Covering an unexpected class?

Being called to cover a class for an absent colleague is something every EFL teacher experiences, I would say, on a fairly regular basis.  If you’re clever, and organised, you will have a special folder of activities up your sleeve ready to run off photocopies and march into the classroom unperturbed! I would highly recommend you try to be this organised.

However, we all have bad days, weeks or just times when our colleagues have one too many hangovers, and we run out of things to do, or are simply unprepared.  An activity which I have fallen back on often, and which I consider one of my emergency activities is poetry writing.

Every single class I have done this with enjoyed it immensely and it can be adapted to suit any level.  How you approach it is also flexible.

One way is to ask students to look out of the classroom window and then to write down two or three words to describe what they see.  Next, ask them to close their eyes: what can they hear? Again, two or three words to describe it. Open the classroom window: what can they smell? Then, how do you feel? You can have as many or as few prompts as you like. The idea is to get key words from the students; words which come from them and their experiences. Then, you ask the students to make sentences using the words and to  put them together in a poem:

I see skyscrapers tall and unyielding

I hear traffic loud and intrusive

I smell fumes and pollution

I long for tranquility

You could also transport your students to an imaginary place: ‘Imagine you’re lying on a beach; what can you see/hear/smell etc.’

When you tell students they’re going to write a poem, they often get stressed and say they can’t do it. But, if you tell them that they can write whatever they want, that it doesn’t have to rhyme, you will find they become very creative.  Maybe what they come up with isn’t technically a poem, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are using the language, being creative and enjoying themselves.

Another way I have done this was by brainstorming the names of flowers. Then, each student picked a flower from the selection and thought of five adjectives to describe it. They used those adjectives as the basis for their poem about the flower. After writing the poem, they either found pictures or drew pictures of the flower and put it all together in a poster. We then displayed the posters on the classroom walls for all to see. This approach could work with any object or person: five words to describe your mum, five words to describe your car, etc.

You don’t need any special resources for this activity. Just writing materials and imagination. So it’s perfect for that unexpected class!

I didn’t come up with this idea originally. I think I read it somewhere early on in my teaching career. But I have adapted it to suit different students and situations. And I highly recommend it! Give it a go and let us know how you get on.

If you were the original ‘inventor’ of this activity – all credit to you! And let us know in the comments!

©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

6 thoughts on “Covering an unexpected class?

  1. That’s a really nice idea. I completely agree that getting the students to use their direct experience to create a poem makes it much more achievable for them. I remember how scared I was at school when I was told to write a poem or anything creative! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Reblogged this on Love teaching, love learning and commented:
    Sometimes students (and teachers) find the idea of creating poems quite abstract and challenging. Encouraging the students to use their direct experience instead of having to think about, for examples, metaphors or similes is a great way to turn writing poems into an achievable and enjoyable task. Thank you for sharing, Natalie!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Covering an unexpected class? | UIC Language for Life

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