Is it really useful?

011120143006I love being a teacher. I love my job, my students and my colleagues.

There’s one thing, though, that I really hate: giving instructions.

I can’t help feeling that giving classroom directions is the silliest and the least creative activity in the world.

There’s one particular pet hate I have:

“Open your books on page …..”

It’s not that I hate the books. I have no problem using coursebooks at all. To the contrary, I find them very useful in my teaching context. It’s just the phrase I utter so many times throughout the day that invariably makes me shudder with disgust.

I was taught that effective classroom instructions  should be short, clear and to the point. So I suppose that any creative variations on “Open your books on page …” would be considered a methodological rebellion.

  • Hey guys, why don’t you take your books and flip through the content until you come across page ….
  • I’m looking at a fabulous grammar exercise. Could you just find it in your books? It’s on page … 
  • Wow, this article looks very interesting. Would you like to have a look at it now? You’ll find it on page ….
  • Grab the publications lying on your desks and check out this amazing listening on page …

When I give my students directions, not all students do instantly what I ask them to do. Some do, but others need more time to get going. Having said that, part of me believes that it’s easier for my students to concentrate on a short, boring command than on something longer and more creative. This part of me is convinced that I must do what’s useful for my class and sacrifice my creativity and the desire for more authenticity. Another part of my teacher self believes that those ‘laggers’ struggle to concentrate just because the instructions are boring and always the same and that something more elaborate and unusual may crank them up.

This post has no decent conclusion, I guess. I’d just like to wind up thanking the following people for inspiration:

Zhenya Dnipro

Marc Jones

Kevin Stein

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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9 Responses to Is it really useful?

  1. Marc says:

    I feel your pain, Hana. I hate repeating the same bare-bones imperatives to my junior high school kids especially. However, I do know – like you – if I prettify it, nobody will do what should happen.

    As Zhenya said, not everything that is useful for students is pleasant for teachers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Marc. Yes, the imperatives seem particularly silly with older students. Now that I think about it, I have no problem giving instructions to young learners. I’ve noticed before that I feel more comfortable with younger classes and this may actually be one of the reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marc says:

        Do you think it’s because we feel like we’re patronising, knowing what we know about the linguistic nuances, whereas learners understand the easy, no-nonsense structures?

        Like

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Yes, Marc. Perhaps I feel that by using those simplified structures with older students I actually patronize them because I’d probably never talk to them the same way in their mother tongue. It’s just a speculation, though, and I’d better ask my students how they feel about it themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana

    First of all, thank you for the mention and the link. Most of all, thank you for continuing the conversation of what is, or isn’t, useful in class – for teachers, for students, for learning.

    My very first lesson on a CELTA course (a long time ago) with intermediate level students included the instruction for reading ‘would you mind opening your books on page xx’. The written notes from my tutor said: ‘Be simple- just say ‘open’ and the page number’ (something along these lines, not the exact words) I am wondering if I ever re-visited this idea since then 🙂 Yes, simple/clear instructions save time and help us ‘move’ to the next stage of the lesson. Yes, we most likely don’t use imperatives outside our classroom (although we don’t usually ask anyone to open a specific page outside the classroom – now curious and thinking about an example) On the other hand, for beginner/elementary level learners the nuances of ‘teacher talk’ might be too much to grasp or even understand. The question is (to me!) where is the point to ‘feel’ the need to switch?

    Finally, to add to the creative ways of opening the books:
    – there is a surprise idea waiting for you on page xx
    – you might (dis)agree with the author of the text on page yy
    – the task on page xx might help you with this ‘grammar tip’

    etc.

    Thank you for the inspiration – as always!
    Zhenya

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi Zhenya,

      I really like your addition to my original directions. While my directions were slightly exaggerated and deliberately distorted in the post (since I wanted to make a certain point), your ideas for tweaking the instructions are perfect. They are perfect because they are a consequence of something interesting and motivating that happens before they are actually uttered by the teacher. And that is the point; maybe the ‘open your books on page’ command gets on my nerves just because I’m not quite satisfied with what preceded it. Thanks for helping me realize this!

      Liked by 2 people

      • ven_vve says:

        It’s been a while now that I’ve given instructions with regard to books in the classroom since during the f2f sessions at the beginning of our online course the students haven’t yet had a chance to get the course materials. So it may be that I’m engaging in selective memory, but I’m pretty sure that when I did use coursebooks I would more often say something along the lines of what Zhenya suggested. When I think about it now, frequent phrases were probably “on p.X you’ll find/see…” and “we’re going to have a look at p. X…” (possibly “I thought we’d take a look at…”). Also, when I think about it now, it does seem like the kind of thing you can do with adults; perhaps less successfully with young learners.

        Reading and commenting on this post has also reminded me that I used to almost always hold the book up, open on the page I needed them to turn to, and show it to the class. I’d usually hold it there for a little while because there would inevitably be some distracted soul who wasn’t sure what we were doing next. I can’t remember how I started doing this – I think someone suggested it post observation – but I found it really useful and practical, even though at first I was a little worried it could appear patronizing.

        Like

  4. Pingback: Is it really useful? | Wednesday Seminars

  5. Hana Tichá says:

    Oh, yes, Vedrana, I do this too – I hold the book up for a while to show it to the class. Not only that; I also write the page number on the board and point to it (I sometimes even tap on the board repeatedly). Just imagine, I do this with senior students too! Well, young learners are often more alert that those young adults who only get 4 hours of sleep each night and thus need a nap or two at school. 🙂

    Like

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