4 Tips for Teaching Abroad

Erin Johnson is a student at South Dakota State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied and participated in service-learning abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.

One of the most rewarding, yet difficult tasks here in Cuzco has been teaching English to children. As an Elementary Education major, I was ecstatic to teach, play, and interact with children! Unfortunately, I have no experience in lesson planning or teaching, so I went in blindfolded. Not only did I not have any experience, but I’m not a perfect Spanish speaker, so teaching English in Spanish seemed impossible.

After the first week at my service-learning host organization I thought to myself, “How, how in the world am I supposed to do this?” Seven weeks have passed at the Kindergarten and I feel like I have kept my head above water. These are just a few lessons I have learned at my short time teaching English to 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds.

Colegio, Cusco, Peru - Johnson - Photo 1
One of my classes learning about natural herbs and plants.
  1. Children will still love you no matter how badly you screw up.

Some days my lessons are awful, the children don’t listen, I get frustrated, and I am positive that they hate me. Much to my surprise, the next time I come the children give me hugs, tell me they love me, and the bad day is forgotten.

  1. Plan, but plan for your plans to change.

I start each day at my service-learning host organization teaching the 3-year-olds, so they are my lesson guinea pigs. If the lesson doesn’t work with them, I have to make some quick changes before I teach the 4- and 5-year-olds. These simple changes make all the difference for a more successful class. Other times, the lesson will work perfectly with my 3-year-olds, but will go horribly wrong with the other classes. I have to adapt the lesson plan for each class because it turns out that 3-year-olds don’t act anything like 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds are a lot different as well. Who knew!

  1. Keep it simple.

Because I don’t speak Spanish perfectly, I don’t have the luxury of designing super complicated games. If I can’t explain it to a 3-year-old in Spanish, I can’t do it. Not only do I have to keep it simple for myself, but I have to keep it relatively simple and clear for the students as well. The most successful games have been the simplest. Children don’t need super complicated and intricate games to have fun.

  1. Observe and adapt.

I have learned that observing the children and the surroundings are key to a successful lesson. If the toys are too close to the students, they won’t pay attention. The room size, the number of students, the energy of the students, their willingness to learn, and the interactions with their classmates will all determine how the lesson will play out. Be aware of these things and adapt your lesson to better suit each student and each class.

Although some of my lesson plans fail and some days are extremely frustrating, the successful days make this experience amazing.

Want to learn more about life in Peru? Check out “6 Symptoms of Falling in Love with Cusco”

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