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Practical TEFL Tips: Reducing Your Prep Time

i-to-i Academic Director, James Jenkin, gives his advice on ways to reduce preparation time!

When I started teaching, I had the impression you had to spend hours preparing every lesson. I’d be up till two in the morning looking for activities (it was all books then, no Internet!), cutting and pasting, and typing out worksheets.

One morning something happened which dramatically changed my life – and my classes – for the better.

At five to nine I was in the staffroom, about to go into my four-hour Pre-Intermediate class, with my file of photocopies ready to go. The Director of Studies came in and said, ‘Oh, James, this morning could I get you to cover an Advanced class instead?’.

So I had to go in with no preparation!

And, unbelievably, it went well!

It taught me – use the coursebook, but also use the TEFL principles you learned on your course to bring the coursebook to life.

I suggest three simple techniques to make this happen.

1. Get students interested in the topic

Take in pictures and real objects, and get students talking about them.

Imagine the coursebook unit you’re teaching is about food.

Bring in real ingredients or cookbooks. Let them taste and sniff the food, and browse through the cookbooks. Get the students to talk to each other about them. For example, in groups, students could discuss what they could make with the ingredients, or which of the dishes in the cookbooks they like and don’t like.

This creates a great buzz. Students now can’t wait to do more of the unit.

(Warning – don’t YOU tell the class about food, that’s boring!)

2. Get students to work together

Whenever possible, put students in pairs and groups.

If students are in pairs, tell one student to put their book away, so they have to work together. Likewise, if you’re giving handouts to groups, only give one to each group. If their group has to make a list, only get one student to write, so they all have to communicate.

It’s not only a more lively dynamic, but also you’re significantly increasing the amount of student practice – which is powerful teaching!

3. Personalise everything

It’s such an effective technique but many teachers don’t know about it!

After students have read a text, or completed an exercise in the book, get students to change it so it’s relevant to them.

For example, after students complete a grammar exercise, tell the class ‘Now change the sentences to make them true about your partner’. After students read a story, ask them to write a new ending in pairs. After students practice a dialogue, get them to change the script so they are the characters.

This gets so much more from the book, you’ll never have to carry round photocopies of worksheets and bingo again to fill in time. But it’s not a ‘trick’ – it’s great teaching. The coursebook content is now personal and memorable, and you’ve created a lot more relevant practice.

Let us know your ideas for reducing preparation time!

Want some more ideas for teaching? Invest in Essential TEFL for lesson plans and advice!

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