Teaching English in Berlin usually entails a trip to your student’s company premises and setting up camp in a spare meeting room. Whilst resources for English teachers are not a key part of office planning, you usually have the basic facilities you need such as tables, chairs and windows as well as luxuries including a flipchart and pens. The majority of your classes will take place here but taking one or two lessons out of the classroom/meeting room (and your comfort zone) can be beneficial to your student’s linguistic development and provide a change of scenery to revitalise a long-term group.
There are many places around a city where you can set up your temporary English classroom including restaurants, shopping centres and museums. A café-situated class gives the student the opportunity to practice in a ‘real-life’ environment with the background noise that is not found in a meeting room.
Planning your café class
Unless you book somewhere with a lot of space specifically for your class, large groups don’t really work. In my experience, 6 students maximum is best although this will depend a little on what you are doing in your lesson as conversation classes can include more people.
Most students will respond enthusiastically to combining coffee, croissants and English but make sure all your students are really ok with it. On a personal level, I prefer to learn in a traditional setting and so wouldn’t enjoy having my German class in a café or restaurant.
Berlin has a plethora of cafés so you will have no problems finding one. Consider the logistics of getting to the café though. You’ll want somewhere near to your student’s workplace so that too much time is not wasted in transit.
Perhaps most importantly: establish who will pay for what beforehand. It would be rather embarrassing if your students assumed that their invitation to café class included a free bar only to be informed to the contrary once the waiter comes to cash up. Going dutch would be the wisest/most normal arrangement.
Using class time
With no access to a whiteboard or flipchart, teaching English in a café normally equals conversation class, or at least a class focussed primarily on speaking. Background noise, the lack of writing aids and lack of table space combine to make a grammar class very difficult.
Listening activities also become impractical in a café as background noise makes student understanding a challenge. On top of that, consider your fellow café patrons who may not take kindly to having their lunches interrupted by In Company Intermediate track 14.
So, with so many things out, what’s in? As mentioned, conversation classes work well. With larger groups, it is not always necessary to plan or prepare materials as free conversation flourishes in the social environment, but of course this will depend on your students.
With smaller groups, you may wish to prepare some conversation topics, perhaps with a short reading or vocabulary as an introduction. There are many speaking activities which work well outside the classroom.
Vocabulary classes, especially those related to cafés and restaurants/eating out, will clearly benefit from this setting as will a functional language lesson on restaurant ordering.
Should I use café classes?
I’ve always had more of a traditionalist view of teaching and so prefer to have classes in a classroom/meeting room environment. You could argue that learners of English, especially business people, will use the language far more in the meeting room than in a café. With this in mind, café classes should be put into a wider context and course plan. A small number can be beneficial but should be balanced appropriately with classes in a quieter setting.