A bit about me
August will mark my second anniversary as an English Language teacher. I completed my CertTESOL in the summer between my second and final year of university and started working a few weeks later, covering classes at a language school.
Working as a cover teacher can be stressful in any case, let alone when you have virtually no experience and no resources to fall back on. I definitely learned a lot on the job and thankfully I was surrounded by supportive and helpful colleagues.
After I graduated, I was offered a pre-sessional tutor position at my university which was a different experience as materials were provided and all I had to do was supplement the course and structure my class.
Now I’m working as an Associate University Teacher (AUT) at the University of Liverpool English Language Centre. The position of AUT is a fixed-twelve-month post and is designed to mentor recently qualified CELTA graduates and provide them with the opportunity to work within a university setting alongside highly experienced teachers. I teach on the Activate programme which is General English.
BBefore the Global Scale of English
Before being introduced to the Global Scale of English (GSE) at the University of Liverpool and concepts like constructive alignment (Biggs, 2003), I struggled with the time it took to plan lessons. This isn’t a unique problem among teachers, especially new teachers, but it was something that made me question if this career was practical in the long-term.
The initial teacher training course I took was just that – initial. We weren’t given much guidance when it came to planning lessons and I remember spending hours planning for my 30 minute teaching slot the next day.
Things didn’t really get much easier. Even when I had access to materials and a syllabus, it would take me at least 3 hours to plan a 90 minute lesson, and I was teaching for 21 hours a week. The issue was that I didn’t want to rely completely on the course book, because that wouldn’t allow me to respond to my students’ specific needs. At the same time, I didn’t have the experience to go off-book entirely.
I also began to question if the lessons I was planning were achieving anything other than being a series of engaging activities that never really culminated in anything concrete. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having fun in class, but I didn’t want to be known as the “fun” teacher who doesn’t actually teach much.
HHow I use the GSE
The GSE informed the syllabus that we use at the University of Liverpool. Each class level has a series of can-do statements that a student can be expected to achieve – how well they do so determines their level. For example, for an intermediate class:Can describe what they are looking for when shopping.
Combined with the theory of constructive alignment, which states that each step in a lesson plan should help the student achieve a final task, the GSE really helped to provide some direction to my lesson planning.
Start by choosing an appropriate can-do statement for your class. This could be based on a scheme of work, students’ needs, course book topic…
Identify how you are going to assess that students are able to achieve this
Find out what language or skill input the students are likely to need in order to successfully complete the task
Work backwards to plan your lesson
As a teacher, you’ll have complete freedom to decide the type of assessment and the type of input that is most appropriate for your class. However, there are some parameters to guide you.
To use “Can describe what they are looking for when shopping for clothes.”
First, decide how you’re going to assess this: e.g. a shopping role play speaking activity.
Students need to be able to use:
Vocabulary for clothes, e.g. dress, shirt
Adjectives to describe clothing, e.g. fit, colours
Phrases to introduce a description, e.g. I’m looking for… something like this but…
Transactional language, e.g. Could you… for me, please?
As it’s an intermediate class – you can assume that the majority of the students will already have this language, but they won’t necessarily use it accurately. Therefore, your first activities should be review focused, with room to elicit extra vocabulary from the students. For example, you could start with a magazine clothes finding game (bring in a few magazines and put the students in groups. Say something like “find me a green blazer” and the first team to find it, wins.) You could have an activity where students describe each others’ clothes, and make a note of any emergent language. As for the phrases, perhaps show a clip from a movie and ask students to write down what they hear.
Once you are satisfied that the students have the necessary language to achieve the learning objectives, you can set up the task.
MMore suggestions for using the GSE
Even if the GSE isn’t part of a syllabus that you use, it is very easy to incorporate into your teaching practice using the GSE Teacher Toolkit. It allows you to filter “can do” statements by academic or general English, level, skills and you can also search for keywords. This means that you can effectively build your own syllabus based on your students’ needs.
If you ever share a class or co-teach, using the GSE is a great idea as it enables you to be clear about the aims and learning objectives but it’s less prescriptive. Each teacher could choose a number of can-do statements for the week, and they can choose how to achieve them. That way students will get the benefit of having different teachers but without the potential unintentional overlap and disruption to routine that could occur as a result of a less structured approach.
With two years experience now, I can say that it does indeed get easier, as I was told countless times by my more senior colleagues. I’m building up a bank of articles and videos that I can pull out on the spot if I need to. However, some days are harder to plan than others, and it’s always useful to have a winning formula for planning lessons.