Saving Class Prep Time

Published in the ESL / EFL JobFinder - July 29, 2003


As a teacher, I had to be continually aware of time, including class preparation. My classes were set up in different time slots. 50 minutes, 1.5 hours, 2 hours, 2.5 hours, full mornings and afternoons. Most English classes had a mandatory textbook provided by the school. I was required to teach the contents of the book for exam purposes. Teaching from an English textbook is somewhat dry: following the book, writing on the board and explaining the definitions.

I start off with the boring part of the lesson and end with some fun and games. First, I would use vocabulary words from the schools' textbook. For the last half of the class, word games, game shows, puzzles and music would liven the students. This way, I involved some of the schools formal textbook education along with the informal approach to English comprehension, by making it fun. If you are teaching only conversational English, your class can consist of a variety of fun and interactive games with different themes.

Preparation of these games, however, can be highly time consuming. This is done on personal time! Some of the more popular English ESL games take considerable time to prepare.

A SECRET that I learned while overseas was to take advantage of being the teacher. I was able to ask four of my brightest students (three girls, one boy) to be teachers' assistants. They were thrilled to be invited for extra English work and to help the teacher at his private apartment. These young ESL students have a very high respect for teachers and foreigners. Even their families were honored to have their children assist.

When each of the students arrived, they carried a gift of food to be shared with all. They were shy, quiet and gentle when they first came in to my foreign home. I made tea, offered soft drinks and put out the goodies the mothers of each student had provided. Then we began to communicate about what needed to be done. They were very attentive during the visit. It was so nice.

I had decided on several proven and well-known ESL games. Since I was responsible for such a variety of classes, I needed to adapt games to different ages and English comprehension levels. Culture and geography play an important roll in the adaptation of activities.

Our supplies, (half given by the school and the other half I purchased cheaply) consisted of scissors, colored paper, rulers, recipe cards, a dictionary, thesaurus, a school text, markers, colored pencils, glue, stapler, tape, large card boards, magazines and photographs. I gave directions to each young student and we began the work. The evening progressed into adding popular music to the preparation of the teaching games. The politeness and the shyness subsided.

After conversations began, we all ended up singing along to an American CD one the girls had brought with her. We had such a good time. We cut, colored, pasted, wrote, drew pictures, cut up sentences, chatted, sang, laughed and ate food. We even ended up all dancing together. The positive energy was amazing. I was so touched by how hard and precise the assistants worked and yet they were so grateful to me. It was one of the best win-win situations I have experienced. These students saved me many hours of time and it was like having a party too!

You need to be creative with your preparation time, as well as the teaching in class. It is a great privilege for most foreign students to help their teachers. You, as a potential ESL teacher, need to take advantage of these cultural benefits. Once you evaluate a situation as win-win, it can only be a positive experience for everyone involved. When you discover just how much fun prep time can be, you will do your best to expect nothing less.


Philip McAlary is the Managing Director of ( a recruiting agency based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

By Philip McAlary