I wrote in my last post about the supplies I bring to teach in a remote village and some the problems of teaching without a classroom. This is what I tend to do with them (with some variations):
Introduction of topic
I start by introducing new ideas or topics. I would often draw some pictures on an A3 plastic sleeve (or put them inside if I’m going to be showing them multiple times, as the image doesn’t rub off that way). For example, I might draw a picture of a family (stick image), or I might draw faces with simple emotions (like emojis).
I then show the pictures and introduce the new vocabulary, focusing on pronunciation. I spend a bit of time on words or particular sounds that Khmer people miss out or find difficult (like the /ð/ and /θ/ sounds in th letters or the /s/ sound at the end of words).
I tend not to introduce the spelling of the words until I am comfortable with their pronunciation. I’m not sure if this is best practice. Maybe having the words there might help, but with irregular English spellings it might not.
I might then write down the words for them. I will get them to copy them onto the whiteboards. After a suitable length of time I get them to show what they have written.
I will address any spelling mistakes or any problems in the formation of letters. Lowercase r and v tend to look similar or even like ɤ. Again, lowercase ts and fs are sometimes mistaken. They can then correct their spellings immediately.
Verbs, facial expressions and even things such as weather can allow for miming actions. Also, body parts are quite good as the students can point or shake or lift the necessary body part. It is fun, and also a quick way to check for comprehension of the vocabulary.
Simply shout the word and get them to act it out or pull the facial expression.
Pointing games / running to games
Distribute the vocabulary around the classroom / open area (you may have to ask students to volunteer to hold the words). The calmer, less energetic version is that you get the students to point to the correct word when you shout it. The crazier, but more fun version is when the children have to race to the place. When I taught last year (in a school, but I did take a lot of my teaching outside), I did this when I was teaching locations around town (the market, the Wat, the post office, etc). The lessons then tended to be in the late afternoons when it was cooler.
This, of course, can be done in teams, where a student from each team has go.
I’ve also done things in teams, where the words or letters of the alphabet were on the board and they take it in turns to cross them out or point to them.
This does check the overall groups’ understanding and allows the class to address the misconceptions of others. However, I am aware some students will just be following the crowd and not listen to what you say.
This uses the paddle boards again. You can shout out a word, or show it briefly. I then took it away and the students had to write it correctly without being able to see it. For the youngest kids (remember, I was teaching 6-18 year olds), I creep around and show them the word again for about 10 seconds, to give them more of a chance.
Evaluating what I did
I’m always taught to be a reflective teacher, however, that often verges on highly self-critical. In teaching observations I often think I pretty much failed it, and the feedback always tends to be good.
However, I am aware that the odds are somewhat stacked against me and I am doing the best I can. But I like to try to think of ways to improve things. The difference between the first session and the second session I did was dramatic, in my opinion, and that was with only a few changes.
I only teach for about 40 minutes every month. So what do they actually learn?
- They get to hear a native English speaker talking. Their teachers and other visitors that speak English will tend not be native English speakers. Therefore, any opportunity to hear the correct pronunciation and grammatically perfect speech is a good opportunity.
- I can address mistakes and mispronunciations quickly. There were a few patterns in the spelling mistakes and the pronunciation of words. I picked some of the words slightly intentionally, others through serendipity, that addressed particular needs. The words brother, father and mother all have the aforementioned /th/ sound. The words surprised and confused have an interesting -sed /zd/ ending. Khmer people tend to pronounce it as ‘supriy’. The s sound in Khmer is used but it’s never pronounced at the end of a syllable (rice is ‘rye’, white is ‘why’). The /zd/ sound is never found in Khmer as far as I’m aware, especially at the end of syllables. I also was able to address writing and spelling mistakes.
- I am a qualified teacher with experience in teaching TEFl. For schools in remote areas, they are hard to come by. Also, my Western teaching techniques may be rather novel to the students, so they enjoy it. For some who have had to drop out of school, it’ll be the only teaching they will get.
- The students seemed to be eager and enthusiastic to learn with me. If they’re laughing they’re learning. Right?
- It broadens their experience and world view. Generally, remote villages get few overseas visitors (although Cambodia, it seems, is an NGO and well-meaning visitor hotspot). Perhaps, just by seeing the opportunities that education can bring, it might encourage them to be more serious about it. The other Khmer people I’m with definitely try to instil that idea.
What needs work
- Overall participation. The lack of resources and the number of students means that not everybody get a whiteboard or something to use, etc. I need to try and make sure more than one student in a group gets to write on the whiteboards or to participate. I will need to get them to swap.
- The use of Khmer. I don’t mind there being some Khmer in the session, but I need to prevent everything I am teaching being translated, especially the words I am teaching. Once they understand the words, then it should never be translated again.
- Getting them to say or write whole sentences more frequently.
- Getting them to talk to one another more and checking what they are saying. It’s fine that they are copying me and can do that, but I want them to be able to produce the vocabulary more effectively. We don’t parrot each other in conversations, so the students need to move away from that.