The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Gromit to the rescue!: The importance of having fun in EAP

After a week and a half teaching on the summer pre-sessional EAP course at Bristol University, I had a bit of a breakthrough with my class yesterday. The first week had, as usual, been rather hectic, sorting out admin stuff but also trying to adjust to a new programme and new course materials. All week, I felt like I was running just to stand still and that my lesson planning mostly involved figuring out what I was meant to be doing and what I needed photocopies of rather than really thinking about the best way to teach. So I got to the weekend feeling rather frustrated and deflated.

As someone who gets so little class time through the year, I really look forward to my summer teaching stint. It’s a chance to reconnect with students and colleagues, and to try out some of the ideas I’ve been accumulating through the year. So to have such a disappointing first week, where I didn’t really feel like I got into my stride and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t really connect with my students, was a real downer.

Anyway, Monday was even worse – more confusion about the programme and materials, and another slightly uninspired class. I got home feeling really dispirited and realized I needed a change of tack. Looking at the programme for Tuesday morning, I realized I had a class that seemed rather light on materials and spotted a chance to do something of my own. The theme for the week for the particular module I was teaching was data commentary, so I decided to do a bit of a fun warmer practising numbers. It was a spin on an old favourite where you put up a load of numbers and ask students to guess how they’re connected/what they represent. As my students are new to Bristol and had probably spent their first week just settling in and getting to grips with the course, it seemed like a good time to encourage them to explore the city a bit. So I put up a slide entitled “Bristol in numbers” – including a collection of numbers in some way connected to the city; some connected to events going on at the moment, including the decorated 'Gromits' scattered around the city. I gave them a couple of minutes to chat and make guesses, then added some picture clues.

They loved it! The whole mood of the class changed with lots of laughter and chatter, excitement, questions and sharing of experiences. I’d intended to spend just 10 minutes on the activity, but it probably stretched to 20 in the end. It was definitely time well spent, not only did it provide a bit of light relief in an otherwise fairly intensive programme, but it went a huge way towards creating that essential sense of rapport with the students.

It was helpful from a pedagogical point of view too. As I got students to explain each of the numbers, I was able to really insist on correct pronunciation and accurate expression. Because the task was supposedly ‘easy’, I could playfully tease them about errors, acting the strict school mistress role, and so stress the importance of accuracy without anyone losing face. It felt like a real turning point and the rest of the class, and this morning’s lesson too, had quite a different feel. We’re back to the ‘serious stuff’, but there are lighter moments too and, as a result, I’m definitely getting more from the students and hopefully, they’re getting more from my teaching.

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