You have just received a phone call about a new TEFL job! The only problem is, you have been assigned to a low beginner class, and you don’t speak your students’ languages. How are you going to teach them?
Don’t panic. It’s possible to get off on the right foot with some simple pictures, markers and paper, and a good sense of humour.
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words – Teaching Beginners
With low beginners, think ‘show’ rather than ‘explain’. Whenever you find yourself explaining, or writing ‘explain’ or ‘describe’ in your lesson plan, stop. Your low beginner students will get lost in the words. Pictures or simple line drawings on the blackboard can help make a concept clear. You don’t need to be a great artist! The goal is to get your meaning across quickly.
If you feel completely hopeless about your drawing skills, get a few books on cartooning from the library, or buy yourself a copy of 1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy. This invaluable teacher reference can help you draw your way through any situation in the classroom!
Getting Started – Teaching Beginners
To get started with a new low beginner class, start with introducing your name. Gesturing is often sufficient for this- pointing to yourself and saying “My name is _____” usually gets the idea across. If not, prepare (in advance) a flashcard of a typical piece of ID. Point to the name on the ID, then point to yourself. Then ask students, “What’s your name?”.
When students have an idea, you have them ask each other their names, and periodically review the names so that students can learn each others’ names. This helps create a supportive classroom.
Creating Picture Story Maps- Teaching Beginners
When students have had a chance to introduce themselves, you can start developing the story maps. Model the process for your personal story.
- On the blackboard, draw simple pictures to illustrate key facts about your life. For example, you can draw:
-a flag or symbol from your country to illustrate your nationality
-a photo or picture of a hand with a wedding ring to illustrate the marriage
-a picture of a large stick figure and two small ones to illustrate if you have children
-a picture of a coffee mug to show you drink coffee.
- Think of simple pictures that could represent key facts about your life, and create a story map on the board.
- When you have created the map, go back and narrate the story with simple sentences. You can write key words underneath the pictures. It is good to include a visual about your work, as you want to find out about students’ jobs if they are working.
- When you have gone over your story map with students, hand out a piece of paper (legal-sized – or 8.5×17”- works well for this) and some markers and gesture to students that they are going to draw their maps.
- As students are drawing, go around and identify as much information as you can. Help students write the name of their country of origin on the paper, and other keywords. You will find out information about your students’ lives, and get to know them.
Ways of Using the Maps – Teaching Beginners
- When students have finished working on their maps, you can pair them with a partner and have them exchange maps. Your students may not have a lot of words in English to discuss the maps, but they will be interested in learning about their classmates and may be able to identify some keywords.
- You can collect the maps and go over one or two of them with the class. Use simple language (and keep smiling!)
- Before the next class, go over the maps. Identify key information and themes. Make a copy of the maps for your records and for later use. Make overheads or Powerpoint slides of the maps for use in upcoming classes.
- For the next class, create a handout with your story map, and write a simple narrative underneath it. Leave blanks for the keywords. Review the story map with the class, and have the class work together to fill in the blanks.
- After that, use the overhead projector or computer, and go over some of the students’ maps as a class. Continue to elicit keywords from students as you go over the maps. Ask simple questions to begin exposing students to a range of language forms.
- With the vocabulary base, you generate from these activities, you can begin introducing some simple grammatical structures using contexts that are relevant to your students’ lives and experiences.
Benefits of Using Maps – Teaching Beginners
Using vocabulary, themes, and contexts that are generated by your students help you create lessons that are relevant to your students’ needs and interests. Students make a more immediate connection between the language they are learning and their lives.
Published resources may not necessarily help you find out about the reality of your students lives. Starting your course off with materials generated by your students can help you create meaningful and relevant learning experiences that will improve your students’ motivation for improving English.
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