When I first started TEFL teaching, it took me nearly as long to plan my lessons as it did to teach them. I would spend hours making resources in the form of playing cards, additional worksheets, board games and the like. During this same initial phase of teaching, I was also wasting a lot of time in the classroom. I would often have a great production activity at the end of the lesson; something I’d spent a long time planning and making resources for. However, due to ineffective management of class time, I often either had to rush through the activity or skip it entirely.
That was a long time ago, and I’ve learned quite a few time-saving tips since then. Read on to find out ways to save time in the classroom and when preparing your lessons.
If you want two activities that use many of the coming tips and require a minimal amount of prep-time, download the resource by clicking on the button below.
Saving Time When Prepping Your Lessons
Use the other teachers at your school as a resource
My Wife is also a TEFL teacher and even after ten years of teaching, I still looked over at her in the teachers’ room yesterday and yelled out, “Do you know any fun games for helping students practice non-defining clauses?” She did, I had my students make their own Mad Libs, and it was loads of fun and achieved my aim. Had I not asked, I may have sat at the desk staring at my coffee for an hour. If you are planning in a space with other TEFL teachers, ask for help when you get stumped. If you are on your own at your school, ask an online forum.
Have the students make the materials
Look, I know how this sounds, but it really is an effective way to save time. Let me give you an example of how this can work. Let’s say that you want the students to play Memory where they have to match two identical or related cards using a specific language structure. Instead of the teacher making three sets of cards so that the students can play in small groups, why not hand the students blank cards and have them write or draw on them?
Last time that I did something like this I was teaching animals and baby animals. The structure was, “It was a tadpole, now it is a frog.” What I did is brainstorm a list of animals on the board with the students, number them then number the students. The students with the corresponding number on the board would write the animal and the baby animal. I now had three sets of cards to play with, which saved considerable prep time and was valuable class time for the students.
In my opinion, the most effective way to plan a lesson is to start by coming up with the final activity. For me, when I open up the book and determine the target language, the first thing that comes to mind is a freer practice game or activity which should come near the end of the lesson. Once I have thought this activity through, the rest of the lesson is easy to plan.
If you have the final activity, what you need to do is come up with ways for the students to practice the language and enable them to do it. If my students are going to do a class survey at the end of class, I need to make sure that they are comfortable asking and answering everything on that list. I’ll need to come up with simple guided games which enable them to practice both.
Find a Quiet Place
I know this is a contradictory piece of advice from the first part of this section, but if I need to plan, and I don’t have a lot of time, I need to eliminate outside distractions. The teachers’ room is often a boisterous and fun place where people can get lost in conversations about the school, the country and the latest gossip. Before you know it, your hour of prep time that you’d allotted yourself might have turned into a scrambling five minutes.
If you need to plan in the teachers’ room, consider bringing in some headphones. When they are on, you focus, when they are off, you can talk and socialize. That, or do the bulk of your planning outside of the teachers’ room and use that time just to review the lesson plan and get the materials together.
Saving Time in the Classroom
One way that I notice a lot of teachers wasting class time is by not giving effective instructions. By rushing into an activity without proper instructions, the activity tends to fall apart, the teacher gets upset and tries to fix the problem while the activity is happening and a good deal of class time is wasted. It is a good practice to consider how you are going to explain an activity to the students during prep time.
Good instructions will save time and make the activity more effective. Remember: give simple instructions, demo the activity, ask a few instructional checking questions, then you are ready to do the activity.
Set Time Limits
Have you ever given a reading task to a class and found that five students are finished after five minutes and the rest are still looking over the text after ten minutes? For whatever tasks you give students, try to give a time limit for them to follow and make sure they have a specific task. Don’t just say “read the text”, give your students a reading task and a time limit that most should be able to achieve.
For longer activities, try to phase them into specific tasks and give the students a time limit for each. For yesterday’s Mad Lib, I gave the students 6 minutes to write a simple paragraph about their day. The students switched papers and I gave them 6 minutes to read the paragraphs and add non-defining clauses to each sentence to make them more entertaining. I then gave them 8 minutes to read them aloud in small groups.
This is especially important for young learners who might otherwise be tempted to run to the toilet in the middle of class or simply think that your class is no more than a recess period. Create a routine for all aspects of the class and the students will start to fall into it. Here are just a few young learner routines I have:
- To start the class, I count down from five and say hello and ask a few questions. Then I divide the class into teams and we review the classroom rules.
- When I want them to do book work I say the same thing each time. “Take out your books. Open your books to page 6.” I then write the page on the board and count down from ten to indicate they only have ten seconds to open to the correct page. When we are finished I say, “Close your books. Put away your books.” I also do a countdown for this.
- I have a toy frog that is a percussion instrument. You move a stick across its back and it makes a croaking sound. When the students hear this, it means “be quiet”.
- I always take a five-minute break at the same time. Students are meant to open their homework books and hand them to me at break time.
- We always end the class with an exit drill where the students line up and I ask them each a question before they can leave.
Keep Your Materials Organized
When you are in the classroom, don’t just throw all of your flashcards, worksheets, registers and toys into a giant pile. If you are spending time looking for materials, you are wasting class time, and inviting the students to start talking to their friends or misbehaving.
This is also true of the teachers’ room. If you keep everything organized, it will save valuable prep time. It’s important to come up with a good system or you might have to hire an intern to reorganize everything.
TEFL is a fun job that allows people to travel. Don’t waste unnecessary prep time that could be spent exploring your TEFL destination. Likewise, don’t waste class time that could be better spent having your students practice English. As they say, “Work smarter, not harder.”
If you want two activities that use many of the tips I’ve just explained and require a minimal amount of prep-time, download the resource by clicking on the button below.