How IKEA helped me become a better teacher

How IKEA helped me become a better teacher

“How do I say this in a way that everyone will understand?” This is a question I ask myself every time I speak in class. As an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher, clarity is always my focus. However, this is easier said than done. As teachers, the odds are school was something we enjoyed, maybe even something that came easy to us. But that’s not the case for everyone and it’s something I always try to keep in mind when planning a lesson.

Remember that although teachers are the experts, students are beginners at best. For instance, before teaching a new concept I have already gone over the materials, planned the lesson, and reviewed things inside and out — for most of my students this is the first time they will have done the activity or learned the concept. 

This became apparent to me when I came to teach EFL in South Korea. One of the best ways I’ve found to address this imbalance is to use Class Story on ClassDojo, which I use to send home Visual Instruction Plans (VIPs) to students and parents the day before I use them in class.

Think of VIPs like the instructions inside an IKEA or LEGO box, showing a set of plans, one step at a time, a picture for every step, and minimal reliance on words. I’ve found VIPs to be much more helpful than a “summary graphic”, or the perfect, flawless, professional model. For students who have to “put the thing together” while also speaking another language, VIPs are an invaluable learning blueprint.

Using Class Story to send VIPs the day before gives students an idea of what we will be doing in class and lets them break down the instructional language by previewing it in the comfort of their home, giving them the opportunity to translate anything they don’t understand. Creating VIPs not only helps my students with the procedures, it reminds me to keep my instructional language simple and easy to follow. It helps me avoid making the mistake of going too fast or using language that is too complex.

The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is incredibly true. Think of all the times in your life that a picture has given you all the information you needed — for example, a man and woman divided by a vertical line when you were traveling overseas and REALLY needed to go. Now think about how much more beneficial you could be to students if you are providing clear, concise visuals ahead of time, instead of lengthy and confusing instructions in the moment.

Does anyone else use Class Story in a similar way? Would love to hear any advice on how I could make VIPs even better 🙂

Bryan Betz has been an English teacher in South Korean public schools for the last decade. Over this time he has served as a teacher trainer for the Gimpo Office of Education, a mentor in the GEPIK program, and written two ESL textbooks “Table Talk” and “Storytelling the News”. He is the founder and owner of Kaizen Teaching a training organization dedicated to the continual improvement of teachers with a focus on conversation-based learning. Bryan can be reached at BBetz1985@gmail.com.