Chinese class with varied levels of English ability

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Chinese class with varied levels of English ability

Unread postby lpsunshine3 » 18 Oct 2007, 14:44

I am an English teacher at a University in China. I teach specifically Oral English. I have a class of freshman International Majors (they did not make it into college, but their parents payed for them to get in anyway, and they will study abroad after 2 yrs). I am having difficulties with this class. Because they did not pass the national test to make it into college, their english is very poor. There is a wide range of abilities. There are 24 students in the class. About 8 of them have decent english and can write several sentences when given a prompt and can have a short conversation with a few grammatical errors. There are about 10 students who know a little english, but seem very afraid to use it and maybe confused about how to put the words they know together, so they do not try. Then there are about 6 students who seem to know very little english and cannot even write a single sentence and will not answer outloud any questions I ask, even one word answers. They are also very rude, it seems they have been spoiled. All of the students in my other classes seem to be respectful and want to learn. However, most of the students in this class act bored or not interested and do not pay attention and talk or try to sleep instead (I have given them rules about all of this). The students who know the least english also never pay attention and listen.
These students have me for oral english twice a week. They also have reading twice, listening twice, and writing twice. 8 english classes a week.
I have several questions. How can I help those students who are ready to move forward without leaving the students who know so little behind? How can I help them be interested in the topic? If my responsibility is oral english and they have so many other english classes (all with chinese teachers), how much grammar and vocab should I try to teach since it seems they know so little? How can I try to make the students who do not want to talk comfortable?

Thank you so much for any advice, activities, or other help.

lpsunshine3
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Chinese students with mixed ability

Unread postby Lucy » 21 Oct 2007, 13:35

Dear Ipsunshine,

There’s quite a lot to cover here, so I’ll answer you in two separate posts. I think the first thing to tackle here is the problem of students being rude, not listening, sleeping etc. I recognise that this is not your first question but I think it’s the first thing to deal with. I’ve never worked in China; what I’ve heard about the country is that the teacher is highly respected and that students expect a particular style of teaching. This style of teaching has more in common with lecturing and the grammar-translation method than with the current EFL approach. I’ve worked in other countries where this is the case and my experience is that the native English teacher is often assigned to conversation classes. English native teachers in this situation take a modern EFL approach; put this together with the fact that they are not Chinese, (or whatever nationality we are dealing with) and you have a recipe for lack of respect.

I suggest taking a drastic non-EFL approach for the next few lessons. I don’t normally advise this, but I think your situation warrants it (students sleeping, not participating…..). You could start by giving students a written test to better judge their level; and / or do grammar and vocabulary presentations and written practice exercises. Choose the grammar and vocabulary carefully; pick subjects that students don’t handle well and that will relate to future conversation lessons. Whilst the students are doing their tests and written exercises, take them one by one and speak to them individually in English. I suggest you start with the strongest first; simply because this will be strange to them and by taking the weakest last, they will have had time to adapt to and accept what you are doing and therefore perform to their best ability. When you are speaking to the students, sit in a place where the whole class is visible to you; this way you can make sure all the students are working.

Spend five to ten minutes with each student; use this time to find out what their expectations are of the lesson; what topics they would like to study and what they hope to use English for in the future. Take time as well to tell them what your expectations are of them. If you can speak Chinese be clear in a few sentences that you will insist on the rules that you have set the class: participating, staying awake, etc - I think it’s excellent that you have set these rules. You might also give them a mini-talk on EFL approach; mention that you can only learn to talk by talking! Once you have had a talk with each student, you can go back to your conversation classes.

As a general rule, be very encouraging and praising of all efforts they make; you could end each lesson with a comment on what you think they did well (and not so well). Be gentle and respectful towards the person but be very tough regarding the rules. They’ll soon get the message. Finally, always turn up for class early; that way you get to greet the students, have a short chat with the early arrivals and to set the atmosphere for the class. If you arrive when the students are already in place, they have set the scene and you are like the gate crasher at their party.

I'll answer your other questions very soon.

Lucy
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Mixed ability Chinese students

Unread postby Lucy » 23 Oct 2007, 18:36

Dear Ipsunshine,

You asked about how much grammar and vocabulary to cover; my suggestion is that you give some vocabulary and grammar input. As the students are not very open to speaking, you can create spoken activities that give controlled practice of the language you’ve presented. As they gain confidence and their language improves, you can move to less controlled speaking practice. Try to keep presentations of language short and present language which relates to whatever the conversation topic is. If you think it is possible, find out what they are studying in their writing classes and link it to that.



As for mixed ability, there are two major opinions; the first is that you put the students into groups according to their level (strongest students together, weakest students together etc) and the other is that you organise group work with a mixture of stronger and weaker students in each group. I suggest you start by organising group work according to level. Give students the same topics to discuss otherwise you’ll spend too much time preparing different exercises. You can set the same speaking task for the stronger students and add tasks such as using 6 items of new vocabulary in their conversation, or using a certain tense (e.g. present perfect continuous) at least twice. From time to time, you can organise groups with various levels in the groups so that students don’t get into the habit of always working with the same people.

One key to keeping the students interested is to involve them as much as possible in decision making. For example, ask them which topics they would like to talk about; which language points they would like to review. Give them ownership of what happens in the classroom as much as possible.

You can also take a look at the following links where I answer questions related to your situation:

http://www.tefl.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=476

http://www.tefl.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=619

http://www.tefl.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=893


If you’d like more ideas, please feel free to write in again.

All the best,

Lucy
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