Like most things in life, teaching comes with a lot of trial and error. A lot of good ideas and intentions of a lesson can crumble in an instant and also a lot of instinctive, on the spot ideas and peer suggestions that will become bread and butter for future lessons to come. With the first week or so being very nerve racking and overwhelming, don’t worry you will get over this phase and find your feet as well as your teacher voice.
I have taught the vast majority of all grades from grades 1-5 in primary school, grade 6 in high school and grades 10-11 in high school. Each grade comes with their challenges and joys, I’m just going to convey in a few short paragraphs what has worked best for me in different stages of a class for the 3 types of schools in Vietnam.
Starting with the youngest at primary school, I tried a game that I heard from one of my friends who is a teacher in Hanoi. Primary school is very repetitive in that you present the flashcards, maybe play some kind of game to instill the vocabulary, work on their grammar and speech and get them through their pages in the workbook. This game was a savior to me for my lower grade classes, I call it the ‘Zombie Game’. After initially presenting the vocabulary on flashcards for the lesson, I write the word on the board and stick the flashcard below it and ensure the students can repeat the word. I then take away the flashcards so that only the words remain. I then distribute the flashcards to willing students who will one by one stick the flashcard in its right place on the board when I call out each word one by one. This improves their grasp on how the word is spelt by choosing the correct word. Once they have stuck the flashcard on the board I then proceed to chase them back to their seat as a zombie. They absolutely love it and I get a kick out of scaring them and having more fun with my students. The look in their face is priceless, the look in the other students faces even more so as they watch there peers scramble nervously back to their seats. You can then progress this by telling the students to say the word out loud before placing the flashcard on the board. I would say this works from grade 1 to grade 4, the older students I don’t feel would appreciate as much and probably think they are too old for it.
Moving swiftly on to secondary school. I found that with large class sizes that games on the board involving the whole class proved difficult at times and chaotic with noise levels and the sheer number of students flocking to the board. So I quickly discovered that quiz-based warmers proved very effective early on. I would split the class into teams, usually between 6-8 teams dependent on overall class size. And I would give them a topic, such as countries, cities, celebrities or a last letter type game where you would start with one word and using the last letter of that word, form the next word. For example: Tree, Ear, Rest, Tomorrow, Wonder, Rabbit… etc. Sometimes dependent on the topic of the lesson I would base the quiz towards that to get the English geared toward the lesson. Nonetheless I found the students to really enjoy competing against each other and working with each other to better the other teams. I would use a timer set to usually 5 minutes and then countdown from ten watching them scramble to write down their last answers. The team with the most words jotted down won. And as I collated and marked the teams answers I would distribute the worksheet or page number in the workbook and set them the first task to ensure no time was wasted. I would then announce each teams score and the winners got some candy for their efforts. This style of warmer proved very effective and a good way of getting their brains geared to English before the lesson properly commenced.
Lastly we have the oldest students in high school. Sometimes they could be difficult and unwilling to participate, but I found the best way to get answers out of them was to play varied types of throwing games. The first one is the target game, you draw three circles inside each other and write 200 in the first, 100 in the second and 50 in the outer last circle. I also used to draw two smaller circles outside of the main circles and write 300 in both of them. So say you are trying to elicit the answers from some worksheet questions or getting the students speaking some constructed English this game works great. You get the quiet students and the class clowns alike all battling with their hands in the air to get picked and it can turn a dull lesson into an electric one. You split the class into two teams, naming teams also creates some humorous responses’. Then if a student gives you an answer they come and collect a ball that I produced from a very complex blend of paper and duct tape, I also introduced a card element, by which I fan out the cards face down and depending on the card they pick is indicative of the amount of steps they take from the board. With an Ace being one step, King Queen and Jack being 11 steps and a joker meaning you go to the back of the room. Wherever the ball lands is equivalent of how many points the other team receive, try and alternate the selection of students to make it fair. Similar but slightly different is the basket game by which instead of throwing a ball at the board they throw a soft toy/ball into a washing basket I bring to class. The cards can also be implemented again in this game and a made basket equates to one point for the team. These games have been a fantastic way to motivate the students to learn and get through their worksheets quickly.
So there you have it, three different games/activities used in three different stages of a lesson in three types of Vietnamese schooling. Use them wisely.
Written by: Ryan Williams