Teaching English in Primary and Secondary Classes

Children from their first birth to their „second birth” (at the age of 14 years), youths from 14 to 21 years, and adults from 21 years up should be trained and educated as a whole by means of all available audio-visual and other sensory-motor aids, designated for the simultaneous development of hand, heart and head; and all leading to a wise world in the near or distant future, since „a nation without vision must perish,” to use the Biblical expression. In other words, the teachers are trying by their multiferous audio-visual aids to avoid that education which was narrow and one-sided, exercising and developing certain abilities and human attributes at the expense of the rest.

A study like this is considered necessary as in many cases there is a close link between new technology and students. Young learners have followed the trend of using technology in their everyday life, and the tendency is to continue using it. Students have learned the benefits of using new technology from their parents, brothers or sisters, or from their classmates. In some cases, these students , if not supervised and taught, tend to use too much of this new technology. It is neither the place nor the time to debate on how or why this is happening. It is not the purpose of this paper to develop such an idea. Anyway, from the point of view of the teacher, this disadvantage can become an advantage if one knows how to bring into play technology to attract. Students are more easily impressionable, so the use of the same devices they use at home can become an exclamation, “I didn’t know we could use these at school!”.

Young students learn differently from adolescents. Jeremy Harmer mentions some characteristics of such students. “They respond to meaning even if they do not understand individual words” (Harmer, Jeremy, op.cit., p.82). This is in fact a good point for students and the teacher. It is a utopia to imagine that your students will remember all the new words from a text. Their memory will replace some of the words they think they have remembered, and their effort will have been in vain. Worse, if the translation or explanation interrupts the flow of thinking, the whole reason of communication will have disappeared.

Their understanding comes not just from explanation, but also from what they see and hear and, crucially, have a chance to touch and interact with” (Harmer, Jeremy , op.cit., p.82 ). Students’ attention is hard to be focused on one aspect only. Their concentration swings from one problem to the other and, unwillingly, they remember information coming from different directions and sources. Touching things will always be a mean for students to remember things more easily. Also, participation and interaction will get them to be more interested in the lesson.

Springing from this, varied activities are asked for. A half an hour activity will get our students bored, so ten minute exercises placed in different parts of the classroom and with diverse grouping would be means to have the students pay attention to the class and not lose interest.

As it is with the case of teenagers, grammar problems and abstract ideas can be difficult to understand and can lead to a lack of motivation.  The best way to overcome this is by incorporating them into songs or games and asking them to extract general ideas from them. Curiosity is one of their characteristics and teachers can be sly enough to take advantage of this. Anyway, it should be directed and controlled, as otherwise the teacher can be involved in a never ending puzzle, and students will be lost in details: “They generally display an enthusiasm for learning and curiosity about the world around them” (Harmer, Jeremy, op.cit., p. 82).

They have a need for individual attention and approval from the teacher” (Harmer, Jeremy, op.cit., p. 82). An affectionate relationship can be established with the teacher, and individual encouragement is sometimes necessary to keep the relationship as it is. The educator is at the core of the lesson, and whatever he or she says is true. Sometimes outbursts of affection are expected from our little students. So an excellent ability would be that of the teacher who can convince the child that he or she is the most important one in the class and everything that happens is because of them.

Another aspect emerges from this idea: personal involvement brings about personal life into the class. Students will be more motivated if the lesson seems to be about themselves and their interests.

Students seem to be more attentive in a place that gives them the possibility to move around and they also like to be surrounded by coloured walls and lot of light: “we will want the classroom to be right and colourful, with windows the children can see out of, and with enough room for different activities to be taking place”. (Harmer, Jeremy, op.cit., p. 83)

As a continuation, not all the activities are suitable for our young students: “Because children love discovering things, and because they respond well to being asked to use their imagination, they may well be involved in puzzle-like activities, in making things, in drawing things, in games, in physical movement or in songs” (Harmer, 2007: 83).

Teaching small kids can be a demanding task, and not all the teachers can do that. Some educators admit so and frankly agree that they would not have the necessary patience to teach them. In a way, it means being able to lower your expectations and empathise with your students. If you do not understand them, you will never be able to establish a meaningful relationship with them.  We have to think about their vitality, energy, sense of humour, and attitude. Living your class with them might be also challenging, but, beware!, in no time it can become a nightmare.  There are problems that need to be avoided if you want to have a good relationship with them. Teaching young  students is unique, because we, as English teachers, start with them to build a new world full of words.

A lesson is an intricate concept. Teachers know better that willingness, interest and knowledge are not enough to have the so-called utopic “perfect class”. It is much more than this. A good lesson starts with teachers and students’ state of mind; the relaxed atmosphere that the teacher is able to set up; the hour of the day; the weather outside; then, the inside: the classroom, the way it looks and is organised; only then comes the teaching on the one side and the learning on the other side.

One possibility to have a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere, literally speaking now, would be to get your students in a park, in the middle of nature. That sure is enjoyable, but a teacher should take into consideration some aspects. First, he should make sure that the principal of the school allows this. Secondly, the lesson should be suitable for such an idea (something about nature, for instance). Thirdly, writing is virtually impossible under such circumstances, so the lesson will have to be based on the textbook and/or conversation. Last but not least, the teacher ought to make sure that his students are not too much attracted by the environment itself, neglecting the lesson. It is understood that having a class outside is not something that can be done many times. Maybe once or twice a year. So, you are in the classroom again…

We will take the elements of the classroom one by one, describing their importance.

The walls. And especially their colors. Color gives a state of mind from the beginning. A violent colour will produce strange reactions from students. A light one is more to be appreciated. A yellow, pink, light blue, pale brick-coloured wall would not trigger the non-desirable “hot-blooded” reactions from the students. A calming shade is, undoubtedly, necessary.

The floor is not apparently of utmost importance. But it is worth keeping in mind that the sound made by the heels of the teacher’s shoes on a multi-layered floor could become annoying at times.

The lights should not be too faint as this may affect students’ eyesight. More natural light is required when possible.

The windows are closely linked to the place where the school is. The school where I teach neighbours a very crowded street. In spring, summer and autumn, students open the windows to let the air circulate in the classroom. If they are closed when the class starts, students will find the lack of fresh air a problem. If they are let open, the noise from the outside traffic (especially the so-Romanian noise-and-fume-making buses and trucks) will necessitate (literally!) yelling from both the teacher’s and the students’ parts. Solution: money. So, nothing new here.

The door should be sturdy enough to be used every day by all kinds of pupils, who may not always take care of its integrity. The classical wooden door seems to be gradually replaced by the metallic door, a heavier but more isolating one. No matter what kind of door it is, it is essential that it be creaking-noises free.

There will be a lot of faces, with varying degrees of nervousness and eagerness written all over them, looking at their English teacher. However, they can not really communicate with their new teacher, nor can the teacher speak as freely as they usually would in English. What to do? There is nothing close to a concensus upon what is the best handle the first day of a lesson. Which, in part, is what makes this particularly terrifying in the eyes of so many EFL teachers that have yet to go through the experience. On the otherhand, there is no shortage of ideas, opinions and values floating around on the subject. Bearing this is mind, there really is no need for the fear of this moment that exists in the field TEFL. With a little bit research, an EFL teacher should be able to find some combination of task/ activity and technique/ approach that they feel comfortable with, that they can use to get things started.

Harmer, Jeremy (2015). The Practice of English Language Teaching. 5th Edition. Longman Publishing House.


prof. Silvia Marta Covaci

Liceul Ortodox Sf. Nicolae, Zalău (Sălaj) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/silvia.covaci

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