My days of teacher training and twenty-eight teaching hours per week are well and truly behind me now, but I am still happily teaching business English in Switzerland part-time. Whether you teach twenty-eight hours or three hours a week, I hope that by applying some of the ten-minute TEFL ideas I have used for years, they will be of assistance to you in not only saving time but also in improving your teaching and help you in delivering effective, useful, productive and most of all, enjoyable ESL language lessons for your students.
In essence, my ten-minute ideas apply to many of the elements in the preparation and delivery of language courses. They are practical examples and advice about what can be planned, delivered and achieved in ten minutes, and are the basic principles I have learned to apply to my own teaching. They have kept me sane, focused and productive, and most importantly, kept my students happy and keen to learn for many, many years. I hope they prove to be as productive and useful for you.
The Ten-Minute TEFL Ideas
Always arrive ten minutes before your lesson is due to start. There is always something to prepare in a classroom before your students arrive. If you come running into class, breathless, all in a rush and a huff at the stroke of the hour, it will take you ten minutes to catch your breath and even longer for your concentration to switch on. Time wasted.
Only invest ten minutes in planning for any individual lesson. This doesn’t mean preparing for your group class to play Scrabble. It means that when you are planning a lesson, plan for it to be used in many future lessons and at different levels, and if it works well, save it to be repeated later for new classes. If it doesn’t work so well, modify it from your experience of how the lesson went. For example, if the language point is Present Simple, using the verb to be plus an adjective of nationality for beginners, use the same famous faces flashcards as the image prompt for an intermediate class to practice the use of experience and the Present Perfect. For an advanced class, famous faces can be used for the Third Conditional. Lessons planned around food can also be easily adapted and graded for different levels, as the language points are almost limitless. It may take you an hour to plan a lesson like this, but if you use it six times at different levels, you are ahead of the game. Use it fifty times in the future and you are saving a lot of preparation time.
Lessons are made of ten-minute chunks of time. Whether a lesson is an hour or three hours long, never let one activity go much longer than ten minutes, as student concentration starts to wane the longer an activity drags on. After ten minutes of a controlled practice activity, the brighter students may have got it and will become bored, while the weaker ones, who haven’t quite got it may become frustrated. It can be as simple as changing the input material or the drill or chain from question and positive reply to question and negative reply. If there is a need for more practice, return to the activity for another ten minutes, later. It doesn’t need to be a radical change, but keep an eye on your watch or the clock on the classroom wall and think about making small changes every ten minutes or so. Swap partners in an activity, change the input material or introduce a short fun warmer that you may normally use at the beginning of a lesson. Anything to break up the lesson and stop it from stagnating.
Ten minutes TTT per hour, maximum. TTT (Teacher Talking Time) is an absolute learning killer. Your students are there to learn and practise speaking; so let them speak as much as possible. Hand gestures, facial expressions, short one word prompts, and listening are the best tools a teacher can employ to keep them from stealing STT (Student Talking Time). Whether you use PPP (Present, Practice, Production) or TPT (Teach, Practice, Test) as your lesson basis, make sure the first stage is short, and that your involvement (TTT) is absolutely minimal during the second two phases.
Spend ten minutes every second day collecting images. When I started out, this meant scavenging old magazines from my doctor and dentist and cutting out any picture that I thought would be useful. Nowadays though with the Internet, it is a much easier process. Just think of a single language point and find five or six images that you can work with. For example, if you want images for use in teaching the comparative, look for images of things that can be compared, such as animals, buildings, cars, seasons, or cities.
Spend ten minutes every second day either making or updating a set of flashcards. This is so easy now with the advent of the iPad and other tablets, but they can still be made the old-fashioned way with cards and glue. As technology has changed so rapidly, perhaps these ten minutes of your time could be set aside to look for new apps to use in class.
Take ten minutes to find a new text or two. Do this once a week and then incorporate them into either a new reading or grammar lesson plan later. Again, the Internet has made this very easy. Remember that you can make almost any text gradable for different levels, so don’t waste time finding a new text for each level you teach.
Mark homework in ten minutes. Marking written homework is often time-consuming. To get through marking five FCE letters, for example, needn’t take you an hour. Give every one of your students a marking sheet noting the list of abbreviations that you will use in marking their writing. Then when you check writing assignments, only note (in red) your abbreviations in the gutter next to each line with an error. You can easily mark five assignments of around 180 words in ten minutes this way. When you return the assignments in class, let your students have ten minutes to work together on self-correction with you monitoring and assisting in making the necessary corrections.
Once a week, prepare a listening lesson in ten minutes. It is very easy now. Find an audio file you can download from the Internet and then as you listen to it, note down three to five questions. Use these questions as dictation when you deliver the lesson to check on question form accuracy. This is a gradable activity again, simply by changing the questions.
Take ten-minute breaks, often. Unless you have a horrific teaching schedule, always take a break between lessons and do nothing at all to do with teaching – especially lesson planning. Play solitaire, watch YouTube, listen to music, or go for a coffee outside your school to clear your head and relax. You have a bag full of lessons prepared, and you are organised and ready for anything. Break this ten-minute rule and take even longer breaks anytime you can.
Foot Note: If you don’t have a list of writing correction abbreviations, you can download it here: