LTL REFLECTION: A Ghost in the Toilets
Classroom Management, Prepositions and Other Scary Stories
During a recent school visit, I met a teacher who showed me the worksheets for her EFL class on preposition review followed by an activity to practise giving directions. It was a nicely planned and well thought out lesson, and the teacher invited me into her class of 25 or so nine-year-olds to join in and assist. Joining in the lessons is one of the things I enjoy most about my job; all the fun of the fair, but no axles to grease and no student files to complete. So I went.
We were no more than five or ten minutes into the lesson, when I realised that while it might be ‘review’ for the pupils, it was something that I had seen a hundred times before: “The ball is on / in / next to / behind the box” etc. I’ve even struggled with it in German, Malay, Korean and others. The teacher’s energy levels were high and the pupils were enthusiastic, but I suddenly felt a wave of terror. Was this lesson going to be really boring? How would I survive another 55 minutes of prepositions and directions? Who cares where the ball is? I don’t. At least not right now.
And then the tragedy really struck.
A woman from the teachers’ room came rushing into the class and asked my colleague to come quickly as there had been an accident. The teacher left quickly, and I was left with a class of gawking nine-year-olds and a blackboard covered with drawings of the ball on / in and under that bloody box. Strictly speaking, I am not allowed to be teaching classes unsupervised; that’s not my job, but this was an emergency, and I did what you are supposed to do in emergencies and carried on. I refocused the children’s attention to the board, reminded them about prepositions and handed out the worksheets. We were getting stuck in to the first few activities as a whole-class exercise, when the whole of the class’s attention was drawn to a procession of stressed teachers and a distressed, wailing boy walking past our classroom. The kids were riveted, but I wanted to get them back to the task in hand, so when they were speculating about what might be the matter, I drew a line under the guess work and said that the boy was crying because he had seen a ghost in the toilets next door to our classroom.
Big mistake really, because belief in ghosts is widespread in school as well as at home, and hysteria is a particular issue among children in schools like this. It could have gone badly (really badly), but the children know me quite well, and none of them were inclined to believe my story about a ghost in the toilets next door. Not a hundred per cent, at least.
Everything went swimmingly. The teacher’s lesson plan was straightforward and easy to follow, and the curriculum’s banding assessment worksheets were clear and to the point. You can see the banding assessment worksheets here DIRECTIONS
The first thing I do when I hand out worksheets is to make everyone put their pencils down. Down! It’s actually a rule; you are not allowed to even hold your pencil while we are doing the worksheet the first time around. As far as possible, I avoid reading aloud from the worksheet; I let the pupils take turns to read out the questions and partial answers (with whatever substitutionary bleeping sound the readers cares to make). During the time I am NOT reading from the worksheet, I’m checking meaning by making sure everyone knows what the words mean and what the actual task is. I’m also recoiling in horror from time to time as if there is a ghost coming into the classroom from the back door, and then being very relieved that it is not a ghost at all, just the painter or someone passing by the back door near the toilets.
It seems like an odd way to keep everyone on task, pretending there’s a ghost at the back door, but if something focuses all the attention on the teacher, then the teacher can take all that attention and draw it back to the task at hand. Let’s face it, ’Where is the Science Garden?’ ‘It is between Classrooms C and the Hall’ gets pretty boring after five minutes or so, so it is natural for the children’s attention (or anyone’s attention) to wander. Anything that brings attention back to the teacher is a step toward bringing attention back to the task at hand.
After the prepositions warm-up, the lesson on prepositions and directions ran mostly in three parts; first we all worked together to complete the answers, but no writing. Next, the pupils could work alone or with partners to write in the answers to some of the questions. Pupils who finished first were sent off to help others. Finally we checked the answers and modeled them on the board, and repeat until the worksheets are finished. Everything went to plan, and the pupils seemed to have got the hang of using different prepositions while giving directions.
Something I see a lot of as I visit different schools, is a constant stream of children skipping out of class to ‘go to the toilet’, and they often skip out with a friend in-tow. No one wanted to go to the toilet during our lesson on prepositions and directions; I’d like to think it was my story of a ghost in the toilets that kept the little angels rooted to their desks, but it was probably because they didn’t have much of a chance to get bored.
At the end of the class, as the pupils were filing out, one girl turned to me and steeled me with her eye and said “Teacher! There’s a ghost behind you!” As I looked behind me in horror, she turned on her heel and ran out of the classroom cackling like a mad woman.
Perfect use of English prepositions in a meaningful situation. Mission accomplished.