Once you are done explaining the activity to your students and you have made sure that they all know what they are about do, you can start the activity, withdraw and observe. Now, as I have mentioned before, this is not a time for you to play games on your phone or leave the room, you have to observe, help and monitor all the time.
Starting and Ending an Activity
Use simple commands that are easy for the students to understand. It should be clear what you want for the students to do, and it should also be clear that they are expected to start the activity now. Simple phrases like “Start now” or “Okay, go!” might be the best thing to get them going. In instances where I am having two or more students compete against each other, I also sometimes count down from 3, or use the “Ready, set, go!” command. I also always have a clock in my classroom and I tell my students that the activity will start once the “second-hand” reaches 12.
When you have given your start command to the students, step back, sit down and look at some papers or pretend to be doing something else. That way, the students will stop looking at your for direction and they will start working on their own. However, don’t start checking your messages or reading your email because once the students start, you need to be around to monitor, to help and solve problems. But show the students that they are supposed to be working, and then try to keep an eye on them from a distance.
Especially in a country like China, students are not often used to having this kind of responsibility placed on them, they are very used to being given directions, strict ones at that, and then being asked to follow the directions to the letter. They are not often accustomed to being left to think for themselves and this can be a bit of a challenge at first. I have spent a lot of time, trying to cultivate this way of thinking in my students. Often they would ask me “Teacher, what do I do now?” and I would sit down next to them and just ask them to think. Think about what the next step in the process should be.
In an equally important way it is vital that the students know when to stop their activity and pay attention to you again. It can often help if you have a time limit on your activity, or simply letting them know that there are now two minutes left. You can shout at the students to stop, you can use a signal like clapping your hands or tapping on your table, as long as the students understand what it means. I usually say “time is up” and then I count down from 3 for the students to return to their seats and pay attention to me again. This is something I picked up from watching the Chinese teachers at schools where I have worked and, for me, this has been really effective and I use it in a very general way, whenever I want the students to sit down and be quiet.
Finally, once your activity is over, make sure that you do something meaningful afterwards. Make the activity a useful part of your lesson and make sure that you are using what they have learned during the activity in some way. Otherwise, you have been wasting their and your own time.