Questions I ask myself before class

I’m currently working on a project that asks me to question what teachers may need to consider and do in order to confidently teach an English language class. To do this, I wrote a list of questions that have come to my mind during my years of teaching, and thought it might be of use to you as well. The list below relates to questions I try to ask myself before class, with “before” being subjective to time. I also intend to create a list of what I think about during and after class.

  • Individual learners – Who are my learners? What do they already know about English? What are their interests in life? Why are they here? How do they feel today? What’s going on in their lives that might affect their time here?
  • Group dynamics – Do the learners get along? What can I do to create a community (collaborative rather than competitive)? What are the cultural dynamics at play? How do the learners relate to me?
  • Classroom dynamics – Is the layout conducive to discussions or the tasks I have in mind? From what I know about them (how they may feel today or their personal preferences), or based on the task I have planned, will they need to move around? How can I display visuals?
  • Materials – Do they have a textbook (assigned audio)? Will I use what’s in it or will supplement it? Will I disregard parts of the chapter? Will I create my own material? Will they create their own material? If so, with what and how? Will I tell them what to create or will they decide?
  • Language – Are we starting with target language in mind? How could I visually or conceptually clarify the language that comes up? Do I have examples or visuals (audio) to help clarify the language skill (i.e.: genre; communicative purpose; register)? Do I want to be explicit (deductive approach) or implicit (inductive approach) with my clarification, or both? Is metalanguage needed (thanks to Chia Suan Chong for this inspiration)?
  • The language lesson – How can I structure my lesson in a way that the learners feel supported yet also challenged? Do they need a heavily structured lesson or do they work well with a more laid back, organic approach? Writing skills – What do they need to know in order to write a successful text? What is the genre or purpose of the text? What kind of language (register, grammar, lexis…) is needed to write in this genre or to communicate a desired message? How much time will I give for thinking, planning, outlining, revising, editing, and sharing with the audience? Will they share their text, and if so with who and how? Reading and listening skills – Is the text meaningful to the learners? Do I need to pre-teach lexis? What language may they find challenging? What skills (prediction, scanning, skimming, listening for details or gist…) will be needed to complete the task? What questions can I ask to help them catch the main idea and specific details? Speaking- What are they trying to communicate? Is it a conversation or a presentation? Is the topic meaningful to the learners? What is the context (i.e.: what is appropriate or inappropriate  language)? Do they have a reason to use the language (i.e.: is someone listening and does that person have a reason to respond)? Do they have enough time to practice the language? How will I help them clarify the pronunciation? 4skills – How will I help learners balance accuracy and fluency? How will I deal with errors? Can they self or peer correct?
  • Approach – How does what I know about how languages are learned inform how I create opportunities for learning (i.e.: input theories, output theories, affective learning theories…)? How will my past experience with learning language inform my approach? What methodologies would would work best considering the needs of my learners (audio-lingual, CLT, TBL, grammar translation…)? How can I mix these up to serve them best?
  • Teacher (self and intentions) – How am I feeling today? What do I need? How do my past experiences influence today’s class, and what am I ready to do about it?

Now for the last question: what am I missing? If you notice I’ve missed an important question, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Questions I ask myself before class

  1. Hi Josette,

    As an inquisitive one, myself, I was fascinated (and impressed) by your extensive list of questions! Actually, as a teacher in the midst of planning for the new semester, I became a bit overwhelmed, and started to panic…until I read your reply comment to Connie, and felt the impact of your mentor’s reassuring words. I actually shed some tears of relief, and then proceeded to follow Gemma’s action of printing this post and highlighting some of the questions that I CAN consider as I head into the new school year.

    Thank you for your Great Big Wide Open Sharingness! I can’t get enough of it!
    Yours truly,
    K

    Like

    1. Dear Kristina,

      I’m happy that Connie asked that question and that my answer gave you some relief. I am reminded again of the value of blogging and sharing ideas. I put out these questions, and then you, Gemma, Connie, Zhenya, Andrew, Virginie, and Julia just keep adding to the learning!

      I am curious as to what questions you chose to highlight Kristina. If you have the time, please let us know!

      And all the best this new semester! I am sure students are waiting anxiously to get into your class. You bring so much light to your students.

      Big wide open hugs!

      Like

  2. This is a great post Josette, I often overlook some of these questions ordo not allocate enough time to them when planning and so often only have post-class reflections when I guess these questions work well as a pre-class reflection (if that’s possible!). I printed out these questions and stuck them up by my desk to remind me to ask them when planning. I did it yesterday and made some significant changes to the lesson plan as a result which worked well, so thanks you as always for reminding me to be more mindful :-)

    Gemma.

    Like

    1. Dear Gemma,

      What a gift to know that this list could have had such a quick impact! Thank you so much for letting me know this. It really made me smile.

      I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, what question lead to what changes?

      Like

      1. Hi,

        Sorry for the late response!

        Firstly, I changed the layout, I often forget the alter this as we have limited space but I always find its worth the effort. The point whoch had the most impact was – the language lesson – I put more thougt into the balance of supporting and challenging students and as the lesson was quite a challengin one I added some more steps to the supporting and beginning stage of the lesson. As I said previously, things I should (and hopefully do mostly) cover but always good to have a reminder!

        Thanks again x

        Like

  3. Great to have questions like these. The kind of questions I ask myself are to do with, what can I do so my students can become better learners of English ( in pron, in listening, in speaking, in reading etc ). These questions are important learning is what students do. So if they can become better than this will benefit them long after they have left my classes.

    Like

    1. Hello Andrew,

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on my blog!

      Yes, this is a good point. Helping students understand how they can become autonomous learners in the skills that you mentioned will be empowering for years to come. It’s also a way to help us understand that the teacher’s job is not limited to what happens in the here and now. Lessons can last a lifetime.

      Like

  4. Hi Josette,

    Thanks for the extensive list. I haven’t quite realised my mind could have been on such an over-drive before each class. No wonder why we get so energised or knackered or both after each class!

    As you said, your list must has been built up gradually over years of experience. Working with teachers with less experience recently, the question I keep coming back to is how to help those teachers to select which couple of questions to focus on without getting overwhelmed by doing it all.

    What’s your tip on that? How do you choose your focus these days?

    Best,
    Connie

    Like

    1. Dear Connie,

      Thank you so much for asking that question. After reading my list over after I published it, I thought to myself, “this is too much for a teacher to consider!” Your point regarding either feeling energized or knackered is spot on. Just having the inkling that there might be more to consider is enough to make someone collapse if they don’t have the tools to take it easy on themselves.

      I guess I can say this because for many years as a teacher trainer, I really didn’t take it easy on myself. I thought I should know it all. It was only when I took a month to train with my mentor, a trainer of trainers, Mary Scholl, that I realized how hard I had been on myself. She looked at me sweetly one day as I was wracking my brain and said with a smile, “Oh so you think you need to know this all now? If you knew it all now, why would you need to be here?”

      I take this advice with me into every course now, and I try to share it with the participants. The truth is that there is always a lot to learn. The learning will never end. The best thing to do is to take learning experiences as they come. For example, today’s lesson may be about how much you need to brush up on your metalanguage for a particular grammar point. Take that opportunity to reflect on it. You will then start banking knowledge and awareness.

      You can’t learn everything at once, and my list is simply an expression of the “reflective banking” I have done over the years. It just gets easier with time.

      I hope this was helpful! Thank you so much for reading and stopping by!

      Like

  5. I am impressed! It is nice to see how dedicated and determined you are to transmit your knowledge and passion to your students!

    As an English student, I am very grateful to the teachers who have managed to inspire me, to help me to gain confidence and to encourage me with my English. Also I think that when you are embracing a new language you are embracing its culture too and it is nice when the teachers manage to connect both aspects (it gives you context) and it makes the class lively and interesting! I particularly enjoy the English discussion classes where everybody is encouraged to speak! I have noticed that the most popular topics are: Food, travels, relationships and work (but I guess it can vary depending on the age of the students, we are an adult class). Also it feels nice when the teacher is flexible and capable to adapt to the class needs and interests (even if it was not the topic planned for the day). It is important to feel that the teacher is really happy to be here and loves his/her job!

    I don’t know if it will be helpful but I just wanted to share with you a different view (from an English learner).

    I wish you all the best with your project!

    Like

    1. Salut Virginie!

      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your personal experience as an English learner. It is very helpful to hear from the students themselves. There are 3 points that really struck me about your perspective: inspiring students, embracing culture, and feeling that teachers enjoy their job. What this tells me is that meaning is the underlying lesson plan. Without clearly connecting to what the lesson means on a personal level for both the learner and the teacher, the time spent in the classroom could truly be wasted. And if not wasted, at least perhaps uneasy and confusing.

      You have reminded that my role as a trainer isn’t just to make sure that teachers have effective technical skills, but that they also have to have strong affective skills. It’s perhaps the affective skills that will pave the way for everything else to happen.

      Thank you for helping me think! I wish you all the best in your English studies!

      Like

  6. In relation to group dynamics, I also want to add the question: how will I deal with interpersonal conflicts if they arise? And I also feel like adding a section for teaching strategies, or something of that nature. For example, will I act as a facilitator or lecturer? How will I listen to the learners?

    On second thought, maybe this is for my next list, Questions I need to consider during class…

    I think I also want to be a bit more explicit with culture. I might add, who will they use this language with? What will they need to know about the culture in order to use the language appropriately?

    Under “the language lesson”, I also want to add something about teaching objectives – i.e.: What is my objective? Is my objective SMART?

    Like

    1. Hi Josette

      First of all, thank you for the great post: I like how it is gradually growing into a checklist or even a ‘menu’ for teachers to choose what to think about before a specific lesson. I do agree with the comment you added above about not needing/wanting to take all the points into account. As we know, there is no perfect lesson (and lesson plan then?)

      Speaking of the question about group conflict you added, my only ‘2 cents’ to add would be ‘What might go wrong?’ in relation to basically every point in your list. I call this ‘anticipating challenges’ or ‘risk management’ – anything that can start with ‘what if…?’ and let me analyze and predict a problem in the coming class. Again, need to be realistic and sensible in terms of how much/how far this planning can take. After all, as we all know, there is no perfect lesson! :-)

      Thank you for sharing this list once again: I am saving the link to be able to refer my future course participants to it, and ask to think how the list applies to their context/situation.

      Inspired by you as always!
      Zhenya

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for adding your thoughts Zhenya! Adding the flip side, “what if?”, to these questions is an excellent point. Actually this is something I’m trying to do more consciously in my life. It’s so easy to have a one track mind, but if you VW. Ask yourself what the opposite might be, life gets a bit more interesting and open. Of course this has to be in moderation, or you’d go crazy! Perfection is not the key, only curiosity.

        I’m so happy to learn that this list might be helpful to you on a course! Let me know how it goes!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s