Whoops! I really should have started at the beginning. So here’s part ‘Minus One’.
The majority of exam classes (at least in Italy) take place in secondary schools. This post is mainly aimed at teachers of these courses, but could be applied to any exam prep class.
Usually Italian kids who have chosen to do PET / FCE / CAE / IELTS stay on at school after their normal lessons for another couple of hours. You often have a 20 hour course to prepare them for PET, 30 hours for FCE or CAE or IELTS. The students tend not to be from the same class or year group. So some of them know each other and some of them don’t. Sometimes they’ve done a test to establish their level before being accepted on the course…sometimes they haven’t.
What can occur as a result is the stuff of TEFL nightmares.
- You get lost driving to the school because your GPS sent you through a field half way up a mountain. You arrive late.
- You get to the room and there are no students. You realise you’re in the wrong building (nobody told you there were two buildings!) you run to the other building and you’re even more late.
- You walk into the building and the caretaker doesn’t know who you are or what course you’re talking about.
- The caretaker speaks to you in the local dialect and you have no idea what she is talking about
- The students stand up as you walk in and you look at them blankly because you wonder if they’re going somewhere.
- You have to give out books and collect money and you forget how many books you have and who’s given you the money and this is all eating away at your lesson time.
- There’s no IWB.
- There’s no WiFi.
- There’s no CD player.
- There’s only a blackboard and there’s no chalk.
- You have to try to remember the names of 25 kids, and 5 of them are called Marco.
- Students come and ask you if they can change classes/how much the course/exam is and you really don’t have a clue (or care! you’re desperately trying to get on with the lesson you’ve planned).
- You realise you can’t do the Reading part 1 you’d spent hours planning because 10 of them forgot to bring the money for the book.
- Now you’ve got their attention. They’re sitting in front of you in rows. Nobody says anything in English. There’s a deathly silence that’s making you sweat.
- A kid at the back says something in a dialect that you don’t understand and everyone laughs. You go the colour of a beetroot and yearn for the green pastures of home.
- A person (you have no idea who it is, they don’t bother to introduce themselves) walks in and starts talking to the class. They all stand up again. You wonder if it’s a fire drill or something.
- You ask them to ‘work in pairs’ and they look at you blankly.
- You realise that two of the students you thought were reading are actually asleep.
After living this scenario (or parts of it) for several years I came to the conclusion that to have a successful first lesson in a state school you should:
- get there really early
- move the desks
- use little or no resources.
- not rely on any technology
- get them talking immediately
- establish appropriate classroom behaviour immediately (working in pairs, speaking in English, level of formality between teacher and student)
- learn their names as soon as possible
- make it student focused not book focused
- not let the pace drop for too long (or they will literally fall asleep)
In Part Minus Two I’ll suggest a handy lesson plan that can be applied to all mainstream exam prep courses B1-C2.