Anatomy of an English lesson: how does yours compare?

How does this typical lesson at FELLOW compare to your EFL/ESL classroom?

7.20pm The first learners arrive. They take a chair and position themselves in a line along the back wall of the room, as far away from the teachers as they can possibly get. No one speaks.

7.30pm The lesson officially starts, and the teachers wonder why there are only seven learners this evening (average attendance hovers around 35-40 learners per evening).

7.32pm The ‘missing’ learners pour in, either because they have been too busy chatting outside to notice that the lesson has already started, or because one of the teachers accidentally locked the outside door behind them and no one has been able to get it.

7.35pm The group warmer begins. The warmer involves all the learners and is usually a game or speaking exercise. There is at least one new FELLOW learner at every session, so the opportunity to mingle is always beneficial.

7.50pm Warmer over, the teachers divide the learners into two groups. This is done through the highly refined assessment strategy of ‘If you want an easier lesson, follow x and sit over there. If you want a more difficult lesson, follow y and sit over there.’ There ensues a chaotic five minutes while learners assess and position themselves, and everyone fetches collapsible tables from the cupboard (the room is so small that we can’t do this until after the warmer).

7.55pm Each teacher begins with by asking the learners to introduce themselves (and usually say where they are from). If I am teaching, I forget everyone’s names within five minutes and have to ask everyone to make signs to place on the table in front of them.

8.00pm The simultaneous lessons begin. Two classes take place in the same room, so volunteers need to think carefully about the structure of our lessons and avoid lots of pair/group speaking activities and listening activities. They’re just too loud! Learners in the other group struggle to concentrate if there is too much background noise.

8.15pm Learners complain that it is too hot, so we turn on the A/C.

8.20pm Learners sitting under the A/C complain that it is too draughty, so we turn off the A/C.

8.40pm We take a short break. Some learners go outside for a cigarette or some much-vaunted cool air, while others stay inside and study or chat. This is the best time to get to know more about our learners and their situations: where they come from, how they ended up in Oxford, and why they want to improve their English. I am usually humbled by the intelligence of the people in the room: we have doctors, engineers, lawyers, small business owners… many learning English because they want to find employment in their chosen profession in the UK.

8.50pm Everyone slowly trickles back into the classroom and we resume the lessons. Some learners tend to disappear during the break because they have to get the last bus home (we have learners who travel 15-20 miles to attend class).

9.30pm That’s a wrap! Learners and volunteers pack up the tables, chairs and materials. We need to make sure that the room is clear for whoever is next to use it – perhaps a community or church group. Exhausted teachers embark on the long cycle home…


3 thoughts on “Anatomy of an English lesson: how does yours compare?

  1. Gosia/lessonplansdigger January 10, 2016 / 8:34 pm

    Hi Caroline, I’m fascinated by the concept of FELLOW and find it really interesting to read about these classes from the teacher’s POV. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine teaching two different classes in one room. How do you guys manage? Surely, my classes taught at a traditional language school don’t compare as far as the setting goes, but the bits about the A/C and students coming in at different times are spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • carrieljames January 11, 2016 / 7:42 am

      Thanks for reading! It can be tricky sometimes, but we manage. We have to be quite flexible with our lesson plans: if one class starts doing a pairwork speaking activity, learners in the other teacher’s group probably won’t be able to hear each other for a little while (so it’s time to get out a worksheet!). One of the things that I’m hoping to write about in the future is the mind shift required to teach in this kind of situation. Before Oxford I mainly taught at private language schools, and even during my CELTA I was taught never to start late or finish early, and make sure that all students got equal teacher time. At FELLOW both of these points frequently fly out of the window! It can be physically hard to get around the room to everyone (there’s no space!), and you really have to reassess the notion of a ‘successful’ lesson. Hmm… maybe I’ll start working on this post now!!


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