3 Teaching Hacks That Are Going to Blow Your Mind!

Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

*Warning: This post contains snarky and in-your-face concepts to shake up the teaching world as we know it!

Hey friend, grab your favourite beverage, find a comfortable spot to relax in, and prepare yourself for 3 teaching hacks that are going to change the way you give activity instructions.

Have you ever put loads of work into planning an activity and made wicked materials, only to see the activity fall flat on its face in the classroom?

Hack #1: Shut Your Mouth!

Well, guess what sparky? You are not alone. Many teachers experience this at some point in their careers. However, the mistake some teachers make in this situation is to blame the students – either the students’ level was not high enough, the students didn’t stay on task, or they were having an off day.

But I reckon if you could go back in time and watch yourself set up the activity, you would probably notice that your instructions were verbose and complicated. I’ve seen teachers use language in their instructions that was miles above the level of the target language that students would use in the actual activity. So, when it comes to giving instructions, less “teacher talk” is better. You want to reduce your “teacher talk” as much as possible so that students don’t get lost in the task setup.

I can hear some of you out there saying, “Hey Manpal, if I don’t explain the activity in detail, how are my students going to understand what to do?” Well compadre, I’m glad you asked because it leads right into my 2nd hack…

Hack #2: Don’t Explain It — DO IT!

Rather than explaining the various steps of an activity, why not demonstrate instead? The best way to reduce teacher talk when giving instructions is to model the activity. But be careful — don’t be the type of educator who only models a part of an activity and gives verbal instructions for the other parts. It’s important to model every step of the activity so that students can clearly see what is expected of them.

Now, before you say it, I know exactly what you are thinking… if I model every step of my activities it’s going to take too much time. Trust me, the time spent on modelling is worth it once you see your students start the task immediately without hesitation. And to be honest, you’d probably spend more time re-explaining activities to some students again than you would if you just took time to clearly model the activity in the first place.

Hack #3: Exploit Your Students!

When teachers model activities alone, they remind me of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America – trying to take on too many roles. They are showing the student role (modelling the task) while maintaining the teacher role (giving minimal verbal instructions). Sometimes, this can work (for individual tasks) but to avoid any confusion for students the best option is to use them as part of your modelling so that you can maintain your starring role — the teacher!

Any time you are modelling a pair work or group work task, it’s impossible to clearly show each step if you just model the task by yourself. For pair work activities, you can model with two other students, and for group work activities you can model with an entire group. That way you can guide your super models through each step of the activity while the rest of the students can look on and see exactly how the task works with their peers.

Mission Accomplished

Now that your minds have been fully blown, I hope you incorporate these hacks in your next class.

Do you have any other hacks to share? Please include them in the comments section below.

*** Manpal would like to thank both the TESL Ontario Blog team and the readers for allowing him to write a blog post in such a snarky and arrogant tone. Manpal hopes the readers enjoyed this departure from his normal writing style and he hopes the readers picked up one or two ideas that might help them with their instruction giving.***

Hi everyone! I'm Manpal Sahota. In spring 2015 I returned to Toronto after spending nearly 13 years in South Korea, where I worked as a teacher, editor, academic coordinator, and teacher trainer. During my time in Korea I was extremely fortunate to meet many dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. Being able to learn and share with these teachers has elevated my passion for teaching and teacher development. I believe teacher growth is greatly accelerated when you are part of a motivated and supportive group of professionals. This why I'm looking forward to learning and sharing with the TESL Ontario community. I hope you enjoy my blog posts and I welcome your thoughts and feedback!


6 thoughts on “3 Teaching Hacks That Are Going to Blow Your Mind!”

  1. I am enjoying a whiskey coke. Thanks for the motivation to make it. I think teacher talk gets a lot of negative criticism. My students, who are level 0, scaffold my thinking and speaking strategies by repeating after me. Also, I find explaining everything at the start robs the activity of great teachable moments that support the main activity. I break one main activity into 5 mini activities to help scaffold many different concepts I want my students to learn.
    Thank you,

  2. Hi Rhett!

    Thank you for your comment. Your method of getting students to repeat after you sounds like a great way to reinforce your instructions. I imagine that you are probably grading your language and using language in your instructions that will help students with the actual activity they will do.

    I would say my suggestion of reducing teacher talk comes from observing many teachers use complicated teacher talk which resulted in students not understanding what to do. I think it’s a good idea to be conscious of your teacher talk and make decisions based on what you believe will be best for your particular students.

    Enjoy your drink!

  3. Interesting article but really these suggestions are not “hacks.” A hack means to take something and modify it or repurpose it to improve it or do something different. Also Rhett is correct – often students would like teacher talk. I think it goes without saying that a demonstration is usually in order. I agree getting the students involved in the demo makes the most sense.

  4. This is great. I completely agree that when I do this, the results are my reward. When I forget, I end up wasting time later getting students back on track, clarifying, apologizing, etc. With my Chinese seniors, I find that I need to both model the activity using one or more students AND need to write the instructions on the board. With my literacy learners, I always model an activity very physically. Thanks for this reminder!

  5. Hi Kelly,

    I completely agree that having written instructions on the board is another great way to scaffold activity instructions. And if students forget a certain step or rule they can always quickly refer back to the board when needed.

    Thanks for your comment!

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