Learning Teaching. They’re definitely worth repeating, though, especially for less experienced teachers. For anyone who’s curious, here are a few of the highlights: four simple ideas that improved my teaching immensely.
1. Let students try it with a partner first.
Or as I’ve heard it elsewhere, “Think, pair, share.” Once this becomes a habit, it makes a world of difference in student participation. The idea is very straightforward: anytime you want students to share something in front of the class, let them try it first with a partner or group. Want to check answers to an exercise? Pair-check first. Want students to tell the class about their weekend? Let them talk about it with their partner or group first. Want to brainstorm ideas for a project? You’ll be peppered with suggestions if students can brainstorm together before sharing their ideas with the class.
This technique increases student talk time and makes students feel more comfortable and confident using the language in front of others. Since I started routinely incorporating pair-checks and partner practice, students have become more eager to volunteer, and even the shyest students don’t hide their eyes when I’m searching for someone to call on.
2. Sometimes teachers should disappear.
This was a surprisingly difficult technique for me to perfect; sitting idly by just doesn’t feel like teaching! But here’s the trick: you’re not idle. You’re monitoring, making sure students are on-task, answering questions about language nuances, noting good language use as well as errors to put up on the board.... Indeed, the “vanishing” teacher is very active—she’s just not interfering. I’ve used this technique with elementary students, university students, and adults, all with excellent results.
3. Sometimes teachers should shut up.
My CELTA trainer Hem was a master of maximizing student talk time, largely because she knew exactly how to take advantage of silence; that is, when and how to rely on elicitation and non-verbal communication. When telling a story to set context, she would let the trainees name the characters. When presenting the target language, she would elicit it from her students. Instead of explaining a game in detail, she would guide us using gestures and a handful of simple sentences. Even dividing us into groups, Hem used a simple but effective way to increase student talk time:
Hem [gesturing to S1]: Name a city. S1: Paris.
Hem [gestures to the next student]: Name a different city. S2: Um, Seoul.
Hem gestures to S3. S3: New York.
Hem gestures to S4. S4: Tokyo.
Hem gestures to S5 and then S1. S5: Paris.
Hem gestures to S6. S6: Seoul.
Hem gestures to S7. S7: New York.
Easy, clear, student-centered. I love it. Why talk when you can let students talk, instead? And why use many words when a gesture or a look will suffice?
4. ICQs and CCQs
These were a joyous epiphany for me. I’d often heard that “Do you understand?” was generally a useless question, but I hadn’t really figured out an alternative. Instruction-check questions (ICQs) and concept-check questions (CCQs), however, are fantastic for determining whether students really understand and helping to pinpoint exactly where they are confused.
ICQs break instructions into their core elements and then check that students understand these elements. For example, after explaining a mingle game in which students find group members who have cards identical to theirs, you might ask ICQs such as, “If two things [on the card] are the same, but one is different, are you in the same group?” (answer: “No”); “How many things must be the same?” (answer: “Three”); “How many people do you want to find?” (possible answer: “Three”); “When you find your group, what should you do?” (possible answer: “Sit together”); “Can you show anyone your card?” (answer: “No”), etc.
CCQs are similar, but they’re used to check whether students understand the nuances of a vocabulary word, expression, grammatical structure, or other concept. The example used in my CELTA course was “I managed to find an apartment.” “Managed to,” broken into its core elements, means “I found an apartment, but it wasn’t easy.” To CCQ this, then, one might ask, “Did I find an apartment?” (answer: “Yes”) and “Was it easy?” (answer: “No”).
Of course, these are just a few things I learned in my CELTA course; and while these ideas might not be new to experienced teachers, they were revelatory to me! They’re now a natural part of my teaching routine, and they’ve made an enormous difference in the success of my lessons.
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