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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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!
Every major trip I’ve taken until now, I’ve done it solo. Some could argue that it’s because I have no friends, but I promise you that is not the case and it isn’t because I don’t like other human beings either, although a little time alone never hurt anyone. I need human interaction just as much as the next person and honestly without someone to debrief to after a long day I think I’d go a little bit stir crazy but at the end of when it comes to travel I alway opt for a solo journey. Why? Well, I have my reasons and if you keep reading you’ll find out!
There is a great sense of freedom that comes with travelling solo, I especially love the fact that you are free to do what you want when you want to do it. When you travel with other people you have to plan around everyones needs and what they want to do. Someone wants to go shopping and someone else wants to go to the beach but then someone else wants to explore the local area by bicycle. Without a leader in the group all you end up doing is going round in circles until you’ve wasted the whole day trying to plan the day! This isn’t always the case of course, sometimes there is a natural leader in the group and plans are made but this alway means a compromise was made somewhere along the way. Travel alone and there’s no wasted time, there’s no compromise and no one knows if you take a cheeky pool day when most people would be expecting you to be immersed in local culture! Some will call it selfish, I call it self-care! Don’t get me wrong group trips can be amazing too but personally I just love the freedom of solo travel a little bit more.
When I do travel with a group I find myself feeling responsible for everyone, I’m a people pleaser so the stress of trying to make everyone happy all of the time can be a bit overwhelming for me. I especially feel this kind of stressful responsibility in airports, for some reason I feel like it’s my job to get everyone to the gate and organised when really they are all adults and if they miss the flight it’s their own fault! I love airports when I’m by myself but in a group I can’t relax until we are all in the air.
It’s Easier to Make New Friends
If you travel with one or more friends the chances are you will stick together, nothing wrong with that but I find it much easier to make new friends if I’m by myself. Groups can be a bit of a safe space for me, but when I travel alone it forces me to talk to new people to find out information. Sometimes these conversations don’t go much further than getting directions or the information you were looking for but they can also lead to a longer conversation and as a result a new friend. This new friend might invite you on a day trip or a night out while you’re both in the country but it doesn’t have to be anything more than that and you aren’t tied to their itinerary for the rest of your travels.
It Will Build Your Confidence
When I travel with friends I tend to let them do the talking, mainly because I don’t want to be responsible for anything that goes wrong… Travelling by myself has taught me that things are bound to go wrong at some point and as a result my confidence in planning a trip, asking for directions and organising transportation has definitely increased. Having only yourself to rely on forces you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do things that you don’t usually do for yourself. If things go wrong, they go wrong. It’s part of the fun of travelling!
The Destination is Your Choice
If you want to go somewhere, don’t wait for someone to go there with you! Nothing is stopping you from seeing the world but you, so pack your bag and just go. When you travel with other there will inevitably be a compromise somewhere along the way. While compromising is a part of life and being able to accept compromise is definitely a desirable trait, you should also be able to see the world on your own terms. Not having anyone to go with is not an excuse!
I feel like it is important to note that travelling solo has its flaws too, it can be lonely at times and in some places it just isn’t safe to travel alone. I’m happy with a good balance between my solo travelling and meeting up with friends along the way but its not for everyone.
What do you think? Is travelling solo better than travelling with friends? Are there any other advantages to travelling alone?
To read about some of my adventures, solo or otherwise, click on one of the links below:
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?