I've always had a fascination with teaching. As far back as elementary school I remember wanting to design the curriculum, tests and homework assignments. The same stale format over and over creates a dull class with little incentive for learning, and I had ideas to fix that. I never really wanted to be a teacher, but I always wanted to control how things were taught. Naturally, because I was 10 or so, my ideas were silly. One idea was to give multiple choice tests with a hint that each answer a-e had an equal number of occurrences. What would this accomplish? It would boost the confidence of kids in the 95-100% range (that was me at the time) and it might make the test more interesting for other kids. In retrospect, it would probably do more harm than good for those with poor scores, but I still think that adding a little something different to things very routine is vital for learning.
In my 6 months teaching before moving to Tokyo, I learned a lot. I became quite confident. I learned to leave my pride at the door and become a shameless comedian. But in my short time in Tokyo I've learned something equally important. I've learned, by watching some truly great teachers, how to apply that confidence (and shamelessness) to really teach English well. I'm not a great teacher, but I can confidently say that I am very good in the right circumstances.
This week I've been putting my new found knowledge to the test. I am on a week long break from my usual schools and teaching at an elementary school in Saitama (up north a little). The first couple days went pretty well, but I think today was very good. I taught 5 classes and 4 different grade levels. My best class was 4th grade. Here's the gist of what happens in one class:
Greeting. In a low energy class (not 4th grade, but maybe 5th or 6th) I'll open with something like "STAND UP!" ... "SIT DOWN!!" ... "SIT DOWN!" and so on, changing my intonation trying to mess them up.
Self Introduction (I'm only here for a week and I teach each class once, so every class has a self introduction)
Numbers 1-50. 4th graders mostly know numbers, but they aren't solid. Having students repeat numbers with flash cards is boring, but this is how a lot of people teach. One of the Japanese teachers in Tokyo showed me some good ways to make it more interesting. I write the numbers as I say them and the class repeats. Then sometimes I write them really big or small and the class has to say "too big!" or "too small!" I throw in things like "too fast!" and "too slow!" and even "upside down!" and they get into it instead of mindlessly chanting from 1 to 50. Then I erase quite a few numbers in a row / column and such. I call on some kids to come up and write in the missing numbers I say out loud. This stresses how hard it is to hear the difference between 13/30, 14/40 and so on. It also introduces "one more time!" and "I don't know". After a few volunteers I switch to something completely different. The class is only 45 minutes so I don't want to waste too much time.
Colors/Fruits/whatever review. Today I did some color review. Just some color flash cards. 4th graders know the colors so it is easy, but sometimes I'll have the card upside down or something to refresh "upside down!" This whole thing only lasts like 2 minutes.
Head shoulders knees and toes. This is a fun song with any age group willing to be a little silly. 6th graders won't do it, but 4th grade is usually willing. 3rd grade loves it. We repeat all the words a couple times then just start into it because they all know it already. Then at the end I say one more time! and speed up faster and faster until it's basically impossible. In a good class I'll hear some "too fast!" but sometimes I have to be the one to say it. Then I'll start singing it reaaaaally slow until someone says "too slow."
Simon (Michael) says. This game is fun for any grade level. The higher the grade the more complex the game can get, such as me doing the wrong pose on purpose. With 4th grade I just say "touch your [insert body part from 'head shoulders knees and toes' song]" or simple things like "hands up" "jump" "clap" etc. After about 3 or 4 games the class is over!
"Stand up!" "Thank you very much!" "Goodbye!" "See you!" And I'm out.