I’ve recently found myself in a unique teaching situation where I have to teach a large number of adult students. There are a number of challenges to these new classes that I have. One is that they are taught at a community center and the classes are free for the students. This means that there are lots of students and they are very mixed age levels and with different motivations for being there.
So I have a number of grandmothers, a number of young professionals and also a few older men who sometimes smell of booze. Also, as this is a community center, the resources are a bit skint. That is to say, there are no resources. No books for the students, no means of playing audio and, for the first few weeks at least, no whiteboard.
Did I mention that all of these students are absolute beginners? That is to say, they didn’t even know how to respond when I asked “What’s your name?”
Read on to find out how I have dealt with this situation and made the classroom dynamic into something I am proud of and where real progress is being made.
Bringing Tech into the Classroom
In the TEFL teaching world, you never know what kind of resources your classroom will or will not have until you are there. That doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. Why not bring your own tech adaptations?
One thing that is extremely useful is a quality bluetooth speaker. For about fifty dollars, I was able to buy a small speaker about the size of a pear, but loud enough so that all of the students in a large classroom can hear it. If you have this, you can load up any audio you might want and play it directly from your smartphone.
Another thing that I have found useful for this adult beginner class, especially without a board, a textbook or any flashcards, has been a tablet. A lot can be done without the aid of pictures, but without anyone to translate, having a tablet has been a godsend.
I take screenshots of photos that I want to use in class. Also, I use it to write down words or grammar structures that I would usually put on the board. One thing I always have to keep in mind is the screen size. I find myself wandering around the room making sure that everyone has seen the photo before introducing it.
Tearing Down Inhibitions
One of the nice things about teaching children is that they are, for the most part, very willing to take part in the silly sort of activities that TEFL lends itself well to. Likewise, they aren’t as scared of making a mistake in front of their peers as adults might be. So, the question is, how do you deal with the inhibitions that adults carry with them into the classroom?
In my case, I just don’t allow it. I have a number of fun mingle activities that are aimed at tearing down these barriers. It takes a certain amount of confidence on my part to tell them to do these activities, but as long as I take the time to set them up well, they haven’t failed me yet.
If you’d like access to three activities that have worked in my adult beginner classroom, you can download them by clicking on the button below.
I had one manager a number of years ago that insisted that games should never be used in an adult classroom. He insisted that they should be termed activities, and that a teacher should never tell the students they are going to play a game. I disagree with this.
In my opinion, in the world of TEFL teaching, especially with low levels, games are a necessary part of learning. The important thing is to make sure that they are relevant, and that the students understand how the game is involved in their learning. Keep it professional and make sure to use it as an opportunity to correct errors and clear up misunderstandings. If you do this, the students will be willing to play games in the classroom.
Group and pair work
As I mentioned, these are big classes. I have about fifty students in each class. The danger here is that I might be the only one speaking. That, or I might just rely on a few strong students for answers or to do activities in front of the class.
So, for a class like mine, I find that the key is group and pair work. A TEFL teacher should always try to include a lot of student to student interaction in a class. I am very careful that each section of my lesson includes an activity where students are speaking to each other in English and practicing the language.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, the second lesson that we had, I was teaching occupations. I had everyone write down an occupation on a piece of paper. The students then exchanged these pieces of paper. Then, they asked the students at their table “What do you do?”.
Afterwards, I had them report about the people sitting next to them. “He’s an office worker.” It’s not a long and complicated interaction, but it’s a start and it ensures they are practicing the language that I want them to.
Dealing with Resistance
One situation that came up on the third week of this class was a new male student who was making colorful remarks that made other students uncomfortable. Specifically, we were talking about likes and dislikes regarding certain foods. This student thought it was very funny to use fruit metaphors as double entendres (e.g. “She likes bananas.”).
Some students laughed, some students were uncomfortable and some students didn’t get it. I let it go the first time and simply ignored it, however, when he tried to do it a second time I made it very clear that it was not funny, and that I would ask him to leave if he didn’t stop.
Once you build a comfortable learning environment with adults, you need to protect it. I don’t force students to do activities that they don’t feel comfortable doing, but I do strongly encourage them and show disappointment if they aren’t doing the task that everyone else is. It’s too large of a class for me to cater to each student individually, sometimes I fid that it is my job to be a little pushy.
Sounds a bit like teaching young learners, doesn’t it.
There is no one size fits all
These are the techniques that I am using for this particular class, but there are many things to take into consideration when preparing for your own adult classes. Make sure you think about cultural differences and that you don’t ask students to do anything they might consider offensive.
Also, if this class were being taught at a place of business and for a specific purpose, I would likely come up with very different activities.
I hope that you have found this useful. Again, if you want to try some of the activities that I use in my adult beginner class, you can download them by clicking on the button below.Â