By We'am Hamdan

04 October 2017 - 19:08

'What counts is a teacher's subject knowledge, willingness to adapt lessons and think outside the box.' Image (c) Jo Szczepanska, used under licence and adapted from the original.
'What counts is a teacher's subject knowledge and willingness to adapt lessons.' Image ©

Jo Szczepanska, used under licence and adapted from the original.

As a teacher, you can't always rely on a steady internet connection, consistent electricity, or working technology. We’am Hamdan advises on how to adapt lessons in a low-tech environment.

I teach English in Ramallah, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where overhead projectors, interactive white boards, colour printers and internet access are not always available. Teachers and students have to think outside the box.

What to do when the sound on your video doesn’t work

In one of my young learner classes, a video-based lesson did not go according to plan because the speakers were not working. I decided to work with what was available (and not panic). I grouped the young learners and had them predict what the dialogue was, based on the video. They wrote the dialogues, then read their dialogues along with the silent video. Students were then given the transcript to check their predictions. Strangely, this technical mishap turned the lesson into a more interesting one, where the students' imaginations and creativity were tested.

When you can’t connect to the internet, improvise – sometimes it works better

On one occasion, I had to adapt a project-based lesson, where the task for the students was to create a tourism leaflet using online search. But, you guessed it, there was no internet connection. To replace Google, I used a simple low-tech solution – tourist brochures that an English teacher had brought from the UK. I gave the learners 20 minutes to scan the brochures and choose places and information to include in their leaflets.

In this case, the improvised solution again had some unexpected benefits. The learners worked together and developed skills like note-taking, decision-making and teamwork. Although using the internet for such tasks provides a wider range of content, this low-tech workaround reduced lapses in concentration, because it controlled the amount of language input that needed to be absorbed. As a result, the learners stayed focused and improved their language skills more efficiently.

You can still write emails and social media posts offline

Teachers can use other low-tech alternatives to teach skills like writing emails and social media posts. For example, you could use sticky notes to create an email thread where students compose and respond to each other’s messages. You can also print templates before the lesson, to introduce the format and relevant language.

What to do when the lights go out

Power cuts mid-lesson or at unexpected times are common here, especially in winter. My colleagues and I have sometimes replaced overhead lights with phone flashlights during a lesson.

In those situations, we have to avoid reading and writing tasks. The simplest solution is to have students sit in a circle and chat to them informally, as I did in one lesson. The conversation kept everyone engaged, and we were able to do on-the-spot activities like drilling (repeating a word or phrase to aid memory) and discussions in pairs.

I have been influenced by Thornbury’s Dogme principles, which favours conversations over textbooks. This approach has led me to base lessons on real-life communication between teacher and learners, without depending on materials and technology. The first time I tried this, learners liked the lesson and asked for similar activities in the future.

If you are uncomfortable with informal talk, have a spare speaking activity in mind – for example, a task where students role-play as a celebrity responding to journalists at a press conference. Be flexible, and do not hesitate to use your bank of ideas.

You already have a wealth of ideas in your mind

Low-tech classrooms feel limited in the 21st century. But what counts most is a teacher's subject knowledge, and willingness to adapt lessons and think outside the box.

When I was a child, schools were often closed due to the unpredictable political situation. In response to closures, communities organised an alternative educational system of neighbourhood and village classes. Teachers struggled to find classrooms and learning materials, yet those were the lessons I enjoyed the most. This was due to the creativity and hands-on efforts of my teachers to bring their lessons to life. I often think of my teachers now, as I teach at the British Council in Ramallah, in low-tech partner premises.

Teachers and learners need up-to-date skills and tools. Technology is part of that, but so are imaginative and creative thinking, teamwork and hands-on activities. These approaches go beyond quick fixes. They make learners' experiences in the classroom richer, and change how they see the world around them.

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