TEFL Tip Tuesday: How To Structure an Introduction Lesson (Grade 1 – 3)

Your first lesson as and ESL teacher can be daunting, like any first day at a new job, except this time you’ve probably not been given much of an orientation. In fact when I first arrived in China and asked the school what they wanted me to teach in my lessons the reply I got was simply; “Have fun, play games.”

No topics, no vocab, nothing! From talking to other teachers this is a pretty common instruction and it can leave you feeling a bit lost. Luckily during my first week in Sanxiang me and my fellow interns bumped into a foreign teacher (and now good friend) who had been working at the school for a while and he gave us a few ideas on how to introduce ourselves to our new students.

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One of my first lessons back in February 2018.

My introduction lesson hasn’t changed too much since February 2018, slight adjustments are made based on equipment available, age group and proficiency level but the bones of the lesson are always the same. Broken down into four steps it looks like this:
1. Warm up
2. Gauge Proficiency Level
3. Productive Activity to get Students Talking
4. Cool Down

If you are struggling to think of what to do in your first lesson as an ESL teacher I hope this can act as a guide to help you create a fun and interactive lesson plan that will allow your students to get to know you and you them. This lesson plan is aimed at the younger end of the young learner scale as that is the area I have the most experience in but I am working on a guide for middle school and also adults too so look out for those in the future.

Step 1: Warm Up

I always start my first lesson with a game involving the students names. This allows me to have a bit of fun with the students and while it is most likely that I won’t remember 90% of the names (currently I have around 800 students) it helps them to relax into the lesson as everyone knows their own name.
For grade one this year we started with a really simple little song.

Teacher: Bumble bee, bumble bee
Can you sing your name for me?
Student: My name is ________.

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My first lesson with Grade One, 2019.

The best way to do this is to model it first. If you have another teacher in the class get them involved and sing the song with them, if not sing it to yourself. Something you have to remember when teaching ESL is there is no time to get embarrassed so put on a funny voice, make over dramatic movements and make them laugh! Encourage them to sing their name back to you or put on a funny voice too.
This song went down so well with the students, almost every hand was raised wanting to be the next little bumble bee. Some classes sang along with me as I walked around the class which really added to the fun and I made myself a little bumble bee prop to “land” on which ever student I chose to speak/sing.

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My bumble bee prop (I was up until 2am making this thing)

Step 2: Gauge Their Proficiency

You might show up to your school and find that they can tell you exactly what level the students are at in their English proficiency but then again you might not. Even if you are told a level I find it is always best to test your student’s knowledge in the first week as it will help you to plan your lessons going forward. The best way to do this is to include a variety of beginner level vocabulary in your lesson and see how the students react to it as you go. You could focus on colours, animals and shapes to begin with and then try to add more complete sentences using “like” and “don’t like”, for example, if the class is finding the vocabulary manageable.

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Hello, My name is Aileen

I like to give my first lesson a bit of a Scottish theme as we have a lot of cultural quirks that can be quite amusing for young learners (men in skirts being number one on the giggle scale). We also have a good range of animals; some that beginner students should know, some that they might know and some that only a few students might be able to guess.
In China I have a smart board to present this vocabulary on, in Myanmar I had flashcards and my laptop at the language centre and at the international school I only had a white board and occasional access to a printer (mainly because I was too shy to ask for help… not acceptable Aileen)! Whatever your resources the method is the same.
First I start with a map of Scotland (you can obviously replace this with your country or the students home country depending on your preference).
Then I ask the students “What can we see in Scotland?” and start presenting the vocabulary. Students should reply with “I can see ____.” I mix it up so it’s not in any particular order but for this example I will list them in what should be easiest to the most difficult:
– Bird
– Cow
– Flower
– Deer
– Sheep (this sometimes gets answered as goat but I don’t accept that answer because of what comes later in the lesson)
– Squirrel

While presenting the vocabulary ask them questions about what they can see to get an idea of what they understand e.g. “What colour is the flower?”, “How many sheep do you see?”, “What animal do you like?” and so on. If a student can’t answer the question remember to be encouraging and say “nice try” rather than “no, you’re wrong.”

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Q: “What is it?” A: “It’s a bird.”

Because of my Scottish themed lesson the last piece of vocabulary I present to the class is monster. I show them a cartoon image of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) and ask them “What can you see?” The usual answer I get is snake to which I say “Nice try but it’s bigger than a snake!” while throwing my arms wide to emphasise the word bigger. The next answer I usually get is alligator and again I reply “Nice try but it’s bigger than an alligator!” which is often met with whispers as the students try to think of something bigger than an alligator.

Some very talented children in the class
Last year’s Grade One drawing Nessie.

There will occasionally be a student who knows the word monster but if no one is getting it I put the word on the board and as a class we chant “monster” together. As we are chanting I walk around the room and at random I’ll put on a funny monster voice and make my hands into claws to demonstrate the meaning of the word monster. When I get back to the front of the class I say “Show me your monster!” and get them to shout monster as loud as they can while pretending to be a monster.

You can substitute the Monster for any large animal that you might find in your home country e.g. an Elephant, alligator, kangaroo. Any animal that you can do an exaggerated action to, and get the students to do back, works.

Step 3: A Productive Activity That Gets Students Talking

All of this leads onto my next activity where the students put their previous knowledge to use. Preferably this is done through group work but as hard as I might try, getting 40 first grade students to cooperate and organised into groups of four can be a little challenging. If the class has gone very smoothly up to this point then I encourage the students to work in groups, higher proficiency classes have no problem with this. If I’ve noticed that a lot of my instructions have gone over their heads earlier in the lesson then I will allow them to work individually as chances are they will struggle to understand what I’m asking them to do. Your local teacher can come in at this point to explain if you really want them to work together. My main aim is for the students to be having fun so whether they work in groups or individually isn’t so important in this first lesson.

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Group work with a high proficiency grade one class.

The first part of this activity allows the students to get creative as I ask them to draw a monster. I usually have some examples of monsters (cute ones, I don’t want to scare any six year olds on the first day) up on the board including Nessie and then I will also draw one as the children are drawing to demonstrate what I want them to do. As they are drawing I will walk around the classroom and ask them questions about their monster e.g. “Is it a big monster or a small monster?”, “Is it a girl or a boy?”, “How many eyes does you monster have?” Give the students about 5 – 10 minutes to draw their monster before moving on.

As I mentioned above, any animal works for this activity. I am just lucky enough to have a monster legend in my home country. The aim of this activity is for the students to come up with a name and personality for the monster/animal they have drawn and then be able to talk about it.

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Draw your monster!

For the second part of the activity invite two or three groups/students up to the front of the class. Have them show their monster to the class and then ask them the same questions you were asking as you walked around the class earlier. If the class is high proficiency (I can’t do this with grade one but I know at least one class that is in grade three now who could easily manage this extension) then you could even get other students to ask questions about the monsters at the front of the class.

I always reward the students who were brave enough to come to the front of the class with a sticker and a high-five.

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High five!

Step 4: Cool Down

After the mini presentations you need to bring everyone back together into one class rather than lots of little groups which is why a cool down is important. I tend to use a song as my cool down activity as I find it easier to stop a song midway than a game if the bell rings sooner than expected. For this lesson plan I link it back to my vocabulary from step 2 and sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” with the students.

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Nessie by a grade one student, 2019.

And that is pretty much how my introduction lessons go for this younger age group. It’s a lot of fun and really helps me to get a handle on the level of each class. I really enjoy adding a bit about Scotland into my lesson and I like to throw in some pictures from home too. This is not the only way to structure an introduction lesson but it works for me and I hope it can give you some inspiration for your first class as an ESL teacher!

I also wanted to mention that a popular activity for introduction classes is to make name tags with your students but I just have too many students for me to include that in my lesson plan. I have to supply my own resources so buying 800 pieces of card is a little out of my budget, especially since the students move seats every week so they are bound to lose them. If you have a smaller class then I definitely recommend name tags though, it’s the fastest way to remember everyone’s names and it worked really well with my classes at the language centre in Myanmar.

If you have any tips for introduction lessons please share them below and feel free to leave any questions in the comments too.

For more TEFL Tips click on one of these:

My favourite teaching resources

Warmers and Coolers for any lesson

What’s in my school bag?

China Diaries: “Where is my Chinese teacher?!”

1st of December – 7th December

Posting this a day late from my phone as my VPN refuses to work on my computer! 

In China, more often than not, events that must take weeks of organising are something that foreign teachers find out about as they are happening. This means that it is very likely that at least once a month you will arrive at your scheduled class only to find it empty with no idea what is going on. This has happened to me so many times and I am completely used to it by now, so it was a great surprise to receive a message on Sunday night informing me that my Monday classes would be cancelled because the students had other places to be.

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Me and some of the Chinese English teachers at the testing event
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Students running from booth to booth. The teachers decorated the hall on Sunday evening.

The place they had to be was the gymnasium and when I arrived for a nosy it was all action. Around the hall were small booths set up with activities to test the students on their skills in each subject; Maths, Music, Art, Chinese, English, Sports and Life Skills. For each test the students could earn one, two or three stamps depending on their performance and once they had completed all the tests they could exchange their stamps for a prize. The night before the head of English had asked me if I would like to judge and I said I would just come and look this time but I ended up sitting at the English booth “Happy Singer” and was soon encouraged get involved. I went a bit stamp happy… I think just about every child got three stamps from me but they’re so cute! How could I not?
This wasn’t the official test of course, grade one have an exam in January that will give them their mid-year grade but it was such a fun way for the teachers to assess where the students are in their studies. Chinese schools can have a reputation of being quite strict and boring but Sanxin really proved itself to be ahead of the game this week. Only downside… the students completed the tests quicker than expected so it was back to class for everyone in the afternoon!

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Life Skill – Clothes Folding
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English – Sight Words
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English – Happy Songs
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Week Two’s lesson on fruit 

I think this week is the perfect summary of the highs and lows of teaching in China. After a good two days with my lesson plan going smoothly and the students warming up to me, getting excited about matching water bottles and how fuzzy my jumper was, I arrived at my final class on Tuesday to find the Chinese teacher missing. Now this is not always an issue, some classes are very well behaved without an extra pair of hands in the room but this class was not one of those classes. I got through my warmer with some minor distractions but it took about double the time, it was clear I was losing them and fast. I hastily sent a message to the head of English asking;

“Where is my Chinese teacher?!”

There was no reply, I was on my own and I still had 25 minutes of class left. It felt like an impossible amount of time. Children were climbing on top of desks, two boys had started kicking each other, some were running the length of the class room and even out the door! I tried my usual classroom management techniques; clapping, sending the worst to the back of the classroom, when that failed making them hold a piece of paper between their head and the wall. None of it was working!

Then I started taking names.

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Names I won’t be forgetting in a hurry!

The students have a point system controlled by their teachers on the computer, of course it’s all in Chinese so I don’t use it myself but they don’t know that. At first I just wrote their name on the board, but then I started putting numbers up and the mood changed instantly! I followed that by giving all the students who had actually behaved stickers and suddenly everyone was sitting down… By this point class was pretty much over so I asked them to recite one of their speeches, the bell rang and I was out of there faster than you could say “baby shark”.
I felt completely and utterly defeated after that class. Everything had been going so well then BAM a total disaster. It was one of those moments where you just want to go and hide under your duvet with some chocolate and finally I had a reply;

“Sorry the teacher forgot about your class.”

Fair. I’ve definitely forgotten about a class before, or gone to the wrong one or turned up at the wrong time. I asked her to let the Chinese teachers know that without them in the class the students just don’t feel like they need to listen to me, I mean they don’t understand half of what I’m saying so I don’t blame them. She promised me it won’t happen again but also said that I need to control the class on my own too. I’ll keep trying, I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve.
As much as that class was a complete disaster I have to remember that these kids are only 6 or 7 years old, in a boarding school, sitting in front of a teacher who doesn’t speak their language. So of course there are going to be a few settling in issues and now they know I have stickers maybe they’ll be a bit more willing to cooperate. All I’m saying is thank god for stickers!
Now I know how troublesome that class can be I can go in prepared on Tuesday; there will be stickers and point systems and Peppa Pig and the Chinese teacher and everything will be fine…

Won’t it?

I’ll let you know…

 

For more of my adventures in China click on one of these:

Back teaching in China after eight months away

The week bad luck followed me around like a bad smell

What I learned from teaching in China for one year

 

China Diaries: This Was Almost a Disaster

I am writing this post from my bed where I am snuggled up with the cats and a lot of blankets! Winter is setting in here in Sanxiang, right on schedule as I remember the weather turning colder around this time last year too.

 

Wow this week has knocked me out! It has been absolutely incredible but I forgot how much energy it takes to get up at seven in the morning and give the same high energy class three to five times a day for a whole week!

I was a little worried about coming back into this style of teaching. After eight months of small classes that I saw multiple times a week, going to twenty classes of about forty students that I only see once a week was going to need a whole different plan of action. Of course I had done it before when I taught grade one at the beginning of last year but that was my first ever teaching job and I was still getting the hang of things. Myanmar was where I really developed my teaching style and grew confident in myself as a teacher so switching back to China felt like February 2018 all over again.

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Last February, when I was giving my introduction lesson, one class didn’t have a working computer!

I decided to look at my first lesson from last year for inspiration and found that it was almost exactly what I needed. So with a few minor tweaks, the addition of a bumble bee prop and my favourite “hello song” (those from the NELC Xplore office will know what I’m talking about) I was ready to go.

Except I wasn’t… Sunday night saw me locked out of my apartment after realising my key was not in my bag when I returned from the supermarket. When I finally got into my apartment I was up until the small hours going over and over my lesson creating props and worrying that I was going to sleep through my alarm. When I finally fell asleep I woke up every hour convinced it was somehow 10am and I had missed my morning classes (this has happened to me before after a particularly bad case of jetlag).

 

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Bumble Bee prop to help me get to know the students.

I wish I had just trusted myself and my lesson because really I started this week on the highest of highs despite the sleep deprivation. The first class on Monday morning was “class two” and they were enthusiastic, excited and had a really high proficiency level for their age. (They should do too, with their parents paying extra for them to have more English classes both with their Chinese teacher and western teacher). I managed to get through my whole lesson plan which reinstated my confidence and set me up for a fantastic week. Not every class managed the whole lesson and I can definitely see a variety of proficiency from class to class but that is to be expected from such a large number of students.

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Class 2, Grade 1
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Class 20, Grade 1

This week has shown me just how much I have learnt over the past year and nine months of teaching. For someone who never thought they’d find a job they were passionate about teaching English abroad has really changed how I see my future. I’m learning new things every day (right now that seems to be 800 student’s names) and it is the biggest adventure.

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Nessie by a student from class 13

Bonus blog – well not really because I missed last week due to a VPN failure… but an extra little story on the end of this week’s oh so wise and thoughtful piece.

Last week was the primary school sports week and to begin the proceedings the school held an opening ceremony. If you follow me on my personal Instagram you will have seen my story and if you can remember as far back as last year you might even have seen some photographs of last year’s ceremony. As my visa kept getting pushed back I was worried I wasn’t going to make it back to China in time to catch this incredible show but things worked out in the end and I arrived a month before the event.

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Some of my students from last year dressed as chinese lions, 2018

The opening ceremony includes a procession of all the primary school classes from all the grades on the main sports field on campus. One by one the classes march towards the front of the running track and put a performance of some kind. It is usually a dance or mixed martial arts to music vibe and are about two minutes long each.

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Grade 2 entire grade performance, 2019

As I already mentioned above every grade has twenty classes, so the ceremony lasts all afternoon! After every class has performed the entire grade puts on a show together, that’s a lot of students in one routine and it makes for a fantastic spectacle! As the sun starts to set the flag is raised and the Chinese national anthem is sung, followed by the school song before everyone heads back to the canteen for dinner. Sports begin the next day and include everything from basketball to the father/student piggyback relay race!

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Grade 1 in the middle of their whole grade performance, 2019

I have asked my Chinese friends and they tell me that Sanxin having an opening ceremony for sports day is not the norm in China. I guess it has something to do with the fact the school is a private boarding school so they want to put on an impressive show. I would love to know if anyone else who teaches in China has seen opening ceremonies for their school’s sports day so please leave a comment if this is something you have seen!

For more of my adventures in China click on one of these:

China Diaries: Attack of the Giant Wasps

11th November – 16th November 2019

Monday marked a special holiday in China… Singles Day! This is a day where single people celebrate the fact they are single by buying themselves gifts in the many online sales that are put on for the holiday. It is similar to Black Friday in America except you are buying for yourself rather than rushing to buy Christmas presents at discounted prices. The day was chosen because the number one is in the date four times representing people standing by themselves (but also they are standing together so… I’m not going to argue with the logic, I’m just saying) and more recently it has begun to creep it’s way into Western culture. Now if you know me you’ll know I’m not going to turn down a good excuse to shop, single or not! I didn’t go completely crazy though (with the Taobao app it can be all too easy to spend a small fortune) giving myself a budget to 1000 yuan. I decided to take advantage of the discount and buy myself a few items of furniture to make my little studio feel more like a home. When I arrived in China my apartment only had the bare essentials that any person really needs in their room; a bed, wardrobe and a desk. I honestly expected the items I bought to take up to a month to arrive but they have been slowly turning up one by one over the course of the week.

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The whole app is in Chinese so sometimes I need a little help…

I have never put flat pack furniture together on my own and I really threw myself in at the deep end with the first piece of furniture to arrive. I wish I had taken a picture of just how many pieces this make-up table had come in because to look at it now you’d think it looks easy! As I unpacked everything I realised I had made a terrible mistake in ordering it, I had no instructions and not even the slightest clue of what I was doing! So I turned to WeChat (China’s answer to Facebook and WhatsApp in one convenient app that also lets you pay for just about anything from a snack at the corner shop to a flight!) and posted a plea for help. Thankfully my friend Luna messaged me and showed up with the tools to get the job done, along with about twenty tangerines and two mangosteens. The rest of the furniture has gone together without an issue, I’m still waiting on my bedside tables to arrive but my apartment is really starting to feel like home!

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Fawn approves of the new furniture.

For those who don’t already know me and my friend Jess rescued a kitten last year and named her Storm because there was a typhoon forecast to hit our province in China the weekend we found her. While I was in Myanmar she escaped her foster home and returned expecting a litter of kittens! So I am now in the process of finding loving homes for them. This week kitten number one was adopted into his new family and although he is a bit scared of his new big brothers seems to be doing well.

 

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One little kitten on his way to his new home.

Not to be out done by last week, this week decided to end with a scene that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hitchcock thriller! I came out of the toilet last night and noticed the cats were all staring at something, I looked up expecting to find a moth or similar fluttering around the ceiling light but that is not what I saw… a GIANT wasp had invaded my apartment. In what I can only describe as the most dramatic hour of my life, I scrambled to get the cats into their cage before one of them tried to eat the wasp all while staying as low as possible as the wasp dive bombed my head! I was on the edge of a genuine panic attack but I couldn’t run out of my apartment and leave the cats behind and I was terrified to open a window in case more came in. I had no idea what to do and I could tell the wasp was getting agitated as it started flying into the walls more and more! Finally I remembered that the previous tenant had left a bottle of insect killer in the apartment and I rushed to find it. Usually I don’t kill bugs, I just feel that they don’t know how terrifying they are so it’s not fair to kill them for that, but this wasp was a real threat to the safety of myself and my cats. I don’t know if it would have done that much damage to myself but I wasn’t about to wait to find out and compared to the size of kittens I really think it could have seriously hurt one of them. So I sprayed it with the bug killer and hid in my toilet until I heard it hit the floor. This is when I discovered the second one! I swear this one was twice the size of the first one and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from! (I think they came in under my balcony door as there were no windows open at the time they appeared). It flew into the kitchen area of my apartment and I sprayed it before hiding around the corner. I heard it drop but when I came round the corner I couldn’t find it anywhere. I think it went back out the way it came because a thorough search of the apartment has not uncovered it. My heart rate was well above what is healthy at this point and I had to sit on my bed and just breathe for a good ten minutes.

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Double A battery for scale!

By this time it was about 9 o’clock and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet so I headed to my friend Rose’s restaurant because I was not about to cook after that crazy hour! Of the few times I have been sad or stressed in China I have always found myself at Rose’s restaurant and she has never failed to cheer me up or calm me down, often without even knowing she is doing it. She is so warm and happy that it is impossible to be sad in her presence! Her daughter is also such a lovely little girl and even though she can’t speak as much English as her mum she is always eager to talk to me (I’ve been a distraction from homework more than once since I arrived back in China…) So I ended up staying there until after midnight and made some new friends who invited me to go shopping with them next weekend.

If you are interested in my previous adventures in China click on one of these:

China Diaries: I’m Cursed!

3rd November – 9th November 2019

It’s official. I’m cursed! Ok maybe that’s being a bit over dramatic… but let me break it down for you and you’ll understand why I have come to this melodramatic conclusion.

About a year and a half ago here in Guangdong, China my friends and I took a little trip to our closest big city Guangzhou. While there, one of my friends tried to win me a large Stitch stuffed toy, it was basically impossible and as a consolation prize we were given these cute little plastic bracelets. I put mine on immediately, because I’m a sentimental human, and basically didn’t take it off… ever. Another friend later told me that the bracelet was good luck because it was red and had two carp fish tied to it, both of these things are strong symbols of luck in the Chinese culture. She also told me to wear it on my left wrist which is exactly what I did until about a week before I left Myanmar when it broke.

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It lasted a good year and a half!

Now I was under the impression that if it broke then it’s time was up so my luck wouldn’t run out because it’s not like I lost it or took it off by choice, but what do I know about the inner workings of the universe mixed with ancient Chinese superstition? To misquote everyone’s favourite fantasy TV series “I know nothing”!

In true me fashion I didn’t throw the bracelet away, how could I when it had been part of me for the past year and a half?! I placed it carefully in my plastic folder of memories like I do with all the random things I’ve collected since I started travelling and I went about the rest of my week getting ready to move back to China.

This is where it gets crazy! I think that over the week my luck had stayed with me because the bracelet was in my room still sending out those positive vibes. Then we get to the airport and I have to repack my bag, removing the memory folder for later collection!! If you read my last post then you will know that my first week in China didn’t exactly go smoothly well this week continued that trend…

First my fridge broke and in this climate all of my food spoiled overnight as well as leaving me with a massive puddle of water in my bedroom that my six cats proceeded to wander through and play in! Then I dropped an entire mug of water on my laptop which honestly was the worst thing that could happen right before I start work again! I rely on my laptop more than anything else I own, more than my phone if you can believe it. It’s not only important for keeping in touch with people but it’s also the only way I can do my job, so this was the disaster to end all disasters! I acted fast, turning it off and upside down before I could even think about what was happening. Then I left it for two days and crossed everything!

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Two days upside down seems to have done the trick…

So as you can see I have been rather unlucky over the past couple of weeks (more so than my usual minor incidents) and this was exactly the conversation I was having with my friend Rose when we figured out that the missing bracelet was the problem. Rose is from China and while her English is fantastic there are occasions when the sentences get a little confused. This was such a time. I was sat in her restaurant unable to finish my enormous portion of noodles explaining that I would love to take it home but my fridge was not working. This is how the conversation turned to the subject of my unlucky couple of weeks and she said the following sentence, “Your life has turned black, you are so unlucky.” (now whose dramatic?) Everything just clicked together in my brain suddenly when she compared my unlucky life to a colour. Red is a lucky colour, my bracelet was red, I don’t have my bracelet, now my life is black. I said this all out loud and she immediately confirmed my suspicions, I had lost my “mascot” and as a result lost my luck. She told me it would not return until I was given a new mascot and she was very clear, I had to be given the mascot I could not go out and buy a new one!

So here I am at the end of my second week in China waiting for a new mascot to enter my life. I’ve never really been a superstitious person but I have made jokes in the past about that bracelet bringing me good luck. What do you think? Am I cursed? Or is it all just a big coincidence? I’m just going to have to wait and see (and drink all of my water from a sippy cup like a toddler). In the meantime, everyone keep your fingers crossed for me and my unlucky life!

 

If you are interested in my previous adventures in China click on one of these:

Myanmar to China: You Will Not Believe the Week I’ve Had!

25th October – 2nd November 2019

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One last dinner with my amazing team at NELC Xplore!

Leaving Myanmar was an emotional experience, I left some good friends and memories behind (as well as a box or two of things, thanks again Zoe)! I arrived at the airport confident that my bag was under the weight limit and I was ready to board the plane but when I got the check in counter, things went South. Turns out I had read the website wrong and instead of being 2kg under my weight limit I was actually 3kg over the limit!! Then they asked to weigh my hand luggage and I already knew that was too heavy. Airasia charges $20 per kilo for overweight luggage so I was looking at a $280 charge in total for my ridiculously over the limit bags!

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Saved my behind more times than I can count!

No one ever wants to be that person; the one repacking their bag at the airport. I have always been really lucky and on the few occasions that my bag has been overweight they’ve either let me get away with it or offered me a cheaper solution. So here I was, already emotional from leaving the country I’d called home for the past eight months, having to sort through my belongings and decide what I wanted to leave behind! Let’s just say there might have been a few tears shed… Luckily Arrle was there to be the logical side of my brain that had apparently taken a quick holiday! He sorted through my things, while I sat on the floor and tried to keep it together.

With the drama of check in behind me I headed to immigration and made it to my gate in plenty of time. Next stop Bangkok!

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Not a bad view!

I was asked to arrive in China at the start of the week so we wouldn’t lose any days when applying for my residence permit which meant I could spend the weekend in Bangkok and celebrate my friend’s birthday. I got into Bangkok late on Friday night and Eilidh had Pad Thai waiting for me when I arrived at her apartment (that’s the kind of friends you need in your life to be honest)! On Saturday we got glammed up and headed to the SO Pool Party at Sofitel, my first ever pool party if you can believe it. Sofitel hosts a pool party on the last Saturday of every month from 1pm to 9pm and costs 600 baht per person (one arrival drink is included but I would not recommend the mojito). Sunday I said goodbye to Eilidh and checked into the cheapest hotel I could find for the day. On her recommendation I headed out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market for a bit of shopping (but not too much after my disastrous experience at Yangon airport). I’ve been to a lot of markets since I started travelling so I wasn’t expecting to spend a lot of time there but I spent about three hours wandering around and bought a couple of nice little bits.

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A good day of shopping in Bangkok!

My flight to China left at 1am on Monday morning and arrived around 5am China time which meant I had to wait about an hour for the metro to open before I could catch a train to the coach station. I then had to wait another hour and a half for my bus to Sanxaing so I decided to put my rusty Chinese to the test and attempt to order a McDonald’s breakfast. The entire experience just reminded me of why I love this country so much; me with my broken Chinese and the server with no English managed to communicate with mimes and laughter and my McDonald’s “scrambled eggs” were delivered without an issue. I think I provided the morning’s entertainment!

Arriving in Sanxiang it was like I’d never left; I caught a tuk tuk to the school, picked up my keys and had a much needed shower before heading to the school office to see my friend Rani. The campus was exactly the same as when I’d left and it felt so good to be walking through it again. And then… I broke my phone!!

Rani had just ordered me a DiDi (like Uber for China) to go collect my cat from the kennel and I dropped my phone face down on the solid tile floor of my apartment. It was one of those moments where I just didn’t want to look, the sound it made as it hit the floor alone told me it was broken. But my car was waiting, and I had no way to contact Rani to tell her I was phoneless and therefore probably unable to contact the kennel owner on arrival. I also now had no way to get back but I got in the car anyway… When I got the kennel I asked my DiDi driver to call the kennel (luckily his phone number was on the gate). I then had to try ask the kennel owner to call Rani and explain that my phone was broken. Rani called me another DiDi but when he arrived he refused to take me because I had the cat so the kennel owner’s wife made him drive me back to the school. I still don’t really know if the kennel owner was mad at me or his wife but he seemed to smile at me as I left the car so I’m going to hope we’re ok. If this experience has taught me anything it is that I really need to learn more Chinese now I’m back!!

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Soooooo happy to have this little gremlin back in my life…

I went to see my friend Rose and her daughter Ning Ning on Monday evening, luckily we had organised a time to meet at her restaurant before I broke my phone! It was so lovely to see them and enjoy her amazing fried noodles again, which she gave me for no charge because she said she had missed me! She also bought me a whole bag of fruit to take home because my fridge was empty. Just another reason why I love it here so much, everyone wants to help you all the time even if you don’t ask, it just fills your heart right up!

I spent the rest of the week washing all the clothes I had left here for the last eight months and organising my new apartment. It feels so nice to have my own space, this is the first time I’ve lived by myself. I had flatmates all the way through Uni, when I arrived in China I lived with three other people for the first six months, then one person for the second half of the year and in Myanmar I had a steady rotation of flatmates over the eight months so having a whole apartment to myself is a nice change.

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Needs a bit of work but I’m loving the space and the view!

On Friday I finally got my phone back from the repair shop, they didn’t have the right colour of screen so now I have a white screen while the rest of my phone is pink. It’s unique! I went for dinner with my friend Luna and mentioned that I had a bit of a headache and she suggested a head massage. It was exactly what I needed and they even gave me a haircut while they were at it (which I probably also needed to be honest…)

I was so sad when I left Myanmar and I still miss all of my friends and students from Yangon but it feels so good to be back in Sanxiang. It is getting colder now and I am looking forward to not sweating constantly and wearing cosy jumpers with a cup of tea in bed! I will hopefully start work before the end of November and I can’t wait to meet all my new grade one students. It’s going to be a whole new adventure!

 

If you are interested in my previous adventures in China click on one of these:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: Top Ten Warmers and Coolers That Can Be Adapted To Any Topic.

Anyone who has studied TEFL will know how important warmers and coolers are; warmers get your students excited and energised for class and coolers keep them coming back for more! There’s no doubt that warmers and coolers are the bread that keep your English Lesson sandwich from falling apart but sometimes it can be hard to think of interesting activities that relate to the topic of the lesson. This TEFL tip focuses on fun and engaging activities that can be adapted to any lesson topic.

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Level 1. Myanmar

Warmers –  Use warmers to introduce a new topic or to review the previous topic.

Coolers – Use coolers to review the lesson and leave students excited for the next class.

These are the activities I have found most effective in my classroom. There are an endless stream of games that could be used as warmers and coolers but these are the ones I have found to be the most adaptable.

 

  1. Pictionary

I have written about the power of Pictionary a couple of times before but there is a reason for that! This game can be used with any set of vocabulary words and with any age group. It is the most adaptable game there is!

 

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Level 1 playing Pictionary. Myanmar
  1. Board Race

I have used this game with students as young as five all the way to my middle school students in China and it always inspires a bit of healthy competition. There are a few different ways you can play it which is why it is so easy to adapt to different age groups. One way is to split the class into teams and give them a topic, when you say go the first person in each team runs to the board and writes a word on the board related to that topic, they then run back to the next member of their team and that person must run up to the board and write a new word. The first team to have every member write a word on the board is the winner. Another way to play is to again split the class into teams and put a minute on the clock, like the first version of this game the first person in each team runs to the board and writes a word on the board. This version of the game does not require a topic but instead the next student to the board must use the last letter of the previous word to begin their next word. The team with the most words at the end of the time is the winner, no duplicate words allowed.

 

  1. Catch and Spell/Say

This game is exactly what it sound like. The teacher should pick a student and throw something, a soft ball or a scrunched up piece of paper, for that student to catch. When they catch it the teacher should give them a word to spell (for younger learners with low proficiency show a flashcard and ask them to say the word instead of spell it) if they spell/say it correctly they then get to throw the ball to the next person. This game is a great way to review vocabulary words and requires almost no prep so it is a great cooler or filler activity.

 

  1. Stand Up, Sit Down

This is a great activity for critical thinking and it can be used with any young learner class. The teacher calls out statements and if they are true for the students/they agree with it they should stand up, if they are not true/the student disagrees with it then the students must sit down. The phrases can be as simple or as complex as you need for the proficiency level of your class and it works for any topic from food to transportation. It is super simple to follow and you won’t need any materials to play it!

 

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“Meeeeee”. China
  1. Teacher Says

Another game that requires no materials or prep, Teacher Says works best for younger students between the ages of four to eight. It follows the same rules as Simon Says and is a great way to warm up your class and get them excited for the lesson.

 

  1. Board Slap

All you will need for this game is flash cards and some tape/sticky tac. Stick all of the vocabulary flashcards to the board or empty wall and split the class into teams. The teacher should shout a vocabulary word and one student from each team should race to the board and slap the corresponding flashcard.

 

  1. Clapping Chain

This is a really simple memory game that can be used to review a topic or to find out how much a class already knows about a topic. The teacher should start by saying a vocabulary word and clapping once, the teacher should then choose a student to “throw” the chain to. That student should say the teachers word, clap once, say another word from the same topic and clap twice. They should then pass it round the room until someone forgets a word or can’t think of a new one to add to the chain.

 

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Grade 1. China
  1. What’s Missing?

For this game you should stick all of the flashcards on the board and ask the students to look at them for one minute. Then the students should close their eyes while you remove one or more of the flashcards. The students should then tell you what is missing from the board. To make the game more difficult you could mix up the order of the flashcards as well as taking one or two away. For higher proficiency students try using the vocabulary words instead of picture flashcards.

 

  1. Whisper

This is a little bit of a twist on the classic game Broken Telephone to make it a bit more competitive. Split the class into teams and line them up facing the board. One student from the back of each team comes to the teacher and listen to a word or sentence. They should then race back to their teams and whisper that word or sentence to the next student. The whisper should travel down the chain until it gets to the student in front of the board. The student in front of the board should then write the word or sentence on the board. The team who is closest to the original whisper is the winner.

 

  1. Corners

A classic childhood party game that is great fun in the classroom. I tend to use this as a cooler more than a warmer as it gets the students very excited. You can play this two ways. One, like the classic party game where music is played and when it stops the students decide what corner (each corner should have a flashcard with one of the topic’s vocabulary words) to go to while the teacher is not looking, the teacher then shouts a vocabulary word and any students in that corner are now out. Or two, when the music stops the teacher shouts out a vocabulary word and the students run to it, the first student there gets a point.

 

There are so many fun games out there but making them work for different topics isn’t always easy, I hope this post was helpful to anyone struggling to think of activities to use in their classroom. If you have games that can be adapted to any lesson topic then please leave them as a comment below!

 

For more TEFL tips check out one of these posts: 

 

TEFL Tip Tuesday: How To Set Classroom Rules and Why They Are Important

When you are teaching young learners, setting rules is one of the most important things you can do. Every classroom is different, some students might look like perfect angels and you might think that setting rules is unnecessary. Some may be completely unmanageable and you might find yourself thinking that not even rules could tame them! One thing never changes though, without rules you’re going to find yourself up a creek without a paddle pretty quick. Rules might make you feel like you are sucking the fun out of your classroom but they are absolutely vital in order to establish structure within your lesson. Without them it is going to be hard to have any fun at all!

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Rule suggestions from one of my middle school classes. China

There are ways to make rules fun and a lesson establishing them is a must when you introduce yourself to a new young learner class. So how can you get your students to understand the rules of your classroom and how can you make it fun for everyone? I have an idea or two for you to try! Not all of these activities will work in every classroom, some will work better with younger students and some will work better with older students. I have tried to give you an idea of the age range next to each title so you can cherry pick what ones will work for you.

 

  1. Create a Student/Teacher Agreement (age 8 and over)

The main goal of the student/teacher agreement is for the students to understand that you all have a responsibility in the classroom. This agreement should include what they expect from you as a teacher and what you expect from them as students. You should decide on the exact content of the agreement as a class and spend a lesson creating either a page in their notebooks or a poster for the wall that everyone signs, teacher included. This agreement should be something they can refer to easily and if someone starts to misbehave you can remind them of the agreement they created. If they helped to set the rules they are more likely to stick to them and respect them.

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Make sure the agreement is something they can refer back to easily, in the front of their notebook or as a poster on the wall. Myanmar
  1. Design a Classroom Rules Poster (age 6 – 12)

As a class create a mind map on the board of all the rules the students can think of. Then pick the top five rules from the list. It is important not to overwhelm younger learners with lots of rules, between three to six rules should be the perfect amount. This will ensure they can remember them and it will also stop them from getting bored when it comes to writing them down! Younger students can find it hard to concentrate for too long on one activity so it is important to keep things short, fun and to the point to maintain engagement. After you have decided on the final list you should then split the class into groups (if it is a smaller class this part could also been done individually). Hand out a blank sheet of paper and explain to them that they are going to design a classroom rules poster, encourage them to make it as colourful and decorated as possible. You could even award a prize for the most creative poster! If this is a whole lesson you could wrap up the class with a game of Pictionary, giving the students a rule to draw for the rest of the class to guess.

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Classroom Rules Posters. Myanmar
  1. Create the Characteristics of a Good Student (age 8 and over)

This fun activity can allow your students to get creative and invent their own character. Split the class into small groups of around three to five students and ask them to come up with a list of characteristics that a good student might have. This should take around five to ten minutes depending on the proficiency level and you may need to elicit what a “characteristic” is before you start the activity. It does work best with older students but you could easily adapt it for younger student by using more simple language. Once they have come up with their list ask them to create a poster in their group, drawing their “good student” in the middle and characteristics of that student should be written in the white space around them. Another fun way to do this activity would be to have one student from each group lie down on a large piece of paper and get the rest of the group to draw around them. They can then use the outline to create their character and make a large poster. Remember to explain to the students that nobody is perfect and while these are good traits to aim for, everyone has bad days and can’t live up to every characteristic all the time.

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You can choose to create a worksheet or just have them draw their character on a blank piece of paper. Myanmar
  1. Invent a Board Game (age 12 and over)

Ok, I know this sounds completely unrelated but stick with me for a minute. Split the students into small groups and tell them that they have fifteen minutes to invent a board game. Give them some paper, dice and coloured pens/pencils and walk around the class checking in now and then to make sure they stay on task. After they have invented their new game ask them to stand up in front of the class and explain the rules (see how this is related now? If not keep reading, I’m getting to the point I promise). You should then have a class discussion about why the rules of the game are important and that is when you should steer the class into a discussion about classroom rules and what they are or should be. This activity is also a great one for halfway through the semester when the rules start to be forgotten and your class seems to descending into chaos…

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This activity also helps students to practice their teamwork and creative thinking. Myanmar
  1. Have a Reward System (all ages)

As I mentioned earlier, positive reinforcement does wonders for young learners. The reward could be anything from a sticker to a Mr. Bean clip but the important point is that it has to be earned! There are a few different ways to do this and it really depends on your class and how many classes you actually have. If you have your own classroom then a reward chart on the wall is an excellent way to keep track of good behaviour. Set a goal for the students, for example if they have ten stickers by the end of the month they earn a novelty eraser or something equally as cheap and cheerful. If you have a lot of classes and have to move around a lot or even if you have slightly older students then this becomes a bit more difficult. However, a good way to do create a reward system in this case is to tell your students what the reward is, for example; an clip of Mr. Bean at the end of class or a music video. You can then write the reward on the board in as many or a little words as you wish, for every time a student breaks a rule or acts out you rub a letter of the board. If all of the letters are removed it means they get no reward that lesson. So, you could write “Mr. Bean” on the board which would give the class six chances per lesson or you could write “A clip from Mr. Bean” on the board and give them 15 chances. It really just depends on how generous you are feeling!

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There’s nothing kids love more than shiny stickers! China

When creating your classroom rules something to keep in mind is the language you use and how you phrase each rule. Try not to use negative language when you are writing rules. Students will respond much better to positive reinforcement than to aggressive authority and that come right down to the rules you set in the class. If you use “don’t speak out” instead of “raise your hand if you want to talk” then their naturally rebellious spirit is going to tell them to shout out. Telling a child they can’t do something is going to make them want to do it more.

The most important thing you can do when setting rules in class is to ask them their opinion. Coming into a classroom and just telling them what the rules are going to be is never going to work. They are mini humans after all and a lesson that gets them involved in creating classroom rules will give them responsibility for their own learning in a way that they might not have in their other classes.

I hope this has been helpful and please let me know if you try any of these activities in your classroom! If you have any fun and creative ideas for setting classroom rules leave a comment and share you knowledge.

For more TEFL tips click on one of the links below:

Why Tet is the best time to visit Hoi An.

When I first decided to visit Vietnam back in January I was a little worried. Vietnam observes the Lunar New Year; this nation-wide holiday is called Tet and sees the whole country all but shut down for ten days during the festivities! This is was the source of my worries; what was I going to do for ten days when nothing was open, what would I eat, where would I go?! I needn’t have feared however, Vietnam during Tet turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had while travelling. I ended up spending the bulk of the festive period in Da Nang and Hoi An which I am happy to say was definitely the right decision. Why? I hear you ask, well look no further than the next few paragraphs my friend and all your questions will be answered.

 

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Walking through the old quarter of Hoi An

Hoi An is a popular destination among tourists the year round, its beautiful beaches are just a short cycle from the main town and to get there you pass through beautiful rice paddies that look like a scene straight out of “Eat, Pray, Love”! Situated right in the middle of this long coastal country Da Nang has an international airport as well as good rail links with the rest of the main cities in Vietnam. The only trouble I had visiting Vietnam during Tet was finding train tickets as every train I looked at was full. This left me with the slightly pricier option of travelling by plane but I had saved my pennies for this trip so I wasn’t so upset with paying a bit extra to get to my destination.

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Mango smoothie by the beach!

The reason I fell so in love with Hoi An wasn’t because of its beautiful beaches or rural rice paddies (although they definitely helped). It wasn’t even the gorgeous hotel we stayed in or the vegan restaurant we stumbled across. No, the reason I fell in love with this quaint little tourist trap was the way it came to life after dark. Hoi An is famous for its lantern filled market streets and this multicoloured light display only intensifies during the Tet holiday. The old quarter was full of locals celebrating the festival by releasing floating lanterns with tiny candles into the water. Street vendors lined the streets that were draped in hanging paper lanterns, lit up in rainbow colours. There was something to see everywhere I looked!

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Floating lantern on the water.
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Boats decorated in colourful lanterns.

The town was quiet during the day with little tourists opting to visit at this awkward time of year, this made it a lot easier to navigate the maze like layout that is Hoi An’s old quarter. It was also a lot easier to bargain for a great deal in the many tailors and souvenir shops in the area than it had been in the rest of Vietnam. Be aware when bargaining though, this time of year means a lot to the Vietnamese and any bad sales, no sales or arguments with customers will be seen as bad luck for the year to come. So bargain if you must but be respectful of the people you are bargaining with.

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A woman can be seen only by the light of the lanterns she is selling.

The quiet beaches and mesmerising night markets made Hoi An the absolute highlight of my trip to Vietnam. Any worries I had about having nothing to do went out the window as soon as I checked into the hotel and we were told that we could rent bicycles for free. If you are thinking about visiting Vietnam during Tet then I would definitely recommend Hoi An as the place to go. Hanoi becomes a ghost town as I discovered on my last day there before flying down to Da Nang. I was warned by a friend to hold off on visiting Ho Chi Minh until well after Tet was over for the same reason. Hoi An might not be as busy as it usually is over this festive period but if anything that’s a positive not a negative. It’s the perfect place to go after the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities with the added advantage of pretty lights and sun kissed beaches!

For more of my adventures take a look at one of these posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: My Five School Bag Essentials

School bag with yoda doll inside

If you are new to teaching there may be some things you wouldn’t think about but can actually come in very handy in the classroom. This is probably not everything you will need but they are definitely things that I have found useful during my time teaching in Asia.

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Yoda is of course the most essential item in any bag!

1. Tissues

Apart from the fact that there is almost never toilet paper in the public toilets in Asia, tissues are one of the most useful things in my bag. Kids being kids there is always going to be a spillage or a runny nose somewhere in the classroom. Most of the students in my school in China kept a packet of tissues in their desk but there was always someone in need of an emergency tissue or two. I even had a lesson in Summer last year where the Chinese teacher bought every child in her class an ice-cream and, let me tell you, I have never been more grateful for my little packet of tissues.

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You can never have too many tissues! Myanmar

2. Hand Sanitizer

This can be particularly handy (see what I did there?) when working with young learners. Hygiene levels are not at the forefront of most young students minds and the sneezes are always doing the rounds. Also, you should not expect soap to be readily available in your school bathroom. More often than not you will find an empty bottle or no trace of where soap once was, which is why it is always a good idea to carry hand sanitizer in your bag. It is also a great thing to have around when little fingers are left to run wild with ice-cream in 35 degree heat…

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Cute but sticky… China

3. A Ball

I’m not talking a beach ball here, unless you’re planning to deflate it after each class to pack back into your bag… Any size ball will do but I would recommend you go no smaller than a tennis ball as the likelihood of getting lost increases as the size of the ball decreases. Having a ball nearby will vastly open up your game options when you find yourself at the end of a lesson plan with 10 minutes of class time still to go. It is also a useful thing to own if you have a particularly unruly class, use the ball to select which student will speak next or answer a question by throwing it to them. This will give the students something to focus their attention on as they will be watching to see if the ball is coming to them.

4. A Water Bottle

We all know how important it is to keep hydrated at the best of times but when you are living in Asia it is even more important to keep a bottle of water in your backpack! Some classrooms do not have air conditioning, especially in Thailand, and the heat can really get to you if you are not prepared. I recommend investing in a really good quality reusable water bottle, tap water in Asia is not safe to drink but most schools will have water refill stations either in the classrooms or in the corridors. We all know the damage that plastic is doing to the environment and the problem is especially bad in Asia so try not to buy bottles of water from convenience stores. Reusable water bottles are available in just about any supermarket and if you are already in Asia I recommend checking out Miniso for some really cute designs!

5. A notebook

This is an essential item for any teacher who is as forgetful as me! I use my notebook for so many things and without it I would be completely lost. It is where I keep my lesson plans, where I write down new ideas, where I keep class lists and timetables. It is also a good thing to have on hand if you have forgetful students, not all classrooms come equipped with the supplies you would expect and if a student forgets their notebook there might not be paper readily available for them. As long as you have your notebook they won’t have any excuses for not doing the task!

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Never seen without a notebook in my backpack

The list of things that would make your life easier in the classroom is endless, but these are the five I never leave the house without! What do you think? What essential item never leaves your teacher bag?

For more TEFL tips check out one of these posts: