Think back to your first day in a foreign language class. For me, it was 8th grade Spanish. I walked in knowing only “Hola, amigo.” I had a fantastic Spanish teacher who believed in language by immersion, so he did not speak a single word of English for several days. I remember the excitement over the possibility of learning a new language and also the overwhelming feeling of not understanding a single word that my teacher was saying.
As a VIPKID trial class teacher, we get the privilege of experiencing those pivotal moments every day in trial classes! I get so excited when I see a child’s profile on my app that shows “0 classes” with VIPKID. This means I get to introduce them to this experience of language learning. I know that in China, these kids are learning English in school from an early age, so they have at least some experience with the language. But with some of the youngest students, I may be the very first English experience they have ever had. They don’t even know “hello!” How exciting!
In my 9 months of teaching with VIPKID, I’ve consistently taught trial classes. I have grown to really enjoy them, and I have a solid conversion rate of my students signing up for the program after my trial. I have some tips to share about teaching trial classes, especially for brand new teachers.
You get to relax about the timing of the lesson. Coming off of the application process, you worry a lot about the timing. You want to keep to a minute per slide, complete every slide, and end right at about 25 minutes. With trial classes, there is no pressure to complete every slide. You still want to end at 25 minutes, but you can take several minutes on any slide that you’d like. If you want to spend several minutes on greetings, go for it! If you want to really get into the ABC part of the lesson (mentioned in tip #4!), do it! You have freedom from the clock.
2. Make a fun connection
You want to be memorable. You want them to enjoy your class so much that they want to sign up and become a regular student. That starts with connecting on a personal level with the student. A big part of that is getting to know their name, which is a challenge at times. Sometimes the student is just marked “bao bao,” which is the Chinese equivalent of “baby” or “sweetie.” Sometimes they have an English name, sometimes they don’t. Try your best to learn and pronounce their name properly! Ask the parents for help with this if they are around!
Beyond the name, make it FUN. Blow bubbles, show them your best props, do something silly or unexpected. I have a crocodile toy that bites down on your finger at random times. I also have tons of “trendy” toys that kids are liking right now- Peppa Pig, Elsa, Lego guys, and Paw Patrol. These are always winners. Make some kind of fun connection beyond the slides so the kids remember and enjoy your class.
3. How will I know what level to teach the student?
A big part of doing trial classes, beyond giving the students a welcoming and fun first experience with VIPKID, is finding their proper level. Sometimes they have taken the pre-class quiz to give you an idea of where to start, sometimes they have not. Sometimes, Mom took the quiz, and the results are far beyond the child’s actual level. Sometimes they guess way too low for the student’s starting level. This is part of your job as a trial teacher- to find their “entry point.” At first, it can seem like a lot of responsibility, but after you teach these levels for a while you can distinguish between the various levels very easily.
In the beginning stages of teaching trials, you should rely heavily on the teacher directions at the bottom of the page. They give you clues as to what level is appropriate, based on the assessment slides that start the powerpoint. If a student’s suggested level is listed, but when you get going, they cannot complete the tasks, or it is too easy for them based on the directions, you will need to switch levels. Don’t be afraid to do it. Just go to “docs” and “uploaded by me” and pick the next level. There are four entry points in each unit- Level 1, 4, 7, or 10. So find the next appropriate level, and dive right into the new lesson. It may feel awkward, but it’s more important to find the correct starting place where the student can both feel successful and feel challenged.
I just recently had a student that the suggested level said 2.1. I got going with him and right away, he was speaking clearly in full sentences. I hopped up levels from 2.1 to 2.4 to 2.7 to 2.10 to 3.1. I ended up recommending that he start at 3.4! He was a skilled speaker and if I had just rammed through 2.1, without paying attention to the assessment directions, the class would have been super easy and boring for him. So go for it! You can do it!
Note: Please remember to write in the feedback what level they taught and how they did with that level! This is such important information for finding their level in the next lesson. You are the only person that knows what to recommend. Trust your gut instinct!
4. ABC song!
I feel like this is the “magic bullet” of the trials. No matter how confused they may be, if you start singing the ABC song on the ABC slide, the kids light up because they have all heard this song. Most of them know it, or at least the tune of it! It is a great one to build their confidence and reassure them that yes, they do in fact know some English! Sing it slowly, line by line, with some kind of alphabet prop if possible. Make sure you listen to the Chinese way of singing it that avoids the “LMNOP” rushed line. So jump to this slide if you’re feeling stuck, or stay on this slide if you want to encourage the student a bit. It’s the best part of trials, in my opinion.
5. Fun, simple reward
Don’t do something complicated. Stick with something that does not require lengthy explanation. When introducing the reward, slowly use the vocabulary words they’ll need to know for it, and then move on. I do simple shiny stars on straws and teach the word “star!” Or I use my stackable ice cream cone and point to it and say with TPR, “You get ICE CREAM!” It can be very overwhelming to a student who is brand new to English to say something like “This is our reward! It is an ice cream cone! When you speak and repeat English, you get a reward! We will add a scoop! Let’s count the scoops! Wow, good job!” Whoa. Way too many words. Just keep it super simple and fun. Clap, high five, and cheer. They will get the idea. I use the same reward for EVERY trial (and I’ve done close to 100!), because then I don’t even have to think about it. It becomes like second nature to me and I can focus on getting the student to speak and finding the right level.
*A note about No Shows!
If you are teaching trials, you will need to be prepared for no-shows. I have a few blogs and YouTube videos about how to know how long to stay in a trial class for a no-show and how to know when you’re okay to leave. My best advice is err on the side of waiting, so that you don’t get smacked with a “teacher no-show” when you leave the classroom. No-shows are a part of VIPKID teacher life, and you’ll learn to embrace and even enjoy them! 🙂
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy trials as much as I do!