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?

Is it possible to plan for very young learners?

So you’ve spent the whole weekend crafting an ideal plan for your young learners. You are confident and excited to have this class but the second you enter the classroom, you feel that something is off. Does it mean you’ve wasted your time?

I have immense admiration for all teachers who are truly passionate about working with (very) young children. They spend their entire days in a class full of energy and oh so many unexpected turns. I remember my first time teaching a group of eleven three-year-olds. I started off well, very hyped when suddenly everything collapsed. Until this day I don’t know what had happened. Needless to say, I left this classroom sweaty, exhausted and with the feeling that I don’t want to do this ever again.

I somehow managed to survive one full year teaching this group but the feeling of dread before every single class never changed. Luckily, it was only one year and since then I taught very young learners but in smaller groups and with more resources. This taught me one important thing – there’s a huge difference in class preparation between teenagers/adults and young learners!

Last week I talked about the importance of planning. While I still believe that it is important to at least think about your lessons, look at the textbooks, maybe prepare some CCQs and refresh some grammar points, I think that having a detailed plan for VYL doesn’t make much sense. Instead, we should have a general draft of the lesson that can be easily manipulated depending on how the lesson goes.

The reason for having an outline rather than a plan is that classes with young learners are a bit more unpredictable. I can think of so many times when all my kids got distracted so I had to scrap my plan and just go with the flow. To give you some examples of great distractions: a fallen and then lost tooth (we all had to go on a tooth search – without it, the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t come at night), a lost pencil (I tried giving one of my pencils but it just wasn’t the same), someone’s birthday (it doesn’t even have to be your student’s birthday, apparently a cousin’s birthday is as distracting), Halloween, Christmas, a car outside…or worst out of all of them – a boring activity.

Plan more than necessary

When you prepare an activity for a group of adults, even if it isn’t your best work, they’ll follow and most likely you won’t hear much complaining. In the case of VYL, you hear immediate feedback. Now it’s up to you to either listen to your learners and tweak the activity based on their likes or just abandon it altogether and move on to something else. For this reason, it is essential to plan more than necessary. Worst case scenario is that you used all your planned activities, the best case scenario – you have some ideas that you can use next time! Most importantly, don’t feel bad that your students don’t enjoy your task. It’s hard to predict a good activity, especially that the exact same one can work just fine some other day!

Create learning stations

On a similar note, imagine that you have a craft idea prepared but not everyone wants to do it. You have some kids who can’t wait to be a part of it and others who prefer something else. In the case of larger groups, you may benefit from creating learning stations. You can start by learning vocabulary and grammar together but then you can send your students to do the tasks that they enjoy at the moment. It requires a lot of preparation and you need to be everywhere at the same time but your students enjoy the class and that’s what matters the most.

Listen to your students

Now, hear me out. Sometimes your students enter the classroom and they know what they want to do. It’s normally a game or an activity that they’d done at school and enjoyed it. There are times that the ideas are not great but more often than not I learnt new games that I adapted to my lessons. At the end of the day, you show that you have trust and respect for your students as their opinion matters to you. The same goes for some of your activities. If the activity is a bit off and you can see that students don’t really enjoy it but have an idea how they can change it, then give it a go! You may have a hidden gem on your hands and you just need some courage to try it out. Again – if it’s not working, you can always stop it.

From the top of my head, I can think of one example from my own class. I wanted to do a flashcard race but the kids were not having it that day. Instead, they were really distracted by…chairs. So I got up and without saying anything, put the chairs in a straight line. This already created some interest and brought back attention to me. I asked them to form a queue and we had a crawling race. Students crawled under the chairs and named the flashcards that they found on their way. At the end of the task, I had reached my objective and everyone was happy (and a bit dusty but you can’t have it all…)

Have a treasure box

Let’s imagine that you came to the class really under planned and you are running low on activities and ideas. In that case, try to have something up your sleeve. Maybe there’s a game, a song, or a dance that your students really love and you don’t do that often. In general, keep the best and most exciting activities on the low, so when you do them, you immediately get everyone on board.

By no means I’m a (V)YL expert. These are only some of my thoughts and ideas based on observation and experimentation. Keep in mind that all the groups are different and that just because one activity didn’t work one day, it may work perfectly fine next time! My only advice is to keep the lesson planning as flexible as possible and most importantly just have fun with it!

What are your thoughts on teaching and planning for VYLs?

Creating a classroom community

There’s nothing better than having a group of students who enjoy each other’s company. On the first day it is essential to build a safe space and create the feeling of community.

Last year when I was combing through the internet for the perfect first class activity for young learners. I wanted something that will help them get to know me, at the same time demonstrating their speaking and grammar skills. I found a perfect activity on ESL Kid Stuff (a great website with so many lesson plans and a range of activities!) I decided to go through their intro lesson plans for kids aged 8-12 years old. One of the activities describes drawing a stickfigure and writing one word answers around it. The stickfigure is a representation of a teacher and the answers are basic facts about you!

I decided to take a spin on this activity. My end goal is to create an arts and crafts corner for my YL groups. Instead of drawing ourselves, students can trace their hands and write the answers to these questions inside! I think that it gives a personal touch to it and students will definitely look at their classmates’ projects at least to compare their hand sizes! It also gives a sense of belonging as you create something as a group and no one from outside of it is allowed to be a part of your little family.

You can start the class by drawing a big hand on the board (or use a ppt for online classes) with certain words written inside, as seen below.

An example of a handprint with information about me – the teacher.

Now students need to predict the questions to the answers – they are quite obvious, so focus on reviewing correct word order and tenses instead! You can even ask your young learners to come to the board and write them next to the corresponding fingers. I focused on name, age, birthday, favourite pet and colour, and best friend’s name. Of course, you can and maybe even should adapt the activity based on your group! I wanted to include the birthday dates as it may help you with planning a special activity, a song or a little gift for your little ones in the future.

At the end you can either decorate the hand on the board OR show them the real craft you’d done yourself prior. As it normally goes with the little ones, you have to do some of the crafts at home to show them the visual example. So trace your hand, write the answers to your questions and decorate it! If you know that at your academy/school there are plenty of materials that you can use (markers, stickers, glitter…) then of course, use them on your project. If not, better stay away from it. It’ll save you a lot of questions and comments about your materials.

Once everyone is done you can go around asking and answering the questions. At the end dedicate one section of your classroom just for this group and display their work! Young learners LOVE looking at their art and at the end of the year they will definitely want to take them down and keep it as a souvenir. It is also an incredible way to check their progress and physical development at the end of the year!

What do you think about my introduction craft? What do you normally do with your YL on the first day of school?

Lesson planning – Is it worth it?

Last year I decided to do a little experiment – I decided to plan all of my classes to a tee. Here are some things that I learnt by planning 492 lessons last year.

If you are employed at a private language academy in Spain, you will normally be asked to prepare lesson plans in advance and upload them to a common server. That’s not always a reality but this is what I had to do last year.

The beginning is usually difficult. I hate planning introduction classes! I feel nervous and awkward, as I know that I’m being judged by everyone in the room. Depending on the level I try to do something creative, a fun ice breaker or maybe a set of rules (that’s for teenagers). Whether you like it or not, the first two weeks are quite free and you can actually use this time to check some of the lesson plans you’ve been meaning to do for some time, develop some of your strategies or just experiment with different teaching styles.

Once the period of two weeks is over you get to use the book. That is a true blessing! I taught 15 hours a week and coming up with class ideas, challenging tasks and on top of that staying organized is not a piece of cake. The truth is…I kind of like using textbooks. I started teaching ESL without any prior experience so using a teacher’s book seemed unnatural. After last year I can’t imagine having it any other way. Some of the teacher’s books are so detailed that they cut your planning time to a minimum while still keeping your classes interesting and fun (I’m looking at you Oxford University Press! English File books are a game changer!). There are times that I don’t like some of activities and change them around, or remove them completely, but normally they are helpful.

So here are some things that I learnt this year when I planned EVERY SINGLE LESSON (normally with the help of teacher’s books but also some extra theme classes).

You look professional

I got good student evaluation at the end of the year. I was always 30 minutes earlier to organize my desk and print out everything that needed to be printed out. I planned my lessons down to a minute. However, it isn’t always easy to predict how will the lesson go, so just in case I had some fillers and online links ready to be clicked on. I did all the tasks myself and I knew exactly the questions that were going to pop out in class. I had all the CCQs, definitions, Spanish translations…Of course, some unexpected things happened here or there, but overall my image and reputation were solid throughout the year.

Limited spontaneity

The bad side of planning every single class was that I think I lost the ability to enter the class empty-handed. You see, when I first started teaching I did NOT plan anything. I was going with the flow, blindly following the book and now after gaining some perspective, at times looking like a moron. I didn’t even think about most common problems that may come up during the class and had to end up saying the good old I’ll get back to you on that one next time. Spoilers alert: I didn’t.

So naturally, there are good things that come with being organized (you predict problems and solve them immediately) but you also start sweating once you realize that this class is underplanned or things are taking an unexpected turn. There were moments that I made a quick call and abandoned the rest of my plan, just because I felt like my students needed something else at the moment and they wouldn’t have benefited from other tasks.

The three r’s

Even though they are used to talk about waste management, I think the analogy is appropriate. Once you have a set of nice lesson plans for a certain level or book, in the future you reduce the preparation time by recylcing your lesson plans and reusing some of the activities.

This year I completed three text books for YL. I organized my activities, planned extra worksheets and crafts. If I stay at the same academy, I’m good to go with those levels as all I need to do is read my lesson plans, reflect on some of the activities and either keep them as they are or use my extra time on improvment! I also did half of some general English and Cambridge exam preparation books that are popular and used in every academy. So I know for a fact that I’ll be using them anywhere I go.

Say goodbye to your free time

Most of the academies in Spain will not pay for your lesson preparation time. I spent a lot of my time on planning lessons for free! I can tell you that this led to frustration and to be completely honest with you, some of my plans suffered because of it. I think it is quite natural that we start a new academic year with hope and excitement which normally gradually decreases over time. This feeling drops even faster when you are expected to give a top-notch performance every single time and your students shouldn’t see how upset you are about your lost time. I developed a system that I planned some of my classes in the morning (I worked evenings only), so I would have more free time at the weekend. Those people who say that you only work part time as a teacher should put themselves in teacher’s shoes and see how this part time job is actually full time.

It gets better with time

Let’s end on a positive note. Even though it is quite challenging at first, once you develop your style, you discover some good resource websites and you get used to teacher’s books, you will realize that your planning time gets shorter. You’ll also see how repetitive some tasks are and since you did everything yourself, you will know where to find what you need.

Overall, I do like planning. I know that next year my planning time will get reduced as I will get to teach same levels as last year! That gives me some hope for sure. I also learnt a lot this year: I revised grammar, vocab and pronunciation for all levels. I know how and where to find interesting resources. Most importantly, I know how to plan an interesting and creative lesson plan from scratch!

So tell me, how do you feel about detailed lesson planning? What’s your style and how do you prepare yourself before classes?

Laugh it off!

Learning a new language often comes with making mistakes. Some mistakes are natural and relate to first language or mispronunciation. However, every now and then our students make mistakes that can make you laugh uncontrollably. What do you do then?

Certain class situations can make you laugh out loud. I guess that’s just one of the perks of being an ESL teacher. Of course, depending on the level of your students, their age and the country you teach in, you can either allow yourself to let loose and have some fun, or you must control yourself and keep the lesson going.

Being an ESL teacher in Spain allows you to have some fun in the classroom. Spanish culture is quite relaxed, and your students will often try to tell some jokes or anecdotes, so you may as well just go with the flow. I’d like to dedicate my post to all the students whose mispronunciation and misunderstanding made my day and will make me remember them forever. So this one is for you guys!

Kitchen vs. Chicken

I guess you already know where I’m going with this one. It’s possibly one of the most common mistakes that happen in the classroom! From the top of my head, I can recall five separate situations in five different groups when one of my students said I love eating kitchen for lunch or She prepares dinner in her chicken. The first time I heard this mistake I laughed a little bit, but now I’m immune to it. However, this error always brings a lot of laughter amongst the students, so it’ll always remain my number one.

Translating words from Spanish to English

Yes! Sometimes it can work. Students often notice the pattern and try to change Spanish words into English ones because they are usually correct. For example, invención = inventionnacionalidad = nationalitypalpable = palpable, the list goes on. Imagine the shock on my student’s face when he came up to my desk at the beginning of the lesson to say, Hey Joanna! Javier isn’t coming today because he’s constipated. It was at the very beginning of my ESL career when my Spanish was very VERY basic. I looked at my student and responded with Okay. Thanks. That’s a bit TMI, but I appreciate your honesty. At this point, we were both looking at each other with a lot of confusion. After describing Javier’s problem and realizing that he’s under the weather and his bathroom situation is fine, we both learnt something important that day: constipado ≠ constipated (estar constipado = have a cold).

Guess the meaning!

I don’t like spoonfeeding my students. I want them to work for it and guess the meaning from context! It happened in one of the B1 exam prep lessons. My students finished working on reading for gist, and before moving to the exam task, I wanted to go through some vocabulary. Normally, students are great at understanding the meaning from context, but there are times when I like to isolate certain words and elicit definitions. I pointed to one of the sentences The street was filled with pedestrians and asked Who are pedestrians? Jackpot! As suspected they knew that pedestrians are people, but what kind of people? So I decided to describe this word You know, pedestrians are people who walk outside. I could see one of my students have a lightbulb moment Oh, oh! Like pederastas! I remember stopping for a second and saying Erm…no. Pederastas can be pedestrians too, but that’s not it. After this, I lost it. My student’s face turned red, and I just decided to give the Spanish word pedestrian = peatón. Don’t worry, she laughed it off, and I am more than sure that she’ll remember this word forever.

Repeat after me ‘fish, sit’

This happened quite recently in one of my adult general English classes. I was modelling and drilling the pronunciation of /ɪ/. It was going well, but one of my students kept saying feesh /iː/. I quickly tried to remember any other word with /ɪ/ that she was familiar with. We did imperatives and she did well before, so I wrote down sit. Then I decided to model pronunciation myself and let her repeat after me. I said, Ok, listen. Fish – Sit, Fish – Sit, Fish – Sit! She looked at me with determination and said Fish – Shit! Her eyes opened wide, and she covered her mouth, then she started laughing. I started laughing too. I created this situation unintentionally. I must say one thing though, she nailed that /ɪ/!

They are too young to know…

The last mistake I’d like to describe happened in one of my VYL classes. I had three brave five-year-olds who loved repeating after me. I pulled out my flashcards with farm animals and asked them to listen to me, point to the animal and say the name. Where is a duck? Here it is! Good job! Now, where is a cow? Right there! Awesome! Okay, can you see a horse? They all knew where it was, but as they were repeating one of them kept saying hore – no ‘s’. I thought to myself that I shouldn’t ignore this mistake and drill the pronunciation of horse as it may bring some problems in the future. I tried everything – saying ‘ssssss’ like a snake (horssssse), triple pronunciation, shouting, whispering, singing…and nothing! He knows how to say ‘s’ on its own, it’s just this word that seemed to be complicated. For now, I left it as it is. I guess I know what I need to work on next year…

Here are some of my favourite ESL mistakes. Some of them are universal, and some of them you can only hear in a Spanish speaking country. Tell me about your funny classroom situations and how they are affected by the country you teach in!

CELTA – language skills related tasks

On CELTA you are asked to complete four written assignments. Even though you get plenty of help from your tutors, time is pretty tight, and you need to do a lot of individual research. I’d like to show you my assignment 3 with hopes that it will give you some help and inspiration on your CELTA journey.

Written assignment 3 – language skills related tasks was definitely one of my favourites. In this task, you are asked to find authentic material – a video, a song, an article – the sky is the limit, and make a lesson plan around it. I knew exactly what type of article I wanted to work on.

You see, when I first started teaching I was given the opportunity to teach a B2 group of adults at a private company. They were all great and loved discussing difficult and at times controversial topics. Since the company was located in Extremadura, Spain – the region of jamón and in general meat-lovers, I decided to bring an article on vegan burgers. The class went wild, students were engaged and brought a lot of great points to the table. That’s why when our tutor presented us with CELTA written assignment 3, I knew what to do.

Firstly, we had to select two or three pieces of authentic material and present them to our tutors. I selected two different articles from reputable websites (go for good sources with no grammar or spelling errors!):

  1. Charity shops will be full of ‘treasures’ and ‘gems’ following lockdown clearouts – a very topical and hot topic back in June 2020 by Independent. An article about people doing clothes clearouts while stuck at home and donating them to charity shops.
  2. Burger King ‘plant-based’ Whopper ads banned – an article by BBC News about false and misleading advertising. Another interesting and topical piece of authentic material that can lead to discussions on veganism, misinterpretation of information, fine print and many more.

I presented both of my articles and pushed hard to get a green light on the second one as I’d already had a scaffold of the lesson plan in my head. Luckily, it got approved, and I started working on it immediately. I think that out of all of the tasks, this was the easiest one and the one that took me almost no time to prepare. Scroll down to the end of the post to see the effect of my work and download it for inspiration!

So with the task being chosen and justified, I got on with planning. Following everything I’d learnt by that point, I decided to start with a lead-in by topic prediction based on visuals. Draw or show a burger, vegetables and a TV with a cross/ban sign. Give some time to discuss what they think the article is about.

An example of a lead in topic prediction based on visuals.

It, of course, leads nicely to the next activity – reading for gist. Since the article has about 300 words, your students can quickly skim through it to see if their predictions were correct. It is also a good opportunity for them to underline any new vocab, so you can discuss and explain any new words in the next part.

In this written assignment you are asked to prepare all the activities yourself! I decided to go with true, false, or information not given. I thought that putting this tiny twist on this exercise would make this activity a bit more challenging. I decided to go with eight sentences, so the task is long enough but not too long so students can stay focused.

To finish this part students discuss some general questions about the article topic. The main topic is who is in the wrong – Burger King for putting fine print or consumers for not reading it. I only prepared three questions, but in a classroom situation, I would be more than happy to put more emphasis on a discussion part.

Lastly, I wanted to put a creative spin. I asked students to change the controversial Whopper and make their own, brand new BK item with the list of ingredients, the name and last but not least, the slogan! For this, I went on the Burger King website and took a screenshot of the way they present their burgers. Students follow the example and prepare their very own burgers.

I had a chance to do this class in September 2020 with my B2 teenage group. It worked out well, and my students came up with the burger called The Cheesy Queen! I don’t think I need to share the list of ingredients as the name speaks for itself.

Good luck with your CELTA ventures! If you feel like you need some help or just an inspirational guideline to follow, don’t be shy and take a look at my assignment.

If you have already done CELTA, don’t be shy and tell me the topic of your language skills related task!

How to get a CELTA Pass A?

So you decided to commit and become an ESL teacher. The next best thing is to apply for the CELTA course and get that teaching certificate.

I can’t lie. I was thinking of taking CELTA for over a year, always finding excuses and thinking that maybe it isn’t as necessary as everyone says. During the quarantine, I was sitting at home telling myself that it is “only two weeks more” when I got an e-mail from CLIC Seville who I had asked a year prior about CELTA. As I had nothing better to do I decided to commit – 100% online CELTA here I come!

I quickly assessed the chances of failing the course and I thought to myself that it is highly unlikely, I should get at least a pass. Pass B? Yeah, probably not. I didn’t even consider getting a pass A. The course started and finished almost immediately. It was the most intense five weeks of my life. On our last day, we had our online celebratory drink, I closed my laptop and decided that I won’t think about my grade – it’s done.

A celebratory drink with some of the best CELTA tutors and ESL teachers.

I found myself having a lot of free time on my hands, I was playing with my phone when I got an e-mail from CLIC: “Hope you’re having a good weekend. Attached is your provisional CELTA result.” My heart was in my throat, I opened it and…PASS A! Towards the end of the course I knew that I was doing quite well, but only 5% of CELTA candidates get a Pass A (Cambridge English: Grade Statistics, 2019). It seemed impossible.

Four or five months later I could finally see it in person. That’s when it truly hit me how important this course was and how much I would have regretted if I “only” got a Pass. Many private academies in Spain require a CELTA certificate, minimum a Pass A or Pass B. Scroll down to see 8 ways in which I got a CELTA Pass A.

1. Devote yourself fully

It was quite easy for me as I did it during quarantine when I had nothing better to do. If you sign up for an intensive course, say goodbye to your family and friends. They will see you in 4-5 weeks. It is a truly intense experience with very little free time. My day started at 10 o’clock with teaching practice, followed by an input session, followed by a reflection/constructive criticism time, ending with a final input session. At 6 o’clock you finish your classes, but you still need to work on your lesson plans and assignments. Of course, take breaks and go for walks to relax, but in general, accept that you won’t have much free time.

2. Share your ideas

Prior to your teaching practice, you will get some planning time and meetings with your tutor. Your first class will be the easiest to plan, as you will get a scaffold of your lesson with objectives and some task ideas. As the course progresses, you will be getting less and less help, until you will have to decide what you want to teach on your own. During your meeting with the tutor, discuss your own ideas and come up with your own tasks. This will add to your teaching independence that may result in a higher grade.

3. Research

Before you blindly follow your tutor’s ideas, maybe think of some other activities or some other ways to start or finish the class. Your ideas don’t have to be used but the internet is saturated with interesting and engaging lesson plans that may be inspiring. Of course, don’t copy-paste them, but you can use some of them as a lead-in or an oral practice. The same goes for doing your assignments. If you fail one of your assignments, you are not eligible for pass A. Get inspired and DON’T PLAGIARISE! So really google it and support everything you do with reputable ESL teaching books (your tutors will let you know what books to use). If you feel a bit shaky about some of the parts of English, watch some YouTube videos so you understand what you’re teaching! You want to sound and look confident in front of your students.

4. Reflect on your teaching

After each teaching session, you will complete a form reflecting on your class. You will also hear other candidates and tutors discussing your lesson – in front of you! Don’t worry, the other candidates are usually very nice and focus only on good things. I decided to be very truthful and if I made a mistake, or there were some parts that didn’t work out as I’d expected, I was being honest about it. This shows your awareness and lets everyone know that you are able to adapt if necessary. Another thing – it’s okay to experiment. You can include things that you think will work in class and it’s also okay if the experiment fails! Your tutors want to see your creativity and originality. If you are able to defend your experiments, you have nothing to worry about.

5. Take criticism

Once you talk to your teammates and your tutors, try to accept their criticism and really think about it. There are times that you may disagree, but try including your tutor’s comments in your lesson plans. I did that and I promise you, you will not regret it! If you try doing something for the first time and it doesn’t work out, it’s really fine! Rome wasn’t built in a day! Practice makes perfect and everyone knows that. Your tutor just wants to see you being open to the idea of trying new things and getting outside of your comfort zone.

6. Learn from other teachers

The good thing about teaching practice is that you aren’t the only teacher there! You will get to see other incredible teachers with different teaching methods and behaviour. I must say that I found it so refreshing. I’m so used to my style that I almost forget that we are all different. One of my teammates taught me how to teach while being fully relaxed and true to himself, another taught me how to take risks while teaching, another one taught me how to prepare engaging worksheets and presentations. You should take some ideas from them and maybe implement the ones that you like the most.

7. Participate

It is quite important to be active during those long input hours. I admit I was starting my days full of energy and my will to live was disappearing as the day went by. Nevertheless, I always tried to participate and share my ideas even when I felt like I couldn’t look at my laptop any longer. Input sessions are another great opportunity to learn from your colleagues. I can’t stress how much I learnt from some of the more experienced candidates.

8. Have some prior teaching experience

This one is almost unrealistic for some of the candidates, but there was a huge difference between teachers with experience and people doing it for the first time. First of all, if you have some experience you know how to explain, give instructions, you also understand English grammar rules, you know some of the most common questions and you may have some ideas for tasks. New teachers are overwhelmed by being in the centre of attention. You have to carry the whole class while being watched and judged by many people at the same time. So if you are aiming for that Pass A, give yourself some time before and become a confident speaker at least. For clarification, I did CELTA with 1.5 years of teaching experience. Of course, you may be also one of the gifted ones who are naturally confident and deal well in new situations, in that case…don’t wait!

These are some of my main points that in my opinion helped me get a Pass A. Comment below what other tips you would give to ESL teachers thinking about taking CELTA! And if you are planning on taking CELTA good luck and I hope you found my post at least a little bit useful.

Native speakers only!

Native speakers wanted! Our academy hires native speakers only! Learn English with native speakers! Sounds familiar? What if I tell you that it is all a lie…

If you’ve ever looked for an ESL job, surely you were bombarded with native speakers only! as the top requirement. When I saw it for the first time I was mortified – who’s going to hire a Polish girl to teach English? Luckily for me, Spain has one of the lowest percentages of English speakers in Europe with less than 30% people being able to use it! (El Pais, 2017). Language academies, especially in smaller towns or in less popular areas, would do anything to have you on board – with or without any certifications. That is precisely what happened to me and how I discovered my love for teaching English.

Even though I am a certified teacher with a few years of experience and good reputation among my students, every now and then I get side-eyed by some parent or an older student when they learn that I am not a native speaker. This raises a question Can you be a good ESL teacher without being a native speaker? The answer is simple – Yes, you can!

I remember starting CELTA and thinking What if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t understand everything? Will I ever be able to teach higher levels? In fact, the thought of teaching a B2 level group kept me awake at night, to the point that I decided to address my concerns to Mike, my CELTA tutor. He told me a story about a guitar student who kept attending guitar lessons despite being better than his teacher. When asked why he continued taking lessons, he answered that he has fluency but the teacher has the technique.

Needless to say, Mike boosted my confidence and helped me with teaching higher English levels. I passed CELTA with flying colours and realised that I am a good ESL teacher. A teacher who listens and understands her students. A teacher who isn’t afraid to look for help or admit that there are some things beyond her current knowledge. A teacher who continues learning and growing to accommodate the needs of her students.

A message to all language students: If you ever look for a language teacher, don’t reject non-native speakers. If they have university studies, years of experience or any extra language teaching certifications, you are much better off with them than with a non-certified native speaker. A native speaker without any certification or knowledge of language can give you fluency but will not be able to give you the technique.

A message to all language teachers: If you ever look for a teaching job that in a description puts native speakers only or rejects you based on your nationality – it is for the best. It may seem like a bummer at first, but you don’t want to be somewhere where people are discriminated based on their passport. Look for a work place that appreciates your expertise, allows you to grow and most importantly accepts you for who you are!

Creating routine

Are you a creature of habit? What about your students? As a teacher you don’t always have to surprise learners in fact many of them, especially the little ones, enjoy following certain routine.

You have probably realised that teaching is particularly difficult at the beginning of the school year. We all have to get to know each other, understand the way we communicate and establish our expectations. Students also need to learn about us, how we react to certain things, how we deal with new situations and, of course, what our classroom routine is.

There are so many ways in which you can start and end your class that it deserves it’s own post. I would like to focus on having certain routine that leads to culmination point at the end of the year.

I like to start my YL classes by asking about the date and the weather. It’s a great way to revise ordinal numbers, months, weather and season vocabulary. At first you should be the one asking all the questions, allow students to listen and get used to vocabulary. You may also want to write these questions down and keep them in sight. Collect the answers and write them down in the weather report worksheet (scroll down to download the file). Once everyone understands the task, you can nominate different students to ask, collect and write the answers for you! Make sure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate in this activity.

It is easy to have a routine without any end goal. The purpose of this lesson is to change it into something useful, make your students feel that everything you do in class is well-thought, organised and memorable. This lesson is fairly easy and is mostly student-centred. You can download the lesson plan and the weather report worksheet at the end of the post!

Start by drawing a circle and writing the first letters of the months. Allow your students to guess the topic of the class and figure out the meaning of the words. Once you have the answers, divide the circle into four parts – these are the seasons. Before you move on to the project part of the lesson, you can elicit students’ predictions about the average temperature in different seasons, as well as the number of sunny, rainy, cloudy… days.

It is always a good idea to give instructions by showing an example, so do the first part of the project as a group. This will eliminate a lot of questions later on. Choose one season, tally all the weather type days, e.g. 5 sunny days, 3 rainy days, etc. and calculate the average temperature. Write the results down and allow the students to work in small groups on the rest of the seasons. By the end of the class put all the results together and display them in the classroom.

It’s an easy concept lesson that requires quite a lot of commitment, but your YL will love it. The class doesn’t feel like a typical ESL lesson and it gives the feeling of achievement and closure as students used and analysed their own data. At the end of the day, you want to create memorable lessons that will inspire and shape your learners into creative and intelligent people.

Feel free to download the lesson plan and the weather report worksheet below!

School’s out! – and now what?

We made it! One of the most challenging school years is done! But what are you going to do now?

There is no doubt that the school year 2020/2021 was one of the most difficult years for teaching. We all needed to adapt to the new routine, disinfect everything every 5 minutes, keep the distance, transition to teaching fully online or worse…hybrid teaching.

If you teach in a state school, the answer to the question is very simple – now relax. However, if you are teaching in a private academy and your contract ends with the last day of school, you may find yourself in a pickle.

In Spain, most of the ESL teachers working at private academies work under contrato de obra y servicio (work and service contract). This means that you are hired for an academic year and once the year is over your work and service is done too. Private academies often offer intensive summer courses that focus mainly on exam preparation, but there simply may not be enough work to keep you around. If you worked hard during the year and your service was appreciated, there are high chances of rehiring you in September, but this means that you have 3 months of unpaid leave. But worry not! There are many different ways in which you can find something to do.

1. Find a new job

In case you feel insecure about your current position and you just don’t know if you get a callback in September, there is no better time to find a new job! Update your resume and apply for new positions – there is also a chance that you will find a summer job either as a counsellor in one of many summer camps or as an intensive course teacher.

The best websites for ESL teaching jobs in Spain, which I used myself and could recommend without the shadow of a doubt, are TEFL.com and Spainwise. Through these websites, I found plenty of job offers and many academies actually reached back and scheduled an interview. Even if you feel a bit uncertain about some places, there is no harm in going for an interview (which are normally done online) and getting some job interview practice.

2. Become autonomous

Another great way of making some money is by offering private classes. The most common platform in Spain is Tus clases particulares. You are your own boss, you decide the time, the place, the level and the prices. It will require some self-implemented rules and making sure that you stay on top of everything, but it can help you create your own teaching space and teacher-student relationship that you can maintain even when you go back to work. It can be your main summer hustle and your side hustle for the rest of the year.

3. Develop yourself

If you’ve been thinking about doing some teacher related courses and you just never had the time, why not now? There are plenty of websites that offer short and relatively cheap fully-online teaching courses. Before I got into teaching, I learnt about different planning strategies for adults and for children using Tefl.org. Keep in mind that even though you work with a tutor and you do get a certificate at the end of the course, these courses are more for you than for any future employer.

In case you have some extra money and you actually want to impress your future boss, then you may want to invest in getting one of the teaching Cambridge courses. There is a variety of different courses, but if you haven’t got it already, CELTA is the best option. You can get it through one of the intensive courses offered by many different language schools. I got mine from CLIC Seville, which is also a part of the International House. The intensive course takes about 4-5 weeks (depending on the academy) and can be done in person, 50% online or fully online. It is quite pricey but it is definitely worth it.

4. Prepare for next year

If you are the lucky one who knows that they are able to come back to the same academy next academic year, then why not prepare some classes. I find it incredibly challenging to start the year and I am yet to develop a plan that is a perfect year opener. This summer I will definitely prepare some extra lesson plans and worksheets that I can use at the beginning of the new year. You may find it excessive now, but you will really thank yourself in September.

You may also want to find or make some games for your students. Do research about some online tools and try them for yourself. There are so many incredible websites out there that still need to be discovered!

5. Get creative

Another great way of developing yourself, networking and sharing your knowledge is by creating your own platform – such as this one! However, if you are not much of a writer then why don’t you share some of your incredible lesson plans and worksheets on websites like Teachers pay teachers. I am yet to explore this world myself, but to be completely honest I have used it a few times to download some of the freebies and I have definitely used some of them in my class. They are well done, professional and interesting for students. This is also another great way to make some extra cash during the year!

6. Just rest

This goes without saying. Switch off, relax and get ready for next year!

This summer for me is a bit different as I am taking a month off. During this time I am going to develop creative writing (aka this blog) and try creating the best lesson plans and worksheets for my students. Summer 2021 – let’s begin!