5 simple tips for English classes

There are a number of really simple techniques that I tend to use in almost all my classes, so I thought it might be interesting to put some of them down here.

The questionnaire


1. Use name signs for attendance, to learn student names, and for classroom management

I first wrote about this in 2006! Still using it now though, with the addition of the technique below that I got from my partner in crime, Daniel E. This tip is best for teachers that teach a lot of students, who basically are not able to learn names under normal circumstances.

2. Assign students class numbers to help with classroom management and paperwork

For medium-sized classes and larger, it can be really useful to assign students a class number, to be used in addition to their existing student numbers, etc. Basically give each student a number, starting from one. Have them put it on everything that they hand in (notebooks, worksheets, exam papers, etc.). You can collect them in order or just put them into order quickly after you collect them.

Then, when you come to mark them, you can work through them quickly making a note of grades in your excel sheet or markbook.

Returning the papers is also easier as they are in order. You can pass them out if students are in assigned seats, or leave them at the front in piles (easy for the students to find theirs as they are in order).

3. Dictate questions instead of giving students handouts

I used to think dictation was horribly old-fashioned, but have come to realise that the reason it’s been used for centuries is that it works 🙂

Recently I’ve been dictating questions to students instead of printing them on handouts, and dictating homework assignments. It takes a bit more time than just handing out pre-printed versions, but this way the students get to work on their listening and writing, and end up thinking about the content more.

A really easy change to make.

4. Put students in groups of 3 for group work

I used to do group work with groups of four or even (gasp!) six. The inevitable consequence of this is that some students end up doing nothing for long stretches of time. However, working in pairs means that some students can be stuck with an unskilled or unmotivated partner.

Groups of three seems to be the sweet spot, and ensures that no-one can hide from the activity, and students are less likely to be stuck with an uncooperative partner. Threes also minimize the chances of two friends bypassing the activity to continue a previous conversation!

5. Use a visible timer for activities

I have started using a countdown on my computer for short speaking activities, and find that it frees me from having to ‘guesstimate’ when to wrap things up. Also, students know how long they have to keep talking for, which makes it easier to give that one last push.

I like the online stopwatch in full-screen mode, either showing the computer screen to students or using a projector to do so for larger classes.

How about you? Do you have any good tips for other teachers?

I time all my speaking activities when teaching university, and also very often in eikaiwa classes, but I’ve never projected the timer for the students to see. What a great idea! (I do tell them ahead of time how much time they will be speaking, though.) I don’t have internet access in the university classroom, though, only a projector. Will try to find an offline countdown timer to display.

I was surprised how well it worked in my classes. I’ve always told students how much time they have, but it’s kind of magical they way they quieten down automatically when the timer ends…

No more shouting: ‘Time is up! Stop! Stop!’ 🙂

I use my iPhone timer, so they’ve always been able to hear the alarm go off. (I use the “alarm” sound, which is jarring enough to be noticed.) I really like the screen idea, though.

Ben, I have students make name plates, but I force them to sit in different seats every time, so that they don’t always sit with the same partner (yes, I have pair work almost every class). I disagree with having another number assigned to each kid (they forget it, and it just complicates my grading and attendance work). Dictating homework? No, I’d rather they actually understand it so that they have a fair chance of actually doing it! So, I explain it verbally and show them what it is by writing on the board or pointing it out on Moodle. Handouts also ensure that they actually received it! Group work can sometimes be best in 3s (discussions, to avoid the dreaded pair partner who monopolizes or stays silent or goes off topic) or pairs (for quick discussions of 1-2 minutes, and thereafter having to give me a reply when called on). Larger groups might depend on the activity, but I hesitate beyond 3 to avoid the slackers from taking advantage of the accepted group silence. Timer might be good, but if you want to extend the time, be sure to announce it before the time is up, or you’ll get kids watching the clock, and promptly stopping at the zero hour because that’s when they think they SHOULD stop. Nothing quite as agonizing to a teacher as a “discussion” period that has no real ending, yet students think they’ve “answered all the questions”.

Hey Glenski
I was skeptical about the extra numbers too until I tried them this year… game-changing. You can put them on the name signs so students don’t forget them.
One step I forgot to include for the dictation was allowing students to check with a partner -I find this really helps with motivation.
The timer actually helps prolong the discussion -I tell my students ‘you have to keep talking in English until the time is up, if you finish the questions make new ones’ 🙂

Visible timer is a great tool that I’ve been implementing recently.


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