After confirming my travel route on RATP, I take the metro to the company of the day (I don’t take buses in Paris for two reasons: first, because I have a tendency to drift off and miss stops (this happens on the metro too, but it’s less common). Second, Paris traffic could result in me being late).
The first time I leave with 20 minutes to spare, with the aim of getting there 10 minutes early. If there are any problems, I need to call my Business English school.
Upon arriving, I greet the receptionist with a cheerful “bonjour! J’ai un rendez-vous avec [insert name here].” The student’s folder is at the ready, so I can show the receptionist the name in case there are pronunciation difficulties.
The student usually comes to reception to collect me, greeting me with a “bonjour.”
“Hi!” I reply with a big smile and introduce myself.
“Hello,” they reply in varying levels of English, and we make small talk as they take me to the appropriate room or office.
Now, onto the lesson!
The first lesson is broken into three parts – getting to know you, admin, and English.
1. Getting to know you – 30-60 mins, depending on how talkative the students are
For elementary and pre-intermediate students, I have a set of interview cards that I use – these ask questions about their work and interests, and I can use these to go off on tangents if they’re comfortable enough. If they’re shy, we ask questions in turn and I give them lots of praise and take notes of problem areas.
For intermediate students, I draw a number of circles on a page – usually between seven and ten. In each of these circles I write a word that is related to me, e.g.: London, Melbourne, 92 (the department in which I live in France), 8 (the number of months I’ve been in Paris), my siblings’ names, etc. They need to guess the significance of each word by asking me questions (“Where is London?” isn’t good enough, I’m looking for “have you lived/worked in London?”). This is a good activity because it gives me a chance to see how good their speaking is and how comfortable they are taking the lead in a conversation. It’s also good for conversation – when intermediate students get something right, I turn the question back to them.
For upper-intermediate and advanced students, we do the circle activity. After they finish (some of them do it surprisingly quickly), they need to draw circles with facts about themselves which I, or another student, need to guess. It can be a lot of fun if you have two students – either they know nothing about each other, or they know each other so well that they need to write really obscure facts to stop it being too obvious.
2. Admin – 5-20 minutes, depending on how frustrated students are with their current level of English
Next I open the class dossier. First I show students the presence sheet and tell them they need to sign it every week. Then we talk about cancellations – I explain that they need to call my school to cancel a class at least 48 hours in advance or else they will lose the lesson, and give them a paper explaining this with the school’s number and my name on it. We then go through the calendar of classes, and they tell me if they have any holidays planned over the next few months.
Then we discuss objectives. I show them the Fiche D’Appreciation and explain that they will need to complete this at the end of the course. On the back of the form, there is a list of areas of language – grammar, professional and general vocab, oral expression and comprehension, reading and writing. I ask them what their top priorities are – where they want to improve the most. Generally it’s oral expression and comprehension.
This is also when we talk about the student’s previous experience in English, which can sometimes lead onto a torrent about how frustrated they are with their level, which situations they find difficult, and what they didn’t like about their previous courses.
3. English – the rest of the lesson
When we get a student’s dossier, there is a report on the student. If it’s an initial report, it was done over the phone by my school, and should be taken with a grain of salt. If it’s an Evaluation de Fin de Stage, it was completed on a previous course, and should still be taken with a grain of salt.
Initial evaluations grade students on a scale of 1 (beginner) to 30 (better English than me). My students have all been between 7 and 22 (we’re going to ignore my level 28s, because that’s really unusual). Based on these levels, we can choose a coursebook for them.
Why do you need to take the evaluation levels with a grain of salt? Because grading someone over the phone can be inaccurate. And because you can put whatever you want into a final report – if your students don’t progress, it reflects badly on you as a teacher. This means that someone who’s done a number of courses will continue to improve on paper, even if they have a twelve-month break between courses and forget everything. I’ve inherited a couple of students who have been on books that were way too high for them, and it’s incredibly frustrating – for the teacher, because you’re unprepared, and for the student, because they feel like their English is awful. The reverse is also annoying, mainly because you look like an idiot who’s giving them children’s work when they can clearly do much more.
So, for this part of the lesson I photocopy a couple of pages from the course book of their level and we work on that – I prefer to just use the book because it’s the easiest way to quickly check their listening and reading skills, and to determine what level they really are. If the book I’ve prepared is inappropriate for their level . . . it used to be rather embarrassing for me. However, now I know the material quite well I know I can quickly photocopy something appropriate or steal an activity from one of the folders for my other students that day. In a worst case scenario (i.e.: I have no other material), I can go into a grammar refresher with a lower-level student, or whip out a podcast with questions for a higher-level student.
If there’s any time left, I’ll quiz or play hangman with the new vocabulary from the lesson, then I set some homework for the next week and we’re done!
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