improvised English class

Ever had that terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad feeling when it’s 15 minutes before class and you have absolutely no material or lesson plan or idea what you’re going to do?

That happened to me on Tuesday. I had an awesome lesson planned on the present perfect simple and continuous forms… and forgot to e-mail it to the receptionist for her to print out.

When I arrived at the school and discovered no copies waiting in my locker, I frantically tore through the school’s materials archives, looking for any extra handouts I could possibly use. I consulted other teachers. “Ugh, I hate improvising a class,” one of them said. “It always feels like I’m ‘cheating’ the students. Why don’t you just throw on a DVD?”

I happened to have a random pack of conversation cue cards in my purse. It’ll have to do, I thought, hoping the students would be in a talkative mood that day.

Being the first class after a 4-day weekend, only three of my nine students showed up – and three of the quieter ones, to boot. How the heck am I going to fill 80 minutes??? With upper-intermediate and advanced classes, it can be pretty easy to hold an unstructured “conversation class,” but with early intermediate students – particularly ones who aren’t strong in the speaking department – it’s much harder.

Well, we started with the conversation cards, which contained very simple cues like “Yesterday I didn’t…”   “I can’t stand…”   “Next year I will…”   etc. – the students talked and ended up sharing some funny stories. Then I turned it into a game: each person had to take a card and say something they thought would be unique – true for them but not true for the other students. If they were successful, they got to keep the card; if not, the card went back into the pile. It was a fun challenge. Finally, I had them write down the alphabet A-Z and put one word for each letter that was related to them in some way (i.e. A for August because my birthday’s in August; B for blue because it’s my favorite color, etc) and then share. Fortunately, I managed to “stretch” the activities into an hour and twenty minutes worth of class.

Whew, I thought as I dismissed everyone. I got through it. As the students were leaving, Juliane approached me.

Thank you for this class,” she said, smiling.

I was surprised. “Uh, you’re welcome.”

“It completely changed my mood. It was a really difficult day, and I was thinking if I would come to class or not, but I’m happy I did.”

Glad to see my “improvised” class wasn’t so bad after all  🙂

  • Lori McHugh

    As the hymn says, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” It gives a whole new perspective on our inconveniences and screw-ups. Little did you know that morning that God was going to use you as an ambassador of encouragement to your student!

  • Congrats!!! Sometimes, even with a lesson perfectly planned out, things don’t go the way you want them to.
    I’ve planned great lessons, only to have students show up with only their wallets and cell phones, saying, “I left my stuff at home.”
    I have a binder with a bunch of lists of conversation questions, some organized by topic., some organized by level, and some organized by grammar focus. Those always help in a pinch.