An Ode to Dan and Kenny

14 Dec

I had hoped this day would come, but I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure while I was in the midst of my TEFL program.

This week has proven to me once and for all that the training I got at TEFL Worldwide Prague is invaluable. How, you ask?

I got sick.

Last Thursday I began to feel it. By Saturday it was worthy of another trip to the doctor, and by Monday morning my voice was completely gone. Not even a whisper.

I had to teach a room full 4-6 year olds with no voice. No easy feat anywhere, but especially tricky in Asian countries where teachers speaking unusually loud is the general rule of thumb. There I sat with 19 children waiting for me to teach them their conversation, phonics, and reading lessons…. in a language they are still learning and need to hear on a regular basis.

I don’t know sign language well enough to be considered good at it. I know a few things I’ve known for a long time. But it is something I have used in almost all of my teaching experiences. It just makes life easier for me and more fun for kids. When we review the alphabet, I sign it. I teach a few songs I know and I a few signs I know: boy, girl, wait, applause, good, happy, thank you, rain, sun, cry, lunch, mommy, daddy, listen, etc.

Though there was only one session in which the TEFL course went over teaching children, there were many other lessons in which the ability to teach these children, with no voice, was able to happen.

1: Plan

I had my plan for the week already prepared so it was fairly simple to figure out what I needed to do this week, and what I could get away with holding off until next week.

2: Have extra prepared – always

I have been working them hard for the last week and a half on the books to get them ahead. We are putting together and rehearsing this week for their big Christmas production next week.

We have also been using a Gingerbread man theme for all of our extra activities, so along with their workbook pages; I had a few worksheets and fun pages for them as time consumers if needed. This made me feel prepared and more able to think on my feet in this mini-crisis. If nothing else, they have easy activities they can do all day and be perfectly fine.

3: Talk less, teach more, 3.5: Use gestures

Man did I ever use these strategies this week!! I still don’t have my full voice back yet. It’s better, but I sound like a 65 year old lifelong smoker.

I saw how well these strategies work when teaching adults during my TEFL course, but this is also where I struggled the most. I’ve been working with young ones most of my life. If I talk less, they do less of what I need them to do and more complete chaos ensues.

Case in point: During one of my less than fully successful TEFL lessons, I saw the (adult) students start veering off in a direction different than my plan called for. They were talking, but their talk wasn’t what I envisioned for the lesson. In the child world, the one I am most acquainted with, if they start talking on a different path you will never get them back.

If you go off course with little ones they turn into giggly, deer-in-the-headlights monsters with an even less-than-usual attention span and no ability to reason. They need consistent structure and simple, constant reminders. EX: As every student files into the library you repeat the same phrase: Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Gigi are your books in the tray? Put the books in the tray. Every time we go to library we put the books in the tray. Put the books in the tray.

My TEFL students were beginning level, ultra elementary English learners. My mind (already overwhelmed) went into autopilot when they began veering off track. I stopped the activity and reset the instructions trying to get them back on track. WRONG answer for that group. Elementary level language learner does NOT equal elementary level reasoning skills. They could EASILY have gone exactly where they needed to go and learned so much had I just let them. Instead, I ended up talking even more and getting flustered. They were talking even less and the whole main point of the lesson was sideswiped by my inability to talk less and let learning happen.

As I sat there looking at these tiny Taiwanese children who had just said,


at the top of their tiny lungs, fully expecting the normal response, I quite literally said to myself,

“It’s time to find out if they can learn more if I talk less”.

4. Elicit the word

I knew they needed to repeat the morning conversations. Well, they learned them in sign language that morning. I wrote GOOD on the board. Without saying a word, I just pointed to each letter and then drew an imaginary line underneath the whole word. Then I signed GOOD, looked at them and repeated that routine until one of them started saying the letter sounds and the word at the right times.

Thank goodness for the smart kids!!

Then, they were all saying /g/ /Ʊ/ /d/ and /gƱd/ together and signing it. I did the same thing with MORNING sans the individual sounds. They knew what the word was going to be and so knew to say MORNING right away.

Then I signed for them to say the greeting again, “GOOD MORNING TEACHER MARI” and I answered them by first pointing to the words on the board and then signing GOOD MORNING CLASS. I didn’t review CLASS and was happily surprised when one of my students asked,

“Does that (makes sign) mean PLUTO or CLASS”? (I love their little minds.)

Fair question because my part of the normal conversation is GOOD MORNING PLUTO CLASS.

We did the rest of the morning conversations with me pointing to the phrase strips on the board and having them say the response phrase without my prompting them vocally. Guess what? They can totally do it!

I also knew I needed to review phonics sounds. I wrote ‘o’ on the board and cupped my ear and looked at them. One said the name ‘o’, so I crossed my hands, pointed to myself and put my hand back around my ear and pointed to the board.

BAM, they got it (to not say the name) and said the short sound. Then I wrote ‘t’ next to the ‘o’ to form ‘ot’ and cupped my hand around my ear again.

Bam, they go that. Then I wrote a list of ‘ot’s and had the students say ‘ot’ each time. Next, I added a letter in front of an ‘ot’ one at a time (‘d’ to form ‘dot’, ‘l’ ‘lot’, ‘n’ ‘not’etc.) and had them say each new word. Then, I pointed to each word several times up and down the list I had created and had them say the words. Finally, I erased the beginning sound of each word one at a time and had them say ‘ot’ each time.

5: Concept Check, 3.5: Use gestures

When I got to ‘hot’, I mimed being cold and then put up my hands like I was asking a question and then pointed to hot.

“NO!! You are cold”!

So I pointed to hot and fanned myself while looking fairly pathetically at them and put my hands back up in question stance.

YES! Hot, you are hot”!

For ‘lot’ I held up 2 fingers and then used the question stance. They looked puzzled (which I was planning on) and so I held up both my hands wiggled my fingers and held up one of my feet and wiggled my toes, then pointed to the word again and went into question stance. I did both gestures again and got an army of giggles and “NO”‘s when I held up 2 fingers and a complete explosion of laughter and “YES”‘s when I held up and wiggled every digit not necessary to remain upright.

6: Give the paper last

I needed an in-house refresher on that one and got it this week. It is IMPOSSIBLE
to get young children to listen to instructions when A) you can’t speak B) you give them the paper first.


I am not joking. I have so sincerely learned this lesson now.

In my mind I thought, “I cannot explain how to do this without a voice. I will show it to them and then work each section with them”.

I was on crack and that worksheet went straight into the trash can because no way is a parent going to lay eyes on it.

I have since found that showing them the paper, doing an example on the board, having them repeat the example on the board, and then giving them the paper is in fact the tried and true way to do it.

End of story. Do not give them the paper until the very last second.

Though much of what I learned in TEFL Worldwide Prague cannot be applied to teaching children, much can! Much more than I thought.

I wonder if they realize how much?

Thanks Kenny Thanks Dan, you really made my life a lot easier this week!!



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