CELTA TP Potholes - Running out of material

Teaching practice potholes
Running out of material
It's every trainee's nightmare - to get to the end of the material you've prepared...and still have time left! What do you do? Play Hangman? NO! Here are some better alternatives to keep up your sleeve (just in case).
Video transcript - Running out of material

A few weeks ago, I made a video about how not to run out of time, and not get round to doing the most important things in your lesson, the practice and feedback. You can see it here if you're interested.

But what can you do if you have the opposite problem? If you run out of material? If you want some great hints on this, then keep watching and stay to the end, because I've got a really useful tip there for you.

I'm Jo Gakonga from ELT training.com, I've been a CELTA tutor for 20 years or more and I run a website with lots of useful material for CELTA trainees and teachers a bit further down the line.

To be perfectly honest, the problem of running out of material is nowhere like as common as the problem of running out of time, but running out of material is every trainee's nightmare. You're already feeling a bit nervous, you've got people watching you and the things that you planned went faster than you thought they would. You've got five minutes of the lesson left and no material left. Aghh. So my first tip is this:

DON’T play Hangman. It often seems to be the first port of call for trainees in this position and as far as language learning is concerned, it's useless. The only possible benefit it has is in learning the pronunciation of letter names but it will take you at least five minutes to explain how to play it if they don't know and at the very best learners will end up with a recap of one or two words of vocabulary. There are much better ways of filling the last few minutes of your time.

So if you're not going to do that, then what are you going to do? Well, here are a few useful ideas that will use the time in a productive way in keep up your sleeve and use in pretty much any of your lessons.

1. Vocabulary review
Reviewing and revising vocabulary is always a good idea. And it's got a sound pedagogical basis too. If you see something once or even twice, you're unlikely to remember it, so it needs to be repeated. This is really helpful for language learning.

If there's nothing obvious that's come up in your part of the lesson (although I would question that, if you taught no language at all) you could use the vocabulary from other trainees’ lessons as well (so it's a good idea to keep a note of this as you're going along - what your peers have taught).

How can you review lexis? Well, there's lots of easy ways that you could do this. For example, put up five words that you've taught, and ask them to explain to their partner what they mean. Tell them to close their eyes then, and rub one out. Ask them to remember which one they've you've rubbed out and what it means. Then keep doing that until you've got nothing left. When you've done that, you could ask them to try and remember all five words again, write them down in pairs. If you wanted to extend it further, you could get them to write a sentence with those words, and perhaps make it a competition, which pair or group come up with the best sentence, the most original, most accurate, including the most number of those words, something like that.

2. Personalized discussion
So another great way to fill in the last few minutes of a lesson is some kind of personalized discussion. We all like talking about ourselves, and giving our opinions, so this usually works pretty well. Whatever the topic of the lesson was, ask the learners to discuss some aspect of it. If the text was about Antarctica, you could get them to talk about the coldest place they've ever been, or whether they prefer to live in a cold place or a very hot place and why? Remember to ask open ended questions - Why? How? Tell me about … rather than closed questions, Do you? Are you? because those latter ones tend to elicit single word answers?

Do you like the cold?
No.

You can have a couple of questions like this ready on your plan just in case you need them because they probably aren't going to be that easy to think of when you're trying to think of other things and you're feeling a bit stressed.

3. Exploit the text
Finally, if you've used a reading text in your lesson, you can exploit that for lots of great language activities that just take a few minutes but are useful. Here are a couple of ideas to start you off:

Choose a sentence from the text, write it on the board, then learners in teams have to add to the sentence to make it more interesting without fundamentally changing its meaning. You could give a point to each team for each edition.
For example:

When Malcolm Jones woke up last Monday, he heard the birds singing.

That's the original sentence. So then somebody adds.

When Malcolm Jones opened his eyes last Monday, he heard the birds singing.

and the next group,
 
When Malcolm Jones opened his eyes last Monday, he heard the birds singing sweetly in the trees.

Another useful activity is to write up a sentence from the text but with some gaps. You could blank out words entirely (this works well with articles and prepositions and auxiliary verbs) or you could blank out a phrase or a word, all except for the first letter. So they have to remember the word or the phrase that was there.

Again, make sure that you've identified the sentences that you want to use for these activities in your plan as a flexi stage, not something you have to do, but something you could do, if necessary, otherwise, you'll find it's hard to find good examples on the fly when you're in a bit of a panic.

Finally, I promised you a really useful tip at the end. And here it is. Now, I want you to imagine that you've got to the end of your lesson, and you do have one more activity left, but it takes 10 minutes, and you've only got three minutes left. Here’s the tip:

DON’T start a 10 minute activity, or even a five minute activity, if you've only got three minutes left!

You won't be able to squeeze it in, trust me, and you're going to look bad when you get halfway through not even halfway through, and then you have to call it to a halt. So what's better? Jettison that final activity entirely and use some of the ideas that I've just given you instead, which will take three minutes. That way it will look as if you finish on time in a completely professional way.

I hope some of these ideas were helpful to you. If they were, then like and subscribe. I make a new video every week and check out ELT training for lots more material. See you next time.
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