Perhaps the highlight of my EFL teaching career was my second year in Korea, when and where my prowess as a returning teacher, an industry titan, meant I didn’t have to turn in a weekly lesson plan on Friday evenings. As the newbs beside me flicked through texts, recording page numbers and key grammar points, I dominated the world of Scrabulous, what we dinosaurs played before the days of Words with Friends. That year, in both worlds, I was a god.
I still made lesson plans of some fashion, usually scribbled on a scrap paper, often cooked up ten minutes before class and much the same as the previous lesson. I wasn’t sure it was the insight I was supposed to have taken from my first year, but what I had learned was to a. stick with what works and forget about inventing new activities for every lesson because b. students like to have expectations met, regularity rather than fumbling around with constant change. I had my routine.
Ironically, despite all those courses on classroom time management, what works best for me is to do the same thing: Find what subdues a class, gets them focused on winning points, then rinse and repeat until...it’s over. At the time, I didn’t know how teacher-coddling and responsible my school in Korea was: Most places won’t hesitate to throw you to the toddlers, give you far too much to do in a day (We need this book finished by next week) or provide far too little to fill a class (We like to cover one page a week). They expect lesson plans to be second nature.
By that second year, I’d played multiple games multiple times for every grammar point the school had to offer, more or less, that basic EFL addresses. I could have stepped into any class without a plan because I had found, as teacher’s do, my five-step program. Being an innovative lesson planner doesn’t mean being innovative every class. What keeps the EFL teacher—I’d guess any teacher—sane is having a few good activities and the ability to use them for any topic. The plan is just multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank:
1. Start the same way every day, the same game, just altered to review yesterday’s material, whatever this week’s focus is. These days, I use Go Fish for my younger classes and taboo for my teens. You can find the Go Fish cards on Boogle’s World, and they cover loads of useful vocabulary. For taboo, I simply write all the words for we’ve learned or need learn.
2. Review the homework assignment. After two or three classes, they know it is coming. Most students, then, are more likely to do the task beforehand, and classes tend to get through the drudgery a little easier because they know checking homework comes after the starter and, more pertinent, another game is after this.
3. Introduce the new material as quickly as possible and play one of three or four games you cycle through to practice it: tic-tac-toe, back to the board, taboo, memory, matching, or, if you have the resources, log on to Barry Fun English for computer game versions of your topic or iSL Collective for printable board games.
4. Cover the text. It’s the ebb and flow: Fun, work, fun, work. By practicing the day’s grammar/vocab/phonetics point in game form for a while, students can rip through the material. Even better, doing book exercises still smacks of winning points. Sometimes, I continue keeping score during the bookwork so that students stay motivated.
5. I try to end on a “fun”, one more thing to keep the students on task, a gentle reminder that, when however many pages are complete, we get to do this. I prefer slow games, something to quiet the mind: some form of hangman, word/sentence scramble, tell me five…being a veteran of the IWB now, we also have a weekly cartoon short, usually with some attempt to reinforce a current learning point in class in one of my classes.
6. Assign the homework, usually from the same source, a workbook or certain pages/exercises in their text, something they’ve become familiar with and adept at, understand without me explaining. Then, we go home.
I’ve stretched this same basic lesson plan to cover three-hour classes, and I've squeezed it into hour-long sessions. Time constraints, or lack thereof, simply dictate what percentage of the lesson will be given as a game. That’s the plan.