Incredible vegetables – B2 – Use of English Part 3

I guess spring is in the air, and it makes me more inclined towards healthy food and keeping fit topics. This time we’ll look into different vegetables and their health benefits. This will lead towards the lesson focus and the nemesis of Cambridge exam candidates – Use of English and word formation.

This post and lesson plan is inspired by Stephanie Valerio and her blog post titled B2 Word Formation Sudoku. When I saw it, I knew that I have to find a way to incorporate this incredible idea and spread this game all around. So thank you, Stephanie! I hope that this lesson plan will do your activity some justice.

This lesson is prepared for online/hybrid classes. It contains a lesson plan (with all the answers) and a presentation. Click the files at the end of the post to get your free copies.

Once again, I was going through free Cambridge Sample papers and found a Use of English Part 3 task titled An Incredible Vegetable. You can get your copy of this task with all the answers included from Sample Paper 1 for B2 First.

The first part of the lesson is based on a short YouTube video on the health benefits of certain vegetables titled Foods That Look Like Body Parts Give Clues To Their Health Benefits by ELLICSR Kitchen.

Start the class by showing pictures of foods from the video: walnut, carrot, tomato, olives and Brazilian nut. Students name the vegetables and nuts and match them with body parts that they resemble. Watch the video and check the answers. Discuss if students knew about the health benefits of these foods and if they have tried them before. Check if students remember what they have just watched and ask to write the health benefits of each. Watch again to see the answers and complete the list of health benefits.

Introduce the Reading and Use of English Part 3 by showing a picture of garlic and naming it. Ask if students enjoy it and what are its possible health benefits. Show an official exam task titled An Incredible Vegetable and read it for gist. Elicit some benefits mentioned in the text, e.g. infection resistance, killing bacteria and viruses, useful for coughs and cold, etc.

If it’s the first time that your students do this type of task, you may want to explain the rules and approach to be successful. Mention that one of the strategies is looking at the gaps and thinking about the type of missing words, e.g. noun (plural/singular?), verb, adjective, adverb, etc. Go over each gap and think of the types of missing words. If you have a strong group, you may want to encourage them to predict the missing words at this stage.

Show the base words in alphabetical order and give students some time to think about their different forms. Once everyone has completed the table to the best of their abilities, go over and write the answers. Make sure to include the words that will be used in the exam task later on! Once everyone has their cheatsheets ready, reveal the base words corresponding to each gap. Give students a maximum of five minutes to complete the task by changing the words to fit the gaps. Check and discuss the answers. This class shouldn’t cause too many problems to your students, as you have done the majority of it together.

Finish the class with a fun word-formation sudoku game created by Stephanie! Divide students into pairs and ask them to complete the sudoku – the first group to solve it correctly wins.

The use of English is a pain, and it’s so hard to turn it into a fun class, but I hope that you enjoyed my idea and will adapt it to your lesson! And what about Stephanie’s sudoku? That brain teaser will help many students memorise the new words and their spelling.

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Starters – Listening Part 4 – FRUIT!

Language exams can be taken at pretty much any age possible – very young learners included! There are many opinions for and against examining children. Some people believe that we need to prepare to take exams early on, and get ready for the adult world, filled with examinations, courses and certificates. Others believe that children shouldn’t be subjected to this type of stress and all YL education should be done through playtime and games. In my opinion, we should have the best of both worlds, and the Starters Cambridge exam proves that it’s possible to test the language level of young learners while keeping it light and fun.

Before I moved onto the digital world of teaching and started focusing on teenagers and adults, I used to teach (very) young learners in person. My groups were divided into Cambridge levels – Starters, Movers and Flyers. At the end of every trimester, I had to deliver a personalised assessment of each student, all of it supported by their final score for the Cambridge mock exam. Based on their final results, I decided which student could take the official Cambridge exam and move to a higher-level group.

For this reason, we used Cambridge exam preparation coursebooks (Fun for Starters) and Cambridge past papers. The exams are simple and relatively fun, for example, there are anagrams in the reading exam and lots of colouring in the listening exam. My favourite part of the Starters exam is Listening Part 4. I always enjoyed my students at the highest concentration levels, looking for the right colours as if their lives depended on it!

I have been working on exam-style vocabulary worksheets for Starters for some time now. When I saw free Starters Practice Papers 2 with a perfect Listening Part 4 activity, I decided to finally use my worksheets and prepare an exam preparation lesson plan for VYL.

Head to the end of the post to get a free set of worksheets focusing on fruit, or go to my TpT store to get the full version, including sixteen words related to fruit and vegetables.

Download the fruit flashcards, print them out, and if possible, laminate them! Hide the fruit flashcards/realia around the classroom. Tell students that there are eight fruits hidden in the room. Students walk around and find them. As they give them back to you, ask them to repeat their names after you. Ask them to sit down and repeat the new vocabulary after you. Finish by showing the flashcards for a split second. Students say the fruit they think they saw. Then, place flashcards on the floor and say the name of the fruit. Students race to touch the correct flashcard. You can change instructions to touch the fruit of a particular colour.

Time for a settler. Hand out anagram worksheets. Students order the letters and write the names of fruits. You can put the flashcards on the board to help them with the spelling and the letter shape. Follow this activity by completing a picture dictionary. Students cut out the pictures of fruit and stick them on top of the corresponding names. It’s also a good activity to practise reading aloud.

It’s time to prepare students for the listening part of the lesson. Give each student five coloured pineapples (green, purple, orange, blue, red). If you have more time, you can ask students to colour them instead. Say the colour of the pineapple and ask students to put them in different places, for example, Put the orange pineapple under the table. This exercise should serve as a revision of colours, prepositions of place and prepare students to follow instructions correctly.

Students come back to their places. Hand out the Cambridge Starters Listening Part 4. Before you start the task, ask them to name all the fruits that they can see. Count all the pineapples and elicit where they are. You can also ask them about the colour of the pineapple on the clock. Students take out their coloured pencils. Play the recording and give them time to colour the pineapples as instructed by the recording. Check and correct the answers.

Finish by asking students to stand in line. Stand in front of your students, facing them. Show the flashcards of fruit and repeat their names. Ask if students like that fruit or not. If they do, they run to the right, if not, they run to the left. Clean the working stations and give some time to pack the backpacks. Before leaving the classroom, show a flashcard to each student and elicit vocabulary. If the answer is correct, they can leave.

If you enjoyed my idea for the listening part 4 lesson, click the files below to get your copies. If you want the full version, or worksheets focusing on another vocabulary (body parts, domestic animals, wild animals and food), go to my TpT store.

5 ways of keeping private students

Ever since I started working with private students, I quickly realized that this is what I’m good at, and as a result, I love doing it. I think that it’s safe to say that I think about my students a lot. I always think about new lesson ideas and plan classes that will benefit them the most. However, once the prepaid classes come to an end, I start to sweat just a tiny bit – what if they quit, and it’s the last time I see them?

Teaching adults and teenagers was always something that I really enjoyed. Now that I work online and the majority of my classes are 1:1, I get to be a bit pickier and teach what I want and how I want to. There are some disadvantages to this situation, which I’ve talked about before in The flakiness of adult students. To be frank, there are more advantages and with the right approach, it’s possible to avoid any issues. In the beginning, I had some hiccups here and there, which were necessary and served me as a lesson. Now I understand 1:1 teaching a bit more. That’s why I thought of five ways in which you can ensure your students don’t disappear from one day to another.

Write down any important information

I’m aware of how creepy it sounds. However, in my opinion, this is possibly the most important piece of information. I came to this realization about a week ago while making small talk with one of my students. She’d mentioned to me before very personal and important news. The truth be told, I’d forgotten about it and only remembered it when I saw her in class. Naturally, I asked about her well-being and noticed that her mood shifted for the better (luckily). I could tell that she appreciated my concern and liked that I checked up on her.

This was my starting point on taking short notes on each of my students. Before, all my notes focused on language-related issues, ways of improving and important dates. Now, each file contains a little note on their birthdays, likes and dislikes, hobbies, family members and some past experiences. I do this with the intention of using it in one of my future lessons. It shows that I listen, care about them and their lives. The notes are there only to help me remember and make sure that I don’t confuse one student with another. Plus, who doesn’t like when a relatively random person remembers and wishes them on their birthdays!

Personalised classes

Once I gather information on their interests, it’s much easier to plan and prepare engaging lessons. There are times when I mind my own business when I stumble upon something that I think one of my students would enjoy, and try to use it next time in my class. Of course, it’s much more difficult to do that when working at an academy or with a larger group of students, when you have a syllabus to follow and all the topics are rather broad. In the case of 1:1 lessons, you can go over general topics, or you can go deep into a rabbit hole and explore any niche possible.

For my aspiring actress student, the lessons tend to be centred around pop culture, musicals, psychology and expressing oneself. For my digital marketer student, I like to prepare lessons on social media, attracting customers and marketing psychology. For my future fisherman, we focus on technical language and environmental impacts of fishing in Spain. It takes more effort to prepare these lessons, but I enjoy learning new things and stepping away (at least for a little bit) from the exam preparation. The most important thing is that I like when they like my lessons.

Be understanding, empathetic and approachable

Even though it’s good to have some kind of insurance and introduce a cancellation policy, it’s also important to be understanding. Private students choose your classes because they may have an irregular schedule and for this reason can’t attend group lessons. Currently, I’ve got three students who need to tell me their availability at the end of each class. At first, I was hesitant, but I got the hang of it now. We always manage to find the day and time that best fits our schedules. They are also more than welcome to message me in case of emergency or if they feel like taking a day off and prefer to postpone a class.

I can’t remember how many times I got a message to postpone the lesson by an hour or a few days, because of a delivery, spontaneous trip or mental health day. It may seem like a hassle, but the truth is, it’s not a big deal. Things happen and I know that if I’m understanding, they’ll be understanding if one day something happens to me. It doesn’t happen often, but there were a few occasions in which I needed to move the class to some other day or even teach on Saturday (or Sunday!). I’m not a big fan of working at the weekends, but it doesn’t bother me too much, now that I work for myself.

Similarly, I don’t get angry if someone cancels English lessons because of personal reasons. People tend to overexplain and make sure that I know that it’s them, not me. I never expect any explanation. If they have a bad personal situation, struggle financially, or just lost motivation – that’s ok! Cancelling English lessons, shouldn’t stress you out.

Be knowledgeable

I always prepare for all of my lessons. If there is a topic that I feel a bit unsure of, I research it and practise it myself first. I read all the texts beforehand and think about the parts that may be difficult. This shows that I put effort into the lessons, and don’t just show up to the class empty-handed.

At the same time, if there’s something that I didn’t predict, I admit it and come back to it next class. I do it in this way because I don’t want to sound and look unprofessional in front of my students. They always appreciate honesty and understand that it’s impossible to know everything. It has happened to me quite recently. I overestimated my C1 level student knowledge and prepared a very basic explanation because I assumed that she knows it. My assumption was based on observation and the fact that she has used this type of structure before. When it came to grammar practice, she got lost and I simply ran out of time to get into it. So the next class was all about this, from start to finish. I apologized for my mistake, and that time we did it properly. There were no hard feelings towards the end and she was thankful, for planning this class while thinking about her and her needs.

Open up to your students

I always welcome my students to open up to me and talk about themselves and their lives (only if they want). Similarly, I include some of my information in classes, too. I tell them about my experience, travels, friendships, relationships (A bad date)… Anything to make the classes more realistic and make them feel that they’re using the language naturally. I love the feeling when they forget that they speak English and just talk. For example, for my B1 level students, I’ve prepared a lesson on prepositions of time, in which I talk about my trip to Singapore. I share my story and normally answer follow-up questions about the trip. I think it’s so much better than a dry textbook story about an imaginary person. It also engages and makes them want to share their pictures and stories with me.

I don’t think that it’s possible to be a perfect teacher. So far, I was able to convince all of my students to stay with me after the trial lessons. Unfortunately, I know that there will be a time when I find someone who doesn’t want to work with me, or who will resign after a few lessons. Until that day comes, I’m not going to think about it. For the time being, I’m going to focus on my current students and help them reach their language goals to the best of my abilities.

How do you make sure that your students are happy and want to stay with you?

The science of attraction – C1 listening

February is such a cold month associated with such a warm day! In this class, let’s talk about the truth behind physical attraction to another person while following the audio version of a TED-Ed video. The video talks about the science of attraction and explains all the fuzzy, gooey feelings we may get when meeting someone new.

So it happened. I fell into a rabbit hole of TED-Ed videos! After basing an A2+ lesson plan on the Chinese Zodiac, I started wondering if I can find something to show to my students on Valentine’s Day. Initially, I wanted to do a scientific class explaining how the heart works – a young learners lesson plan. But then I found a video called The science of attraction and got hooked almost right away.

This year my main focus is on C1 Cambridge exam preparation. That’s why I thought I should turn this TED-Ed video into a CAE listening part 2 task. Scroll to the end of this post to get the lesson plan and the presentation (with answers) for free!

Start the class by writing in the middle of the board – Why are we attracted to certain people and not others? Give a minute to think about different reasons and take five answers from different students. Write them around the question, so that it resembles the speaking part 3 exam task. Divide students into pairs and give them 2 minutes to discuss and decide which of these options is the most probable and why. If you teach 1:1 or have a bit weaker group, you can present them with the diagram below to discuss. Collect answers and provide feedback.

Divide students into groups or pairs and ask them to think about the five main components of attraction. If you want to make it a bit easier or ensure that the answers don’t repeat from the lead-in, you can say that they are all related to the human body. Once everyone has their predicted answers, play the audio of the TED-Ed video. I would recommend NOT showing the video, as it contains a lot of visuals that will give away the answers right away and may be more distracting rather than useful. Play the whole video and check the answers. The answers are eyes (sight), nose (smell), ears (hearing), touch and taste.

Now would be the best time to go over any new words that students heard while listening for gist. If you think that none of the words should impede the understanding of listening for detail, you can move on to the next part.

If it’s the first time doing this type of exercise, you can explain that it is based on CAE – listening part 2, in which students need to listen to a longer recording and fill out the gaps with the missing words. Tell them that they should write between one to three words, and any misspelt words will not count to their point count. They should write what they hear – not synonyms!

Proceed by reading a short text with nine gaps. Give students about 40 seconds to read the text and then play the recording one more time. Students write down the answer and compare them with each other. In case of any issues, play the recording one last time, just like in the exam. Alternatively, you can show the video with the transcript for better understanding.

Follow up the video/recording with a short discussion. Do your students agree with the notion that attraction is purely biological? What about people falling in love over the internet? What does love mean to them?

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Valentine’s Day-themed C1 speaking

There are only a few days left until Valentine’s Day. Why not take a breather from exam preparation, and talk about something that all teens and young adults love – love. If you want to talk about romance and everything related, have a look at this no preparation Cambridge C1 exam speaking practice.

One of my favourite things to do is themed speaking exams. In my continuously growing series, you can find Halloween – B2 and Christmas – B1Finally, the time has come to give some fun to advanced students.

Just like any other Cambridge speaking exam, the one for CAE students is made of four parts – talking about personal details, picture comparison, discussion on a random topic and opinion-based questions. This lesson consists of the examiner’s speaking guide (I followed the steps given in the C1 Sample Papers 1) and a presentation that can be used in online and hybrid lessons.

I like to follow the steps of the speaking exam, but at the same time, keep it quite relaxed. If you want to keep it more formal, you can start this exam by asking students about their names and where they live. Even though in the actual exam students don’t need to spell anything, I normally start this task by giving them eight new advanced words. It’s a good way to introduce topic related words while refreshing the alphabet. The new words are: betrothed, courtship, devotion, embrace, heartthrob, smitten, yearning and woo. Students should be familiar with some of them. Finish this part by asking about Valentine’s Day experience and how people normally celebrate this day in their countries.

In part 2, candidates need to compare two out of three pictures and answer two questions in one minute. Of course, since it’s a special day, you may want to allow them to practise their fluency and natural speaking, instead of focusing on the time limit. The first set of pictures shows people celebrating Valentine’s Day in three different ways, having a romantic dinner, going hiking and going to a couple’s massage (a SPA day). Candidate A discusses why the people might be celebrating Valentine’s Day in these ways and how they might be feeling. The second set of pictures shows people receiving Valentine’s Day gifts, an engagement ring, flowers and chocolates, and breakfast in bed. Candidate B talks about why the people might choose to give such presents and how they may bring happiness to the gift receivers.

Now it’s time for students to talk to each other. Ask a question why do people may choose to decide not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, surrounded by five prompt answers: public display of affection (PDA), celebrating love every day, religion, consumerism, too expensive. Give two minutes to discuss the option and then ask students to decide which of these reasons is the most significant to them.

Finish speaking exam with opinion-based questions on Valentine’s Day. I tried to keep the questions as light-hearted as possible. After all, you want to have fun and not stress your students or create any conflict!

Since the topic of love and relationships can be quite controversial and intrusive, I think that choosing to do this class will depend on the country and its culture. I teach in Spain where discussing relationships isn’t problematic. Another thing is to keep it age-appropriate. I would suggest this lesson for teenagers and young adults – minimum 15 years old. Younger students may find it annoying, not relevant and intrusive. Remember that the main objective of this class is for students to have a day off, so if they choose not to answer a question (especially from Part 1), should be understood.

Click below to download the examiner’s notes and the C1 speaking presentation.

Can you be a good teacher after a CELTA 100% online course?

I’ve talked about it many times and I will say it again – taking CELTA was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my teaching life. It boosted my confidence and taught me many tips and tricks on how to be an even better teacher. However, recently I saw something that got me thinking – Can you be a good teacher after taking an (online) CELTA?

The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a conversation between two English teachers, Craig Burrows and Javier Martín. They discussed the unfairness of the ESL industry and hiring non-experienced native speakers with a CELTA qualification over non-native speakers with degrees and years of work experience. I read their back and forth with great interest and started thinking about my situation.

In my very first blog post – CELTA – one year later, I talked about my humble beginnings and how the course got me to where I am now. Because of the current situation, I attended one of the very first CELTA 100% online courses. In fact, it was one of the silver linings of the lockdown and being stuck home with ERTE. Getting the qualification was easier than ever, without the hassle of leaving the house, rearranging the schedule and a long commute to Seville. However, there are many times when I wonder if I hadn’t had any prior teaching experience, would I feel the same about this online course? Probably not.

I loved every component of CELTA, but I’m not entirely sure how a month-long course can shape you into a professional teacher. Teaching isn’t easy, and people spend years perfecting this craft. That’s why I understand why so many professionals may feel that such a short course is a mockery, and people with only one certificate suddenly become ‘experts’ in this matter, especially after getting this title online.

Despite having a Pass A, something I talked about here, there are times when the imposter syndrome kicks in, and I question myself. Many times I started wondering if I had taken this course in person, would I still be able to get the same result? Can this online course prepare you for the real world of teaching?

Time management

One of the main differences between teaching online and teaching in class is time management. In my opinion, it’s way easier to follow your lesson plan and stick to the schedule when teaching online. First of all, you can see the time passing without making it obvious. The clock is right there! I remember having my lesson plans right in front of me. Before starting, I would write the starting time and quickly calculate the time when I should ideally finish each activity. For instance, if I started a task at 11:30, I would write the beginning of the next task at 11:37, so once the clock showed the time, I’d swiftly move on to the next activity. I’d say that 90% of the time, I predicted the length of each activity down to a minute. Now, comparing it to my classroom experience, the statistics look a bit worse. In a classroom, I emerge myself in this environment and can’t control the time with that precision. I think it would be just awkward if I kept looking at my watch, the same way I do it when I teach online.

Technical issues

At the beginning of the course, we spent an additional hour or two learning how to use Zoom. We had the opportunity to practise sharing the screen and sound (or both), pausing the screen, opening and closing breakout rooms, becoming and giving away the host, and many more. Luckily, my Internet connection was stable, fast and overall reliable. It helped me reduce some of the stress levels, which were already at an all-time high. Unfortunately, some of my fellow colleagues were not this lucky. I was more than sure that they would have had a much higher success rate if they took the course in person. Just to paint the picture, there were some instances of showing the wrong screen (or nothing at all!), not being able to share the recordings or getting stuck on one exercise and not being able to switch between PDFs and presentations. Even though we were not assessed on our use of technology, the lack of computer skills affected their overall performance.

This reminds me of the time at the beginning of the course, when I was observing a class. The trainee teacher wanted to put everyone into breakout rooms. Unlucky for me, he omitted me and left me alone in the main room. I spent about 8 minutes looking at the black screen waiting for everyone to come back. I didn’t want to bother them and create chaos. We discussed this during the feedback session and had a laugh about it. After all, it was better to leave one of the teachers in a ditch, rather than one of the students!

Now, imagine that you are giving a top teaching performance, but some of your students can’t follow because of some issues on their side. On top of teaching and following your schedule, you are expected to solve their problem. It’s not exactly your problem, but obviously, you feel bad and want everyone to have a good experience. If someone had some kind of problem in a classroom, you would try to help them.

In order to avoid all the technical problems, we would meet up 30 minutes before each teaching practice to test our equipment. In case someone couldn’t open a file or play a recording, one of the trainees would help them out. This was one of the positives of this situation – we created strong and healthy relationships with each other.

Pair work control and teacher feedback

When it comes to pair/group work in a classroom setting, you can easily tune in and out of any conversation. When you teach online, you need to jump in between the breakout rooms and hope that you’ll be able to catch some issues and address them during feedback. As I mentioned before, we had a great relationship with one another.

We quickly reached an agreement that at least one of the other trainees would be always watching a pair or a group for us. In this way, while you were controlling all the technical aspects of Zoom, you had eyes and ears everywhere. Since we were all in a ninja mode (all cameras and microphones were off and all the non-video participants were hidden), it was easy to do and not very intrusive for the students. Zoom has a private message option that we would use with other teachers. If one of the monitors notices some issues with pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, they would send a short message explaining the situation. Like this, we could finish the class with error corrections and had a solid list of things that we could discuss. This is something that we wouldn’t be able to do in a classroom!

Material preparation

There is something comforting about having all the materials ready and printed out, knowing that they are there on your desk and you can get them whenever you need to. This feeling is a bit more stressful when you need to share all your materials via Zoom. You assume that everyone knows how to download files from the chat, they know how to open them on their computers and share them with everyone else if necessary. It’s also good to know that they can send you their work if you practice writing. The truth is, it wasn’t that easy. When splitting students into pairs, we would normally divide them into one that knew how to use Zoom and the other one that didn’t. We did it for the sake of saving time and making sure that we can fulfil our plans as scheduled. That meant that we didn’t always put them into pairs based on their English levels.

Classroom management

If you have never taught in person, CELTA 100% online won’t help you with it. We had a brief input session on classroom arrangement and how sitting positions can be used for different activities. We never got to play around with this idea, though. I must admit that it did remove a lot of stress, as online, everyone was in the spot where you wanted them to be.

Our trainers encouraged us to practise teaching in many different ways. However, it always ended with a good PowerPoint presentation and following the plan by hopping through the slides. We didn’t have to plan the whiteboard distribution beforehand, as our presentations were used as whiteboards. Even though we did talk about the use of digital whiteboards in online classes, none of us ever took that challenge. We had a lot on our plates and there was no need to make it more challenging than it already was. Now that I think of it, using a presentation saves a lot of time compared to writing everything on the board!

I know that some academies frown upon having an online CELTA course, and before taking the course, the trainers assured us that it wouldn’t be mentioned on our certificates (it wasn’t). Clearly, I don’t regret taking the course. I think that having previous teaching experience helped a lot. I think about it as driving – I knew how to use a car after passing the exam, but I only felt comfortable driving after months of doing it daily! Once no one is watching, you dare to experiment with different methods, you try things that may end up being a total hit or miss…and that’s ok! The bottom line is that it’s better to have a certificate than not. So if you still haven’t got yours and you’re thinking of becoming an ESL teacher, then you shouldn’t wait any longer! I promise that it is worth every penny!

What fills your heart?

The day of love is swiftly coming our way and there’s no way but celebrate it – especially with the young students! The trick is that young learners don’t think about love romantically, and I think that there is no better day to show them that there are so many different types of love. All need to be celebrated equally.

A year ago, I entered my Movers class and asked them if they were excited about the upcoming Valentine’s Day. To my surprise, they couldn’t care less and were almost disgusted by it. That’s because they thought about it as a holiday you celebrate with your boyfriend/girlfriend. I couldn’t disagree more! I started researching activities that we could do to celebrate this occasion and take some rest from the coursebook. Let me show you a few of the activities that we did that day, and let’s hope that they’ll serve as inspiration for your classes this year.

The mystery sentence

This activity can be done in person, online, or hybrid. Show students a mystery picture covered by fifteen numbered boxes. Each box has a Valentine’s Day vocabulary definition attached to it. If students answer correctly, click on the box to remove it. You can make it into a game by dividing students into pairs or small groups. The first group to decipher the mystery sentence hiding behind the picture wins!

If you want to make this game a bit more random, you can put the numbers on a wheel of fortune (Wheel of names is an excellent and free online tool to do that), or cut them out and put the numbers in a box, so the students have no way of choosing the number they want! You can also keep a tally of correct answers and determine the winner in this way.

You can follow up this activity with a short discussion on Valentine’s Day. Ask about the date when we celebrate this day and what we normally do (give presents or flowers, say I love you to people we love, spend this day with people we care about). Ensure that students understand that this is the day to show our appreciation for everyone and everything we love.

Match the halves of broken hearts

You can do this activity after the first one, or it can be a stand-alone exercise. Print out the worksheet with pictures of broken hearts on it. Each piece has a part of a word that needs to be matched with the other half. Cut them out and give them to each student or pair. Students put the words together and glue them in an appropriate order. If they love arts and crafts, they can also colour and decorate their hearts. Additionally, you can ask them to put them in alphabetical order before sticking them onto the paper.

Reinforce the meanings of the words by filling the gaps in the sentences with these words. Students work individually and write down the words. Practise reading and pronunciation while checking the answers. Optionally, ask your students to write two or three other sentences if you feel that they need some more writing practice.

What fills your heart?

As I said before, I wanted to prove to my students that Valentine’s Day isn’t only about a romantic type of love. After endless research for the perfect activity, I found a Heart Map Writing Activity by Elisabeth Montgomery. Click the link to download the worksheet for free! You can approach this activity in a few ways, depending on how much time you’ve got on your hands.

  1. Print out My Heart Maps and in each piece write things that they love (people, things, animals, activities, places, etc.) Anything that comes to their minds! Students draw the things and decorate the hearts.
  2. Print out My Heart Maps and cut out the pieces. Each student receives nine pieces of the heart and writes down in each one the things they love. Once everyone completes the writing part, ask them to put the puzzle together in the shape of the heart. Students put the puzzle and glue it onto a separate piece of paper. Complete the project by drawing the things they love and decorating their hearts.
  3. If you work online, you can create a google drive document, or a jamboard and put the name of each student on top of each slide. Students write the things they love and decorate their hearts by drawing them or finding appropriate pictures on the internet and pasting them onto their hearts.

The PDF by Elisabeth Montgomery also gives a short follow-up idea for a writing activity. Students write a few sentences describing people, things, places and activities they drew in their Heart Maps. Monitor the activity and help with any grammar problems. You can finish the class by displaying their Map Hearts and writings.

Last year, I was teaching a hybrid class, so I had to approach it a bit differently. Firstly, I drew a big heart on the board and asked students what fills their hearts. I collected their answers and wrote them inside of the heart. Then I asked them to personalize their projects. My in-class students got a printed out version of the heart, pencils, crayons and markers to write down their words and decorate the hearts. My online students (I had two at the time), were shown a presentation split into two parts. Each part had a heart on one side and their names on top to avoid confusion. They used an annotation tool on Zoom to write the things and then drew and coloured each part.

All the activities can be downloaded directly from this post or the Teachers pay teachers store – Valentine’s Day – a set of three activities and Valentine’s Day – A mystery sentence PPT.

Here are some ideas that you can use in your young learners class! Your kids will definitely appreciate a much-needed break from using their textbooks and thinking about what they truly love and enjoy in their lives. How are you going to celebrate Valentine’s Day in your class?

Cambridge CAE – Writing Part 2 (review)

Do you know of anyone who has changed the world for the better? Someone who has positively impacted society? Using a free CAE writing exam, we will discuss the topic and teach advanced students how to write a successful review. All while following the writing assessment criteria.

The other day, I was preparing an advanced lesson plan for one of my General English students. I usually look for inspiration all around and often go to my all-time favourite coursebook – English File C1.1 by Oxford Publishing. One of the units deals with book and film reviews and gives a wide range of vocabulary that can be used to describe them. That’s when I felt inspired to use this class and adapt it to my CAE student – a passionate acting student, interested in art, literature and films.

I want her to be engaged in the topic and at the same time, I want her to learn how to answer each part of the Cambridge exam successfully. That’s why I headed to the Cambridge English website and downloaded their free C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, which offers free exams and explanations for successful writing exams. I’m always up for using free official resources and adapting them to my class. I feel like this is the most insightful and reliable source you can find.

The lesson plan and the presentation with all the links needed to complete the class are available to download for free at the end of the post!

The lesson starts by showing posters of six impactful films and asking students about the people shown in the pictures and what they may have in common. I tried to include some classics (Schindler’s List), some oldies (Gorillas in the Mist) and some new films (Hidden Figures). All of them are quite well-known, and your students should have seen at least a few of them. The common factor is that they tell stories of people who had a positive impact on society. If your students watched some of those films, you can elicit examples of the ways in which they impacted society. Ask if they know of anyone else, famous or not, who also made/is making a difference in the world.

Show a picture of Audrey Hepburn and ask if anyone knows who she is. As the picture from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most iconic in the world, your students should be familiar, at least with her image. Say that you’re going to watch a short video on Audrey Hepburn. Ask to predict who she was: Audrey Hepburn – an international m__________ s__________, f__________ i__________ and h___________. Watch the first 20 seconds of the video, Audrey Hepburn – International Superstar, Fashion Icon, & Humanitarian by Biography, and elicit the answers (movie star, fashion icon and humanitarian).

Read eight questions about Audrey Hepburn and watch the whole video (you can turn on the subtitles if necessary). Students answer the questions with short answers. Did they know about the humanitarian side of Audrey Hepburn? Were they surprised? Ask if the video convinced them to read a biography about Audrey Hepburn’s life.

Read a book review (you can find it in the C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, page 45). Ask if this review convinced them to read the book. Do they think that it’s a good review? What would they change about it? The most common answer will be the lack of paragraphs and many spelling errors. Students divide it into four paragraphs (introduction, point 1, point 2, recommendation) and correct any errors they can find.

After reading the review, say that this is a piece of writing based on a real Cambridge exam task. Ask to predict two main points of the exam task. Show the exam task and see how close they were to the real answer.

Present the writing assessment scale and explain how it works. The maximum number of points students may get in each part is 20 points – 5 points for content, 5 points for communicative achievement, 5 points for organisation and 5 points for language. Students read the answer one more time and score it out of 20. Check and discuss their answers. Compare their scores to the one given by the Cambridge examiner. Are they surprised by any of the comments? Not only does this task explain any doubts about the scoring system, but it also shows how strict or lenient the examiners are. Remind them about the importance of having clear answers, as examiners read tens of identical pieces of writing, and clear organisation will be reflected in their final score.

Set the homework task. Students think about the film or book that focused on a person who made an important contribution to society. Brainstorm some ideas and if you have enough time, students may plan their answers and present them to you and the rest of the class.

Click below to download the lesson plan and the presentation.

The horror of teaching Young Learners

I feel like this post needs a little disclaimer, so here it goes. Disclaimer: all the stories and opinions written below are my own and come from my personal experience teaching in Spain. Teaching (very) young learners can be rewarding and a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone! We need to remember that even the youngest students are still students, should be treated with respect and be surrounded by professionals who know how to give them what they need.

Teaching young learners comes with a stigma. During my time teaching ESL in Spain, I have met only ONE person who truly loved teaching young learners. All the other teachers treated those lessons as a chore, this thing that you do twice a week and forget about it as soon as it ends. This thing that you don’t teach – you survive.

I’m not proud to say this, but I was the same. When I first started teaching ESL, I was excited to teach English to adults and teenagers. I was able to discuss many things, play adult games, joke around…with kids it was a different story. Every week, I struggled thinking about the types of activities we could do. I tried to keep it fresh and entertaining, bring a lot of games, research crafts that we could do as a group. I spent hours looking for the perfect tasks. There were times when all my efforts paid off, and the students loved everything we did. However, more often than not, that just wasn’t the case, and I’d finish the class feeling disappointed and stressed thinking about next week. I had six hours teaching non-stop, starting with a group of VYL and ending with adults, and I’d always tell myself, If you survive the first hour, the rest will be a breeze.

I tried to think of the reasons why I felt this way and different ways in which I could improve. Here are some things that came to my mind.

Going outside your comfort zone

I think that this sentiment is shared by so many of my fellow ESL teachers for one common reason – language academies expect ESL teachers to go out of their comfort and expertise zones. I can’t think of a situation in which a public school teacher has such a variety of students, level and age-wise. A kindergarten teacher focuses on VYL, and a high school teacher deals with teenagers. Then why do ESL teachers need to know how to cater for 3 year-olds and an hour later have a business class? One hour you do the Hockey-Pokey and the next you discuss the socio-economic problems of your country.

I remember having a YL class sandwiched in between two adult lessons. Let me tell you, that wasn’t fun. I’d quite literally roll on the floor with the kids, dust off my pants, fix my hair and suddenly act all professional. It was ridiculous. I asked my boss if I could wear more comfortable clothes for the YL classes and I wasn’t allowed to do that, because I had an adult class right after and there was no time to change. Plus, when we did crafts…let’s not talk about the chaotic cleanup and table moving.

I understand that ESL teachers often need to educate themselves on different topics, sometimes the ones that they’re not even interested in, just to provide a topical and engaging class. But this seems to be somewhat extensive, hence mentally exhausting.

Hiring non-professionals to teach children

Another thing that quite literally drives me crazy, is hiring non-professionals to teach young learners. I’m CELTA certified and feel best surrounded by students aged 12 years old and up. However, there is a belief that adult students need to be treated with respect and require a professional (at least professional-looking) teacher to keep them satisfied. The children don’t need that because they don’t know any better.

I strongly believe that kids need to be in the presence of a professionally trained teacher more than adults for many different reasons. First of all, children may need your assistance with most basic tasks like going to the toilet. In my first year of teaching, I had a group of eleven 3 year-olds, and at least two of them had to go and usually needed me to help them out. This meant that I had to leave the other children alone in the class while assisting the one child (I didn’t have an assistant).

Secondly, I knew how to plan an engaging lesson for adults, but I struggled with thinking of new ideas for the children. I was aware that they needed a lot of repetition, so I’d start every class with vocabulary revision. However, I couldn’t think of any new material, which kept me busy all weekends, researching and worrying about the classes. On the flip side, once I got more comfortable, I found a bunch of useful websites that provide ready lessons plans and games. I frequently visited ESL Kids Stuff which offers over 60 free lessons plans! WOW English YouTube channel has many interesting ideas for classroom games. I always tried to use some of their activities to make my classes more engaging and fun. If you spend some time going over their videos, you’ll find some gems that became my all-time favourite.

Another issue is that children often can’t control their behaviour and you need to know how to deal with it. This problem doesn’t come up (at least not that often) in adult classes. I believe that going to university and learning about the psychology, emotions and behaviour of children is difficult to learn on your own. There are so many different tricks that you are taught when you are prepared to work with kids. It’s something that only professionals can control.

Dealing with the parents

The behaviour problems tie in nicely with building a healthy relationship with the parents. In my opinion, constantly reporting about the classes is possibly one of the worst parts of teaching YLs. Parents will be always watching you and getting information on you. It can be a bit annoying, but my advice is to introduce yourself on the first day and get used to talking to them regularly. Once the parents see that the kids are comfortable around you, you are golden. I had a great relationship with all of the parents of my students. It wasn’t an easy task and I put a lot of effort into this, but it was worthwhile.

I was worried that if there were any problems, I’d be the one to blame. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Well, it became an issue only once. I was a short-term substitute in a private school and got to teach a group of VYLs. The kids behaved well with one exception. One of the students didn’t want to participate and made it clear by screaming and hitting everyone around. One time she just got up and ran outside of the classroom. I was shocked and frankly, didn’t know what to do. I told the kids to stay where they were and ran after her. I managed to catch her and in return, she bit me. I immediately called the coordinator and reported this. After the class, I went to speak to her father who didn’t scold her just said Oh, Maria! You can’t bite people! And that’s it. The problem wasn’t solved, and from what I heard she bit the coordinator, too. Just on a different day. It was just a one-time thing, but it left me mentally scarred (physically, I was okay).

Non-natives to teach children

I’m very sad to say this, but I have noticed this pattern and was affected by it, too. Native speakers (even those without any experience or qualifications) are given more advanced classes, while certified non-natives get to teach the kids because, as I said before, the children don’t know any better. Just have a class and then do some crafts. It’s good enough.

Being close

Children need to be close to other people, and you need to be ready for that. Mentalize that kids may randomly hug you, will try to sit on your lap and at times try to kiss you! It happens a lot, especially in Spain. My advice is to go with it, obviously don’t cross any lines, but don’t make it weird either. Kids don’t see it as a bad thing. They get to spend two hours a week with you, they have fun with you and want you to know that you matter to them.

As I mentioned before, I assisted children in the toilet. I didn’t think it was a part of my job, but at the same time, I didn’t mind that. However, one of my colleagues felt it was wrong and refused to do that, to avoid any problems. To that I say, it’s only weird because you make it weird. Act cool and everything’s going to be fine. If it worries you that much, maybe talk about it with your DOS or the parents.

Learning how to plan for YL

I have talked about this before in Is it possible to plan for very young learners. Planning for kids is so much different from planning for adults. For starters, you need to over-plan just in case. Children will give you immediate feedback on any activity they love or hate. And oh boy, if they hate what they are doing, it feels awful. Especially, if you had spent hours thinking about it. However, you need to go with the flow and adapt your plans as you go. With adults, the situation is a bit different, as they normally won’t complain to you about an activity that turned out to be a flop. It makes it a bit less stressful.

It’s good to prepare a range of activities, a mix of stirrers and settlers, to give the appropriate amount of stimulus for YL to learn. It’s good to have some reading and colouring time, mixed in with some singing and dancing, maybe some crafts, followed by some kinesthetic tasks. It’s a journey, but the truth be told, a successful YL class will pass quicker than you expect! And if you over-plan, don’t worry about it. You can use those activities in the next class.

Lack of resources

Once I had it all figured out and I knew how to prepare a class for the YLs, other problems started showing up. One of them was a lack of resources. I needed plenty of materials to make classes engaging and memorable. Unfortunately, I was teaching in a village that was far away from the academy (where all the resources were), so if I had to improvise, I couldn’t. I started buying a lot of materials and paying for them out of my pocket, a practice that I don’t do anymore. So if you ever find yourself teaching children, ask for the basics – coloured paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, pencils and rubbers. That’s the minimum that you need to have!

Despite all the negatives, teaching YLs can be very satisfying. Once you get to know the little ones, they will show you affection and gratitude like no one else. I can’t tell you the number of drawings and little gifts I received over my time teaching kids. Plus the biggest advantage of teaching children is the fact that you can go completely crazy, let loose and play so many cool games that you are otherwise too old to play!

If you feel like you need more practice on teaching YLs, you should look into IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers. I haven’t done it myself, but I heard that it’s quite useful. You learn some theory and at the same time, you are being assessed on your teaching. You finish the course with a certificate that will give you leverage when looking for new jobs. Remember that in Spain, ESL teachers will have to teach YLs 99% of the time!

2022 – The year of the Tiger

I’m not one to obsess over zodiac signs and how accurately they can define our personalities. However, I enjoy reading my horoscope from time to time and seeing how accurate it is. I think that everyone is quite familiar with the Western zodiac, and believe it or not, zodiac signs tend to come up in conversations every now and then! What about the Chinese zodiac, though? The Chinese New Year is approaching, so why not take this opportunity and learn something about this beautiful culture?

Last year I had a chance to prepare a class on the Chinese New Year – the year of the Ox. In that A2+ class, we watched a TED-Ed video The myth behind the Chinese zodiac, learnt the origin of the zodiac signs and based on our personality traits, we tried to predict which sign best suits us. The class was a success! It brought a lot of laughter as we found out what animal best defines each one of us. We also referred to each other by the animal until the end of the class!

You can download the lesson plan, the presentation and the worksheet at the end of the post!

Start the class by writing – Happy New Year! Since it’s already late January / early February, your students will be confused and have questions about it. Say that you know of celebrations happening on the 31st December and the year starting on the 1st January. You can talk about different celebratory traditions that you have in your country and how your students celebrated this year. Proceed by saying that the new year is celebrated differently in other parts of the world. If your students haven’t guessed that you’re referring to the Chinese New Year, you may give some clues. Write that the Chinese New Year is celebrated in February. Write _____ February 2022 and elicit the correct date (answer: 1st February 2022).

Ask about students’ dates of birth and elicit their Western zodiacs. Say that in the Asian culture, the zodiacs are a bit different. Show pictures of the Chinese zodiac (out of order) and ask to write the English names of the animals. Check the answers. Say that, unlike in the Western culture, the zodiac signs change once a year. This year we are celebrating The year of the ______. Students guess the animal (answer: Tiger).

Zodiac signs appear in a specific order that was decided based on the race. Put students into pairs/small groups and ask them to predict the order in which the animals came in. Check the answers and ask to justify their orders. Watch the video The myth behind the Chinese zodiac (0:00 – 2:15) and see if their predictions were correct (answer: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig).

Before watching the video again, this time in its entirety, go over the multiple-choice questions from the TED-Ed website – The myth behind the Chinese zodiac by Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen. Explain any new words if necessary. Students watch the video and answer the questions. Check and explain the answers.

Look at the animals one more time and ask students to think about the personality traits that come to mind. Do students believe zodiac signs define our personalities? Show vocabulary describing character traits and ask students to choose two that best describe them. Reveal the signs associated with each trait. Check students dates of birth and together discover their Chinese zodiac. Look at the personality traits one more time, this time looking at the ones associated with their zodiacs. Do they agree with these descriptions? Why (not)?

Finish the class by doing the craft. Students draw their Chinese zodiac and write a maximum of five sentences talking about their actual personality traits with explanations.

Happy New Year! I hope that your students will enjoy this class as much as mine did!