I’m really into thinking about complex, sound course syllabi for my private courses. Besides my other hobby, writing worksheets for my classes and forcing my colleagues to try them out, thinking about “what we’ll learn” on a course is fascinating. That is to say, I’m not so much into collecting activities and whenever you ask me: Kamila, what’s your favourite vocab revision activity, you’ll hear me gasp and my brain just goes blank. But thinking about what people need, I like that.
So I’d like to give you an example of how much the needs of different students differ.
I teach three small groups in a Prague-based company. Two 2-1 and one indi class. The two groups are high-intermediate and the indi class is low-intermediate. All the students are highly motivated, hard-working and (almost) never late. At the start, I talk to them about their needs, give them a grammar test from the ESL Library and invite them to test their vocabulary size. I hastily take handwritten notes (mind-maps, usually) which I always hope to copy later in a perfect G-suite spreadsheet but I never do, so I just tick items off with a highlighter.
Now let’s look at what the low-int indi class needs:
This student, let’s call her Alena, needs to communicate in basic business situations, small talk, dealing with visitors, some telephoning, making arrangements. Then Alena needs English for travelling, checking-in hotels etc; she also likes to improve her general vocabulary, learning to describe clothes and speak about food, etc. We also work on her grammar, targeting areas where she’d made mistakes in the placement test.
The second group, Barbora and Charles, need a lot more work-related English: presentation skills, meetings with clients, e-mail writing, small talk on business topics – we use this wonderful “Feedly Method” by Adi Rajan. They also love creative writing so Stories Without End is the perfect tool with them.
The third group, “Dana and Emma”, also need enlarging their vocabulary, a LOT of presentation skills, but also a lot more fluency speaking activities to enable them to improvise during presentations. They love a light-hearted activity every now and then, and also general conversation on topics that interest them – veganism, Chinese horoscope, mobile phones at schools, etc.
With me having all this information, I can really create different lessons for each of the groups, using very little materials. I have the ESL Library subscription (great dialogues, enjoyable topical lessons, some good grammar lessons). I have an ancient copy of English for Networking which has some useful dialogues that I can play to my students; I use the Jungle Listening book to target bottom-up listening and connected speech; plus some other finds online. I make sure I don’t overwhelm my students with materials and leave enough space for practice – so that I know that Charles can fluently and accurately introduce a Very Important Client to Barbora, which, however, is not what Alena needs because well… it’s not a situation she would commonly find herself in.
I use the lesson time for revision, intensive work and fluency work. The “homework” is for the students to do extensive reading and listening, writing activities, and grammar exercises.
What’s my point with all this? I am fairly sure that were I teaching these groups through a language school, I would be assigned a coursebook, maybe Business Result Low-Int and High-Int or a New English File or something – I don’t even know the names since I stopped using them ages ago. So they would all be following the same syllabus, even though their actual needs are SO MUCH different.
I’d like to hear your views. Do you find this reasonable? Too much work? Too difficult? Or am I missing a point somewhere? Let me know!