Published 4th December 2017
Classroom. Whiteboard. Desks. Chairs. Coursebook.
When you think of an English as a Foreign Language classroom (any classroom, in fact) these are probably what you would consider essentials, what you need in order to teach effectively. For many TEFL teachers around the world, this is their normal. Many even have other resources at their disposal, like projectors, Internet access, and even computers for the students.
But there are also other teachers who teach in less than ideal circumstances.
Some EFL classrooms do not have enough desks for the students, so the students sit on the floor or share desks and chairs. Some EFL classrooms do not have coursebooks or flashcards or whiteboards, so teachers have to make do with what they have. And some EFL classrooms have big classes so teachers have to learn to cope with big numbers of learners.
These are all tough situations and teaching in any of these situations would be challenging. Unfortunately, this is the reality in some EFL classrooms around the world and if you find yourself in one of them you will need to make the most of what you have. But we’re teachers so we’re not scared!
(But if you are a little scared, to help you out, here are a few problematic situations and some advice on how to get around them so that you can still teach the best lessons possible.)
Help! I have 50 students!
50 Students may seem like a bit of an exaggeration but it actually isn’t. So what can you do when there are so many students and only one of you? It can be very difficult to try to control 50 students or to try and make sure 50 students are listening and paying attention to you when you are standing at the front of a very big classroom. Firstly, it can be difficult for students at the back of the classroom to hear you, and so they are likely to get distracted and be disruptive. Plus you don’t really want to have to make 50 photocopies of a worksheet, do you?
Instead, try to do as much group work as possible. Dividing the class into groups will make classroom management much easier and the members of the groups can help keep the other students focused and on task. If possible, arrange the groups so that movement in the class is minimal – try and group them where they are seated. Also, don’t just stand at the front of the class. Walk around so that you are able to communicate with all the learners, and not just those close to you at the front of the class. If necessary, source a microphone to help you project your voice.
Then, when planning your lessons, focus on making them paperless. Dogme is a teaching methodology that does just that. Instead of planning a lesson based on worksheets, a Dogme lesson will take its inspiration from the learners themselves. By their very nature, these lessons are interactive and communicative and rely on very few resources, and so work well with bigger groups.
Help! I don’t have a coursebook!
If you find yourself without a coursebook, remember that the best lessons are often taught without one! Try to find a coursebook for yourself so that you have a syllabus to follow, or write your own. Then think about how you can use real-world resources and authentic materials in your lessons. There are probably many things you can bring into the classroom to make learning possible – think newspapers, magazines, menus, realia.
Read more: How to Find Authentic Materials Online
As you have no doubt realised, this is another situation in which Dogme lessons will come in handy. Though it can be quite daunting when you first do a Dogme lesson, once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll understand the beauty of having such learner-centred lessons. Plus, once you’ve done one lesson your students will feel more comfortable doing it again.
Help! I have to teach two classes together!
Sometimes in a low-resource environment, this can extend to the number of teachers available. If perhaps a teacher is ill, you may find yourself teaching two different classes together. These classes may be of different ages or different levels, but you will have to make do. In this case, if the classes are completely different and cannot work together, separate the students physically and plan a lesson so that one class can be busy with an activity while you are teaching the other class and vice versa.
If the two classes are similar, you can adapt your original lesson plan for a bigger class, increasing or decreasing the level of difficulty of the class as necessary. Again, group work is an effective way to maintain control of a big class and a good way to allow students of similar levels to work together.
If neither of those options is suitable for the lesson, get back to basics. Conversation and discussion is an activity that works no matter the age of the students or the level of English. Come up with a discussion activity that you can do with the classes to generate conversation and language work. You can either mix the students together or keep them separate.
Help! I’m covering a class in 10 minutes!
In a normal working environment, if a colleague is off ill it usually doesn’t affect you. However, in a school if a teacher is ill, their lessons become someone else’s problem – may be yours! What you might have been looking forward to as a free period at breakfast could be changed into an unprepared lesson by teatime. So what can you do in these situations?
The first option is to repeat one of the lessons you have planned for another class with your new class. You might need to make a few more photocopies but otherwise, all your planning has already been done. All you will be doing is repeating yourself!
The other option is to wing it Dogme-style. Walk into the classroom and start chatting with the learners. You could ask them their opinion on a topic, play a game of Would You Rather? or chat about a recent event in the news. As you chat make a note of a particular language point they are struggling with and use that to develop into a lesson. Problem solved!
Read more: 5 No-prep Activities for the EFL Classroom
While the TEFL dream is often teaching at a small school on a tropical island in Thailand, the reality of where you end up can be a bit different. Your TEFL course will have provided you with the foundations you need to teach engaging and effective lessons, but if you find yourself in a really tricky situation, you will have to rely on your own ingenuity to see you through.