As the end of the semester comes closer, many school and teachers are starting to plan for winter camp. Winter camp is an extra chance to stuff as much knowledge in their head before it leaks back out again during a long holiday. Many parents also haven’t gotten vacation time at work, and need a place to take their kids during the day. So that’s how we get stuck with a room full of tired students, ready to stop learning and have fun. These students might be divided by age or grade level, but seldom by ability. Plus, your school might expect you to do all the planning and prep work for a week worth’s of lesson, but provide few resources. Or maybe they’ll give you a topic. Who knows, right?
Here are some common problems with Winter Camps and how we’d solve them! Hope this helps!
Problem 1 – Nomenclature
(Picture Camp vs. Class)
Even thought they are marketed as camps, most of these sessions are actually cram classes. Many teachers are confused when they picture fun camp games and activities and end up in front of a whiteboard. Be sure you know what your school expects. Ask what the main learning goal is for the amount of time given. That leads us to problem 2
Problem 2 – Unrealistic Expectations
(Teaching vs. Learning )
A lot of people, parents, administrators, and teachers don’t understand the difference between. Just because you recite all the materials in the textbook this week doesn’t mean they actually learned it. There’s no point to try to cram all those new words and grammar structures in, if they’re just going to fall out a few days later. Think: Sisyphus
So you can make your goal to “teach them” or you can “let them learn.” Set different goals for different levels of your students.
Problem 3 – Different Levels/Ages/Ability
You don’t have time to test each student, and even if you did, you don’t have any other teachers or classrooms or … it’s a mess! What can you do?
Learn to adapt material for different levels. For example:
Warm Up/Introduction – Asking Names
What’s your name? – The goal is not to teach this EXACT phrase, but rather, to let each student know how to respond to inquiries about their name.
Lower Level – Ask “What’s your name?” Student answers “Bob.” (If the student answer in one word, I will prompt them by say… My name… or translate in Chinese and tell them to use a complete sentence if they can, or “make it longer”)
Mid Level – Ask “What’s your name? Student answers “My name is Bob.”
If they can already answer “What’s your name?” very easily, then I will make the content more difficult. It depends on what the theme of the week or grammar point I’d like to use later.
- “What’s his/her name?”
- “What’s your Chinese name? What’s your English name?”
“How do you spell your name?” or “Can you spell your name?”
“Can you sound out the letters in your name?”
“How many letters are in your name?”
“What’s the first letter in your name?
“What animal starts with the same letter as the first letter in your name?”
You can do this for any topic or question. Think about what is the next logical step up. Or how else might the question be used in real life.
PRO TIP: Use this as a quick “level assessment”
If you have a smaller amount of students, you can use this type of questioning to see what their level is. The first class, you take a few minutes as the students are still nervous and new and don’t know what to expect, you ask them the questions in order. You stop when they can’t answer. Wherever they stopped that’s their personal goal for the week.
If you have a larger class, you probably don’t have time to ask each student so many questions, but you can see from their quickness of response and confidence level. If a student answers loudly and quickly, then it’s probably too easy for them. Next time you ask a question, make it a little more difficult. Make mental notes OR train your assistant to make notes OR record the class and watch it later and make notes.
Once you know where you’re starting, then you can plan where to go. If the majority of the students are near the same level, great! You got lucky, you can teach one level of material to them. The students who are at a higher level can review. Keep them interested by letting them be your mini-teacher, or translator, or helping other students. If you have a few students who have a lower level, pair them with the higher level students.
PRO TIP #2: Use this concept of expanding not just for questions, but for games and activities too!
Here is a list of games I’ve used that work for mixed abilities.
- Duck duck goose – It’s fun no matter what.
- Simon Says – We change it to “Teacher Says”
- Hide and Seek – hide something in the room, let the students say where they think it is. Younger students go to that place to look.
- “The Shark Game” (Hangman alternative)
- Bingo – if your students are older, let them make their own game boards and use words not pictures.
- Dominoes –
- Tag (we make it slower in the classroom by asking them to take one step at a time as they say a word or phrase)
- Four Corners
- Wolf Wolf What Time is It – We make a variety
- Fruit Salad –
If you have an “art” activity: You could make different levels by:
Kindergartners – practicing colors with coloring sheets
Early Primary – use color by numbers/letter sheets
Upper Primary – free drawing but label the picture with words
More advanced – comic book style art/storyboards
In my introductions I usually ask 3 questions.
Names, Day/Day, Weather
Most kids have had some of these topics in school before. Maybe some know It well, but others have no idea.
Some common theme are: