Benefits of listening to music in class:
Let’s admit it, I am a terrible singer. I love singing under my shower but I doubt my neighbors appreciate that. Anyway. As a teacher we sometimes have to use our singing skills. Ok well maybe not singing skills but at least our musical skills. So why is music so important in the learning-teaching process? First of all it is enjoyable. Who doesn’t like listening to music once in a while? Second it’s relaxing, energizing and it helps us focus. Last but not least it helps our brain memorise and understand patterns.
How to use music in the classroom :
1. At the beginning of a lesson
I usually play some soft music before students enter the class. By the end of the song they should be ready and on task. This is an easy routine to put in place and it helps students –and teachers to relax and be ready for the next activity. It helps them to make a transition from their previous class to yours.
2. When students are on task
You can also play music while students are working on an activity. Sometimes having some music while reading or writing can help your students concentrate more. However for this you need to know your group well. If music is a good way to focus for some, other may need absolute silence. The best thing to do then is to ask your students what they prefer.
3. Music as a tool for classroom management
Music can be of great help for behavior management as well. In one of my articles I mentioned the use of the Yoga Stretch to start lessons in a smooth and relaxed way. Obviously instrumental music can be used at that time to reinforce the purpose of the Yoga stretch. Your students should feel more relaxed and ready to be on task. Music will help you also with pacing your lessons. Depending on the type of activity you may require soft or punchy music. For example for brainstorming I usually use Gotyie Somebody I use to know because the rhythm sounds like a metronome. For competitive games and especially dictionary contests I sometimes play Mission Impossible to liven the pace. As background music it will all depend on the mood and attitude of my group. If I feel they need to calm down I will probably put some classical music. If on the other I want them to be more energetic I will use a pop song that will wake them up.
4. Music for language teachers
Singing is a natural skill for human beings- well apart from me. From a young age we are surrounded by music and songs. That’s no doubt why young children love chanting and singing songs. On top of its enjoyable feature music is a good way to memorize patterns in sounds. For this reason if you are language teacher any reason is good for you to bring some music to your class. You can expose your students to real authentic language by using this tool and it will increase your students’ awareness of some grammatical structures, vocabulary and pronunciation.
Those who are not teachers often believe that teaching just requires knowledge. However we all know that it is far from being the case. There is a lot happening on the backstage and planning is part of it. Here are some easy steps that you will probably find useful.
Define the objectives of your lesson
Start with those. Ask yourself the following questions: What is the topic of the Unit? How does it fit in the Unit? This topic will usually be defined by the curriculum you follow. What do my students need to be able to do by the end of the lesson? If you are a language teacher choose specific linguistic skills and grammatical points that will need to be taught. Identify as well communication tasks that will be required. Think about their prior knowledge. What do they already know that you could use to start the lesson?
Check the material you have. You will probably use a textbook but this is not enough. Look for other material online and even better create your own material to suit your students’ needs and abilities. As much as possible try to find authentic documents that will trigger your students’ speaking skills and engage them more. Include technology as much as possible but don’t fall into the trap to use technology for the sake of it. Your material needs to serve your teaching objectives.
How to organise your lesson plan
Have a progressive lesson. As any good story we need a beginning, a middle and an end. We usually use what we call the PPP format which means Presentation Practice and Production. It has to be progressive.
- Start with reviewing prior knowledge. Have a quick starter to refresh their memories such as a word search, a crisscross puzzle, a reading comprehension, a matching up activity. The starter is aimed at knowing what students already know and it can also introduce some parts of the language introduced later in the lesson.
- The presentation stage is the introduction to the topic. It is a teacher centered activity. Students start getting used to the new language progressively. Here we focus on receptive skills.
- Then short practices follow such as games to reinforce the language and to have students to integrate it. As much as possible vary the types of activities (kinesthetic, auditory, visual) and the mode of interaction (group work, pairs, individuals, whole class)
- Then you dig deeper to focus on grammatical skills for example. Remember that your grammar point has to be embedded naturally in the lesson. It shouldn’t come out of nowhere. You need to get students think before eliciting the grammar point so that they can integrate the grammar point.
- Include some practices to reinforce the grammar point.
- The final stage is the production. By the time you get to that stage students should already be able to use the language autonomously. In the production they use their creativity to reuse the language learned. You could have a writing activity (letter, emails, conversation), a speaking activity (role play, debate, conversations) depending on the context.
- Last but not least the plenary will help you check what has been learnt and what needs to be reinforced.
How to manage your time
Timing is important. You need to evaluate how long each activity will be so that they can fit in your lesson plan. Activities for secondary school students shouldn’t last more than 10 minutes each which means you need to prepare short activities to avoid boredom and keep them on task. I also suggest that you plan more activities just in case. If you don’t do everything that was on your lesson plan, never mind you will have something ready for the following day.
“Time flies, running out of time, meeting deadlines, time management.” If these expressions sound familiar to you are probably one of the happy few in the teaching field. Time management is certainly a major issue in most careers nowadays but it seems as if teachers are the first one to suffer from the ‘lack-of-time syndrome.’ Managing time in education is indeed one of the biggest challenges, as you will need to manage your own time but also that of your students and that imposed by your other responsibilities in the school. Planning lessons, organizing the classroom, evaluating students, setting targets, checking books, behavior management issues, duties, paperwork, meetings etc are just some examples on a long list of teachers’ everyday life that make them work against the clock.
Most teachers work over fifty hours a week and sadly only half of this time is spent on teaching, which should make us, think about prioritizing time.Setting priorities and organizing our agenda according to the main activities is crucial. We need to arrange our workload around these activities and around the impact these activities will have. To do so, use your agenda and make to do lists to decide what is important and what can wait. The first priority as a teacher should be the students which means that your do list should reflect lesson planning and the preparation of resources. Try to have as much planning done before the start of the year. Your Unit Plans or Schemes Of Work should be ready to use as well as most of your lessons. You should have a routine set in each class that will save you time in terms of organization and behavior management. If you are beginning as a teacher ask your colleagues to help you and to tell you where the resources of the department are, as it will save you a lot of time and energy.
You must be extra organized. Use different files and colors and know exactly where you can find your documents. Avoid procrastination and break up the paperwork into smaller units. You may decide to mark some assignments on Monday, record grades of some groups on Tuesday, check books on Wednesday, fill in any paperwork for the school on Thursday while students are under your supervision in detention and Friday could be used for parents meetings. You need to find your own balance and find what suits you best in your practice. But remember not to leave things at the last minute, as it is even more exhausting.
Last but not least: include your personal time in your agenda. As teachers we usually are perfectionist and we tend to stay our classroom until we get the work done. There’s nothing wrong with that but when you don’t even get time to get a proper break or get time for your lunch, that’s an issue. When teachers are exhausted and don’t find time to relax with their family and friends the burn out is not far. So, find time for yourself. Try to be ready to say: “That’s enough for today, it’s time for my personal care”. Finally I would also say that you should avoid bringing work at home. Bringing home piles of books of marking can be seducing after a long day but how many of these do you actually get done? And what about your work-life balance? Think about it and make sure you get the right balance to be efficient both at work and home.
How to teach a class for the 1st time?
Scary, daunting, frustrating, isolating! Here are the words that come to my mind when I think about my first day as a teacher. So, why do it will you say? Because teaching is also exciting, rewarding, challenging, fun and interesting in many ways. The first thing to do to avoid pressure and any possible breakdown is to prepare yourself carefully for that first day. Prepare cautiously your lesson plan with lots of ice breakers and activities to engage your students and to get to know them. Some teachers also have a friendly worksheet to hand out where their students write personal information about their family, activities they like etc. This can be quite useful when it comes to understanding some family challenges and also to know what they are into. On your first day be ready to explain clearly what you expect of the students and be ready to give them an overview of what they will learn during the course. I also suggest that you review the school policies and agree on some basic rules before starting. Last but not least, start teaching!
Once you have your lesson plan, your resources and your enthusiasm, there you go! Try to arrive early to make all the necessary arrangements you want. Set up any equipment and make sure it is working perfectly. Display or write the outline of the course along with your name. Once your students are in, engage with them, chat with them. Interacting with your students right from the beginning will create a nice atmosphere and they will be more likely to take part in the lesson.
The best thing to do first is to introduce yourself. You can simply write down your name on the board and explain why you like and teach your subject or you may want to use some fun activities. I personally like the 2 truths one lie activity as students guess what is true about me and I get to know some truths about them as well. What is good as well is that you start learning and using their names. Learning students’ names quickly is vital as it will help you interact with them efficiently. If memorizing names and faces is not your strength prepare a seating plan with their photos to help you.
Once the ice has been broken explain the course and provide them with some examples of teaching methods you will use. Show them how each unit fits in the curriculum and tell them about the importance of attendance, punctuality and assignments. Be clear about your expectations and review the school policies but also your own rules within the classroom. I generally have my students to write their own rules as they remember them better and I then display these rules in the classroom as a reminder.
Don’t forget to answer any questions they may have about the course and ensure that they are clear about what is expected of them. Your first lesson has to be friendly, engaging but you should also be able to set the boundaries.
You may also have to be ready to defuse some situations. I remember my first day as Head of French in a college in London and I will never forget M. as one of my students. I was completely new there and I was only 23 years old so almost the same age as my students. In agreement with the department we had decided not to accept any students who would be more than 10 minutes late. M. arrived 15 minutes late without any good excuse or even knocking on the door. I explained the situation to him and to the rest of the class and told him to come back after the break. He started shouting and threw his bag on the floor in a quite threatening way. I was shocked but I stayed on my position because it was not just about that student it was about the whole class. I had to show my determination. When he left the room I used some humor with the class to avoid any escalation of the situation. It paid off. Just five minutes after the incident they were back on track and getting part in the discussion about the course. When the student came back after the break I just welcomed him as I would have done with any other student. He wasn’t defiant anymore just pretending to be bored at start. But when he realized that the rest of the class was actively on task and enjoying the tasks then he started participating. I spent the rest of the lesson encouraging him and praising him for his participation. M. came to see me at the end of the lesson and just apologized. I would always remember his words: “I am sorry, it was great actually. I don’t know how you did it but I am on board now.” M. then proved to be an excellent student if not the best of that group and he even took French at University. THAT is the rewarding part of teaching.
So, if things are not perfect the first day- and they won’t- don’t panic. It’s part of the game. Just take things calmly and try to see where things could have been improved and adjust them for your next lesson.
Over the years we all have had to face these students with good understanding skills but poor speaking skills. It doesn’t mean that they are unable to speak but simply that they are completely scared at the thought of talking out loud in front of their peers. There isn’t much we can do about shyness as it is usually a personality trait but there is a lot we can do for these students to make sure they speak and gain in self-confidence.
The first thing to do with these students is to include them as part of the group and help them by giving them clear structured instructions when they have to take part in a role play. We must be as specific as possible and we can even give them some visual support with key words or sentences to have them started. Generally you will find out that their shyness is often linked to a fear of embarrassment so if we pair them up with some people they are confident with and if we give them some support without acknowledging their shyness we often have great results.
Shy students whether they are adults or children are self-conscious. Because of their fear of making mistakes or mispronunciation they prefer to keep quiet. Some of them even apologise for their mistakes. When we have that kind of learners we need to release the pressure and get some fun. Silliness is wonderful to release the pressure. If everybody’s laughing why shouldn’t our shy students do the same? There are plenty of ways to bring some silliness. If you’re good at telling jokes then the classroom may be your stage, if you like playing tricks or if you like mimes, do it! It’s true that we are not all confident with that kind of strategies but they are really worth it. If you’re still not convinced you can also try some tongue twisters. They are usually hilarious and it helps break the ice.
As in any classroom we need to pay attention to our students’ likes and interests. It’s even more important when we have shy students who won’t open up. Try to find out about their hobbies, passion, special skills and interests and if you bring up one of their favourite topics you’ll see that they will start speaking. They will probably look for their words, they’ll probably look anxious but they will give it a go simply because they have to express their opinions and feelings.
Last but not least, create a friendly open environment where respect and fun are the key elements. Make sure that you are here to listen to your students and that you are here as well to take the time to listen to your shy students without judging them or insisting on their weaknesses. With shy students as well you need to be very careful with the type of feedback you provide if you don’t want to lose all the confidence they are building.