Lesson plans: Tips from a Language Assistant
It’s hard to know where to start when looking for materials to prepare your classes as a language assistant. For me, my baptism of fire into the world of primary school teaching began when I turned up to one class on my first day and was given a box of English resources, with a Latin swish of the hand as if to say ‘Go forth and teach.’ Needless to say, I was terrified, I had to be creative in my methods given that I had no time to look through or prepare said resources.The most important thing when preparing classes is knowing what is expected of you, but also what you can expect from the school. This means liaising with teachers to find out what exactly your role consists of, as the title of ‘Language Assistant’ varies enormously from classroom to classroom, even in the same school. For example, some of my colleagues wander round their classrooms and help correct mistakes, aiding the teacher as the title ‘assistant’ suggests. However I have found my role gives me more responsibility, which is both a blessing and a curse. I am given groups of 2-4 students to teach between ten minutes and an hour, depending on the class, and I am free to direct my lessons how I wish, loosely following the curriculum. Nevertheless, sometimes it is easy to feel lost and misguided, and I sometimes find myself wanting some direction.
So, in short, try to find out about the resources the school has at its disposal, preferably before you go. As a university student, I am well accustomed to e-learning, hence it came as a surprise that my school functions with very basic (read: incredibly slow) internet facilities. However, if you were hoping to use multimedia in your school, all is not lost. Atube Catcher is a useful free software tool that allows you to download YouTube (and similar) videos to your laptop’s hard drive, quickly and easily. The appearance of a computer whips up nothing short of a riot with some of my younger pupils, which manages to hold their attention until the bell rings. But if you prefer not to rely on technology to enhance your teaching, ask around for English teaching materials. After a month at my school, I found that in the language laboratory a wealth of materials had been left untouched, including board games, flashcards and posters, which really brighten up the monotony of a child’s school day. I teach in Spain, where it is customary to follow the textbooks to the letter, because they are personally paid for by the parents at the start of each school year, making it a very expensive waste of money if unused.
Failing that, get creative! Make your own flashcards and games, or download them from the Internet. Primary Resources is a great website for young learners and has tons of material donated by other users of the site. Make sure you listen to the children and understand how they learn – it would be silly to give them free reign over the classes (this will almost definitely lead to many requests to watch repeats of Disney Channel videos, probably not in English), but do try and work out which activities they enjoy. If they enjoy crosswords, a quick Google search with crossword + topic should bring up hundreds of ready made puzzles for you to mimic in your lessons. I’ve found that the chances are if you’ve thought of it, someone else has probably done the same, and may have acted on their impulse already. By listening to your students, you make life easier for both yourself and them, whilst also keeping classes relaxed and conducive to learning.
As a final thought, I would suggest listening to your colleagues for any useful ideas they might have – and on that note, suggestions welcome, please!