4 Fail-Proof Middle School Lesson Ideas
Korean Middle Schoolers carry with them a certain infamy amongst foreign and Korean teachers alike. Known throughout all of the land as a generally rowdy, uninterested bunch, Middle School teaching gigs aren’t most prospective teacher’s first choice when job-hunting, and certainly the amount of teaching positions are declining rapidly. Those of us who do teach Middle School English though, have to work at keeping ourselves and our students sane, which is no easy feat, considering the fact impressing a class of Middle Schoolers is historically as easy as impressing a grumpy cat. I am lucky – or unlucky, depending on the day – to teach Middle School at a hagwon without a designated English textbook. Every night gives me free reign where they are concerned, and while it does take quite a large amount of planning, I enjoy seeing my students enjoying themselves, especially seeing the affective filter hypothesis being proven right – my lessons, which have a relaxed and fun atmosphere, leave them increasingly willing to learn from me.
While your situation might be vastly different – i.e, while you might have a textbook to follow to a T, and a co-teacher looking over your shoulder, these lessons are good for those pre- and post- exam periods where there are no set plans, and your students are exhausted from being Korean students and all the pressure that comes with that. They’re also good as first lessons, a.k.a the defining ice-breaker, or reward lessons, where certain classes have been behaving particularly well.
1. The Short Film Lesson
It’s no secret that students love movies of almost any kind – you were a student once, you know – and so use that affection to your English-teaching advantage. The internet is overrun with downloadable versions of interesting short films and film scenes, which you can use as a catalyst for an entire lesson, for which you might create Powerpoints and worksheets too. Your plan might depend on the specific film you choose to structure your lesson around, but a good film lesson structure might go like this:
- Tell your students the name of the film. Elicit meanings and connotations – what do they think the film will be about?
- Show them a still of an important scene of the film. In teams, have them brainstorm a short story to go with the picture; i.e, have them write the film as they imagine it before having actually seen it. Have one person from every team read their story out loud, after you have gone around to help with grammar.
- Show them the film.
- Talk about how their stories are similar/dissimilar to the actual film.
- Discuss, as a group, what the film was about. Touch upon character names, locations, themes, etc.
- If you have a Powerpoint, go over key concepts from the film, as well as important vocabulary.
- Have them exercise their creativity through either writing dialogue for a particalar scene (or two), or rewriting a pivotal scene. Have them present to the class.
- If you have extra time, wind them down with Hangman, using the vocabulary you’ve been talking about.
2. A Guide to _____ Lesson
There is nothing more satisfying to me than teaching my kids how to talk about actual, practical things; things that pertain to their real lives and might realistically need to communicate in English someday. What better place to start than their own cities/ hometowns? This lesson also allows you to talk / revel in your own hometown for a bit, as you’ll use interesting videos of things to do in your own country/city as a starting point. Here’s how it goes:
- Talk about the idea of a Travel Guide. Elicit the meaning, and ask what sorts of things one usually finds in a travel guide. Steer the conversation towards “Things to do in _____”.
- Tell your students that you’re going to show them a video of your hometown/ city, and that they should watch it with the idea of travel guide writing in mind. Afterwards, elicit things to do in your hometown/city, by writing them on the board.
- Ask your students if they can tell you about some things about their own town/ city that would go in a travel guide. Write them on them board.
- Tell your students that they’ll be making guides to their own town/city, and give each student a blank paper. Have everyone fold their papers into small booklets. Have them decorate the first page as best they can – have crayons and color pens ready!
- They have 3 pages left in their booklet now – explain that they should allocate a page to each “thing to do”, and that they should give a reason for endorsing a certain thing,
- When everyone’s done, have a few volunteers present their guides to the class.
The quintessential ESL period – or Friday night. There is no other activity that’ll show you how much English vocabulary is actually hiding in your students’ brains than good ole Pictionary, and, incidentally, no activity that will make them love you more. Here’s what you do:
- Write “Pictionary” on the board and ask what it means. Elicit “picture + dictionary”, and explain what the game entails.
- Show them a video of celebrity Pictionary to make the process clearer.
- Divide the class into two teams ( I don’t use a timer – instead, I have a person from each team draw at the same time on little whiteboards, and the first team to guess right gets the point). Give each team a few copies of the list of words they’ll be picking from. Have them read through the lists, circling the words they don’t know. You can then go around, explaining what they don’t understand through drawing pictures or translating on your phone.
- Read through the lists, having them repeat after you.
- Commence the game. For every round, one person from each team comes to the front and does Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winner draws a word from a hat, then both students run back to their table as you say “ready, GO!”. They sketch, and the first team to say/scream the answer with their hand up gets the point.
- Continue playing until your words are finished or the time is up.
I know I said that no game will endear you more to your students than Pictionary, but the truth is is that Charades works just as well. The same rules as Pictionary apply, only this time, show a Charades video, and make sure they practice how to mime the words on their lists beforehand, and perhaps quiz them by showing a a few mimes from the list and having them guess. Continue with the same steps as Pictionary above, and see your students emerge from their shells.
Whatever your classroom situation, laid-back lessons are magic for your relationship with your students, and their willingness to learn English from you, and so if know you haven’t had much fun with your Middle Schoolers in a while, go ahead and borrow an idea or two and have a dynamic, fun-filled day of English teaching.