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.
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.
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…
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!
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?
When I first got given my grade eight classes I had no idea how I was going to teach them. Coming from six months of grade one, who were happy to sing baby shark and play “Teacher Says” every lesson, trying to entertain teenagers was an entirely foreign concept to me! It turned out it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, the advantage of teaching older students is how creative you can be with your warmers and coolers as their vocabulary is developed to the point where they can follow instruction much more complicated than younger students. As a result I found myself with a solid rotation of five games (with the occasional extra thrown in that was specifically tailored to a topic) that I knew I could rely on to get my classes engaged in the lesson and thinking about the target language.
This game is really easy to create and even easier after you’ve done it once. It works really well in middle school because it is a challenge that everyone can take part in, so whether your class has 5 or 50 students you can get everyone involved and working together. Essentially all you need is a nine letter word related to your topic and a grid, mix the letters up and put them into the grid and you are ready to go. If you ever played “Boggle” it’s very similar to that except with Word Finder there is always a nine letter word to be found.
How to play:
Give your students 5 – 10 minutes (adjust depending on the length of your lesson) to find as many words as they can. I always find it useful to write down as many words as I can in my lesson planning notebook so if the students start complaining that it’s too difficult I can tell them “well I’ve found 20 words, so I think it’s easy” and this usually kicks their competitive spirit into action as they want to find more than teacher!
You can allow dictionaries if you want but I find that this makes the game drag on a bit as the students essentially just read the dictionary and cross check it with the letters on the board, so I personally don’t let them use dictionaries.
When the time is up go through all the two letter, three letter, four letter etc. words that the students have found and write them on the board. The first time I played this game I let the students come and write their words on the board themselves but this takes way too long so unless you have a small class I wouldn’t advise this.
I also only accept words that the students can tell me the meaning of, if they can’t tell me what it means I don’t write it on the board because then I know they’ve cheated and used the dictionary!
The game can be played in teams or individually it all depends on the vibe you are going for in your classroom but I usually let my students work in teams.
You can make it a competition by awarding a prize to the team/student who has found the most words.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pictionary is the superhero of games. If you need to revise previous vocabulary then use Pictionary, if need to fill time at the end of a class then use Pictionary, if the computer is broken so one of your activities is no longer possible THEN USE PICTIONARY. No matter the age group, proficiency level or class size you can use Pictionary in your classroom. Teenagers love it especially if there is something to win at the end which makes it the perfect game to use with your middle school students.
How to play (in case you don’t already know):
First divide your class into two teams. This can be done in whatever way will make your students the most competitive, I usually split the class down the middle.
Write down all of the vocabulary words you want to use on individual squares of card. I tried writing them in my notebook but the students all discuss what vocab words are written there and then they cheat. (If you want to keep the game as something you can use again and again, in case of emergencies, then I suggest laminating your cards).
Call one student from each team up to the board and get them to pull a card from the deck. They should only pick one card, not one each.
Students then draw whatever was on that card on the board for their teammates to guess.
Depending on the class size you can get students to raise their hands before making a guess or just have students shout the answer. In classes larger than 20 students I would suggest hand raising, otherwise it gets a bit chaotic!
If the student guesses correctly then the team gets a point.
You can repeat until you run out of time or cards.
With my primary students I usually hand out stickers to the winning team but for middle school this might not cut it…
This game takes a little bit of preparation but it is so much fun and is a great way for students to think creatively in English. If you want this to be a competitive game then it works best in classrooms of fifteen or more because you need to split the class into at least three groups for the race to be really exciting. Decode is a great icebreaker as well if it is your first week with a class or there are new students who need to be included in the game. The best part about the game is that, not only are the students focussing on thinking creatively but they are also communicating with each other in English.
How to play:
Before class think of a few instructions that your students should be able to understand easily and communicate to each other. This can be anything but each instruction must include all of the students in the group in some way. For example one instruction could be; “two girls put your hand on your head, one boy put your right hand up, everyone else sleep.”
You can make this game as short or as long as you want by adding more or less instructions. I usually think of three or four and it takes around fifteen minutes.
Once you have all of your instructions you need to think of a code. This could be anything but some good examples are; 1. Swapping the letters in the alphabet around so A = D, B = E, C = F and so on. Or 2. Each letter of the alphabet is equal to a number so A = 1, B = 2, C = 3 etc. you can make this harder or easier depending on the code you choose.
When you have decided your code you should translate your instructions into it. So with my number code the sentence “two girls put your hand on your head, one boy put your right hand up, everyone else sleep.” Becomes “20,23,15 7,9,18,12,19 16,21,20 25,15,21,18 8,1,14,4 15,14 8,3,1,4 15,14,5 2,15,25 16,21,20 25,15,21,18 18,9,7,8,20 8,1,14,4 21,16 5,22,5,18,25,15,14,5 5,12,19,5 19,12,5,5,16”. Looks like a lot but I promise you once they get the hang of the game it takes them no time, if they work together.
Once the students crack the code they need to do what the instruction says, the first group to complete the instruction wins a point for that round.
Make sure you only show one instruction at time, this could be one a powerpoint presentation or as handouts as long as they are focussing on one at a time it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t advise hand writing the instructions on the board, unless you are only going for one instruction and you have time to set it up before the students arrive in class.
The winning group is whoever has the most points at the end of all the instructions.
If you want to take this game further into the lesson you could get your students to work in teams to create their own codes and do a whole lesson on James Bond or spies.
Word Snake is a fantastic game for reviewing previous vocabulary. You can make it harder by asking the students to use words that are from the same topic or easier by letting them use any words they want. It’s a really fun game that can be played in teams or individually and works both in the classroom and one on one tutoring sessions.
How to play:
Optional: Have the students draw a snake in their notebooks or scrap paper, also draw one on the board or have a power-point slide open to demonstrate. Then ask the students to divide their snake up into sections, like the stripes on a snake. Decide in advance how many stripes the snake should have, the more time you want to spend on the game the more stripes your snake should have. For my smaller classes I print worksheets with the snake already printed on them to save time.
When the snakes are ready give the students a starting word related to the target language for example for a lesson on sports and hobbies you could give them “hobby” to start them off.
The idea is for the students to then think of a word that starts with the last letter of that word and fill in the whole snake in the same way. So, for this example, the next word could be “yoga” or “yo-yo”. After “yoga” could be “acrobatics” and so on.
Again for small classes you can make this game competitive by awarding the first to finish with a prize.
Stop the Bus/Categories
I first came across this game back in the U.K. but when I played it there were a couple of alcoholic drinks involved… Now I use it as a fun break out activity or cooler in my lessons. Stop the bus can be used with any lesson due to the flexible nature of the game. My teenagers in China and Myanmar have all loved playing it and it’s a nice break from the lesson when attention starts to wane.
How to play:
Start by writing five or six categories on the board, for a general game this could be anything but if you want to make it related to your lesson try to think of categories that match. For example to introduce the term project, “Homes Around the World” to my class recently I gave the following topics; Country, Language, Type of Home, National Dish and City.
Explain to the students that you are going to give them a letter and they must find something for each category that begins with that letter.
When you are planning your lesson be sure to try out different letters to make sure that all of the categories can be filled with the ones you choose.
Write the letter on the board next to your categories and tell the students to start writing.
They must race to fill all of the categories and when they have done so they should shout “Stop the Bus!”
Check the students answers and if they are correct invite them up to the board to write them under each category.
When the student has filled in all of their answers on the board ask the other students if they wrote anything different under any of the categories.
I find two letters usually takes around 15 – 20 minutes which is perfect for my classes but if you should adjust to your own lesson plan.
There are more games out there but these are the five that work best for me! Remember the more enthusiastic you are about the game the more likely the students will want to participate and the offer of a reward for the winning team is always a good motivator. I hope this post was helpful, if you use any of these in your lessons please let me know how it goes!
I’ve been teaching English for about a year and a half now and in that time I have discovered a few resources that I find myself returning to again and again. Whether it be for lesson inspiration, warmer and cooler ideas or worksheet creation, these are the books and websites that supply me with engaging activities for both my young learner and adult classes alike.
Ok, let’s get this one out of the way straight of the bat. I am not recommending that you play YouTube videos for the entirety of your lesson! When I first arrived at my school in China they told me plain and simple that my lessons were not to be 40 minutes of the kids watching TV and I mean, fair enough. I was alarmed to think that anyone would even consider it at the time, but once you’ve taught twenty classes a week for a few months you start running out of ideas and 40 minutes of TV starts to sound a little tempting! I luckily never resorted to this, but I have used YouTube in my lesson to enrich and expand on the topic of the day. This has ranged from the smash hit that is “Baby Shark” (every ESL teacher’s secret weapon for a happy classroom) in my first grade and kindergarten classes to how astronauts brush their teeth in space with my level six class here in Myanmar.
YouTube has an unlimited amount of visual resources for any topic and any age but you have to tread wisely. If you want to use YouTube in your classroom make sure you watch the video all the way to the end before you play it over the loudspeakers, you need to check that the content is appropriate for your class. This doesn’t just mean checking for bad language or scenes of a sensitive nature but it also means checking the language used in the video is at the right level for your students and that the speech or song is presented at an easy to understand pace. If you are using video in the classroom it is with the intention that the students will learn from it, so make sure they understand it.
Word-trace worksheets are perfect for young learners who are just beginning to learn English as it allows them to practice their writing skills within a guided context. Twisty noodle is my favourite website for word-trace worksheets, you can find everything from colours to transportation on the site and they allow you to add your own word or phrase to worksheets making them personal to your class. I’ve used Twisty Noodle’s worksheets as stand-alone activities in my classroom but I have also incorporated the word-trace elements from their site into my own worksheets when I want to make things a bit more technical. The site also has colouring pages which I often give to my students as an activity before class if the arrive early to keep them entertained.
Brain Training Books
This can be any brain training book and is something I recently added to my TEFL tool belt. I was really struggling to think of warmer for my adult classes, warmers are particularly important when it comes to my Elementary class as there are always at least two late comers (sometimes half an hour or more late but I don’t wait around that long for them, usually I aim for fifteen minutes of warm up time before diving into the course book). I’m brand new to the world of teaching adults having previously only taught 14 year olds or below so for my first couple of lessons I felt completely lost. My friend suggested I take a look at her book “5 Minute Brain Workout” for some inspiration, it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Brain teasers are the perfect warmer for an adult class in my opinion because they are interesting enough that the students won’t get bored easily and challenging enough to keep them thinking while we wait for the stragglers. There are a couple of good warmers out there that I like to use with adults like “find someone who” and “who wrote it?” but these kinds of thing can only be used so many times before they get repetitive or boring. Having a book of brain teasers on hand has proved to be very useful and I’ve even used some of them with my young learner classes for the students who finish everything first, it keeps them quiet and focused on English while the rest of the class finish the task.
Canva is a free design website that you can use to create just about anything. I love this website for creating my worksheets and activities, it’s so simple to use and it come with templates if you have no idea where to start. I have used Canva for just about every lesson plan since I arrived in Myanmar and it has honestly been a life saver for me. I hate trying to format things in Word, where you move one image and suddenly the rest of the images are ten pages away and upside down! Canva brings me back to my University days and allows me to design beautiful worksheets without all the complicated shortcuts and tools that you get in programmes like InDesign and Illustrator, because who has time for that when all you need to create is one worksheet on gerunds?!
One of the best and possibly most readily available resources is your fellow teachers. I find brainstorming with other teachers to be one of the most useful ways to plan a lesson and this was especially true when I was just starting out. Being able to bounce ideas of other people and think out loud allows you to think differently than if it’s just you and your laptop or notebook trying to create something alone. Two heads are better than one and when you are trying to think of a fun and engaging lesson it can be really helpful to get a second opinion on an activity. You never know, your fellow teachers may have already done a similar lesson or know of a useful resource you could go to for more inspiration. This doesn’t just have to be people you work with; reach out to the TEFL communities online, if you did an in-class course send a few of your classmates a message and see how they’ve tackled similar lessons, follow other teachers on social media for creative ideas and if you like what they’re doing send them a message and talk about it.
These are definitely my top five favourite resources but they are not the only place I go for inspiration and last minute activities, here are some of my honourable mentions that you can also use if you find yourself stuck for ideas:
Teachers Pay Teachers – There are many free resources on Teachers Pay Teachers and some of them have been exactly what I need, others I have adapted and created my own worksheets and activities from, usually on Canva.
FluentU – This site has a lot of great ideas for speaking classes and can be a real help if you are stuck for ideas for warmers and coolers. The site can be a bit confusing to navigate sometimes though.
Busy Teacher – This was one of the first websites recommended to me by a fellow ESL teacher and I find myself back there now and again. I find the blog posts most useful but I have used the occasional resource from the site, maybe with a little fine tuning…
ISL Collective – This site has a lot of worksheets, and I mean a lot. It can be a little overwhelming at first and finding a worksheet that is perfect for you topic could take a while but there are some gems on there. Again I often find a resource with the relevant topic and tweak it a bit to fit my style of teaching and class needs.
Twinkle – This website honestly has some of my absolute favourite resources and the only reason it isn’t on my top five is because only a limited amount are free to use. It makes sense, they are beautiful worksheets and there are some great activities on there so they are definitely worth paying for but us poor ESL teachers can be a bit strapped for digital cash (most jobs pay cash in hand or, if you’re in China, setting up online banking with your foreign bank account is pretty much impossible)!
For more TEFL Tips check out one of my previous posts:
I have completed two courses since I began my TEFL journey way back in October 2017. The first was an online 120 hour TEFL course which I completed in my own time back in Scotland and the second was an in-class 120 hour TESOL course which I completed in Thailand with 14 other participants and one incredible teacher. Both are adequate tools for getting yourself an English teaching job overseas, both have their advantages and disadvantages but how do you know which one is right for you? Hopefully this post will help you decide!
I want to preface this post by pointing out that having two TEFL qualifications is not at all necessary, I only have two because the opportunity presented itself and I’m not one to say no to spending three weeks in Thailand, next to the beach, learning how to become better at my job! (Does this make me a nerd? Probably…)
My online course was part of the deal when I signed up to STA Travel’s teaching internship in China. The idea was, you complete I-to-I TEFL’s 120 hour online course, go for a week of orientation in Beijing or Harbin and then you get placed somewhere in China for a 5 month “internship”; essentially you arrive at a school with a basic knowledge of teaching methods and get thrown in at the deep end teaching 25 hours a week for around a £200 a month salary. They call it an internship because that way you can enter China on a student visa as you are there to study Mandarin and how to teach English as a foreign language.
In favour of the online course is the fact that it is a really easy way to achieve your TEFL qualification and it was included in the price of my internship package with STA. The reason it appealed to me so much at the time was that I had just finished 6 years of higher education and while TEFL had always intrigued me until that point I had assumed it was something you needed to study at college. The thought of going back into the college/university system did not appeal to me so to be told that I could do the course online from the comfort of my own home (well to be honest mainly coffee shops and my friend Hannah’s apartment) was music to my ears. A way to travel, earn money and I didn’t have to go back to college, perfect!
The best thing about an online TEFL course is that you get to move at your own pace when it comes to what you are learning. As someone with Dyslexia this is really important to me as it can take me longer to read large amounts of text than most people and sometimes that large amount of text doesn’t even sink in after I’ve read it so I end up having to read it again! My course gave me three months to complete the material and sit the test after signing up. This was the perfect amount of time and meant I could fit studying in around my other commitments such as my job and going to the pub every other night…
The downside to online courses in general is you really need to have internal motivation to get them done. The online TEFL course I did was no exception and while there was the external motivation of the 3 month deadline, it wasn’t until the last month of my course that this finally kicked me into panic mode and I crammed the material hard! It could be argued that the motivation should come from the idea of your new adventure, moving to another country and becoming an English teacher, but I have one of those personalities that doesn’t tend to 100% believe something is happening until I’m actually on the plane and there’s no chance to turn back. So it’s safe to say that this motivation didn’t really work for me, I’m more of a “works well under extreme pressure that I’ve only created by my own actions” kind of students.
Another downside to the online course is just the vast amount of information that you need to process alone. I like to talk about things when I’m learning about them but with an online course it’s just you and your computer so getting all that information to stick can be a bit tricky. I used up three notebooks writing notes on all the different topics and sections in the course, it was a lot to sift through!
When it boils down to it this is a great option for people who are good at getting stuff done and focusing on a project once they commit to it. You can move at your own pace and can fit it in around your existing schedule. Maybe if you are planning on travelling with a friend then doing the course together online would be a good option. You could even do the course as you travel, before you go for a teaching position. For people who find it hard to motivate themselves or find a lot of course material overwhelming in sort of “don’t look at it and hope it goes away” kind of way, I would not recommend. The sheer amount of material and no real pressure to get the work done was a bit of a challenge for me, luckily I’m a last minute kind of girl as I mentioned above and having to squeeze half of the course into a third of the time worked out to be the best way for me to do it in the end but I probably made it more stressful than it needed to be!
I was invited down to Thailand from China as part of my current job here in Myanmar; it made sense that if I was going to work for their language centre I should probably learn how they do things first, so in August last year I travelled to Hua Hin for Xplore Asia’s 4 week TESOL course.
The best part of the in-class course for me was how interactive it was, I could discuss the lessons with class members and there was a good amount of group work mixed in to our solo assignments. This isn’t for everyone but if, like me, you look externally for you motivation then it’s the best way to learn!
The course is taught with enthusiasm by someone with years of experience teaching English abroad and this really shows through the classes provided. Our instructor was probably one of the best teachers I’ve ever had and this really did help when it came to the atmosphere in class. His laid back but professional teaching style has really influenced my own and I have noticed a difference in my own classes since taking part in his course.
Another obvious advantage of this option was the fact the course was taught in Thailand. Now I know not all in-class TEFL courses are going to have this advantage but to be honest why would you even choose any other course when you could travel half way around the world and spend your summer in one of the most beautiful countries in the world (and it doesn’t just have to be summer, they offer classes almost all year round). If you are choosing to do TEFL then chances are you are looking to move abroad anyway so why not just travel 4 weeks early and begin your adventure with some expert training. Extra bonus is that Xplore Asia offer a placement service after you complete the course, so they even help you find a job afterwards (I already had my job lined up but everyone else in the group signed up for this when they booked the course).
Everyone in the course was there for the same reason and they had made the commitment of travelling all the way to Thailand so there was definitely a spirit of community within the group. This made my time in Hua Hin one of my all-time favourite travel moments from last year and is probably where I fell in love with Thailand.
Something that you really can’t get with an online course but that is provided with the in-class option is hands-on classroom experience. My course gave us two days in an actual Thai classroom to put all of our training into practice. This alone this alone makes choosing the in-class option worthwhile. When I arrived in China I felt so under-prepared and I had no idea what to expect from my first day of teaching, so the opportunity to have a practice run before your actual placement is unbelievably valuable in my opinion!
In terms of disadvantages, for me personally, there aren’t really any to speak of but I know there are probably a few things that could present themselves as potential problems for some people. The first would be that group work does not always work out well for everyone and it can be frustrating trying to get work done when someone in the group isn’t pulling their weight, my advice here would be to use this situation as an opportunity to practice your patience and understanding skills because you are going to need them when it comes to stepping into the classroom as a teacher.
Obviously with this option you are restricted to the time structures and course start dates that just aren’t a thing with the online course. Instead of working your course around your life, you have to work your life around your course as far as moving yourself all the way out to Thailand (or elsewhere as Xplore Asia offers courses in a few different South East Asian countries)! As a mentioned earlier though, you are probably looking to move abroad anyway right? So why not do your TEFL course abroad too? If you struggle to work to a deadline then the in-class course might be the perfect way to train yourself into a more disciplined mindset, or it just might not be for you!
To summarise, this is definitely my preferred option and the one I would recommend to anyone thinking about becoming TEFL qualified but it is not for everyone and if you haven’t 100% decided if TEFL is for you travelling all the way to South-East Asia might be a bit of a daunting move. There are of course in-class course available at most local colleges in Scotland (which I know isn’t much help for those outside of my beautiful home country) so if you are interested in the in-class option but not quite sure if you’re ready to hop on a plane, then I would definitely advise looking into a course closer to home.
I hope this has helped you to make a decision and as much as I do recommend the in-class option over the online courses it really does depend on how you learn and at what stage of “ready to go” you are. If you are practically on the plane already then definitely look into Xplore Asia and their TESOL programme. If however you’re still on the fence then have a browse for online courses, they tend to start at around £50 and do still provide you with all of the information you need to become an English Teacher abroad, just without the practical experience that in-class can provide. As always if you have any questions about teaching English abroad feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email and I’ll try my best to help you out!
For more information about I-to-I TEFL, Xplore Asia and to see the internship programme I signed up to through STA travel follow these links:
It’s been a while but I’m back with another TEFL Tip Tuesday. This post was inspired by a recent Q&A we held at the language centre I work in. It was for new teachers arriving in Myanmar and teaching English for the first time, we were asked to give them one piece of advice about the job and well, without even hesitating I said “Your first day will most likely be a complete disaster, but that’s half the fun!” and speaking from personal experience it’s the most honest advice I could give!
Whether you have previous teaching experience or not, chances are your first lesson as a ESL teacher is going to be a complete disaster. Yes, I said disaster and yes you’ll probably agree with me about ten minutes into your first day that absolutely nothing you planned is…well… going to plan!
Let’s rewind a little bit here. Back to before you’ve even walked into that classroom; because I imagine if you are reading this it is because you are looking for advice for your first day on the job and therefore, have not even stepped into a classroom unassisted yet. More likely than not you’ve just completed some kind of course in ESL/TEFL/TESOL (whatever acronym they slapped on your certificate) and although it may feel like a blur of irregular verbs and classroom management techniques, you’d be surprised how much of this TEFL stuff is now second nature to you. This stuff is in your brain now. For better or for worse you are a qualified, certified English teacher. All that’s left to do is get that first, actual, real life lesson out of the way.
Let me be the first to tell you, that though it will probably go down in history as one of the most chaotic and or awkward hours of your life it will also be the first story you tell anyone back home when they ask you about your TEFL experience. It’s one of those funny in hindsight kind of experiences and as with any first, it is completely unavoidable.
So, let’s get it over with!
Your first day; you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to get into that classroom and show those tiny humans (or possibly fully grown adults depending on how you get placed) your plethora of knowledge of the English language. Only one problem though… this classroom does not have a computer, nor does it have a HDMI cable so that carefully put together introduction slide show you prepared is gone, out the window, useless!! OK, ok just stay calm and ignore the fact they’re all staring at you expecting greatness, like you’re Captain America and the fate of the universe rests solely in your trembling, sweaty hands. Improvise, the limit does not exist when it comes to the possibilities of a board and some chalk. Any lesson can be converted from powerpoint presentation to chalkboard masterpiece with enough energy and imagination.
Before you know it the hour’s up and it’s onto lesson two and then just like that you’ve somehow stumbled your way through an entire day of teaching (your first day of teaching!!!) with only a few sticky fingers and a scattering of biscuit crumbs in your hair. Did 90% of what you had planned end up on the cutting-room floor? Probably. Did you have to use brain muscles you didn’t even know existed when one particularly mischievous teenager pointed to THAT word in the dictionary and asked you to explain it, even though he knows perfectly well what it means!? Well, yes but it’s nothing a trained professional like you can’t handle. And, did any student for one second suspect that you were kind of winging it for half, if not all, of the lesson? Nope! They had no idea. Believe me when I say they are much more interested in having a good time and learning something new than they are in whether or not your lesson plan has been followed to the exact second. As long as you open with something fun, use a bit of magician’s deception (read: big hand movements and distraction tactics) when things go slightly pear shaped, improvise your way around faulty technology or just plain non-existent technology and end your lesson on a memorable note then you did a pretty good job from where I’m standing. It may feel like a disaster in the moment but really the only person thinking that is you and when it’s all over that first lesson will be a cherished memory and one hell of a story.
Your first day of teaching will probably be a disaster, that’s ok! Trust me, if it went 100% perfectly then you’d have a hard time keeping up with yourself for the rest of the semester. Some people will definitely take to the role more naturally than others, it’s just the luck of the draw, but no one in the history of the world has had a perfect first day on the job. I really do believe that the more disasters you encounter early on, the better teacher you become. It’s not just your students that should be learning in the classroom, your teaching technique and style will have to evolve and adapt with each new challenge that is thrown your way. No two days are ever the same and in my opinion it’s the best part of the job! Throw predictability out of the window, you’re a TEFL teacher now!
For more TEFL tips check out on of my previous posts:
A year ago today I landed in China, I had no idea what to expect. My original plan was to spend six months teaching in China and then move onto Vietnam. There I would spend another six months teaching and move onto Australia for a year before finally heading home to the U.K. It’s safe to say that isn’t exactly what happened. I fell in love with teaching English, fell in love with China and fell in love with the school I had been placed at. Now I don’t know when I’ll finally be heading home; I have just finished a year teaching in China and I am at the beginning of a six month contract in Myanmar. Teaching English has surprised me in how much it has taught me about the world we live in, about how language evolves and how to deal with unfamiliar situations and why they are not always a bad thing.
I travelled to China alone, this was not by mistake. I didn’t even try to convince anyone to come with me. When I made the decision to travel the world I did so with the conviction that I would be doing it alone! The reason behind this was not because I had no friends or because I was “travelling to find myself”. No, I chose to travel alone because I wanted to go and I wanted to go as soon as possible. I wasn’t about to wait for anyone to join me, who knew how long it would take to find someone willing to move themselves halfway around the world. I have always travelled alone, it’s the only way I knew and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? This year has taught me that my belief in solo travel runs deep within me and that it gives me the freedom to go and do whatever I want to do while I’m travelling. On the reverse of that it has also taught me that sometimes it is nice to have a travel buddy or a friend to visit in a country. Making friends and travelling with them is part of the appeal of solo travel for many people, and without some of the friendships I have made this year I would not have done or seen some of the incredible things that I have.
When it comes to the teaching side of things I could go on for days about how much it has taught me. If you have ever had the pleasure of being introduced to me in a bar after a drink or two you’ll know just how much I can talk about the advantages of TEFL, to the teacher and student alike! The most surprising thing I have learnt this year, and the thing that really should be the least surprising at all really, is how much I have learnt about the English language. I always enjoyed English at school and, despite my Dyslexia, it was always one of the subjects I performed best in, but since teaching English I have found myself more and more fascinated by how our complicated and at times completely irrational language came to be the way it is. English as a language honestly makes little to no sense unless you have grown up speaking it, this is something I have discovered this year and something I have discussed with my fellow teachers at length. I think to understand this allows you to become a better ESL teacher. It’s not just about having fun games and a lot of energy (although these things definitely help) if you understand how much English really doesn’t make sense sometimes then it will allow you to think about the language from a non-native speaker’s point of view. If you can do that then you are going to be a much better English teacher!
I always say to my eighth grade students “Chinese is so difficult” and they always say to me “No, teacher English is so difficult” it’s become a bit of a pantomime call scenario at this point, we’ve come to the conclusion that both languages are difficult. As much as I teach them English they teach me new things about English daily by questioning the language. This forces me to really think about why we use a word the way we do or why some words are spelled the way they are when really they could be spelled completely differently (even while writing that sentence I had an inner-battle of spelled vs. spelt). Teaching English has made me better at English.
Teaching English as Foreign Language has put me into situations that are completely unfamiliar and unknown to me. I had never stepped into a classroom as anything but a student until I arrived in Sanxiang, China one year ago. I had no experience as a teacher and my experience of working with children amounted to weekend Pizza Parties at my part time job and a short stint as a Young Leader with my local Girl Guides unit. This year has pushed me out of my comfort zone completely and taught me how to handle situations that I would not have come into contact with had I not become an ESL Teacher. It has taught me how to think on the spot when my lesson plan finished ten minutes before the end of class, it has taught me how to be a role model to teenagers who I thought saw me as the very uncool foreign teacher when in fact they saw me as the cool foreign teacher with two cats (having my cats associated with my cool factor is always going to make me happy) and it showed me how taking an interest in the cultures and language of the countries you visit can completely change that experience for the friends you make there as well as yourself. Unfamiliar situations used to fill me with dread, the unknown was worse to me than knowing something bad was about to happen (mainly because if I didn’t know I would think of about twenty bad things that could happen and these would spiral until it was better just to not do anything) but now I find myself excited at the prospect of an unfamiliar situation or an unknown challenge. I have definitely learnt this year to trust myself and my judgement in these situations because more often than not they turn out to be the best kind of adventures.
A year of teaching English has taught me that you can’t run away from problems, you have to face up to them and moving halfway across the world doesn’t make them go away. China has given me the confidence to stand up for myself, it has shown me what I am capable of and it has shown me that people value my time and opinion. Being asked by students and teachers alike if I will be returning to teach in Sanxiang made me happy and sad at the same time, to tell them I was leaving made me sad but to know they wanted me to stay made me happy. I made myself completely at home in China and although I had to leave I know it is not forever. Teaching in China taught me so much and I know it still has much more to teach me. Here’s to another year of TEFL and many more to come, whether that be in China, Myanmar or countries as of yet undecided!
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?
If you are a TEFL teacher then you are probably about to move to a completely new country with completely new and sometimes confusing cultural differences. The first thing I want to say is; don’t see this a bad thing. It can be and is a wonderful learning experience and a way to open your mind to other cultures so embrace them!
Cultural differences can present themselves in some weird and wonderful ways, in and out of the classroom. They can range from kids falling asleep in class to fellow teachers giving you little to no information about what is happening at the school. It can be frustrating and it can seem like they are doing these things because you aren’t performing well as a teacher but let me assure you that unless someone has come up and told you that you aren’t doing a good job or that something needs to change then these occurrences are nothing personal!
I have had kids fall asleep in class before, this tends to happen mostly in my middle school classes, I do not take it personally and I often leave them to sleep unless the class is laughing at them. The reason I don’t let this affect my class is because I know how hard these kids work every day. They are often awake well before me, with their school day starting with a 6:30am run around the campus, and are still in school when I’m climbing into bed for a Netflix marathon, they finish classes at 10pm. I design my classes as a safe and fun environment for my students to learn and practice English in, so I never get mad at a kid if they happen to fall asleep in class.
In the U.K. we are used to having instant access to all the school’s timetable information at the beginning of the year. We know in August when the last day of school will be at the end of the year and we know exactly what days off we will receive for each holiday. This is not always the case in China and I have learnt to just go with the flow a bit. This cultural difference can definitely be the most frustrating of all the ones I have come across but the best advice I can give is just to stay calm and every now and then give your school a gentle reminder that you might need to know how many days off you will receive over the Spring Festival so you can start booking your travels. Most of the time if they aren’t giving you any information it is genuinely because they themselves don’t have it yet, my school has to wait for the government to tell them when the exams will be before they can tell me when my last day of term is and that is just the way it is. This semester it meant that I was told the Friday before my last week of term that I only had a week left and it meant changing my lesson plans completely to combine two weeks into one and abandoning the rest of them. A mild annoyance but in the long run it gave me a longer holiday and meant I didn’t have to work on Christmas or my Birthday so I wasn’t complaining!
At the end of the day every country is different and if you can relax and embrace those differences you will grow a better understanding of the world and how it works. How we handle these differences can vastly change our experience of a country and I have always found that calm and understanding gets me further than annoyance and anger. So, be aware that things aren’t going to be the same as home and incorporate them into your understanding of the country and even your daily routine and you will come out the other end will the best experience you can get!
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?
Pictionary; the Christmas day family games sesh is never complete without it but in the classroom it becomes more than a party game, this is where Pictionary becomes a powerful tool for learning. Pictionary is great for teaching English because it requires the whole class to participate. It is the perfect game to get students thinking and talking in English, especially if they are new to the language.
I tend to use Pictionary as a cooler or filler, but it can work as a warmer just as well. You can use it to recap last week’s lesson and see how much of the language they remember or you can use it to round up your lesson as a fun way to make the new vocabulary stick in their minds. The way I usually play is I split the class into two teams and select a student from each team to come up to the board. I then ask the student to pick one of the new vocabulary words for that day (this usually takes a minute as whatever I suggest they complain it is too difficult to draw, but after a bit of encouragement I usually convince them it’s not so hard). Then the class has to work out what they are drawing and the first team to shout the correct answer gets a point. Using the point system really gets the students engaged in the game. When my students play they play to win and it can get quite competitive! You can make it so that the winning team gets a prize, but I have found that just the thrill of winning is enough to motivate the class to participate.
I have found Pictionary works for all ages; I have played it with kindergarten, I have played it with grade one and I have played it with grade eight. No matter what the age the competitive energy has been present and everyone gets involved. Even the moody teenagers who thought they were too cool in the beginning couldn’t help but shout out the answer when the rest of their teams were struggling to figure it out!
Pictionary has been my secret weapon from day one of my TEFL journey. I think my love for this game a kid really helped me to sell it to my students as a fun game. I was excited about the game and this enthusiasm was infectiously passed on to my students. The power of this activity to engage students in English makes it without a doubt my favourite classroom game. When other games have caused my students to groan in protest Pictionary has never failed to energise them. The best part is that you can play this game with minimal materials; as long as you have a pencil and paper, a blackboard and chalk or a whiteboard and pens then this game is possible.
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?
It doesn’t matter if you are teaching six-year olds, teenagers or adults; if your lessons are entertaining then your students will be engaged from the word Hello. One of the easiest ways to make a lesson entertaining is to use material that will get them laughing. How you do this is really up to you and your personality but by linking the new vocabulary to such a strong emotional response the words are almost guaranteed to stick in their heads! If you are a bit on the shy side then maybe your form of comedy is to include a funny GIF instead of a still image when introducing new language, if you are more outgoing then maybe acting out the new vocabulary in an over dramatic way is the best option for you. I use a mix of both in my lessons and it really does lift heads from desks when the subject matter isn’t all that interesting but has to be taught (somethings are unavoidable if they are part of the curriculum).
I can vouch for this from both the teacher point of view and the student point of view having sat in various language classes since I was in primary school. Like most people who went to school in the U.K. I studied a language (our school taught German) from the age of about 8 until the age of 15. The main phrases I remember from German are almost useless “I have one Rabbit” being just one example. The word for Rabbit in German is “Kaninchen” and we found this word very funny in second year of Academy (also known as middle school outside of Scotland) it was just a fun word to say! As a result, this phrase has stuck with me into adult life whereas most of the useful phrases have slipped from my mind…
Another phrase I can think of is more recent and comes from my time in Thailand last year. As odd as it sounds this example does not come from one of our Thai language classes (although there is one that comes to mind when I think of those lessons, but it is too rude for the blog. Those from the course might remember the Thai word for a certain green vegetable that caused a few smirks from orientation week). No this comes from a bonus Afrikaans lesson given to us by our wonderful TEFL instructor Jako. In order to demonstrate his teaching methods to the class, he presented his Afrikaans lesson to us as if he were teaching English to a class of Thai children. I don’t know how many people reading this will agree with me, and I don’t know how many people reading this will even know any Afrikaans but the language is quite similar to English (it is a hybrid language of all the colonies that invaded and colonised South Africa so there are bound to be some similarities). The four of us sitting towards the front of the class definitely saw the similarities, especially when it came to one phrase in particular; “die kussing is op die bed”. Now, I don’t know what happened exactly… whether it was a mix of four similar personalities sitting together, the high energy and enthusiasm that Jako brought to every lesson or just the fact that the sentence was pretty much exactly the same as the sentence in would be English; but the four of us were reduced to a quartet of giggling school girls! I can tell you one thing though, I haven’t forgotten how to say “The pillow is on the bed” in Afrikaans… (yet another very useful phrase in a foreign language, I know).
What I hope these examples show is that if you bring a bit of high energy contagious fun into your classroom then the language is more likely to stick, and not just the obscure phrases. Use this with everything. An example that really got my teenagers laughing recently was during my lesson on directions; I would ask them how to get from the classroom to my office. As they were telling me these directions I would act them out turning left and right and going straight until I got to an obstacle or a window or a door. Then I would either pretend to climb out the window, over the desk or I would actually just walk out the door. This did result in them purposefully aiming me towards these things, but as long as they are using the language I don’t mind standing on a few tables.
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?
Computers are unreliable. Computers in Chinese schools are extra unreliable! There will be times when you arrive in class only to be told by a student that the computer is not working today. What are you going to do?! You spent a whole hour on your lesson plan, you have funny videos to show them and word games that require the code you stored ever so safely on your powerpoint presentation but didn’t think to write down in your notebook!
This all sounds very dramatic and worst-case scenario, but it can happen. Unless you want to sit in silence with your kids for an hour or, even worse, sing that lovely song you had downloaded and planned your lesson around out loud yourself… Having a backup plan for days when technology fails you is vital to your TEFL experience.
The first thing I advise you to do is write your entire lesson plan in a notebook, I have a specific notebook for planning my lessons and while it might seem like a waste of time to write it all down when you have created a perfectly good powerpoint, let me tell you it is an important tool to have. (If you aren’t a fan of handwriting your lesson then you can always use that handy lesson plan template they told you about back when you were learning the ropes. Type it up on your computer, print it out and carry it with you. Personally, I am a fan of the hand-written lesson plan but that is just me!) The reason I encourage you to have your lesson plan to hand at all times is because, when you think about it, your original lesson can most likely be adapted to work without using a computer. Some schools don’t even have computers in the classrooms! So apart from missing out an interesting video or funny gif you can present each class with the same lesson, computer or no computer.
Say for example you are doing a lesson on personality traits, this could rely heavily on a computer for video examples of different personalities. Maybe you have a word game for a warmer, write this word game down in your notebook as well as all the possible answers you can think of (or that the internet told you about, but where’s the fun in that?) It might seem like common sense but honestly sometimes I create the warmer on my laptop and completely forget to write down the actual game in my book, I’ll open my notebook to see that all I have under the warmer heading is “word grid game”. GREAT, AILEEN!! What word did you decide on? What order did you put the letters in so that it isn’t obvious what word you they are trying to find? And what are some answers to the game so that when the students tell you it is too difficult you can rapid fire off some words to show them how easy it actually is?! The game can be easily transcribed from your notebook onto the board and actually I usually write the game on the board anyway to make sure everyone in the class can see it.
Crisis averted, you make it through the warmer and now you move on to presentation, this is where those videos would come in handy. The first thing I recommend is to have flashcards printed out, this was not possible at my school as we did not have access to a printer but if you can print flash cards then do print flash cards!! The second tip I have for this situation is to break out your inner artist and get drawing. Every school will have one of three things; a whiteboard, a blackboard or paper. Write the words alongside little illustrations showing what the word means, you may not be the best at drawing, but this is just an opportunity to have a laugh with your students about your artistic talents or lack thereof…
Then comes the practice section of your lesson. What were those question and answer couplets again? If you power point was working, they would be right at the front of you mind but there is no computer today so what can you do? Have no fear the lesson planning notebook saves the day again! Write down your questions and answers in your lesson plan and not just on your presentation. This actually helps whether you have a working computer or not. Trying to remember the questions and answers with your back to the computer is just asking for a clever student to correct you on your sentence structure. A quick look at your notebook lesson plan and you are sorted. Just make sure that any changes you make to your powerpoint you also make to your notes!
Production is easy, the students do all the hard work there. You can close your book and watch the magic (or chaos depending on the class) happen as your students communicate the new language with each other. No technology needed!
Ok so this is all well and good but what if your lesson can’t be translated from digital to analogue quite so easily? Well I admit that is a bit of a dilemma. The best thing to do in this situation is to have a collection of games that you can fall back on if it is indeed a computer free day. (I will be writing a post soon all about my favourite TEFL games and why they work so keep an eye out for that). There are so many good games out there and the kids will love the fact that they “don’t have to do work” for a whole lesson. Of course, these are educational games so they are still learning… just don’t tell them that.
The last thing I have to say on the theme of having a backup would be to literally have a backup. I have two usb sticks, this might seem like overkill, but my school’s computers tend to occasionally corrupt my usb which is less than ideal. There was even one class that I completely avoided plugging my usb into the computer, for pretty much the whole semester because every time I did it would stop working after that class! So my advice is to save it to your computer, save it to your external hard-drive and then save it on two usb sticks. Take it from someone how has lost a whole semester’s worth of lesson plans… BACK IT UP!
For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?