Preparing for a demo lesson in an EFL classroom

The first time I had ever heard of a demo lesson was when I was applying for jobs in China, back in 2017. For some reason, I was surprised that this was so common, although I don’t know why because it seems perfectly reasonable.

Giving a demonstration lesson is only like having a trial shift at a bar or a cafe, isn’t it?


“We need you to do a one hour, unpaid, demo lesson”

“Can you do a demo lesson online with 40 kids?”

“Demo lessons are for schools to have lessons taught without paying the teachers”

“Demo lessons are for backpackers”

“Can you wear make up for the demo lessons?”

are just a few of the things I’ve heard regarding demo lessons over the last few years.


Two weeks ago I had an interview, which was going well until the Director mentioned I’d have to do a demonstration lesson the following week. I felt so nervous and odd about the whole thing. I knew I would struggle to keep my nerves together more than anything – but of course I accepted the opportunity. It was one job I did not want to miss out on at all.

I had another interview straight afterwards, where they also said I would need to do a trial lesson the following morning!

Thankfully the material was on past participles with ‘-ed’ and the /d/, /t/ and /id/ sounds. It went well! The students were lovely and engaged, plus the atmosphere was very informal and relaxed. I was offered a few hours as a cover teacher, which ended up being 12 hours in 4 days.

For the remaining demo lesson, I received the materials a little later than I would have liked and the aim was to clarify the meaning, form and use of mixed conditionals, referring to general, likely and unlikely conditions in the present and future, and to practice them in speaking exercises. 

I can honestly tell you that I started panicking before I had even finished reading the email. Within about 5 minutes of looking into it I realised I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I posted on Twitter, text a few friends and started going through my grammar books. None of it made any sense and I had no idea how I could possibly have done this.

I spent an hour on the phone with a colleague and even he was a bit unsure about how to go about it, so by 11pm, and after numerous floods of tears, I decided I just wasn’t going to be able to do it. I drafted an email to send off to the Director, explaining my thoughts and admitted that it just would not be possible for me to teach this.

I was fully expecting a reply along the lines of ‘I’m sorry to hear that Claire, best of luck with your job search’. However, to my huge surprise, I received a lovely response (thanking me for my honesty, inviting me for another demo with new materials).

The aim for this lesson was much easier; To compare and contrast the use of present perfect simple and present perfect continuous and use them in speaking. I was also given materials for this that made complete sense and found two games online (one board game, one miming game). But despite the ease of the materials, I still spent about 6 hours preparing for this class because I knew I would be completely nervous.


How did it go? Well, the students were at a lower level and although they had, apparently, studied the present perfect before, only one of them showed signs of understanding it. Which threw my entire plan out of the window. I didn’t want to make the lesson too easy, and planned matching sentences and gap-fill exercises to help them use the rules of the present perfect simple, and continuous. I had a miming game and a speaking board game but we didn’t even come close to playing those.

So, what have I learned from this experience? 

  • My grammar explanations need to be far shorter, and clearer.
  • Always overplan (I’m the Queen of this, I think!) but always assume the students will be at a lower level than you’ve been told. This way, you can prepare to teach them the very basics (but use it as revision if they do already know it), allowing you to then build upon that knowledge with a variety of exercises and games if time allows.
  • CONFIDENCE! Just be confident. Students will always know if you’re unsure of yourself, in anyway, and it ruins the mood of the class. I went in confident yesterday and straight away built a good rapport with the students, but in the middle I had a wobble and they absolutely bombarded me with questions.
  • Be critical when you need to be – Every time I say something not positive about myself I have people jumping down my throat about needing to love myself, don’t put myself down (etc, etc) but in my opinion you need to be realistic and able to take criticism when it’s necessary. Thankfully the Director agreed with this point and it made me feel reassured about my self-assessment.
  • Enjoy it – I’ll admit, this is a job I really, really want and my nerves where getting in the way of my confidence until the minute I walked through the door yesterday. However, I knew that if I didn’t enjoy myself, it would portray me in a negative light. So I embraced the tricky questions and told myself I can do this! and chucked on a smile.

Demo lessons that are part of the interview process seem to be more common in primary / secondary schools than in language schools (maybe I’m wrong here?), and it was a big shock for me to be asked to do one twice in one day. Looking back at the last 10 days I can proudly say that I’m glad I was asked to do them.

These demo lessons taught me that I am capable of teaching grammar that is new to me, or classes I’ve never met before. They have also taught me that I’m not capable of teaching everythingyet! and that it’s okay to admit that. They have also taught me that I have the most fantastic network of teachers, both offline and online. The people that I have met through creating a teaching Twitter account have been so supportive and it has made a huge difference knowing I have friends online, who retweet my questions or ask their connections if they’re able to offer me advice!


What are your experiences with demo lessons? Any funny stories or other bits of advice? I’d love to hear about it all…


 

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