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Teaching English in the developing world




William Bradridge shares some ideas on how to make lessons work if you are teaching with minimal resources in the developing world.

If you are headed for a developing country to teach English, then don’t pack your iPad. The smart IT suite available to you where you did your training will be a long-lost memory: instead, wonder whether your classroom will have any chalk today.

So how can you plan for teaching English in a country where you’ll be lucky if you have a regular supply of electricity? Here are a few tips before you set off to help you get prepared.

  • People often love speaking about themselves, so use your students as a resource.  Get them to tell you about their lives and show a genuine interest in them. For example, consider establishing a regular routine of short 10 minute student input slots in each lesson. If you are teaching youngsters, establish this as a time for “my precious object”, where one at a time children show and tell something from home. It will give you a glimpse into their culture, history and daily lives, while giving them an opportunity to speak and share with their classmates.
  • Bring lots of realia from home when you go; maps, photos, menus, forms for completion etc. Remember basics, like scissors, Blu-Tack or colouring pens and paper. You’ll be glad to have these to hand when you get to your destination to find the cupboard bare.

  • Think BIG – at least in terms of class size! Up to 90 – 100 students are possible in some classes, so your nice EFL class horseshoe layout won’t work – think of ways to make sure students don’t hide and everyone gets a chance to practise. Plenty of pair work is a good idea – see Alastair Grant’s blog on teaching English to large classes for more ideas. Jo Budden also provides excellent thoughts on what you can do if you are space-challenged on the British Council’s Teaching English site here.
  • Be larger than life. Use movement, mime, chanting and songs, since you may not have much visual stimulus to spark curiosity and interest. Here’s my colleague Simon doing just this in Masindi, Uganda. Note the tight classroom space, the brick walls and lack of windows!
  • Finally, adapt yourself mentally. You may find yourself on your own for long periods. A fellow EFL teacher, Gemma Simpson, comments on her experiences in Belarus in Spring 2011:”There wasn’t really much support or training offered as to how or what I taught. I had a text book and was told to get through half of it by the end of the semester. I literally arrived at the school, taught my lessons and went home. I never met another teacher. It wasn’t until I taught in the UK that I realised the value of resources, colleagues and on-the-job training.”

Teaching in the developing world is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face in your TEFL career. But like all the big challenges, they often provide the strongest sense of achievement when it goes well.

What are your tips and ideas for teaching with minimal resources in less developed countries? I’d welcome comments and suggestions below.

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  1. Some great advice here, William. Also, be prepared for people not ‘getting’ the communicative TESOL way. Adults in certain cultures can be especially resistant at first to games, giving opinions in front of the class etc. and so it can take time to break down barriers and encourage communication – particulalry agree with being larger than life; enthusiasm tends to breed enthusiasm!

  2. I would actually put a major caveat on the “show and tell” activity you suggest here. With anything other than a small class it can easily become very tedious for other students who will turn off and completely. Imagine a class of 50 with one shy kid at the front talking about their pet dog — what exactly are the students at the back doing?

    A large class and a class without technology (both of which I’ve spent many years dealing with) simply need a bit more planning and thought: plenty of activities and questions given to randomly chosen students (so all the class needs to pay attention instead of just the smart, enthusiastic ones).

    There are some ideas here which might help: https://teflworldwiki.com/index.php/Dealing_with_Large_Classes

  3. Thanks for the comment. As mentioned, show and tell works as a slot – and not a whole lesson. By the end of a semester or term most will have had a bit of the spotlight and a chance to showcase something dear to them. Kids in my large classes have loved it – even the shy ones, since they will have had time to prepare. In contrast, I have found the shy ones are often the ones who hate being pounced on randomly in class to answer a question since they don’t like getting things wrong in front of an audience.

  4. Very true about the shy students reluctant to answer questions. What’s needed is a change in the mindset of the class since in many cases having students put their hands up to answer is a fairly useless system (good students who know the answer already showing off, less able students keeping quiet, see https://tinyurl.com/29qfkjg). As far as I’m able, I allow wrong answers to carry no weight at all in my classroom. Not easy, but we’re making progress!

  5. […] Teaching English in the developing world William Bradridge shares some ideas on how to make lessons work if you are teaching with minimal resources in the developing world. If you are headed for a developing country to teach English, … Source: oupeltglobalblog.com […]

  6. […] Teaching English in the developing world William Bradridge shares some ideas on how to make lessons work if you are teaching with minimal resources in the developing world. If you are headed for a developing country to teach English, … Source: oupeltglobalblog.com […]

  7. I’d add a very cautionary tale to your trumpeting the show & tell philosophy.

    I found myself teaching Cambodian (Khmer), Hmong & Vietnamese refugees in Thailand – large classes, no tech, no walls, no power, no photocopier, no internet. Entirely challenging to adapt stuff that had worked elsewhere and taught me a lot about my role & how to manage the classroom dynamic. Best job I ever had, but not the best job I ever did.

    THE mistake I made was asking them for a bit of background so I could get a grip on what my class was all about. I still have the handwritten biographies I had inadvertently requested; they are still harrowing to read even now; knocked the guts out of me then. Be very careful what you ask for.

    Simliarly, being the life & soul of the party, leaping around the ‘room’ would have terrified some of the more fragile class members, and thinking some innocent EFL/children’s games would work was also perilously ill-thought out. Hide & seek when your family has been blown to bits by landmines crossing Pol Pot’s Killing Fields? Balloon debate with fatal consequences? Blind Man’s Bluff…

    Even the most inconsequential action etc of the teacher can have a massive impact on the learners. I only found out weeks into my classes that a pen clipped into a shirt front pocket was THE status symbol Khmer Rouge functionaries displayed. Guess where my teacher’s red pen was?

    So, a cautionary word before you go leaping into action guns blazing. Do your homework and think about how you are going to impact your class – do not assume it will be the one you expect.


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