Balance pt.2 (or prep vs play)

One of my young friends spent the entire weekend preparing for one class.  I asked her “Why?” She said she didn’t want to just get stuff off the internet.  Now if she was the kind of teacher that took a worksheet just off the internet and made photo copies and said “that’s it, I prepped my class”- she would not be my friend.  At the same time, spending all your free time preparing for a class is a quick ticket to burnout.

I don’t want her to burnout. I think she has a lot to offer her students. So I promised to write this post to tell her how I do it.  I refuse to work on the weekends (although I have on occasion done just that in an emergency) I also understand that sometimes in the teacher’s lounge it is hard to concentrate enough to do a proper lesson plan. That said, there are ways to get things done, and still have enough free time to enjoy your evenings and your weekends.

One thing- the internet is your friend. Google is awesome. True, just taking something off an ESL website is lazy.  But there are a lot of ideas there, and with some modifications, you can make a plan for most of your classes.

I will give you next weeks lesson as an example.  This week we are having a speaking test, and in two weeks we will have the final exams. I kept this in mind while I started my prep.  I went to several ESL websites and browsed around.  I found several worksheets for scrambled words. Now, I don’t want to use those worksheets in my class just the way they are; one was for owls, another was for a book my students hadn’t read, and another was for the solar system.  These, although fun, wouldn’t be appropriate for any of my students.

However, the idea is a good one.  So I got the vocabulary that my students will be tested on. I made my own worksheet by scrambling the vocabulary words that they are supposed to be studying for their test. That is a good start.  Then, since I’m still working with vocabulary, I decided that they should also work on the definitions.

I will make a worksheet that has the definitions, with a blank for the words.  I will then have the students use the words they un-scrambled to fill in the blanks for the new worksheet. This will work for my intermediate (both high and low) classes. For the low intermediate classes I will put them in groups for both the activities.  For the high intermediate classes I will have them do the word scramble individually or maybe with partners (I haven’t decided yet) then put them in groups to finish the second worksheet.  But, I also have advanced classes and basic classes.

For my advanced classes, I will add a story worksheet that will use the vocabulary they are working with. The worksheet will start with a story beginning, and I will have them do a write-around to make up stories. The only rule is that they have to use all the vocabulary from the worksheet. Then they can do a presentation of their stories. I will put them in groups for the write-around ( or maybe I will have them do all the worksheets as a group, I haven’t decided yet).

For my basic class, I will do several scrambles as a class, and then put them in groups to finish the scramble worksheet. Then when they are all finished, I will hand out the definitions worksheet and have them do 1/2 of them as a class, and the other 1/2 in their groups.  10 minutes before the bell rings I will have the groups make a presentation of their answers.  (for the basic and low intermediate class, they can use their books to help find the answers– for the high intermediate and advanced classes, I probably won’t, but if the students really are struggling and won’t finish in time, I will revise my classroom rules)

I can put everything up on the computer through Power-point or Prezi, and I can add cool graphics on to the worksheets if I want. But the basic plan for next week is done.  I still have to finish the worksheets, and make sure they are photocopied.  But even without a computer or power-point, I can still have a decent class that will help my students do well on the test.

I have 4 levels of students in my 1st year classes.  I have a total of 20 classes a week. I could make every single class different. Use totally different materials for each and every one.  And spend every weekend and every evening in front of the computer. And wake up a few months from now hating my job, hating my school and hating my students.  And how is that going to help anyone?- I think that taking one idea for all the classes, and modifying that idea so it is challenging for the advanced students and doable for the basic students is a better idea.

I think taking an hour to surf the internet for ideas is about right– and a willingness to use and change whatever you think might be interesting.  ( one of my best ideas- the one for the 1/2 a proverb worksheet that I do and my students love; I got from a humor article from a cheesy magazine that I have since unfortunately forgotten the title of. The point is that it wasn’t a teaching website. It was a kids say the darndest things humor magazine. But it gave me the idea and that is the important thing)

Then take another hour to transform the ideas into  worksheets or guides.   Another hour to modify the class plans to make sure there is enough to do, but not so much the students can’t finish.  You have your basic prep for the week.

I do believe a successful class is a combination of inspiration, perspiration and preparation.  But the inspiration can come from anywhere, and you are not a bad teacher if you use ideas from other teachers, if you find a cool website or cool worksheet that you think your kids will like and use that, or if you think of something totally random.  If someone says all their ideas are totally and completely original; they lie.  Even the greatest scientific and creative minds work from the past and from the work of others.

In other words, if you find a good worksheet on the web, for goodness sake – use it!! If one of your friends or colleagues has a great game or idea, for goodness sake – use it!!! If you find a book that has great material, for goodness sake – use it!!   If it is a great idea or you think it would be fun, but it wouldn’t work for your class as is, change it around a bit, but you can still use it.

You still have to do the perspiration of  working to make sure all the vocabulary and grammar points are appropriate and understandable, and you probably will want to change a few things around and make the material yours. You will also probably want to add some other things you think your students will like. Just getting ideas and modifying them is only the beginning.

Teaching is hard work. And a good teacher knows most of what makes a good class isn’t what happens in the classroom, it is the preparation and perspiration before the class even begins.  It is hard work. But that doesn’t mean you have to struggle alone  make it harder than it has to be.  One of the perks of teaching is that you can be creative in the class can have some fun.  You can’t enjoy that perk if you are frazzled and burned out.


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