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Teaching Summer Schools and other short intense courses

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Group of teenagers walking in the sun holding booksKieran McGovern offers some handy hints for coping with, and maybe even enjoying, those gruelling summer language courses.

In the popular imagination, a summer school is pretty much a paid holiday. The teacher holds forth to his/her enraptured students, perhaps under a shady tree. One hot afternoon teaching the present perfect to riotous fourteen-year-olds in an airless room will cure you of that illusion.

Thinking about how difficult the summer school experience can be for new teachers, I prepared a tip sheet for teaching short courses.

Here’s a summary:

  1. Vary activities & keep everything moving fast.
  2. Use a course book or a planned programme of materials. Students like to see that they are following a plan.
  3. Reduce teacher talk time. Give concise instructions but devolve activities via pair & small group work.
  4. Avoid whole-class speaking activities.
  5. Allow the shy to shine. Don’t force participation but give quiet students the space to contribute.
  6. Children/Young Learners sometimes need calming down! Dictation is a surprisingly effective tactic.
  7. Ban the use of bi-lingual dictionaries in class (see below)
  8. Remember you’re in charge! Two YLs never stop talking? Split them up!
  9. Keep students informed about your lesson plan: e.g. ‘First we’ll …. then you’ll ….’
  10. Encourage friendly competition but between teams rather than individuals.

What do you think? Do you have suggestions for making summer schools survivable – enjoyable even?

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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6 thoughts on “Teaching Summer Schools and other short intense courses

  1. I’m a Brazilian English teacher. I loved these hints. I agree with them. I’ll do these suggestions this year when I teach this kind of course and i’m sure they will work. Hugs and thanks for sharing.
    Thanks a lot
    Cláudio Vasconcellos

  2. Share some personal experience about language learning and your personal life during this course period. Share your personal reading on a daily basis (report on what you have read, ask ss to react, predict, ask detailed questions, etc) to stimulate reading and ask them to do the same ( in groups) if this applies to the objectives of the course. Worked out well during my last intensive training course (exam prep)

    • Good suggestions, though I think the first thing you need on an intensive course is to establish a sense of common purpose. This is straightforward when there is a clear objective ( like an exam) but can be trickier with younger students who are not entirely convinced that this is the way they want to spend their summer vacation.

  3. When I ran a summer school in Exmouth, UK I found a lot of the teachers I had hired were really nervous (which is natural) but made even more so by the fact that the leaders of the groups (who were Italian and French English teachers) wanted to sit in on the classes. My teachers felt they were being watched and critiqued! We managed to get the leaders to desist after a couple of days, but as an addition to number 8 above:

    8.Remember you’re in charge! ….

    I would say try to make the classroom your own, and if you have any problems get it sorted straightaway with the DoS. That’s what they are there for – to help and support you.

    • Hi William

      This ‘authority’ question impacts in many ways. One issue is the fact that British teachers are encouraged to be gentle and empathetic – to break down barriers with students. For younger learners coming from cultures where the teacher is ‘the boss’ this can be a little confusing. Once they work out that they are in a more liberal environment it can seem like the class run by the substitute teacher – where everyone lets their hair down!

      Given that the ‘leaders’ are the ones more likely to have direct contact with parents etc they become the ones the kids behave for.

      One trick I have used when things get a little to boisterous is to announce a dictation. For some reason this seems even the most rebellious students – and they seem to enjoy it, too.

      I agree that teachers should draw on the experience of senior staff, though new teachers often fear it will show weakness/incompetence if they ask for the advice/help of management.

      Kieran

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