China Diaries: I’m Sorry, but Where Did This Year Go?

10th December – 22nd December 2019

It’s been two weeks since the disastrous lesson and things seem to have settled down. Class 18 have been won over with point systems and stickers and I had a really successful week teaching weather this past week. In all the last two weeks have been perfectly uneventful, which will probably make this quite a boring read!

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I studied at Art School for four years…
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Dressed for all weather!

Something I never thought I’d be doing when I arrived in China two years ago was evaluating other teachers performances, but that is exactly what I have to do every Wednesday afternoon in the Primary School English department meeting. As of last week I am officially grade one’s representative! The meeting has three stages; first one of the primary school teachers gives an open class while everyone else watches, then we split off into out grades and talk about the lesson with our given focal point (each grade is given a different element of the lesson to focus on in the feedback), the final stage has one teacher from each grade get up on stage to give feedback about the lesson. The first time I did this I was so nervous, which really surprised me because I wasn’t the one being judged! I think it was a little bit of imposter syndrome as even though I’ve been teaching English for two years now I know there are teachers in that auditorium that have been teaching at Sanxin for at least ten years.

I can’t quite believe that December has come around so quickly, I feel like it was only last week I was on my way up to Harbin to celebrate New Year and see the famous Ice Festival but nope, it was a whole year ago! Sometimes the sunshine in the South of China makes you forget what time of year it is and as a result I head into “Christmas Week” kind of forgetting that it is Christmas time! As luck would have it the weather has decided to take a drastic turn and a foggy cold snap has settled over Sanxiang town just in time to get me into the Christmas spirit! I made a conscious effort this weekend to go out and do Christmassy things because otherwise I think the holiday might have passed me by without even thinking about it. I spent Saturday in Zhongshan with my friend doing a little Christmas shopping and I got a Christmassy themed manicure which I’m very happy with! On Sunday I went to see the new Star Wars in the cinema and that is about as close to Christmas movie as you are going to get in China.

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Got to love a Christmas photobooth!
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In LOVE with my Christmas nails!!

On Sunday evening I was invited out to Zhuhai to watch a firework display,  to be honest I was expecting to be down by the river bank looking up at the fireworks and home by 10:30pm. As with anything in China I should have known that this plan would not followed through with… We arrived in Zhuhai two hours early for the display, the display was actually happening in Macau but we would be watching it from the top of a block of flats so we didn’t have to leave China. It was unfortunately a bit foggy so even though we were on the 28th floor, plus three levels because the apartment we were in was a three story penthouse owned by my friend’s husband’s property company, we didn’t have the best view of the fireworks. The view of Zhuhai was pretty amazing though! When the display ended we thought we were going home but the men decided they need barbeque and so we drove for what felt like hours trying to get to the restaurant because half of the roads were closed for the firework display! We eventually arrived back in Sanxiang at midnight and I spent the next hour trying to finish my lesson plan before I went to sleep!!

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View of Zhuhai.
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The only good picture of the fireworks I managed to get!

I will be working on Christmas day for the first time in my life this year and I am not sure how I feel about it. It’s going to be really strange but I have made plans for the evening with wine and Christmas movies, so at least there will be a little celebration. I have just finished reading “Twas the Night Shift Before Christmas” and I have to say it has certainly helped me put my Christmas Day into perspective. If you haven’t heard of it already it is a an ex-doctor’s memoir of his time as a Junior Doctor in the U.K. and all the stories included in this volume are from around the festive season. I highly recommend giving it a read over the holidays and it would make a great Christmas present for any last minute shoppers out there.

All I can do now is hope that my tiny little Christmas Tree makes it to Christmas day… Storm has been determined to sabotage it since I put it up!

 

For more of my China adventures click one of these:

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

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

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

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One of my first lessons back in February 2018.

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

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

Step 1: Warm Up

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

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

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My first lesson with Grade One, 2019.

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

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

Step 2: Gauge Their Proficiency

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

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Hello, My name is Aileen

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

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

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Q: “What is it?” A: “It’s a bird.”

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

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

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

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

Step 3: A Productive Activity That Gets Students Talking

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

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Group work with a high proficiency grade one class.

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

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

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Draw your monster!

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

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

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High five!

Step 4: Cool Down

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

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Nessie by a grade one student, 2019.

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

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

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

For more TEFL Tips click on one of these:

My favourite teaching resources

Warmers and Coolers for any lesson

What’s in my school bag?

China Diaries: This Was Almost a Disaster

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Class 2, Grade 1
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Class 20, Grade 1

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

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Nessie by a student from class 13

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

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

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

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

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Grade 2 entire grade performance, 2019

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

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

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

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

China Diaries: I’m Cursed!

3rd November – 9th November 2019

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

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

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It lasted a good year and a half!

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

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

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

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

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Two days upside down seems to have done the trick…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Level 1. Myanmar

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

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

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

 

  1. Pictionary

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

 

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Level 1 playing Pictionary. Myanmar
  1. Board Race

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

 

  1. Catch and Spell/Say

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

 

  1. Stand Up, Sit Down

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

 

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“Meeeeee”. China
  1. Teacher Says

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

 

  1. Board Slap

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

 

  1. Clapping Chain

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

 

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Grade 1. China
  1. What’s Missing?

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

 

  1. Whisper

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

 

  1. Corners

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

 

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

 

For more TEFL tips check out one of these posts: 

 

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

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

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Rule suggestions from one of my middle school classes. China

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEFL Tip Tuesday: My Five School Bag Essentials

School bag with yoda doll inside

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

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

1. Tissues

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

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You can never have too many tissues! Myanmar

2. Hand Sanitizer

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

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Cute but sticky… China

3. A Ball

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

4. A Water Bottle

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

5. A notebook

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

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Never seen without a notebook in my backpack

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

For more TEFL tips check out one of these posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: 5 Games to Play with Middle School Students.

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.

 

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Teenagers turned out to be less scary than I thought. China

 

  1. Word Finder

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.

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Students playing Word Finder during a lesson on pollution. China

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.

 

  1. Pictionary

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…

 

  1. Decode

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.

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Can you crack the code? China

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.

 

  1. Word Snake

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.

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Word Snake played in a one on one introduction lesson. China

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

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We had fun! China

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!

For more TEFL Tips check out these posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday – Top Five Resources For Any ESL Teacher

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.

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Elementary Class, Myanmar

 

  1. YouTube

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.

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Grade One dancing to “Baby Monkey”, China
  1. Twisty Noodle

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.

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Two Twisty Noodle worksheets combined in one page, China
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Twisty Noodle worksheet used to make Father’s Day cards, Myanmar

 

  1. 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.

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This book has given my adult classes plenty to think about!
  1. Canva

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?!

 

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One of my first Canva worksheets, so quick and easy to create, Myanmar

 

  1. Other Teachers!

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.

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Me and my fellow teachers, Myanmar

 

Honourable Mentions.

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:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: In-class vs Online TEFL courses, which is better?

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!

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My TESOL group in Hua Hin, Thailand

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…)

 

Online

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!

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Who doesn’t love a study sesh in their local coffee shop?!

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!

 

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Friends who study together, stay together!

 

 

In-class

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.

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Office dogs are definitely a plus! Xplore Asia also have a charity that works with the stray dog population in Hua Hin and some of their furry friends hang around the school during the day providing very appreciated cuddles between lessons. 

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.

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Me and my TESOL instructor Jaco (ignore the last name on my certificate… it’s a typo!)

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).

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Weekdays in class, weekends at the beach.

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!

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Hands on practice in an actual Thai school was a stand-out feature of the TESOL course in Thailand for me!

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.

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WE ❤ TESOL

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:

 

For more TEFL tips check out one of my previous posts: