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Whistleblower Jul 13th, 2007 12:30 am

My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
I had a really bad lesson yesterday. I thought I would provide some insight into the lesson as I would like some feedback and how to ensure it doesn't happen again.

There were two students I was teaching yesterday. I shall refer to A - the intermediate student. B - the beginner student. They were complete opposites. You could taste the bitterness in the air. Anyhow, I started the lesson as I always do with some small chat to relax the students and ask how their day was and what they will be doing later. Student A was pretty good and was able to communicate effectively. Student B has some difficulty but I gave him a chance to communicate.

Anyways, the student B was not meant to be in the lesson. His English ability was below the standard for that level but I persisted and was keen to finish the class.

The class seemed to go on for such a long time (in reality it was 60 minutes) but the pace was very slow to accomodate Student B.

At the end of the class and completing just 2 out of the 7 activities, Student A seemed upset that the lesson hadn't gone according to plan. She was upset that a beginner student was in her lesson and I had to apologise to her. I recommended that I would go through the lesson with her in my spare time to allow her to ask any questions and feel satisfied after a poor lesson.

Student B was recommended a level change and that was that. I felt rather guilty that the lesson wasn't up to my normal standard and felt sorry for the Student A who seemed to waste her time telling the Student B what to say.


Does anyone have any advice on how to handle the unexpected in a lesson? It seems my worst performance as a teacher since I started teaching and I can't seem to remember such a poor lesson compared to this one. I would appreciate any advice anyone can throw my way.

Can anyone remember their worst lesson? How was it? What did you do to learn from it?

clivehawkins Jul 13th, 2007 01:04 am

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
Hi Whistleblower,

Having students of different levels in the class is my worst nightmare. I try to avoid it whenever possible. In my school it never happens, but sometimes external courses are like this. In a larger group it's not so much of a problem because you put the weaker students together, but with just two - ouch!

In your case I would have given them different tasks to do. A composition is not a bad idea as you can monitor both easily enough and they are working individually. You can even get the stronger student to then correct any mistakes in the weaker's work. A communication activity between the two isn't such a good idea for the very reasons you mentioned - one is dissatisfied and the other a little ashamed.

You could do a reading exercise as this can be graded too. I have copies of 'Speak up' which have articles of different levels - perfect for situations like this.

Basically anything where the lesson doesn't depend on them working too closely together. I know it's against the basic principles of classroom interaction and communication but in this case you need to do something to avoid the bitterness you described.

Hope that helps.

mesmark Jul 13th, 2007 09:21 am

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
I would probably make the advanced student the supervised teacher. There are loads to be learned through teaching and actually having to explain. It's one thing to understand for yourself and be able to do something but if you can teach it to someone else, you truely know it.

That won't work for 60 minutes every class, but if it's just a one time thing then I think it would actually be good.

It sounds like your more advanced student is a little selfish. I'm sure there was a lot to be learned there but A just couldn't see it.

Aside: For kids, it's great to mix older kids with younger kids and let the older kids try to teach something to the younger students. They have to explain different aspects of the language, field questions, and deal with problems. They also learn a little about our job and how it's not so easy to get people to 'get it.'

mesmark Jul 13th, 2007 09:26 am

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice

Quote Whistleblower
Can anyone remember their worst lesson? How was it?

Yeah, I still have it every Friday night at 7:00. :) Five 13 year old girls who refuse to speak... Seriously, 1 hour of them noding and/or speaking back and forth in Japanese.

Quote Whistleblower
What did you do to learn from it?

not a lot so far... :p

Denis DNT Jul 22nd, 2007 07:57 am

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
I totally agree with Mesmark. I have tried that several times. More often than not smarter kids find it a pride when asked to explain stuff to less smarter kids. You just have to make it look like an honorable task. Everybody likes honor.

kimyushin Jul 23rd, 2007 06:13 am

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
I used this activity when I did a sub-class:

Name of Activity: Guess it
Objective: to have a pair of students guess the meaning of a word without using the word itself -the advance student defines the word, while the beginner one guesses.

(note: activity is similar to "Taboo" if you are familiar with this game)


1. Students read a short article. While reading, they isolate new words and find their meaning. Teacher helps them understand the meaning of the words with examples and samples sentences.

2. After all the words have been defined, the teacher writes down the words into strips of paper -one word for each strip of paper. All the strips are placed in a jar (or whatever vessel)

3. Advance student (meaning student with higher speaking skills) randomly picks a strip of paper, reads the word, and defines the word to beginner student. The beginner must listen and try to guess the word.

4. The pair must guess the meaning of the word within a time-limit or else they get a punishment from the teacher: either they sing a song, or they give the teacher 3 dollars each -whichever they agree before hand. (The monetary-based punishment is a joke!)


a) Although the beginner student has weaker linguistic skills, it is not impossible for him to guess the word because the word came from the previously studied article. Also, the beginner student is suited for guessing because his listening and comprehension skills are better than his speaking skills.

b) The advance student can use his dictionary, and any example and analogy he can think of to make his partner guess the meaning.

c) It is best to make the student sit back to back from each other so that they can only hear each other's voices. If they define words while facing each other, the body language, face and hand gesture aid in the discovery of the word. By just listening to each other's voices, the students only rely on their voices and ears to solve the mystery word.

d) The point of the activity is to put to use the speaking skills of the advance student to engage the listening comprehension skill of the weaker student.

e) This activity works only within a context of a larger lesson. It can serve as a review activity or an ice breaker. I often use this as a crack-activity for emergency classes similar to what you had.

mrcards Jul 30th, 2007 01:43 pm

Re: My Worst Lesson - Any Advice
I'm quite late with a response here, but my advice would be to pick up and move on. Bad classes do happen to the best teachers, and what's important is your ability to bounce back and teach well for the next one.

It's hard when you've got someone in the class that doesn't understand, but you cannot slow all of the others down just for that one student. I'd say that the best thing is to move on as scheduled and make up the time with the slower student later after class. Some classes are on very tight schedules and if that's the case, then you've gotta stick to it. If yours is pretty flexible, then spending a little bit more time in class with that slower student could be allowed. As I've always thought and as others have mentioned, it's a nice change for some of the students to take a turn at being the teacher and trying their best to make that student understand. As Mesmark says, once you can teach it, you truly know it.

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