This summer, I spent some time watching episodes of Sesame Street with my 12-year-old host cousin in order to help her with her English. It had been years since I’d seen the show (go figure). One interesting thing I observed is this: there is no common theme for each episode. Each skit operates as its own thing. I was starting to think of how I wanted to structure the English course I would be teaching at the orphanage in the fall, and this observation gave me hope.
I don’t love teaching. It’s okay. I can do it. But I don’t love it. I especially don’t love lesson planning (not that that really matters … lesson planning isn’t much of a thing here in Kosovo). I struggle to take one idea (for example: how to tell time) and stretch it into an entire class period with enough worksheets, games, etc. to keep students interested.
Sesame Street gave me an idea: since the course at the orphanage isn’t part of school (and I don’t have to follow a curriculum), why not structure it using a hodgepog of activities, rather than trying to commit to one theme every week?
But … what hodgepog of activities to do? I decided that each week would follow the same structure, but with each “lesson” being its own thing. I am now in my fourth week of teaching the course, and here is what I have been doing each week.
1. Each week, I pick 5-6 new flashcards to teach. We start each class by reviewing the flashcards from last week. We review them together, and then I go around the room and quiz each student.
2. My friend, Sierra, put together this brilliant ABC booklet. A bunch of us have made copies of it. Each week, I give each student a different letter, and they have to practice writing it and then writing all the words they know that begin with that letter.
a. (When we finish the alphabet, I plan to move on to the 50 states, using Xerox copies of an awesome workbook I bought at Target this summer when I was home.)
3. My mom had the awesome idea to send me a “Where’s Waldo?” book. I’ve copied several of the pictures. I hand them out to students and ask them to find different things in the pictures. “Find a man in a red hat.” “Find a woman in a green dress with a brown dog.” Etc.
4. I take out 5-6 new flashcards and we practice those as a group, and then individually.
5. I play a song for them twice in English. The first time, they just listen. The second time, I tell them to listen for a specific word or words, and count how many times it is repeated within the song. Songs I have played for them so far are: “Roar” by Katy Perry; “In My Room” by the Beach Boys; and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. (Tomorrow’s song will be “Monster Mash.”)
6. I read them a story from this easy reader I bought in the U.S. (I think it was at Five Below.) Then, I ask them follow-up questions about the story.
I have a tutoring background but no teaching background. I don’t know what the best pedagogical approaches are to teaching a new language. So, someone out there with more knowledge may argue in favor of a traditional, single-themed lesson plan. But, I’ve been having fun teaching in this more free-style way, and the students seem to like it, too.
I feel like I should clarify something: The orphanage where I volunteer has several locations, and the one where I teach is not a childcare facility. It is just an office. At our location, the organization focuses on family strengthening programs to keep at-risk families together. I refer to it as “the orphanage,” though, because I want to maintain privacy by not using the organization’s name.