“So how do you actually teach English?” is a question that I am consistently asked by friends, family, and other people curious about the TEFL industry. Some people seem to imagine that it happens magically through some sort of osmosis. Others might harken back to memories they have from a traditional foreign language class they may have had in high school. They think that TEFL teachers are in front of the room lecturing while the students passively listen and occasionally repeat after the instructor.
I then explain that no, students don’t magically learn the language. A good teacher creates engaging activities throughout each lesson to get the students to use the language, not just passively learn it. This is one of the most important tenets of TEFL teaching: maximize the amount of time that the students are talking and minimize teacher talking time. That said, how can students practice something that they don’t know?
This is where the presentation phase of a lesson comes in. In a traditional TEFL PPP (presentation, practice, production) lesson format, the presentation phase comes before the students get a chance for controlled or freer practice. This is the phase where the teacher introduces the students to either new vocabulary or new grammar, and makes sure that they understand. It’s an important phase that is often rushed, skipped completely, or done while no one is paying attention. Read on to find out several presentation methods that your students will find interesting, and how to implement this phase effectively.
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Wait Until You Have Everyone’s Attention
Whether they are adults or young children, you need to make sure that your students are ready to focus before presenting new language. For this reason, it is important to either do a warmer or some other easy activity before introducing the language. A warmer is a simple game or activity at the beginning of the lesson that gets the students in the right state of mind.
For younger students, I make sure that I use up some of their excess energy before I try and teach them anything new. I usually make the warmer quite active so they are ready to sit down and listen. For adults, I find the most important thing is to have some sort of activity that gets them mentally inside of the classroom. Many of my adult students have full time jobs, mortgages, families and a host of other problems to worry about. I try to entice them through an engaging game or an interesting topic before moving into anything new.
Once your students are ready to focus, I usually do one more thing to ensure that I have their attention. For younger students I have a series of attention grabbers that I can employ.
Call and response
Teacher: (teacher claps twice) Look at me.
Students: (clap twice mimicking the teacher) Look at teacher.
Five seconds of silence
Teacher: Listen to the teacher. (starts counting down from five on their fingers)
The students all need to be completely quiet for five seconds before the teacher will move on.
This can be any loud noise maker. A bell, a whistle, a drum or just clapping. The idea is that when the students hear this noise, they are meant to be quiet. After making the noise, wait until all of the students are quiet before continuing.
For older students and adults, you may not think that getting their attention is difficult. I disagree completely. Especially in larger classes, they may be talking to their neighbor in L1, trying to use their phone or just daydreaming. To make sure that I have the attention of older students, I tend to use humor. I can make a joke and check that people are listening or, sometimes, even go so far as to comically clear my throat next to “naughty” adult students. As long as this is done in a tongue and cheek fashion, it should get the students attention without offending anyone.
Different Ways of Doing the Presentation Phase
Most schools have flashcards, and it’s very easy to get into a rut where your only presentation of new language is to pull out a stack of flashcards for the lesson, show the students the picture and get them to repeat the word after you. This works, but it’s going to get old real quick. If the students aren’t interested while you present new grammar or vocabulary, they aren’t going to be able to use it when you get to more interesting games and activities later in the lesson. Why not spice it up a bit?
Options for the presentation phase of a lesson are limited only by a teacher’s imagination. Instead of the same old flashcards, why not find real pictures from the internet (3 minutes of your time) or find a video that has a lot of the vocab items and pause every time that target language appears? Doing something to raise your students’ interest before drilling the vocab or grammar will help them to understand the overall concept. For example, a short video of jungle animals before teaching some simple animal vocabulary will give the students a context.
Another popular method for the presentation phase is realia. This means that if you are teaching fruit, you actually bring real fruit into the classroom. The advantages of this are that there won’t be any confusion over what the thing is (sometimes pictures can be unclear). Also, realia is fun. Playing games with the real thing creates an air of excitement, like being at a performance. The disadvantages are that this takes a lot more time to prepare, and it simply isn’t possible for all types of vocabulary or grammar. Let’s say I’m teaching jobs; I could bring in a doctor costume, but bringing in a real doctor might be more of a challenge.
Other great tools for presenting new language in an interesting way are puppets (probably not for adults…probably). Puppets are especially good for introducing a new structure to young students. I’ll usually keep my puppet hidden somewhere until it’s time to wake Mr. Elephant up. When Mr. Elephant comes out, everyone says hello to him, then I use him to model some new language. For example:
Teacher: Mr. Elephant, what do you want? (Mr. Elephant looks at an apple, banana and a cake).
Mr. Elephant: I want cake!
[the teacher then repeats this a few times, then gets the students to ask and one student to deliver what Mr. Elephant wants]
In the above example, I have now gotten across what the idea of “want” is without any translation necessary. Also, the students have remained engaged because they love Mr. Elephant and his wacky ways.
One last thing to remember when presenting new language is to use your board effectively. Make sure that the structure and vocabulary is up on the board and remains there throughout the lesson. One way to make the structure clear is to use different colors for different parts of speech or to highlight the word that needs to change: I want an egg.
Checking That You Were Successful
Before you move onto the practice phase of the lesson where your students will take part in games or activities to use the language you’ve just presented, you need to check on a few things. One of these is pronunciation. When you are presenting new vocabulary, get the students to choral the word and check that they are saying it correctly. The same goes for more advanced older classes; check their word or sentence stress.
Another thing that you want to do during this phase of the lesson is a series of CCQs (concept checking questions). This means asking questions to make sure that the students understand what the grammar means or what the vocabulary item actually is. For instance, I might be teaching “I like…” and animals. I would ask the students “I like cat…I like one cat? Or I like cats.” I then wait for them to answer correctly, praise them, then practice again.
Another example for a more advanced class is when I’m teaching third conditional. “So third conditional situations are impossible. Why are they impossible? Yes, exactly, because it’s in the past. You can’t change the past. We don’t have a time machine…”. These types of questions are useful to make sure everyone is on the same page before moving on.
In general, I try to keep this phase of the lesson brief, but as interesting as possible. It’s such an essential part of the lesson, and its success or failure will impact everything else that happens afterwards. The key, like many aspects of teaching, is to use your creativity. If you have an interesting presentation idea that you’d like to share, please leave it in the comment section of this post.
If you’d like a free lesson planning template to help you start planning your presentation phase and other phases more effectively, you can gain access by clicking on the link below.
“Lesson Plan Template”