In TEFL teaching, planning is paramount to having a successful lesson. As often mentioned in this blog, even much of classroom management is based on creating and planning routines and long term strategies to keep your students engaged. However, no matter how well organized you think you are, there are times when all teachers have to manage their way through unanticipated situations.
Read on for some common situations that you can’t really plan for, and advice on how to deal with them. These are all situations that I have personally found myself in at least once, and though I hope you never have to deal with similar debacles….I wouldn’t be too sure.
Or, if you simply want some activities to run during a class that require minimal planning and could be organized on the spot, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Unexpected situation #1: You’ve Planned the Wrong Lesson!
This usually only happens if you are covering a class, share a class with another teacher or are simply overworked. Though it may not be your fault that you were given wrong information about what pages to teach, you’re the one who is in the classroom and are going to have to deal with it. Imagine that moment when you tell your students, “today we are going to do a reading about shopping habits in the UK.” and they tell you that they’ve already read that. It’s hard to describe accurately the stomach dropping feeling that comes next.
In a situation like this, do not simply plow on teaching the same lesson that they’ve previously done. That won’t do anyone any good, and you will not get the students on your side. You may even find yourself with a lot of crabby students saying that, rightfully, they don’t care about the activities you want them to do. What can you do instead?
Well, the first thing that you need to do is to buy yourself some time. You can do this by using the previous lesson, in this example, the shopping habits reading, as a means of doing a review activity. Try to get them to work together in partners, groups or by themselves, so that you can have a few minutes to come up with a strategy. Likely, some of your games and activities can be adapted to the new lesson, but some may not.
If you absolutely can’t come up with anything for the next lesson, another option is to review what they previously studied, but from another angle. If they’ve already done the reading, turn the lesson into a reading skills lesson with scanning or paraphrasing as the focus. There’s always the option of extending it. Use the topic as a means of doing speaking activities, or if it was a grammar or vocab lesson, come up with other ways for them to use the language.
If you want to gain access to a number of activities that you can organize on the spot with a minimal amount of materials, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Unexpected Situation #2: The Unexpected Visitor
This may come in the form of a pop-in observation by your DoS, a parent or even a new student. No matter what, having an observer, or someone new, can make you feel awkward and not at your best. Also, there might be some new activities that you’d planned to try out that you feel self conscious about with someone new watching.
Regarding the parent or the DoS, the best advice, usually, is to pretend they’re not there. No good ever comes out of being nervous in class. Another thing you can do is to try and involve them in the lesson somehow. They might feel self conscious about joining in, but if you’ve been surprised with this visitor, I’d say they are fair game.
A new student with bad behavior or who is at a different level than the rest of the kids is another story. For a low level or higher level student, try to keep them engaged in the lesson somehow and bring it up to your manager immediately after class. For “naughty students”, most of the time, if you have a good classroom dynamic, a new student will simply follow the other students’ attitudes and behaviors. If not, and they continue to act out, it is essential that you follow the rules and classroom agreements as laid out previously with the class. It may have been a long time since you’ve had to enforce them, but if you aren’t fair or consistent with this student, it will start to cause a rift in the class.
Unexpected problem #3: There’s a Power Cut or the Internet Isn’t Working
Hah, tricked you. This is something that you should have anticipated. Especially if you’re working in a developing country, but even if not, you should come into class with a backup option for the equipment failing you. But, let’s say you’ve gotten overconfident and trusted your tech too much. Here are some quick solutions:
- Can’t access/play listening activity-> read the tapescript.
- You can’t play your slideshow-> use the whiteboard. (Pro tip: always save your files for offline use on your phone in case you need to reference them. Also, you can still show your pics if it’s on your phone.)
- No A/C and it’s hot -> limit the number of running and athletic games.
- The interactive whiteboard has all these games you were going to use -> go old-school and play similar versions using items at hand. Adapt.
- It’s dark outside and there are no lights-> you probably shouldn’t try teaching in the dark. Use your phone flashlight and get your class down to reception or a lighter area. Make sure that you’ve got all of your students.
Unexpected problem #4: A Student Becomes Violently Ill or Hurts Themselves in Your Class
Hopefully there are never any injuries in your classroom, but they can happen. This is why it’s important to check your classroom space often to check for any loose nails or uncovered sharp edges as to minimize injuries to a possible bruised knee or a bloody nose. I once had a kindergarten student give another child a bloody nose. It was a complete accident, we were doing a TPR activity, and he simply overdid the actions and wasn’t aware that his friend was so close to him. The situation was brought to my attention by a number of students pointing to a pool of blood and shouting “red, teacher, red!”
Luckily, in a class this age, I had a teaching assistant. When you don’t have a teaching assistant, but need to leave the room for an ESSENTIAL reason, you should nominate one student to be the “teacher”. Tell all the students to be good and listen to that teacher while you are gone. If possible, provide a solo activity to keep students busy while you hand the injured or sick student over to a member of staff at your school.
There is no way to list every unexpected situation, that’s why they are called unexpected! In general, the best advice is to always keep a calm and cool head and not to panic. Try to buy yourself some time and come up with a plan, then act on that plan. Whatever you choose to do, try to do it confidently knowing that this isn’t going to be an ideal class, and that’s okay.
Good luck, it can be a chaotic world out there.