Being Mrs. Kubra

“Miss, where’s the model answer?’ syndrome’: a reflection on TEFL

I’ve often toyed with the idea of setting up a second blog dedicated to resources on teaching English. Whenever a lesson just clicks or a strategy works wonders, I think about sharing it so others can benefit too. Heaven knows how much I’ve relied and continue to rely on TES and teacher blogs during major lesson-planning-blocks.

But as you guys know it’s hard enough maintaining one blog, let alone two. Also, if I had the iron-levels to bring all my bright ideas to life then… Well, let’s just say I’d be someplace else in life.

anemia meme

In the UK, most of my learners were native speakers even if they were bilingual, and almost all went through primary education in the UK meaning they joined high school being as proficient in English as their peers. I’m a Literature specialist and I got by without having to delve too deep into language-y grammar-y aspects of English. 

But then I moved to Doha and teaching English here is nothing like teaching in the UK. 

Out here, the student demographic is diverse. Most of my learners speak English as a Second language and to varying degrees of fluency. Most of my learners are from all over the world and underwent primary education in a range of different countries and schools. Naturally, their prior grasp of the language varies from one end of the spectrum to the other.

I’ve taught 15-year-old A* students who have been recognised by Cambridge for achieving the highest grade in the entire country, but I’ve also taught 15-year-olds who don’t know the plural of ‘eye’ is eyes. And because I have zero chill, my students and I use moments like these for pure banter – as you can see with your good eye…

I miss my AA girls!

The Doha schools I’ve worked at are the reason I’ve fallen in love with teaching and writing all over again. Below are a few tried and tested strategies that work wonders:

  • providing ample opportunity for talk – learners need time and a safe space to speak to improve their fluency, pronunciation, and confidence in conversing in English. This also means less teacher talk which in turn means less exhaustion, there’s a win-win kinda situation going on here.
  • clarifying or fixing the foundation by stripping it right back down to basic grammar rules – learners understand what they’ve been doing wrong or what they were mistaught. And sometimes it’s not even about being mistaught, their strength in another language means they might unconsciously transfer the same rules across e.g. the way the comma is used in Arabic when applied to English ends up being a 12-line run-on sentence! But as far as the learner is concerned, it isn’t wrong because it’s correct in their first language.
  • placing an emphasis on writing in English on a daily basis – just as learners should ‘Read for 20 minutes per day,’ they also need to write in English to practice embedding the grammar rules and to hone their skill because that’s what English is – a language, a skill that improves with practice as opposed to a content-based subject where one can improve through cramming and revision.
  • regular and tangible targets on written work – learners can write daily until they’re blue in the face but in order to really improve, they need verbal or written feedback as well as the chance to redraft.
  • exemplar and model answers written by other students or by the teacher – and this is my favourite of all, because in doing this not only do my students have a high standard of writing to aspire to but I, as a writer, am able to get my daily dose of writing.
Fellow teachers: any strategies you’d like to share in the comments section?

I want to nurture a love for writing in my students and set a high standard to aspire to. To do so, I try to expose them to as many different examples of writing as possible- some of them written by me. I never share my exemplars on my blog though because for some reason, an amazing piece of writing suddenly looks rubbish when I think about putting it on here.

Anyhow, I fear I may have taken it too far. I’ve plagued my students with a deficiency I’m going to call ‘Are you going to write a model answer for us, Miss?’

Symptoms include: not wanting to write an independent response because Miss should write it; not understanding the mark scheme because Miss should provide a range of model answers to fit each band in the mark scheme, and grading the model answer generously because ‘Miss wrote it so it must be perfect.’  

Who remembers this legend? (Catherine Tate as Lauren Cooper)

For once I’m going to kill two birds with one stone – share one of my exemplar answers and get a blog post out of it. First, some context:

I teach Cambridge A Level English Language and for the writing paper, students have an option between three different creative writing tasks. One of these tasks might be ‘write the opening of a novel titled/about…’ which I absolutely love because it means students who struggle to write a decent ending don’t need to stress about building a climax or writing a resolution. And yes, I’m talking to those of you who love to end with, ‘Then I woke up, it was all a dream.’ 

The writing task I set for my class is based on Of Mice and Men. After reading the opening two chapters, I asked students to write their own opening of a novel. In this piece, they had to introduce a secluded place as well as show the first meeting between some or all of the characters. It’s not an easy task so I paired them up, that way it’s less daunting plus we’d have a range of sample answers by the end of it. And of course, I promised I’d write a response too.

My response was inspired by this piece I wrote back in 2017 as part of the October writing challenge. I didn’t do this prompt word justice because it was day 31 and I was exhausted and thankful the challenge was finally over. So, had I written it properly then maybe my response might have been something akin to the model answer.

To answer the question in the title, my model answer will be uploaded in a separate post because this one’s long enough. Enjoy…


9 thoughts on ““Miss, where’s the model answer?’ syndrome’: a reflection on TEFL”

  1. Miss, can you teach me English too, please? As someone who loves to edit, I know very little about the actual rules of grammar. I just go with what feels right and I usually have a really strong preference for what feels right. Man, learning a second language is tough, especially if that second language is English, because English, like their imperialist forebears, stole from all over the world (LOL like my anti-colonial joke?). Non-native English speakers know grammar better than native speakers. I’ve always found this fascinating and yet I struggle with learning languages. “Then I woke up, it was all a dream” – that made me wanna ROTFL.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right- I never had this grammar struggle with native speakers. In fact I can just imagine talking about prepositions and verb tenses etc. and it would probably draw blank looks. Somehow it’s just embedded into their language acquisition process whereas for non-native speakers it is soooooo hard. Hahaha another good one liner ending I’ve seen is stories in first person finishing with ‘Then I died’ but I’mma just carry on writing as if I’m writing this from my grave lmfao.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was literally just thinking about you last night!! I miss you all so much, especially you my fave AA girl! 😊 I hope you and your family are well and healthy. You’re welcome to email me through my ‘contact’ page & I’ll send you my contact details privately. Take care and speak to you soon xx


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