Step Two - Organization(Suggested Time: 2-3 Minutes)
Your students are warmed up. Now is the time to tackle the organizational nuts and bolts of the day. Take care of all announcements, collect homework, distribute new handouts, return graded papers, and remind students of upcoming events, quizzes and tests.
I’m a big believer in handing out a printed syllabus, one that announces assignments from one period test to the next. I know that some teachers do not like to do so, feeling that they never know exactly how far along they will get on a given day. Instead, they prefer to announce assignments one day at a time.
I would argue that students learn best when they can see what’s coming in the next few weeks, know the target day for a test, and consequently are able to plan their lives (including sports, extra-curricular activities and social calendars!) around the big “assessment day.” I realize that individuals — both teachers and students — run the gamut from those who prefer a free-flow approach to those who rigidly adhere to a strict schedule. But I think all topics — including learning a language — are best mastered in an educational setting that is thoughtful and compassionate towards those students with the greatest need for structure. Organizational structure helps those students who need it to feel more in control. It’s another way I can set them up for success.
It’s no secret that I love to be organized! I’ll confess that I HATED it when my teachers would wait until the end of class to announce the assignment for the next day. Often the bell would ring, I would start thinking about my geometry quiz coming up in a few minutes, and my teacher would explain what we would be quizzed on tomorrow. Or even worse: the teacher would announce, “Class, I have decided that since you have shown that you know the material so well, I am going to move up our chapter test to tomorrow!” Although the teacher may have had the best of intentions, this kind of announcement generally did not bring out the best in students. Students deserve the clarity and the courtesy of knowing when a major test is coming up. Ideally they should have this information at least a week in advance.
Below is a fairly typical assignment sheet that I might hand out to my students. Traditionally I give it to them as they leave class on a test day. This sheet maps out all of the assignments for the next two weeks until the next test:
You will notice that there is a rich variety of assignments: grammar exercises from the textbook, reading selections, vocabulary quizzes, oral presentations, composition writing, television watching, speaking with a friend, and, of course, a chapter test. I will explain many of these assignments in more detail in subsequent steps of The Ideal Lesson Plan: Ten Step for Making Your Students Fluent
Let me mention a great assignment, not on the syllabus, that I use frequently. I’ve entitled it “Call Me.” This activity is a terrific one, enabled by the advent of voice-mail at most schools. I will ask students to leave me a twenty-to-thirty second voice mail message. I will assign a topic, such as: “Ask me for an extension on your homework, giving me the reason” oror “Make an emergency call to 911, explaining that you are witnessing a robbery at a bank.” I have received absolutely wonderful results on this assignment. But I’ll admit I made a big mistake the first time I thought of it, assigning ALL of my classes this assignment on the same day. When I came into school the next day and discovered over 60 messages in my voice mail, I decided that next time I would stagger this assignment among my classes, never assigning it to more than one class per night! “Ask to make a reservation for dinner at a restaurant”
The beauty of a good syllabus is that students know what’s on the horizon; they feel more in control. Furthermore, you don’t need to squander a lot of class time announcing tomorrow’s assignment. But what if you need to make a change in the syllabus? No problem! Of course, you can adjust the day of the chapter test, eliminate an exercise, or add a new idea or assignment. But just like your classroom, you can make your syllabus breathe. Yet, like grammar, it has an underlying structure. Your students will thank you for it!
Step Two - Organization
Key Things to Remember
What to Do:
- Attend to the organizational nuts and bolts at the beginning of class. This approach helps many students, especially those who crave structure.
- Give your students a printed syllabus spanning assignments from one period test to the next.
- Create a rich variety of assignments such as: grammar exercises from thetextbook, reading selections, vocabulary quizzes, oral presentations, composition writing, television watching, speaking with a friend.
- Stagger assignments that require a lot of your correcting time so that you don’t get overloaded and can return homework as soon as possible.
Why It Works:
- Students benefit from the organized structure of a test-to-test syllabus.
- Varying homework assignments keeps it interesting and plays to the different strengths of your students. Find homework formats that give everyone a chance to shine.
The Big Picture:
- Show your students the courtesy and the clarity provided by a well-organized and varied syllabus. When students know what to expect, they have more resources available for learning.
- Create a classroom where students with strong preferences for order and planning can feel comfortable and in control.
- Feel free to let your syllabus “breathe,” adjusting it as necessary, but never compromising its overall structure.