Teaching in a Primary School: Lessons + Planning - Part 2

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Hey, hi, hello!

Welcome to Part Two of this mega Primary-school guest post by the lovely Anne Donnelly of the blog  
Present Perfect ! In this section, we will cover mostly things pertaining to lesson plans and topics, but there are a couple miscellaneous Q+A's thrown in for kicksAnne has a wealth of knowledge about this, as she will be returning as a third-time primary assistant in Marseille, and so I feel so fortunate to be able to share her insights with you all!

Et alors, without further ado...

What topics might I be asked to cover?

Here is a list of topics I taught last year. The grouped topics worked very well for me when taught together or in sequence, but you certainly could mix them up!

  • Feelings, Date, Weather
  • Colors, School Supplies, Basic Directions (sit down, stand up, etc)
  • Family, Animals (pets)
  • Body Parts, Clothes, Physical descriptions,
  • Numbers, Letters
  • I like/I can…, sports, food, hobbies
  • Holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, St Patrick’s

Do you have any general tips for lesson planning?

Establish a routine. Start every one of your classes off with a certain game, a series of questions, or a song to get everyone warmed up and using English. Hang up an American or British flag on the board, so the kids have a visual cue that English class has begun. See if you can eventually get to a point where the kids are able to lead the routines themselves!
Consider using songs! Children, on average, have very high musical intelligence and songs are a fun and easy way for them to internalize vocabulary and pronunciation. Start with the preschool classics like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and ToesThe Hokey Pokey, or Today is Monday, but don’t be afraid to try some popular classics as well, like What a Wonderful WorldHello Goodbye, or even the latest Justin Bieber hit! Many assistants I know also had a lot of fun with American line dances like the Cha Cha Slide!
Stockpile your arsenal of flashcard and vocabulary games! Check out my previous post of some of my favorites here. These games often formed the backbone of many of my lessons, so knowing a variety of them will only help you, especially on those days where you just don’t know what to do. In general, hold off on having students write the words (or see them written) until they’ve mastered them orally!
Encourage your students to use full sentences when appropriate. This will obviously be much more challenging with cycle 2 classes who are in their first  or second year of study, but really challenge your older kids to go beyond vocabulary memorization. It needn’t be complicated; a simple “It’s a pencil” or “My name is Théo” will suffice. I like to encourage this during games by awarding one point for a correct answer, but 2 points for a correct answer in full sentence!
Be aware of “les Traces Ecrites. This is essentially a paper trail of what you’ve been working on with your students for them to glue into their English cahiers (sidenote: read former assistant Cara’s very touching tribute to the French obsession with le cahier). If you teach them a song, print out the lyrics. If you practice vocabulary with flashcards, make a document that includes all the vocabulary that they can color or otherwise label, or have them write a few sentences or draw pictures using the vocab. These don’t have to be complicated worksheets or anything like that, but it’s important that there is some record of what you do in class, because these cahiers will likely travel with them to the next year or even to a different school if the child moves, and the teachers often use them to see what material the child has already covered. While you should definitely spend the majority of your time working orally, your colleagues are sure to appreciate any written work you engage their students in as well. These can also be lifesavers for that one particularly rowdy group that always gets restless right before recess… A little cutting and glueing will bring some calm to the room before you go crazy.

Got any good web resources?

First, I highly encourage you to join the English Primary Assistants Group on Facebook! Fellow English assistants ask questions, share lesson ideas, and generally support one another. It’s been a great space over the past year and hopefully will continue to be a good resource.
There are tons and tons of websites out there. Here are a few I found most useful:

  • Activity Village: Coloring pages, flashcards, and other activities for literally any category you can imagine. Print a coloring page and label the drawing with some vocabulary words and you have an instant lesson!
  • Super Simple Learning: This website is full of simple versions of songs for a large variety of subjects. I used their simplified version of the Hokey Pokey in many of my classes each week! A majority of the songs also have fabulously fun videos that I downloaded to show my kids, which they loved. The site also has related flashcards/worksheets/coloring pages/etc for some of their songs, which really came in handy!
  • Lanternfish/BogglesWorld: Plenty of games, flashcards, activities, etc mostly geared towards older kids.
  • British Council: BC is the UK version of TAPIF. Their website has some interesting lesson ideas and tips for assistants.
  • PrimLangues: This is the official Education Nationale site for teaching languages in the premier degré. It has some interesting articles and resources, but is rather difficult to navigate. Worth a gander though. I have used or modified a few of their lessons in my CM1/CM2 classes.

And just generally Googling a topic leads to a wealth of creative blogs with great ideas, both on anglophone and French sites! Here are a couple examples of search terms that will help you find the resources you’re looking for:

  • ESL animals lessons 3rd grade
  • TEFL lessons body parts elementary school
  • anglais primaire séquence sur la famille
  • cycle 3 anglais sports et loisirs
  • anglais cycle 2 séquence couleurs
  • Very Hungry Caterpillar preschool games

Small children stress me out… how should I go about classroom discipline?! 

There are many ways to approach classroom management, but the fact is that it’s almost impossible to have a completely effective system when you only spend 45 minutes or less per week with each group. I was very rarely left completely alone with students (and never with the entire class), so I usually left matters of serious discipline to my colleagues.
Be aware that French teachers are largely more strict than their American counterparts and often their strategy is to shame or shout students into submission. It was honestly shocking to see the way some of my colleagues treated their students... So, I took the opposite tack and often would simply stop speaking if a class got too loud, or would say things like, “we won’t get to play if I can’t explain the rules.” It’s honestly not the strongest strategy, but I refused to yell the way my colleagues often do… If anything ever got out my control, my colleagues would step in and restore order. And a few times, with a particularly difficult group, my colleague and I decided to cancel the following week’s class because of bad behavior. It is important to follow through on what you say, or else they’ll stop taking you seriously.
The few times I was sent with small groups to a different room were not without challenges, but the great thing is that being with the assistant is a privilege, and sometimes making an example of one person by sending him back to the teacher is your best tool for earning the respect you need.
You can best avoid these situations though by pacing your lessons, noticing when students are bored of an activity or when something is too hard — these are moments they will tune out and start acting up. Follow an active, exciting game with something calm. Consider using the last 10 or so minutes of your lesson for a warm-down activity like coloring or spending a few moments to glue a worksheet into their notebooks. Always have a few extra plans in your back pocket in case you need to skip ahead on what you’ve originally planned, and try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes on any one thing.

What sorts of things should I bring with me to France?

Start with the basics: some photos of you doing fun American things (Halloween, Thanksgiving, your house, your family, etc), a map of the United States or your hometown, postcards from where you live, some American money, anything you may want to share that you won’t be able to find in France.
School supplies: expect to spend at least some of your down time coloring flashcards, game boards, or other materials. One of the first things I bought in France was a solid set of markers and colored pencils. I also recommend a decent USB drive you can attach to your keys or keep in your school bag in order to print any pictures, flashcards, or worksheets you might need — this was absolutely essential at the majority of my schools, where projectors (or computers capable of running Google Drive) were basically non-existent.
Books! Being something of a picture book aficionado, it’s possible probable that I brought far too many picture books than were necessary. But I did use a fair amount of them in my lessons. Here are the ones my students loved the most:

  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin. Comes with a free song and tons of related materials! Great for practicing colors, fruits, and clothing.
  • From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Good for animals, body parts, and basic commands, I was able to milk almost an entire month of lessons out of this phenomenal book! Several other Eric Carle books have become classics in France as well. Several of my colleagues had copies (in English or French) ofBrown Bear, Brown Bear and The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe repetitive structure of books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear is great to reinforce vocabulary, and can easily be adapted for different occasions. For example, I used a version I found called Orange Pumpkin, Orange Pumpkin for Halloween lessons (many thanks to Kathy for making that available for use) !!!
  • Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberely was the basis for many of my lessons on colors and body parts. Students, especially younger ones, LOVE shouting GO AWAY! and drawing and coloring their own monsters!
  • Count to Sleep: Washington, D.C. by Adam Gamble and Larry Gets Lost in Washington, DC by Andrew Fox. There is a whole series of these books for different cities and states, which are great and simple introductions to major landmarks. I used them as the basis for culture/art lessons in nearly all of my classes!
  • Ketchup on your Cornflakes by Nick Sharratt is a great accompaniment for learning about foods and “I like…/I don’t like…” Kids love the crazy propositions this flip book creates, and much of the vocabulary are cognates for simple understanding at all levels.
  • Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are a great level for older classes, and so much fun!!
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson I was initially concerned when one of my colleagues asked me to prepare a few lessons using this book. The story itself is adorable, but has some complex/obscure vocabulary and sentences that I thought could go over the heads of the students. Luckily, the book is well known in France, so there was always at least one or two students who already knew the story and could help explain. Comprehension issues aside, there are many possibilities to exploiting this book in your classes, especially in practicing animals, colors, and body parts through creating your own scary monsters!

Stickers! I brought tons, and definitely didn’t use even half of them, but I still regret nothing. I especially brought holiday-related stickers, American flag stickers, and stickers that said things in English like Great Job! Amazing! Good Work! Kids loved getting these stickers, which I only awarded to those who participated in the activity, or followed directions well.
A stuffed animal or puppet: This can be a fun way to capture the attention of your younger students and there are many online resources about using puppets in a language classroom. I did bring one small stuffed animal, but didn’t use him much. Other primary assistants I know used theirs to great success in GS or CP classes, and one of my teachers suggested it to me at the beginning of the year, so it’s just a matter of personal preference.


I hope this very long article is helpful to all future primary assistants! Please visit my blog Present Perfect for more tips and stories about my two years as an assistant, and don’t hesitate to contact me or comment with more questions!!