It’s a cliché, but it’s true; the best ideas are usually simple ones. I’d like to share two simple teaching practices that are easy to incorporate into any lesson plan–but often teachers forget about them. These two simple techniques can help teachers of any subject at any level to improve their teaching now.
Have you ever been at a lecture or in a class, and the speaker or teacher says, “Are there any questions? No? Okay, then we’ll go on. . . .” There’s no wait time! You were just getting your nerve up to ask your question, and you probably weren’t the only one-but now it’s too late. You’re moving on.
I see this happen over and over again, and I always remember my friend Austin, a brilliant science teacher, who said you should count to ten silently after asking if there are any questions.
It seems like a long time when you’re doing it-but it’s necessary. It gives people time to collect their thoughts and plan the phrasing of their next question. More importantly, in that space of silence, the students know that you really mean it; you have time to listen to their questions.
Make it a habit to count to ten silently after asking, “Any questions?” With this increase in wait time, you’ll get questions! And your teaching will improve.
For Example . . .
Another small but important suggestion is, Prepare your examples in advance. Good teaching is filled with stories and examples, not just abstractions. But it’s important to have good, appropriate examples. These don’t always come off the top of your head when you need them. That’s why it’s best to write your examples into your lesson plan.
Recently I was talking to a group of junior-high school students about techniques they could use to reduce stress, but I hadn’t prepared my examples, and I just kept saying, “You’re stressed out because you have so many things to do.”
There are so many other reasons why a child that age can be stressed-conflicts with parents or friends, upcoming tests, social events, and lack of money, to name a few. My presentation could have been much more meaningful if I had varied my examples and been more specific. It would have engaged the students more, reminding them of their own personal issues.
But I hadn’t written out any examples beforehand. I was just winging it, and I got the results I deserved: When it was time for the students to talk, they gave me back exactly what I’d given them-vague, general statements without any personal meaning.
It reminded me why it’s so important to write down my examples beforehand, when I have time to think!
When I taught English to international students, I always prepared my examples as part of the lesson plan. I often taught grammar, and it was important to put several examples of a grammar point in context on the board.
If I had just given examples off the cuff, they would have been boring sentences about school, homework, and the weather.
Preparing examples beforehand, I could think about topics the students had mentioned-their trip to the United States, the World Cup games, fashion and shopping, food preferences, and even classroom jokes. So the content was relevant and interesting to them.
Besides grammar class, I also needed examples in teaching vocabulary, writing and conversation classes. It didn’t take long to write out the examples. Actually, it was kind of fun. And it made my teaching so much better!
Simple, But Important Teaching Practices
I know that both of the practices I’ve mentioned–waiting an adequate length of time for questions, and preparing good examples–are obvious and simple. But we forget, sometimes, to wait. Or we don’t take the time to make the examples. This is just a reminder. Besides knowing your subject matter, you can improve your teaching by remembering to do these two things.