Teaching Tips

Tips for Teaching at Mae Ra Moe Refugee Camp 

Before Class:

  • Prepare your lesson plan ahead of time. Lesson plans usually include: a warm-up, introduction, modeling of skills, guided practice, independent practice and evaluation.
  • Lots of links to great (and free!) ESL exercises available here.
  • When creating your lesson plan, consider your students’ goals and what kind of vocabulary is appropriate/needed. For example, while we may teach interview skills, how to make a doctor’s appointment, etc. in an English-speaking country, those lessons would probably not be useful in a refugee camp.
  • Prepare some extra activities in case your lesson goes faster than expected, or it’s too easy/difficult for the class.
  • Consider your attire. The Karen are conservative people; in school students wear uniforms and teachers wear skirts or pants that go below the knees. Teacher’s attire is noticed by leaders and students. When one volunteer started wearing long pants (instead of shorts) some students said “oh now you look like a teacher”.
  • Take water and a hand fan to class; it gets hot!
  • A teacher will escort you to your class, give you chalk and an eraser and introduce you to your students.

During Class:

  • Introduce yourself; students love to hear about where you’re from, if you’re married, what you like to do for fun, etc.
  • Don’t ask: “Do you understand?” or “Does that make sense?” While it may seem like common sense to ask those questions, many students either don’t have the English skills to explain what it is they don’t understand, or they don’t feel comfortable saying so. Instead, ask questions that check for understanding. Ask students to give you examples of the lesson you just taught, have them write examples on the board. Try to assess if the majority of the class understands, and if not, spend more time explaining the lesson.
  • Don’t teach to the highest-level student in the class. Sometimes there will be one or two learners that are outgoing and speak up in class. Make sure they aren’t guiding the pace of your class; check in with the other learners to see if they also understand.
  • Limit “teacher talk”. It’s easy to spend a good portion of the class talking, but try your best to give learners a chance to speak.
  • Model an activity before students work on it. This will ensure that learners understand what you expect of them and get more out of the activity.
  • Speak slowly. This can be difficult at first, but try to slow down significantly; it will help learners to process and understand what you’re saying.
  • Use simple vocabulary and explanations. When speaking, think about the vocabulary you’re using and avoid slang and difficult idioms. When defining a new word, write it on the board, repeat it several times, try to act it out or show an example, if possible, and explain it in simple terms.

Other things to consider:

  • Teaching Materials:
    • The teaching resources in Mae Ra Moe are very limited. Students usually have one book that includes grammar lessons, fill in the blank and reading. In class, learners mostly read sentences in unison or work in their book. They don’t have a lot of opportunities to practice their pronunciation and speaking skills, so those are things they are usually excited to do with Project KARE volunteers.
    • Visuals are non-existent in the camp, so you may want to take some colorful pictures with you. Students love to see where you’re from or have some nice visuals that go along with the vocabulary they’re learning. Or, try out your drawing skills!
  • Classroom Culture:
    • Karen students are typically very shy and nervous to speak to a new visitor in class. It helps to think of fun ways to get them involved, break the ice and practice their speaking skills with you.
    • The Karen have tremendous respect for teachers and often believe “teachers know best”. This means that it’s very unlikely that a Karen student will tell his/her teacher if the class is too easy/difficult, if it’s not helpful or if s/he would prefer to learn something else. Ways to remedy this could include: having students write “easy” or “difficult” on a scrap paper and return it to you anonymously, giving students a few ideas for vocabulary, grammar or activities and have the class vote on their favorite and getting to know the Karen teachers and ask them what their students need and want.
    • Read more about Karen culture here.
  • School Set Up:
    • Class space is tight so students spend most of the day sitting down. You can get creative and have them count off and get in different groups, have a “race” to the blackboard to write words, stand up if the teacher says a “true” statement and sit down if he/she says a “false” statement. Those are also great ways to check for understanding.
    • Each school can vary in terms of schedule and setup, but in many schools each grade level stays in the same classroom and has a different subject each hour, on the hour. This means that teachers walk to a different classroom to teach a new group and get started teaching right away. It’s important to be prepared to have your materials and notes organized so you can jump right in. There is a very nice, relaxing break for lunch, and when you are not scheduled for a class, but the break between back-to-back classes is brief.