How to teach irregular verbs?

Teaching ESL as an afterschool activity is often seen as a job in which your primary task is to entertain and keep the students engaged. More often than not, teaching and testing aren’t the main focus of the class. Some topics are quite difficult to make fun, especially if they are complex and essential. Irregular verbs are one of such topics.

One of my regular students struggles a lot with irregular verbs. Not for the lack of trying. He’s a shy person who had problems speaking to me in English as he felt a bit awkward speaking in any language other than his own. Recently, he started opening up, and I must say that I can already see the results. I’ve realized that even though I can understand him, others who aren’t teachers or don’t spend as much time with him as I do, wouldn’t be able to communicate with him easily. The main issue is the use of infinitive verbs when talking about the past. It got me thinking of different ways in which I can help him with this issue while keeping him motivated and interested. This led to intensive research of different methods that I could use in our lessons to make sure that Past Simple and irregular verbs are no longer overwhelming.

Group the verbs

This is an approach that I used in the past and may keep on using it. First of all, it is less scary showing a set of 10-15 verbs at once. I used to start by writing the infinitive forms and eliciting the meaning in my students first language. Then I asked them for the verbs and their Past Simple and Past Participle forms, which they were already familiar with. I never gave them the theme of the groups because they were always able to predict it after the first example or two. I was looking for the perfect grouping, and I found this chart created by Learn English with Katie on TpT (available for free!). The only change I would add to this chart is putting the meaning in the student’s L1. Since we are already memorising, we may as well develop their vocabulary. Otherwise, I think that the groupings are clear and straightforward.

Here is an example of the first group, which deals with verbs that change their form to ew-own and ew-awn in Past Simple and Past Participle, respectively. Another great thing about grouping the verbs is that you can also practise the pronunciation of these verbs. This method makes it easier to remember the correct way of saying the words. I remember that some of my groups loved repeating these sets of words because it was fun to say them aloud.

Put the verbs in sentences

The said student also has a hard time with the third person in Present Simple form. I was looking for the way to make the best of This student also has a hard time with the use of -s/-es in Present Simple. I was looking for a way to make the best of both worlds. During my research, I stumbled up an approach suggested by FluentU that helps with the verb introduction but at the same time revises the use and structure of different tenses.

I’ve already started teaching in this way. We started by talking about a daily routine of a made-up person, Roberto (named by the student). It was a perfect opportunity to help him with the third person use and high-frequency verbs. Once we finished talking about Roberto’s daily routine, I talked about mine to contrast the first and third person and we ended this part with his.

After this short revision, we changed all the sentences to the Past Simple. I made sure to use a wide range of irregular verbs and contrasted them with a few regular ones. For example, the sentence I get up at 7:30 every day, changed to Yesterday, I got up at 7:30. Once I feel confident in his use and understanding of Past Simple, I will slowly introduce the Past Participle form. There are so many verbs that I don’t want to overwhelm him even more.

DIY picture dictionary

I believe that the use of visuals may help with understanding and memorising the new vocabulary. Before introducing any new verb or sentence that is the focus of our class, I draw a bunch of pictures to create some narrative. I start by saying example sentences to show what I want him to do. Once he gets into the flow, he takes control and creates his narrative. This approach may not be for everyone, but I wanted to see if the pictures will help him memorise the meaning and the use of sentences. I also use a lot of colours when writing new words. We have different colours for different tenses to make sure that they are easy to spot when needed.

Play games!

There is no better way of learning than having fun and playing games. I thought of memory, as it is quite easy to set up and the rules are well-known and understood by everyone. If you teach online, you can go to WordWall and play without any further preparation. The only thing that you need to do is to label each tile separately, or you can label the rows as letters and columns as numbers, as shown below. If you play in a classroom, there are so many online creators who have prepared such games for you, such as Peter Laufer and his TpT free resource. If you want to play while following the covid protocol, you can also play memory on the board as suggested by ESL Library.

Regularly check if your students study

Testing your students isn’t the most fun way of checking if they revise at home, but it certainly can be effective. Instead of the typical tests, you can ask your students to pick a card or sticks (as suggested by Virginia is for teachers) with the infinitive form of verbs and say their Past Simple and Past Participle forms before they leave. Nothing motivates students more than leaving the classroom. This quick revision should jog their memory and maybe give them a reason to study at home.

How do you teach irregular verbs? I’m still looking for the perfect solution that would work for me and my students. For this moment, I’m just going to mix different things until I’m sure that past tenses aren’t an issue anymore! Fingers crossed that it will work out!

The oversaturated market of ESL teaching

The Internet is full of websites for potential ESL teachers. There’s an ever-growing demand for English teachers, but the market is so oversaturated that it seems almost impossible to stand out from the crowd.

Demand for ESL teachers in Spain is constantly growing. Unfortunately, so is the number of teachers fighting to get the students. The two top websites to find and book private students are tusclasesparticulares and superprof. I’ve used both of them, and I must say that even though the latter is much easier and more intuitive to use, I’ve got a higher success rate on the first one. A higher success rate doesn’t mean that I got what I wanted. It’s a constant battle against other teachers – a battle that seems to be never-ending. There are so many problems with the ESL teaching market, but instead of complaining, I would like to focus on different ways in which you can stand out while maintaining your value.


The teaching websites work, but networking works better! Some of my old work colleagues and people who I’ve only connected via WordPress or Twitter told me about work opportunities. I was referred to certain people and there was a time that I received a few messages on the same day just to discuss my prices and the way I work. Obviously, some of those didn’t work out and there is no shame in that. So be kind to one another and whenever you find yourself in a better position, maybe you will be able to help someone else in need.

Don’t burn your bridges

Whenever I change a job, I always try to stay somewhat friendly with the previous company. Over a year ago, I left my very first academy and moved to Alicante. I talked every few months with the bosses to see how everything was going. And guess what? When I found myself looking for something to do, they offered me a few hours online. It was a perfect solution for me. First of all, they helped me while I was at my lowest and most desperate moment. We already know each other, so I got to skip the job interview and went straight into teaching.

Ask for references

All online teaching websites suggest asking your past students, coworkers, bosses or family and friends to write references for you. I began my campaign by messaging my past students with whom I had the best connection and experience (obviously). All of the reviews were lovely and gave me a much-needed confidence boost. Not so much of a student boost, but my superprof profile started standing out within the crowd. I think this also helps to justify higher prices.

Build a good student-teacher relationship

I can’t stress this enough. My current students are my priority. Some of them came back to me after a few years because they not only like the way I teach but also they want to maintain the relationship we developed. I try to be as flexible, understanding and nice as possible. I want them to know that they can always approach me with any issue, and I will try and adapt to the best of my abilities. It is also a good way to get other students. If they are happy with you and your work, they will give you the best publicity imaginable. For free! Right now I have the best students I could have asked for, and I wouldn’t change that for anything!

Don’t appear desperate

I’m so guilty of this one. In the beginning, I was doing anything to make sure that I was noticed by anyone. The thing is, the more announcements I put up, the fewer responses I got. People looking for their ideal teacher go to the same websites and see your face plastered everywhere. I don’t think it’s a good sign – it means that the business isn’t going too well, and there’s probably a reason for it. Instead, I decided to cool it just a bit and announced my services less frequently. Much to my surprise, I got way more responses. Now I “boost” my announcements maybe once every few weeks and get more answers than before. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Value yourself

You know you are a good teacher. It’s somewhat tempting to lower your prices when you are surrounded by people offering classes for half if not a third of your class! Naturally, many students will prefer to go with the lower price, but it raises one main question – are they getting a good quality service? If someone decides to go with me they get for what they paid. I’ve got experience, all the materials, proficiency in the use of technology and most importantly – I am qualified. You shouldn’t lower your hourly rate for the most obvious reason – this rate doesn’t include teaching only. It includes preparation time, finding and sharing the right materials, and of course, homework/exam corrections. All the time that students don’t see you working, goes under their radar and doesn’t count as paid time. Recently, I’ve spotted a perfect quote by teachitwithchantal – “It’s not your job to worry about students being able to afford you! It’s your job to show them WHY they should afford you!”

I couldn’t agree more with her opinion. You can indeed have five students for 5 euros an hour, but are they going to get the same type of commitment and preparation as one or two students at a bit higher rate? There are so many things that you could do to attract more students. I’m already lowering my prices for prepaid classes just to make sure that my students will stay for a bit longer and don’t ghost me from one day to another – a problem I have already discussed before in The flakiness of adult students.

Whenever I feel a bit unsure about my prices, I compare myself to a mechanic or a hairdresser. Afterall, I am giving a certain service and so I should be paid for it appropriately. The same way I get a service from my mechanic. It took me some time to find the one, but now even though he may take more than others per hour, I’m always happy with the way he takes care of my car, knows its history and wants the best for me. I do the same – I take care of your language needs, I know your history and I know what’s best for you to get the best results.

Build your online presence

This can be anything. You can post educational posts on IG, record teaching videos to YT, blog or tweet about learning/teaching English. Don’t force it, though. Try to enjoy it as much as you can. Social media is full of ESL teachers, but if you have this special something, you can stand out. I chose to talk about the teaching aspect and not explaining English to the students. It isn’t ideal to find students, but I managed to meet other ESL teachers all over the world who motivate me and help me with my problems (look at networking!).

Sign up to reliable online teaching websites

While looking for online students, I found so many teaching websites. Some of them seem to be quite reputable, e.g. Italki, others… not so much. I try to stay away from those that seem to be a bit sketchy and have relatively low reviews. I read weird things about being accepted as a teacher and then dealing with the obscene behaviour of people taking advantage of free 20-minute classes. Before you sign up for any online teaching website, read the reviews and weigh all the pros and cons. You don’t want to put your name in places that may damage your reputation or take advantage of your vulnerable position. I understand that sometimes the money can be tight, but don’t put yourself through anything unpleasant for a minimum hourly rate.

These are some of the things I’ve learned while I was looking for private students. I decided to take it slowly because I feel like I was overdoing it and it affected my mental health. Now that I relaxed a bit, it feels like I’m getting more responses to teach people and groups that I actually want to teach! What do you do to stand out from this oversaturated crowd?

A bad date – teaching using anecdotes

Last year, for the first time ever I was given the opportunity to teach C1 level students. This year half of my students are of this level, which gives me a lot of chances of developing my way of teaching and revising advanced grammar.

Even though teaching advanced students comes with many challenges, it feels quite rewarding and allows me to “spread my wings” and let my imagination run wild when it comes to lead-ins and storytelling. One of my C1 level groups follows the newest edition of Open World by Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment (2020). One of the first topics is the use of past tenses in anecdotes. Initially, I enjoyed the lead-in suggested in the teacher’s book, but after some thinking, I decided to put a personal spin on it.

I’m a huge believer in sharing my personal stories and life events to enhance the teaching experience. I think that it builds a stronger bond between the teacher and students and helps the students open up. I try to create a safe space and let everyone know that they can feel comfortable talking to me about anything.

So here goes nothing! Let me share my anecdote with you, how I used it on this particular occasion and my post-class reflection. In the end, I came up with three additional ways in which this anecdote could be improved to make my next class more engaging and educational.

I started by eliciting one obvious thing about me – I wear glasses every day. My students know about it as they’ve never seen me without them. Then I proceeded by telling them that it wasn’t always the case…

What you need to know about me before I start, is that a few years ago I didn’t use to wear glasses because I was afraid that it would make me look unattractive. Let me tell you a story about the time I went on a date and…spoilers alert – it didn’t go well.

I had met this guy a week prior when one of my friends had called me and asked if he could come over with a friend for a drink. I had been living in a house with a big terrace – a perfect location to meet up for a casual drink. They had come over, we had had some drinks. It was late in the evening so I couldn’t see them well, but the conversation had been flowing and I’d clicked with this new guy. We had exchanged phone numbers and decided to meet up again later.

I was getting ready for the date and talking to my flatmate. “I haven’t been on a date in forever! I’m so nervous.” She gave me a pep talk and reassured me that it was going to be just fine. I asked her one more time if I should wear my glasses and she told me that it was going to ruin the whole outfit. I agreed and left the house.

As I was approaching the cinema, I squinted and saw a blurry figure holding flowers in a distance. I hadn’t expected any romantic gestures, but sure, people are different. I waved at him and he waved back at me – it must have been him. As I was getting closer and the image was getting clearer, I realized that this wasn’t the face that I remembered. This guy was missing a tooth in the front! I thought to myself, “Was I that intoxicated when I met him?”. I was sure that I would have remembered this small detail.

I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do nothing. “Just go with it and then ghost him”, I thought to myself. To my surprise, he smiled at me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you!” He gave me the bouquet and went in for a hug. As we were hugging, I heard someone behind me clearing the throat and then felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw the guy I had met at my house. To my relief, he had all his teeth and it was just one big misunderstanding.

Regardless, the date went poorly. We met up one more time and stopped talking to each other altogether. Maybe the date with the toothless guy would have been more successful. Ever since then, I’ve been wearing glasses religiously.

Unfortunately, it is a true story that I enhanced just a little bit to make it more engaging and valuable for my students. First of all, I used all the language that I wanted to revise. Since it is a story for advanced students, I want to focus on the use of past tenses. The story includes Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect Simple, Past Perfect Continuous, used to (contrasted with Present Simple to talk about past and present habits), Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous. I used the last two tenses in a direct speech to keep their original form. Additionally, I wanted to include some extra vocabulary such as pep talk, to ghost or to do something religiously, as well as the language used to emphasise the disability caused by the lack of glasses (e.g. squinted).

My story was followed by the drawing as seen above. My classes were online, so I used a digital whiteboard to draw the events on a timeline. I’m more skilled at drawing on paper than on a touchpad. After some post-class thinking, I redid it with some pictures to make the anecdote stand out a little bit more.

After the class came the reflection time. I had some immediate thoughts in class but decided to proceed with the original plan. In total, I came up with four different ways in which this story could be used to introduce and teach past tenses.

Option #1

Just start the class by telling the story and letting your students immerse themselves in it. It’s beneficial as it feels more like a friendly talk and not a part of the class. One of my students was so into the story that she kept interjecting short phrases (Oh my God! No way?! Really?! What did you do?!), and we ended up having a follow-up questions session. Once you finish the story, ask your students to help you retell it and plot it on a timeline. Make sure that you put them in the correct order and write short sentences proving their order. That was the approach I took, and even though it worked well, in hindsight, I think next time I get to tell the story, I will use a different method – more grammar centred with a clear follow-up task.

Option #2

Hand out the timeline with events already written down or with pictures instead of words. Ask your students to work in pairs and discuss what happened. Students can tell the story using different tenses. Then you can tell the complete story and see if your students got it right.

Option #3

Give main events from the story in the infinitive or past form and ask to put them in order. Tell the story and check if they were able to predict the order of events. Draw the timeline and emphasize the order and the use of past tenses. Here are examples of sentences that could be used in this activity:

  • go on a date
  • get ready
  • meet a boy through a mutual friend
  • see a blurry figure of a person
  • get a phone call from a friend
  • hug a man
  • feel a tap on a shoulder
  • not wearing glasses
  • receive flowers
  • exchange phone numbers
  • approach the cinema

Option #4

Either give a written version of the story or tell it like before. Students listen and put the events in the correct order on a timeline. I think that this is my favourite method, which I’ll gladly try out next time I have a chance. In my opinion, it tests the understanding of tenses and will let you check the knowledge gaps that you need to address and focus on in your class.

We ended this part of the class with some grammar practice exercises and oral practice. I gave a few minutes of thinking time for the students to prepare their anecdotes and share them with the rest of the group. This activity could be expanded again by listening and timeline plotting. In bigger groups, you can try telling the story to one student and play Chinese whisper to see how the story changes.

How would you improve this activity? How do you introduce and teach past tenses? Let me know!

The flakiness of adult students

At the beginning of my solo journey, I was quite excited. I realized that for once in my ESL teaching career, I can decide the type of students I teach. I always preferred a company of teenagers and adult students. My wish came true! Unfortunately, I forgot about one tiny thing – adult students are flaky.

Adult learners are my favourite type of student. I enter the classroom with a lot of energy, I talk about anything and everything, and most importantly, I relate to them the most. In fact, my very first three private students were all adults. They all messaged me and with two of them, I managed to have the first lesson. The last one disappeared before I even met her.

Why does it happen?

Why are adult students unreliable?

How can we, ESL teachers, protect ourselves from being dropped?

I remember blaming myself for every single student who stopped coming to lessons. I remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough, my classes weren’t too engaging or that they probably just got bored. It’s probably true for some of them. I think we can’t click with all of our students and some of them may not enjoy our company. However, most of the time it’s not the case.

Two years ago, I was in charge of an intensive B1 course exam preparation for adult students. I had a small group of four students. In the beginning, it was going well. The problems started two weeks in. Some of them would come in an hour (or more!) late because of their work commitments. Others were constantly distracted by endless phone calls and often needed to leave well before the end of the class. There were times when I received e-mails right before the class explaining that they weren’t able to come in, asking if I could send them the answers and any extra materials to everything we did that day. Now that I think of it – it was a complete mess. I didn’t blame myself too much, and I wasn’t worried about it either. I was employed at an academy, and losing one out of four students would mean that the group continues – so even if no one showed up, I would still get paid.

This attitude has changed recently. Having 1:1 students doesn’t give me the same level of comfort as groups. Losing a student means no income, which was incredibly stressful for me to process. All of my students came from last year, through connections or from websites that don’t include any prepaid options. At first, I was charging for all completed classes, but this has quickly changed.

Prepaid classes

After discussing this issue with one of my other fellow teachers, she told me about her way of securing income – prepaid classes. I know that I’m not reinventing the wheel and for most, it’s so obvious that it’s unnecessary to mention. Now, any time I meet a new student, I tell them my no commitment fee, which is slightly higher than a set of 5 or 10 prepaid lessons. The more lessons you pay for, the lower the price, which gives me about 1.5 months of stability. I wish I had done that with my first student who paid after each class and left after two weeks to pursue her new job.

Cancellation policy

Again, many websites offer a 50% of cancellation policy. This percentage normally can be changed depending on our preferences. I haven’t introduced this policy yet, but I think that it’s a matter of time. The other one of my first students cancelled the very first class 30 minutes before. She explained the reason for it in great detail, and obviously, I don’t hold it against her, but having the lessons cancelled is, unfortunately, a waste of time. This turned out to be true in the case of my other student who cancelled the class because of her new job commitments. She told me about it a day in advance after I’d already prepared materials, I’d written a lesson plan and had sent her anything she may need for the next day. That was the exact moment when I started considering having my own cancellation fee.

Organizing a course

Some of the teaching websites also encourage us to create our own courses. I don’t feel ready to do it myself just yet, but it does sound like a good plan. Adult students can’t usually commit long-term. However, offering a course with a clear starting and ending point may be tempting. I can think of more advantages than disadvantages of this plan. You can prepare all lessons in advance and decide on the number of hours. It’s a short-term solution and a one-time large cash injection. But as it normally goes, with short-term courses, the expectations are quite high, and something that sounded like a good idea at first may become your biggest nightmare. Nevertheless, I may try doing that in the future, just to see how it goes and how I feel about it.

As you can see, I’m still at the beginning of a learning curve. I’m yet to find a perfect solution, but I can tell that I already know more than I did a month ago. I follow so many excellent and experienced ESL teachers, and it’s always so incredible to learn from professionals. So, tell me, how do you protect yourselves from flaky students?

Journey to freelancing – one month later

So it’s officially been a month since I’ve decided on becoming my own boss. Let’s do a recap and see how things are ACTUALLY going.

So I started this solo journey with a lot of optimism. In reality, I wanted to work one more year at an academy and then go on my own. However, due to some unexpected events, things took a turn and I began this process one year earlier than I’d planned.

I received the news of not being able to come back to work while I was on holiday. I decided to wait until I was back home before I started panicking. I returned and thought of a plan: I would email some of my old students and for sure someone would want to come with me. Additionally, I would also publish myself on various websites as an online teacher and on top of that, I would look for a job in the meantime, just to have a plan B.

Very quickly I realized that maybe my plan wasn’t as foolproof as I’d imagined. First of all, most of my students decided to either focus on different things this year (university, driving lessons, last year of high school) or had some financial issues and just couldn’t afford it this year. I tried being respectful and think logically – I understand that 1:1 lessons are a bit more expensive than being in an academy with other people. However, at the end of my past students campaign, I managed to get only one positive response.

Student count: 1

I lost confidence and hope. I started looking for some job openings. Last year I was commuting one hour one way, so I decided that this year, I wanted to forget about the car and limited my searching radius to 15 km. This covered the biggest cities around me, which satisfied me. I received an invitation for a job interview at the beginning of September. To be honest, there are days when I like to send my resume left and right, and that was the case. I forgot that I’d sent my CV three weeks earlier to a company in a city nearby. I decided to give it a go, so I went for a job interview. It was a true disaster. Working up to 16 hours with VERY young learners and using limited English because they are too young to understand.

Student count: 1, Failed job interviews: 1

This motivated me enough to publish myself on different websites to find my own students. As I was slowly losing hope because my announcement was there and yet no one wanted to speak to me, I did a crazy thing – I paid for more visibility. And guess what? It worked. Within 10 minutes I talked to three different people and booked three trial lessons. I was nervous, but prepared. All online lessons were successful and I secured three more students. Just like that! That being said, if you live in Spain and need students, invest in tusclasesparticulares – you (shouldn’t) regret it!

Student count: 4, Failed job interviews: 1

At the beginning of September I also found a job opportunity in the same town I found the other academy. I loved everything about it, the name, the fact that they are brand new and that they are only 7 km away from my house. So naturally, I applied. I had nothing to lose. Some time passed, I found and secured 4 students and three weeks after my application, I got a call to come for an interview. I will never turn down a job interview – I like coming to academies, seeing what they look like, hearing about different students – the whole experience is a blast. So I went. The interview was great! It was everything I was looking for. Unfortunately, I’ve already had some of my own commitments and decided to not go forward with it. I think it would be unfair for them to have me all over the place, running like a maniac from my own classes to the academy and then back home. However, I hope to see this academy prosper and will be following their journey.

Student count: 4, Failed job interviews: 1, Great job interviews: 1

So here I was, teaching one of my new online students when I got a message from my very first Spanish boss – Joanna, do you know anyone who could teach in your old village? Unfortunately, I couldn’t help them, but we got to speak for a bit. I explained the current situation I’m in, and wouldn’t you know it, they may have some online classes for me starting October! On the same day I got a message from my ex co-workers who asked around and gave my phone number to two more people! Sometimes things really do fall from heaven.

Student count: 4, Potential students: 2, Potential groups: ??, Failed job interviews: 1, Great job interviews: 1

Then yet again, I hit the wall. My online announcements didn’t bring any more attention and I’m limited to the same number of students as before. There are days when I just want to give up, but then there are moments that motivate me and I spend hours developing my online presence and preparing lessons for my current students. I actually had to turn down some of my potential students as they lived a bit too far away and it didn’t make any sense for me to teach them in person. That was a real shame. I also woke up one day and saw a perfect job offer to teach two B2 groups online and I applied. The salary was quite good and it was only 8 hours a week, which was just perfect. I am yet to see the outcome of that job application.

I also created a profile on superprof and messaged my old students once again. This time I asked them to write me some recommendations. And oh boy, did they deliver. They were so sweet and gave me some more motivation to develop my profile on that website. So far, I didn’t get any messages on there, but let’s hope that with time it’ll change.

Student count: 4, Potential groups: 2 + ??, Failed job interviews: 1, Great job interviews: 1, Positive reviews: 2

So I leave you with this final score to finish my first month of being on my own. I promised myself that once I reach about 8-10 students, I will get up and go to gestoria to register myself as a freelancer. I didn’t want to do it before, just in case, it was a total failure. I don’t want to jinx it but so far so good! As we say it in Polish Co nagle to po diable! (ENG. Haste makes waste!), so I hope that this slow start will have a great long term outcome.

October – here I come!

Cambridge Exam Score Templates

Who said that the ESL teachers don’t need to know math? We do math more than we would like to admit. All Cambridge exam preparation teachers, I’ve got something just for you!

As a teacher in Spain, you do quite a lot of things. You get to teach all the ages and levels, and probably one of the most common things – you prepare for the Cambridge exams. If you’ve never prepared for the Cambridge exams, don’t worry, there are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you understand what you should do and what the exams are like.

What I found the most challenging was correcting the exams and explaining the scores to students. After three years of preparing for the Cambridge exams (this includes the intensive summer courses), I think I finally understand what’s going on there. Let me show you my system, how I present the grades to my future candidates and how I keep myself organised, which is especially important before the exams when all you do is give the exams left and right.

I’ve prepared a set of Excel sheets that you can use to stay organised and to help your students see their continuous progress. The first sheet is a detailed breakdown of all the components, scores, percentages and an overall score that can be shared with students and parents.

The worksheets are designed to help your students see each part separately and monitor their continuous progress. The idea is to give this sheet to your students after they complete each mock exam. In the case of teenagers, you may also want to share this file with their parents. The file is fully editable, so you can put the date, the name of your student and the name of the test.

Each part is divided into subsections that give a better overview of the exam and will help you pinpoint the problem areas so you can work on them in the future. It also includes the minimum points needed to “pass” each part to keep your students motivated. All the minimum scores and results breakdown were taken from the KSE Academy.

The most important part is the final percentage score. It’s done by summing all the % scores per section and dividing them by the number of parts (in the case of B1, it is divided by 4 – reading, listening, writing and speaking). As you can see in the example above, I included a percentage indicator. This is not fully accurate, but I think it can give you a good overview of your students’ progress. Unfortunately, we can’t know the exact Cambridge score as it varies from one exam to another. Therefore, if your students find one exam much easier than others, this means that other Cambridge candidates probably think the same, so the score would be calculated differently on the Cambridge calculator. If you want to understand a bit more about the Cambridge English scale, go and watch a webinar on that topic.

However, I feel that it’s a safe bet when your students score more than 70% on all the exams. This means that they’re ready to take and “pass” the official exams. I intentionally put “pass” in the quotation marks because if students fail their level exam, they should be rewarded with a lower-level certificate. For example, if your B1 student scores less than 140 on the Cambridge English scale, they will be given an official title for the A2 level. Not what they wanted, but better than nothing.

This is the second part of the Excel sheet. It is designed to help you stay organised. I always find it challenging to keep a list of tests that my students have already completed. You can put the name of your student, the date of the exam, the test number (was it their first, second, third, etc.) and the test name. You can include the book title or the source of the exam, as well – trust me on that one.

The rest is the same breakdown as before, so you can see the progress of your students and identify the most confusing areas. In the end, you have a total score, so you can see if your students are ready to take the exam or if they need a bit more practice. Below you can download the Cambridge scores breakdown for students and the scores organiser for the B1 level. To get the full set of sheets for all the levels go to my TpT store – Cambridge scores breakdown – students and Cambridge scores breakdown – teachers. You can also get your copies by clicking the one-time payment button.

How do you stay organised? I need all the tips possible!

Click below to get the full versions of the Cambridge scores breakdown Excel sheets.

(ESL) job interview red flags

Imagine that you are a brand new ESL teacher. You sent your CV literally everywhere and now you just wait. Finally, it happens! You got a job interview. You go to the academy full of energy and hope, but…it’s nothing like what you had imagined. Sounds familiar?

As a first part of becoming a freelancer, I decided that I will look for a part-time job only to support myself during my transition process. I sent a bunch of CVs and I got a call! I went for a job interview and…a disaster! In my whole life, I’ve been to many job interviews and only twice I felt like I don’t want to be associated with the company. This was one of those times. In a way, I am very thankful for this experience because it inspired me to write a set of red flags that you should be aware of when you enter this field.

I present you with a list of red flags that raise my guard and give me a general bad feeling. Feel free to share your stories with me! There’s nothing better than a good bad job interview story!

Soooo…how old are you?

It goes without saying that asking someone about their age is a little bit strange. I used to have my date of birth on my CV but I removed it, as I don’t think it’s in any way relevant to the teaching job. My age shouldn’t decide whether I am fit for this job. It was one of the first questions I was asked on my last job interview and I immediately sensed that there’s something not right. The reason an employer may want to know your age is to assess your young years without any commitments such as family or children (in my opinion).

Are you in a relationship?

Again, I was asked this question on my last job interview and I frankly could not believe it. I was under the impression that I came here to talk about myself and my experience and not about my partner and his job. This question was asked to check if I live on my own and if I’m can support myself with their low salary.

No, I don’t need to see your certificates. Are you a native?

I was once indirectly asked about that. The person interviewing me couldn’t care less about my certificates, experience and references. They were more interested in my nationality, and the time and place I learnt English. I normally can conquer this question without any issues as luckily for me I learnt English at an international school and I took English as a first language. This gives me some kind of leverage. However, I had a lot of non-native English teachers, and you know what? They were incredible and as knowledgeable as the natives. It goes to show that some academies choose natives over experience.

Many of our teachers leave after one year

This was said to me at two different job interviews and it immediately made me feel like I probably don’t have a huge future over there. In the first case, the academy was quite far and the owner told me that people don’t like the commute and find jobs somewhere else. In the other case, I was told that there are many teachers coming and going because of the low salary that forces them to look for second jobs or change their career completely. As much as I appreciate their honesty, I think that I’m not the only one trying to sell myself during a job interview. You need to impress me too!

Do you have any disabilities?

I was asked this question at my very first job interview. I remember everything going well until this point. I was shocked. I truthfully said that I don’t have any disabilities, neither physical nor mental. Now thinking about it with some perspective, I should have got up and left. It was one of the most intrusive and insensitive questions anyone can ask. I understand that there are certain benefits a company can get for hiring a person with disabilities, but it should be discussed at a different moment with a different person.

Do you have any children? Are you planning on having any children?

Run! They want to see how much they can use you. That means, calling you outside of your working hours, asking you to come whenever they feel like, working at the weekends… It also means that the second you announce your pregnancy, you can say goodbye to your workplace. I always thought that it was illegal to fire a pregnant woman, but apparently, it has happened before in some Spanish language academies.

We have a lot of financial problems

I was informed at a job interview that the academy brings more losses than profits, but since they’ve already invested so much into the equipment, games, renovations… they need to keep on going! The person, a boss of this academy, sounded so sad and regretful that it made me feel sorry for them. I left this interview not with hope, but with a lot of pity that they need to run this place. Again, I appreciate your honesty, but as much as I need to convince you, you need to convince me too.

We are like a small family in here

Except you aren’t. You can say that this is one of my pet peeves. I hate when an employer tries to sell his workplace as a happy family gathering. From my personal experience, you should stay away from certain colleagues and you shouldn’t get too close with your boss. I think it’s nice to have a friendly relationship but unfortunately, normally no one cares about you and your needs. Once you become a burden to the company, demanding too much or asking for things that are seen as inappropriate (for example, asking to alter your contract), you are out of that place. To many companies, you are just an employee and there are many people like you, waiting to take your spot.

There was a time in my life that I would completely ignore all the red flags and take any job, only to get experience. I feel like this is not the case anymore. If you get a bad feeling or if you feel like there was no chemistry between you and the boss, just leave it. There will be many other opportunities that you may miss if you work elsewhere already.

As for me right now, I keep on looking! I am collecting private students, researching the world of online teaching platforms, applying for jobs and blogging! Let’s see how the situation changes in a month!

Adapting lesson plans to other levels

I used to work at an academy that required all plans to be posted onto the server by Monday. At first, it’s fine, you do it, full of energy and happiness. However, then comes the time when you reach the limit and you start thinking about how you can prepare one lesson plan that can be used for different levels.

It starts to resemble an investigation board. You think about the topics that you can teach at the same time, the activities that you need to tweak just a bit to have a good fit for the other group and the worksheets that need little to no changes. My last post focused on Compound Words for Starters. Using this plan, I would like to show what changes need to be made for Starters (A1), Mover (A1+) and Flyers (A2) levels.

Let’s start with a list of things that needs to be taken into consideration while adjusting lesson plans.


Starters are the youngest ones and they are normally between 4-6 years old. Movers are the transitioning period with 7-9 years old and Flyers are the oldest ones with 10-12 years old. Remember that this is just a rule of thumb and the age can vary. Based on the age you need to choose appropriate activities for each group. That means that Starters and Movers will be very excited about colouring meanwhile, Flyers may already ask for a different type of activity.

Motor skills

It’s perfectly fine to add cutting and glueing to your lesson plan for Starters. It’s a type of activity that allows them to follow English instructions while developing their motor skills. It’s also a type of activity that will take some time to be completed. Movers may also be interested in this activity but it will be done in a much shorter time. You shouldn’t really bother Flyers with their motor skills development. They may find this activity fun but in small doses.

Energy level

Starters will be hyped up and need to run around, jump, dance and sing. Movers have a very similar level of energy (at least in my experience) and may actually enjoy some of the similar activities. Flyers are more relaxed and can sit down for a longer period of time. They may enjoy a kinetic activity every now and then but they do not like to sweat.

Reading and writing skills

When choosing activities for the little ones, it’s best to limit reading activities to a minimum. I like to ask them to read the tasks or flashcard names but longer pieces of reading will put them off. Movers on the other hand are quite excited about reading (especially role-play comics). However, limit the tasks to a minimum as reading can be quite tiring in big amounts. In my opinion, a text with fives sentences should be more than enough. Flyers are perfectly fine with longer texts. They may not enjoy them but they can do longer pieces of reading without any issues.

The same goes for writing. My group of Starters only started enjoying writing in the second semester when they got a bit more familiar with the letters. Even then, there are plenty of errors and they need help with showing them how certain letters look like, so limit writing to one-word answers. Movers can write well! They will take their time to show you their calligraphy but you can already ask for one-sentence answers. Flyers have no problems with writing but just like with reading, you may hear complaints.

Okay, so now let’s look at three different lesson plan outlines depending on the level you’re teaching.

Lead in: Draw a picture of a raincloud and a bow in a form of a math equation. Elicit the words and put them together to make a rainbow. Draw a rainbow and revise colours.Lead in: Students read a short text with compound words. Highlight one word and divide it into two separate words (e.g. ____ + ____ = rainbow). Following this example, students work in pairs to find more compound words.Lead in: Read a short text containing compound words. Tell students that in this text there are 8 words that have something in common. Students work in pairs to find the common factor. If it’s too difficult you can give a hint until students know what they are looking for.
Song: As a part of revision you can sing a song about a rainbow or maybe you can find a song about compound words to introduce your students to the topic.Vocabulary revision: Students use the words from reading to label the pictures.Teach compound words: Explain the meaning of compound words. Students write and divide the words into two single words. The activity ends with students naming these words.
Flashcards: Take flashcards of two words that make compound words and revise them. This is a form of vocabulary revision. Use 6 separate words that make 3 compound words.Teach compound words: Explain the meaning of compound words. Students divide the words into two separate words.Vocabulary revision: Students use the words from reading to label the pictures.
Teach compound words: Take the flashcards and put two words together. Following the lead in, display the words on the board in the form of a math equation.Flashcard game: Do it in pairs and treat it like a competitive activity. Students get flashcards of compound words and single words. Students race to put two words and the compound word they make. Additionally, you can ask them to match pictures with labels.Flashcard game: Do it in pairs and treat it like a competitive activity. Students get flashcards of compound words and single words. Students race to put two words and the compound word they make. Additionally, you can ask them to match pictures with labels.
Follow instructions: Ask your students to sit down and read short few words sentences. Students take turns reading instructions and colour the objects on the worksheet.Anagrams: Students solve the anagrams of single words.Anagrams: Students solve the anagrams of single words.
Match compound words: Using the coloured pictures, students draw arrows to match the words together. They can use the flashcards on the whiteboard to help them.Match compound words: Students match the words from the previous exercise and write them below corresponding pictures.Match compound words: Students match the words from the previous exercise and write them below corresponding pictures.
Writing practice: Students write three compound words and then draw the new words in the boxes.Optional video: Students watch a video on compound words and guess the words. Click here for an example of an interactive video.Writing practice: Students write five sentences using compound words.
Game: Play a memory game. You can preface this game by hiding the cards around the classroom and finding them to match them in pairs first. Put the cards face down and find pairs that make compound words.Game: Play a memory game. Put the cards face down and find pairs that together form compound words.Game: Play a memory game. Put the cards face down and find pairs that together form compound words.
Free time project: To help your students cool down, ask them to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.Free time project: Ask your students to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.Free time project: Ask your students to sit down and pick two words at random. Students write the words down and draw the new object.

As you can see a lot of the activities are the same and the only differences are the wordlists used for these exercises. Starters level reading is limited to reading and following instructions. Movers and Flyers start by reading a short text and in the case of Flyers, they are the ones who need to guess the topic of the class. It’ll make them a bit more excited about the reading exercise and will encourage them to read it more than once.

Another difference is in the teaching of compound words. The concept is introduced much later for Starters and Movers than for Flyers. Flyers also get a full explanation of compound words and will use this phrase in class.

Flashcards are used at all levels, but in the case of Starters and Movers, you can play certain flashcard games like flashcard race, jumping on named words or showing flashcards for split second to hear the pronunciation and check their understanding. In case of Flyers you can play games to put flashcards together in a form of math equations (____ + ___ = ____). This is enough to check their vocabulary knowledge.

It’s also a good idea to play a song or show a video of compound words. Starters and Movers will definitely enjoy that part of the class. Flyers may find it a bit childish and boring already. You can check their speaking and writing skills instead.

The common factor for all three levels are the memory card game and the final project. Even though Flyers aren’t very keen on drawing, they may find this task quite fun, especially if you stay away and let their creative juices flowing.

So as you can see, it’s possible to adapt the topic and certain activities across all the levels. You need to model your language accordingly and make sure that all the activities are age-appropriate. Below you can download the flashcards, memory cards and worksheets that you can use with three levels.

DISCLAIMER: Remember that these are only my suggestions for the activities and their order! It’s based on my experience with the young learners and depending on your students and their level you may use a completely different approach.

New chapter: becoming a freelancer

This post was meant to be about something else. However, as I was enjoying what I thought were my last few days of holidays, I received a news so unexpected that it changed my way of thinking and motivated me enough to change my current work ambitions. Let me tell you a story about teaching ESL in Spain – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Teaching ESL in Spain is sure fun and has many benefits. First of all, you work half-time and with a little bit of organisation you can fit in a lot of other activities that you truly enjoy. The worst part of it is that the amount of work you put into it is not properly rewarded and often times you try finding ways in which you can improve your current working status.

I’ve been teaching English for three years now. Last year I changed academies and signed a work and service contract aka the garbage contract. My service ended mid-June and I was offered to teach a month long intensive courses but I rejected it. You see, the summer placement was short time and paid under the table which doesn’t sit well with me. On top of that I wanted to finally visit my family so taking this time off seemed like the best option. Regardless, in June I talked with my boss who told me that I can come back in September and work with them for one year more…except not! Exactly two weeks before the start of the academic year, I received an email thanking for my year of work and wishing me all the best in the future. I felt shocked and a bit betrayed. However, my story isn’t unique. Unfortunately, in Spain it’s very common to ditch your workers without giving any explanation. My shocking news circled other work colleagues and as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one put in this situation.

After the initial shock wore off, unexpectedly came a sense of relief. I’ve been wanting to become a freelancer for some time but decided to wait one more year to fully commit to this idea. The feeling of working evenings, commuting one hour each way, working weekends and earning peanuts started getting to me. I needed a change and this situation pushed me to implement my plan just a little bit sooner. It’s actually quite funny as the night before this life-changing message I was saying how I feel quite ready to become autonomous and I was writing different ways I could teach my very own students! I guess everything happens for a reason!

So here’s my initial plan, a new chapter of my teaching experience – becoming my own boss. I feel a bit scared but definitely ready for JoannaESL 2.0. I even came up with some points that I’d like to achieve this academic year 2021/2022:

  1. Be my own boss! Become fully autonomous and work as a freelancer. I’d like to have my own students and work online, maybe get a few teaching hours in an academy as I do enjoy being in a classroom and feeling the presence of my students.
  2. Find more than one source of income. I’ve been trying to do this in many different ways but so far no success… I decided that if I stay committed to my blog for more than 6 months, I’ll get a paid version of it and get even more serious. Additionally, I’ve been researching other teacher platforms. I’m so captivated by Teachers pay Teachers and I started uploading my free worksheets on there too. I have some ideas that I can post on there and be rewarded at the end.
  3. Keep being creative. After a few months of being online and trying to network with other ESL teachers, I felt like my creative juices stopped flowing. However, I feel inspired again and have my head full of ideas that I just can’t wait to implement and share with everyone!

I guess that’s all I have to say about my life changing event. Being an ESL teacher in Spain isn’t always glorious and easy. When you move to Spain and decide to join this business, get ready for many mishaps and events that may put you off. It doesn’t matter how much you love teaching, you’ll most likely meet people who will make this job so difficult and unrewarding that you’ll want to quit. However, try turning every bad situation into a growing experience and turn it around so the odds are in your favour!

Hope you are as excited as I am for my new adventure and if you’ve ever had any similar experience, please do tell me how you dealt with it. I’m so new to this that any advice, even the silliest one is more than welcome! JoannaESL 2.0 – here we come!

First class – what can you do?

Attention all the ESL teachers in Spain! You’ve got less than a month of holidays left. Time to mentally prepare for the first day and introduction classes. Do you know what you’re going to do this year?

I’ve said it a million times before, I will say it again – I do NOT like the very first classes. In fact the first two weeks, even though they’re incredibly exciting, they are equally as awkward and painful. I always look for the perfect activity and so far nothing!

A few weeks back I posted a picture onto my Instagram profile with sparks notes of my Introduce your classmates lesson plan for adults.

I was so happy to see that some of my fellow ESL teachers shared their ideas and opinions with me. Teaching with Tracey, Paranthropus and Calum – English Teacher inspired me to create a list of first class activities.

1. Two truths and a lie

Oh what’s that? Snoring? A very controversial and unpopular opinion warning: I hate this activity. Let me tell you why. During my first years of teaching ESL it was my safety blanket. I had it all figured out, the best two truths and one lie about me. However, the more you do it, the more you realise that if you’d done it many times before, the chances of your students doing this activity in the past are high too. Last year I did this activity one time with a group of B2 students who told me that they play this game EVERY YEAR. Keep this activity for other occasions. I actually used it with a group of A2 adults to revise Past Simple and it was a success!

2. Three things in common

On the first day of my CELTA course, our tutors divided us into 3 groups of 3 and asked us to find 3 things we’ve got in common. I think that it is a good icebreaker for higher level students as it really encourages them to get back into the swing of things and at the same time gives them opportunity to get to know each other without you around. Keep in mind that the things in common have to be very specific, e.g. the same birth months, the same number of siblings, the same hobbies…the sky is the limit.

3. Love, like, dislike or hate

While I was doing my research I found 5 introduction activities at Oxford Seminars by Robin Granham. You’ll notice that many of the activities are the same as before but we aren’t reinventing the wheel. I loved his Four Corners activity because it can be adapted to all the levels! All you need to do is label four corners of your classroom with love, like, dislike, hate and mention different things or actions.

For young learners, you can let them run around the classroom as they show their preferences. You can model your language and ask them about different food, subjects, free time activities, etc. Older students can get a set of labeled signs (as seen below) that they can use to answer your preference questions. With lower levels you can practice verbs of likes and dislikes, as well as Present Simple form. With higher levels you can ask more complex questions and then ask for explanations.

Feel free to download the cards and for durability laminate them. You can also glue them onto sticks to make little signs. It’s a gimmick that makes sure everyone is engaged and answering.

4. Riddle me this

This activity was found in Busy Teacher’s Top 300 Ice-Breakers, Warmers and Fillers a book by Busy Teacher. It’s a fun way to start the class and ask your students to work together. You start by drawing objects starting with the first letters of your name. You can see my example below!

What’s my name?

You can divide students to work in groups to solve this riddle. You can prepare more riddles like this so students have to guess some more facts about you. Once everyone knows your name, it’s their turn to create their own name art.

5. Find someone who…

A classic game with a fun twist to it that I found in 300 MORE Warmers, Fillers and Ice-breakers by Busy Teacher. A teacher provides random criteria, for example Find someone with the same colour toothbrush as you or Find someone with the same pet as you. The list goes on, you can come up with questions that can reveal your students’ personalities and preferences, or you can go with something more random. At the end you can ask students to report on what they learnt about their colleagues.

6. What’s my secret?

An activity that I found on Fluentu that I will definitely use this year with my bigger groups who already know each other from last year! Students write their secrets or less known facts on a piece of paper, for example I love reading anime. Students draw secrets at random and don’t reveal them to anyone! They walk around and ask indirect questions about the secret. The game continues until everyone finds out whose secret they’ve got.

7. Form a line

Another great activity that I actually found really fascinating and I’ll definitely use in some of my medium-sized groups are Blobs and Lines written by Erin Walton at EF. In this activity students need to form a line based on criteria given by a teacher. You can ask them to put themselves in alphabetical order of their names, their birthdays, tallest to shortest. You can also ask them to form “blobs” based on their favourite food, colour of clothing, or birthday month. I think it’s a great activity as your students will be moving around while communicating as a group with you being on the side!

Well, these are my ideas for first day ice-breakers! I think this year I will give 2 truths and a lie a break from my annual introduction activities and will focus on the other activities.

What is your go to first class activity?