Guest post from: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online schools. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop
If you’re a teacher of any kind, you’ve probably experienced the sudden and frightening realization that you’ve got empty time to fill and no creative ideas for short activities. This can be especially difficult for ESL teachers because thinking on your feet to educate children who speak a different language is a unique challenge. One of the best ways to stay prepared for those surprising times when your lesson comes up short is to plan ahead and keep teaching tools within reach. If you’re not comfortable with building in activities on the fly, add optional material to the end of your lesson plan just in case. Either way, you can use the following tools to help you keep your students focused and learning for the full duration of the day.
1. Wordless Books
This tool is well-suited to teaching younger ESL students, but if you’re feeling creative, you can make a picture book for older classes using photos from magazines or other sources. You won’t have to worry about making up a story – that’s your students’ job. Whether your wordless book is purchased or handmade, it can be the perfect way to spend extra time once you’ve exhausted your lesson plan. For younger students, have everyone sit in a circle while you hold up the book for them to see and turn the pages, letting your students take turns making up a few sentences for each picture. If you have older students, pass the book around and have each student describe his or her page of the story in a few sentences. By doing this, you can have them explain what the background and characters look like before they continue the plot of the story. This makes for a slightly more advanced degree of vocabulary usage, verb tenses, and creativity.
If you’re musically inclined, keep a list of English songs that your students might like to learn. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, you can either sing a song that you’ve already taught as review or teach part of a new one. Students often enjoy making music and are happy to participate in this activity. You can also take requests from your students if they know song titles that they’d like to learn, then have students vote on which song they want to learn next.
3. Question Cards
Keep a box of index cards that have simple questions on them and set aside some time each week to write new ones as you teach fresh material to your students. Whenever you find that you need to fill some time, take out a card and have students raise their hands to see who can answer the question correctly first. You can use the material on these cards for test questions or extra credit questions if you re-word them. It’s also a great way to keep track of what your students have learned over a semester, which can help you develop assessments and re-work your lesson plans based on student progress.
4. Monolingual English Dictionaries
If you have the funding, it’s a great idea to buy enough dictionaries for each of your students to keep in the classroom. If not, try keeping one dictionary for every pair of students or as many as you can get. Not only are monolingual English dictionaries excellent teaching tools on their own, but they’re also helpful to students while you teach and in short activities. For example, you can tell students that they’re allowed to look up unfamiliar words that you’ve used in your lesson plan. If you want to turn this into an activity, have students write down words they don’t recognize as you teach. At the end of the lesson, have everyone share their unfamiliar words and try to guess what they mean. Then, encourage students to race each other to see who can find each word in the dictionary first.
Having access to English newspapers is a great opportunity for developing short classroom activities for ESL students. If you can easily get enough for each student to have one, you’ll be coming up with creative activities in no time. If not, you can just get one or a few copies for everyone to share. Some examples of newspaper activities are:
• Go to the Sports section and read the first article, then write down five adjectives that describe a star soccer player.
• Skim through the Entertainment section and find two places you would like to visit, then write a short paragraph about why you chose those places.
• Find three new words on the front page, look them up, define them, and then write a short paragraph that uses all three words correctly.