Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The unpredictability of teaching daycare EFL classes

[As a part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I'm posting here once a day during November.  Today is Day 19.]

Happy birthday grandma!

With my two groups of after school "daycare" classes I have every Tuesday and Friday, I never know how the kids will respond to an activity, song, or game.  Will it grab their attention? Will they enjoy it and participate?  Or will they ignore me and talk to their neighbor while taking all the papers out of their desk, ripping them up, and throwing them on the floor as they so often do?

Sometimes I read about ideas online and get excited, but then it's a total disaster in class. Take for example, last week's "tower flashcards" activity that I read about on Matt's Dream English site.  I thought it would be a perfect, engaging way to review the family member names we had learned earlier in the week -- and I had big flashcards for the words and cups in class!

If you don't want to click the link, basically you just need 5-6 big flashcards and paper cups.  You hold up a flashcard and call on a student to say the word. If they say it correctly, you hand them the flashcard (saying "Here you are"), they say "thank you", and they come to the front and put the flashcard on top of a flipped over paper cup.  Then you put another paper cup on top of the card they just put down and hold up a second flash card for students to identify.  You end up with a tower of flashcards that alternate: flashcard, cup, flashcard, cup, etc.

Here's what happened with my first class of the younger ones: As soon as the first student put the flashcard on the first cup, 6 students were out of their seats and up by the tower.  One had grabbed the stack of cups that I'd absentmindedly left on the desk, and started to build the tower (They will grab anything that you leave within reach).  I may have gotten a few of the kids to sit back down, but as the tower grew, they were harder to control.

Rather than raise their hand and wait to be called on, the students would run up to the front by the tower and say "me, me!".  And then, inevitably, one boy knocked down the whole thing before we were finished, creating utter chaos.  I was trying to pick up the cups and the flashcards, but the other kids near me snatched up what they could too. Everyone was talking loudly in Korean. There was no order.  Flashcard tower fail.

Although I thought the flashcard tower would be a hit, I was proved wrong -- so I probably won't repeat it with these two classes.  But sometimes the kids' reaction to an activity even varies from the first class to the second class.  (The first class is kindergarten or first grade I think, and the second group is a year older with a couple of third graders in the mix as well).  Today was a perfect example of this.

I'm starting to teach them animals, so I thought we could do "Two little birdies" (aka two little dicky birds) to use up five minutes of time.  It would require no materials or set up, since the kids just use their hands to be the birds.  Normally I'm standing in front of the classroom, but for this activity I pulled out a chair and sat up in front, so I was at their eye level.

I was a bit worried about how the first class would respond, after last week's flashcard tower fail (and their usual behavior in general).  I was so surprised at the outcome.  It was the least talking any of them have done while I was talking!  They were looking at me and trying to copy what my hands were doing.  Even though we did it 3 - 4 times, they stayed focused during the whole activity.  If you had been here, I bet you could have seen the shock on my face - really.  A surprise success!

So I was feeling good during the 10 minute break between classes, thinking the second class would go just as well.  But the second group proved to be a night and day difference when we got to this activity.  Only two students of the twelve would even hold their hands out like I was.  One girl had her back turned to me the whole time, talking to her friend.  They just were not having it.  So I moved on to the next activity a little earlier and learned.

I only have two and a half months of experience with these two groups, so I can't say for certain, but I don't think there actually is any recipe or set lesson that will always work.  Sometimes they love a song and I've captured their attention for the next foreseeable five minutes, and other times I am no more interesting to them than the scrap of paper inside their desk.

But through trial and error, I am learning.  I test things out, take note of what works and what doesn't, and improve on it for the next class.  We'll see if the first group pays just as much attention on Friday when we review "Two little birds"... you never know!
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