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

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

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

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

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

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

Time management

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

Technical issues

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

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

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

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

Pair work control and teacher feedback

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

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

Material preparation

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

Classroom management

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

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

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

These are a few of my favourite things

The year is coming to an end! It’s been a difficult year, full of changes and new beginnings. I’m happy that it also marks my six months of blogging. Over 2000 of you have entered my website, and hopefully, found in here some useful information. In this last post of 2021, I’d like to share with you my personal favourites, people and places that I visit frequently and often get inspired by.

Without any further ado, let me tell you about my favourite books, textbooks, platforms and people who have got me through this year and filled my head with so many incredible ideas!

Books for teachers

My all-time favourite grammar book that I open at least once a week is Teaching English Grammar – What to Teach and How to Teach It by Jim Scrivener. Whenever I look for a strong lead-in, I immediately go for this book. It’s more than just lead-ins. Each section goes over practice tasks, games and also the most common errors. I learnt about this book a while back but started using it on CELTA. I think what I truly love about this book is its simplicity and range of topics. The book was published in 2010 and some of the tasks need to be adapted to modern times or online teaching, but it’s a great point to start preparing for any lesson.

Coursebook

This title surely goes to English File 4th edition by Oxford University Press. I was introduced to this coursebook last year by no one else but the best DOS I’ve ever had. Gemma swore by these books and it’s hard to disagree with her. If I need to find inspiration or solid and engaging tasks, I always open one of their books. First of all, the range of levels available is overwhelming, all the way from A1/A2 to C1.2. All the topics are interesting, and one short speaking exercise can fill the whole class. What I love the most is their unique and refreshing grammar approach. They stay away from the typical grammar separation you see in other books. Students respond so well to that and not only them! Everything is so well-explained that I often feel like I learn something new each time!

Teacher on YouTube

Anyone who teaches online or needs to up their technology game should head to Charlie’s lessons on YouTube. This man has got everything – knowledge, charisma, sense of humour…What I particularly enjoyed was his series of YT shorts called Websites English Teachers should know. I don’t know about you, but I tend to use the same websites over and over again (looking at you Baamboozle!). Even though I love them, and it’s so easy to find something great over there, I feel like students need some variation. The problem is that it’s not a walk in the park to find a website that is as engaging as Kahoot or Wordwall. Charlie solves this problem for you. Not only that, he manages to give you a full tutorial in less than one minute! Here is a sneak peek at one of his shorts. I highly recommend visiting his YT Channel because it’s an endless source of ESL knowledge.

Teachers on WordPress

There are so many TEFL teachers out there that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the one that I like the most. The truth is that I follow many teachers and gain inspiration from every single one of them. Instead, let me share with you blog posts that I thought were top-notch.

My all-time favourite blog post of this year was Questions about teaching Very Young Learners (aged 2-5) by Sandy Millin. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again – I wish I had had this post with all its resources when I first started teaching VYLs. As an inspiring ESL blogger, I found this post to be a top example of what blogging is about. First of all, the research and sourcing of materials used in the blog is another level. From the perspective of a reader or an ESL teacher, it’s got everything you may need – the post starts with the idea of teaching VYLs, ways of dealing with children and a plethora of activities that you can follow. Sandy is an experienced teacher, and all of her posts are worth checking out.

Teacher Influencer

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure how to find my people and stand out from the overcrowded ESL teachers community. I started by looking for different people on Instagram. Amongst so many ESL teachers, some of them drew my attention. Let me start with the Dogme expert – teaching_with_tracey. I tend to overprepare for classes and still get nervous when I don’t have everything planned to the minute. Tracey does the opposite. She shows great low/no preparation ideas and talks about going with the flow. Hopefully, with some more time and experience, I will reach this level of confidence!

As a non-native speaker, I often get stressed about being not good enough. That’s why I love seeing other ESL teachers like me who are great, professional and well-respected. That’s why when I learnt about the_non_native_speaker I went through her whole content immediately. She isn’t afraid to speak up and deals with the injustice of native-speakrism. I truly relate to her and this problem as I’m frequently surrounded by native speakers with no experience who are being praised for their place of birth. Meri motivates me to move past this issue and continue being myself.

Tools

Since I’ve completely transitioned into working online, I decided to abandon my good ol’ paper agenda and started recording everything I do on the laptop. As stupid as it sounds, Microsoft Calendar is just the best. It motivates me to see students slowly filling my schedule while helping me stay organized. I also started using Microsoft To-Do. I open it every day, organize my lesson planning and note any new blog post ideas.

As for my blogging and digital resource making, I wouldn’t get this far without Grammarly and Canva. All my Instagram posts are made with the simplest version of Canva. It also helps me create unique worksheets and presentations that I, later on, share or sell on Teachers pay Teachers. Grammarly is like a friend that doesn’t complain about proofreading my writing. It’s so hard to read your material and it’s even more difficult to see your mistakes! I usually draft all the blog posts in WordPress and then go paragraph by paragraph in Grammarly. For sure, it would have been much easier and faster to do it with the paid version of Grammarly, but it’s somewhat stimulating to go over all the yellow lines and try different ways of correcting them.

From me to me

To end this post, I think I should acknowledge some of the things that I’ve created and are my favourites. First of all, I feel extremely proud of my B1 Christmas themed speaking and B2 Halloween themed speaking. They were a huge hit and got recognized by so many of you. These were the posts that went viral and made me feel that maybe I’m doing it for a reason. Another post was about The flakiness of adult students that encouraged many ESL teachers to message me and share their own experiences. It made me realize that I’m not alone in this difficult ESL teaching world and showed me that many people understood my everyday battle.

So these are a few of my favourite things! Let me know if you agree with them and what else you would add to the list! Thank you for being with me and I hope that next year will be even better!

Hope to see you again in 2022!

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.

Teaching Zoom

Teaching online isn’t an innovation. In fact many people have been learning English online for years. However, recent events really forced us all to adapt and use new technology.

I think it is safe to say that many people adapted to the new situation fairly quickly and only with some minor issues. I was 29 at the time and even though I was familiar with how everything works, there were moments when I felt as I can only imagine my grandpa feels when asked to check his text messages. That’s why I fully understood the pain of all of my adult online students that I had a pleasure teaching during CELTA 100% online.

I was teaching students with the average age of 50 years old. To be fair, they were quite good with technology for the most part, but there were moments that on top of trying to give the best teaching performance, we needed to give technical support too!

The course was a success and I was able to go back into classroom in September. The only thing is…I had to learn how to teach hybrid classes (a completely different story). Nevertheless, the course made me realise the importance of understanding the software before starting learning English. This is the reason why I came up with a short and basic “ZOOM tutorial” lesson plan that can be used after your first few lessons when you already get the feeling of your students and their knowledge of technology.

A quick check-list before you go any further! Make sure that before you commit to being an online teacher, you check these three boxes:

1. Learn how to use ZOOM yourself

I think this point is quite self-explanatory. I decided to prepare a lesson plan on ZOOM because this is the program that I am most familiar with and in my humble opinion, it is probably the best right now. You should ask your students beforehand and check what programs they know and possibly go with the majority, or choose a program that you are most confident with!

2. Check the connection speed

This is one thing that I learnt during CELTA application. Every student needed to do the internet speed test and if the connection was lower than 50 Mbps, then well…sorry. A lagging student, or worse, a lagging teacher is going to hold everyone back and taking into account your limited time and the fact that your students pay for these lessons, it is essential to provide a good quality service and an overall experience.

3. Use computers ONLY

I understand that this isn’t always a reality, but if everyone uses ZOOM on their computers, you will feel the difference! Everyone can share their screens, send and receive files, annotate…You can make it a general rule, but make sure to stay flexible just in case. You want to be professional but also on the go.

Now we are ready for the tutorial lesson! The lesson should be done with adults and only after you are sure that any additional help with the program is needed. A lesson plan and all the worksheets are available to download for free at the end of the post!

Start the class by a How well do you know ZOOM? questionnaire. This will already put your students’ ZOOM knowledge into the test, as they will have to follow your instructions to enter the breakout rooms. Students work in pairs or groups of three, ask and answer questions about the software. At the end students decide how proficient they think they are. When they are busy working without you, you can go into ninja mode. This means you mute yourself, switch off your camera and hide all non-video participants. Then you can go from one room to another and check how everything is going. Once you finish this activity, you can get a general feedback or discuss the main points.

This class focuses on watching a video A participants guide to ZOOM. Before watching introduce your students to basic ZOOM and functions of each button, follow by watching the video (possibly twice) to check the answers to the gap-fill and true or false exercises. This should help your students with the basics and also will give you the ease of mind knowing that your students actually watched that tutorial you asked them to.

In my classes I like to use the whiteboard and screen annotations, so I decided to include a short whiteboard tutorial. This is followed by a fun interactive activity where students race each other to annotate the screen – write, stamp, draw…and so on.

The class ends with a discussion. Divide your students into two groups – one discussing advantages and the other disadvantages of online learning. Then mix your students to present their points to each other. Once everyone is back to the main room, give your students some time to think how online classes can be improved. As this class was all about speaking, ask your students to write their answers in the chat. One or two sentences are enough, it will let you assess their use of ZOOM but also their writing level.

Finally, go back to the main point of the questionnaire from the lead in How proficient are you at ZOOM? You can send it as a poll to show another interesting ZOOM feature and see how the answers changed during this one hour class!

All the files needed to complete this lesson are available for free below!

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!

Cambridge PET – Writing Part 1

Teaching writing can be quite hard – especially teaching writing for exam preparation.

Like every teacher I have my most and least favourite things to teach. It is quite easy to focus on the parts that we really enjoy and neglect the parts that we don’t fully understand or we just don’t have that much fun with. I’ve got some groups that I can play around with, we can watch some videos, listen to music… There are also some groups that are strictly preparing for Cambridge exams.

While preparing for Cambridge exams I always try to make sure that my students understand each part of it, but most importantly, they know how to produce answers. As in every exam there is a certain key that learners need to follow and if they know how to achieve that, they can score really high!

There are so many resources distributed by Cambridge Assessment English. As I am not reinventing the wheel, I decided to use one of their materials and adapt them to my class. In order to follow my lesson plan it is necessary to download B1 Preliminary Handbook and Sample Papers for B1 Preliminary. You can download them by clicking the links or by going to the official website. All the pages used in this class are specified in the lesson plan.

This lesson consists of two files, a lesson plan and a worksheet that is designed to help learners understand how to approach writing part 1 exam task and how to answer it by following the Cambridge writing assessment scale. There is an additional worksheet with suggested answers to make sure that learners understand each step of the exam task. You can download all three files by clicking the links at the end of the post.

In order to score high, it is important to get your learners used to following the steps of the exam task analysis and planning before writing.

Step 1 – text type

As a group look at the exam task and identify the type of text. This part of the exam is mandatory and students are always asked to write an e-mail. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but I can’t remember the number of times that my students forgot over and over again what they were expected to write.

Step 2 – recipient

One part of the assessment is correctly identifying and approaching the target reader. In this part students should be aware that most likely they will have to write an e-mail to a friend or a teacher, which obviously will affect their vocabulary.

Step 3 – register

Once learners name the recipient, they should be able to identify the register of their response. In case of writing to a friend they can use contractions and less formal language. If the message is intended for a teacher, they should change register appropriately.

Step 4 – content points

Allow your students to read the message again and identify four main content points. Once students know what they need to address, they should be able to respond correctly, for example if the message tells them to suggest an activity, learners should use appropriate language and vocabulary relevant to the task. Emphasise that the answers shouldn’t be longer than 100 words, therefore they need to focus on answering the content points without getting too distracted.

Step 5 – plan

Based on the content points learners should be able to plan their answers. If you do it for the first time ever, you can do it as a group to show that students should only write basic ideas and some useful vocabulary. It is quite difficult to convince learners to plan their answers, but remind them that according to the writing assessment scale, they can score up to 5 points for well-organised, linked and coherent answer. Remember that the planning stage shouldn’t be longer than 5 minutes.

Step 6 – write your answer

Now following the plan, students should write their answers in about 10 minutes. It is good to get your learners work under time limit to avoid any bad surprises in the exam.

Step 7 – check your answer

Yes, you made it! The answers are written and the exam is about to end. However, tell your learners that if they find themselves with some spare time on their hands, they should read their answers AGAIN and see if they still make sense. It is also a good idea to drill some most common errors, so your pupils know exactly what they are looking for. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

In order for your learners to really know what they need to do, it is good to spend some time on explaining the writing assessment scale. Go through each of the points and back them up with some examples for better comprehension and give everyone a copy of the scale. To make it even more effective try following each writing with peer assessment because there is no better way to learn than from each other!

Hope you enjoy this lesson plan! You can download lesson plan, writing worksheet and suggested answers below! Be on the lookout as there is more exam content to come.

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!

CELTA – one year later

The year 2020 – what else is there to say? This is a story about the time in my life when I lost almost everything, but at the same time gained so much more. It’s the year when finally decided to invest in myself.

I arrived in Spain in September 2018 and decided to change my career path. Up until this point, I was an environmental engineer who was getting a bit unhappy with the career choice. Spain was like a breath of fresh air – a new place, new climate and new job as an ESL teacher.

I quickly learnt to love the profession as it allowed me to be me, have fun and develop my creative side. However, it is not as easy as it seems. It requires a lot of patience, attention and definitely planning – something that I learnt with time.

I was a teacher in a small village in Extremadura and over time I wanted to become a professional. I started researching Cambridge teaching courses when I stumbled upon CELTA. I decided to find out more so I emailed CLIC Seville, the academy that offered a 50% online course and the teaching part done in person every Friday for 10 weeks. Great deal! Except…not as I was already teaching every Friday and was unable to take that time off. Time passed by and I forgot about the course, but then the unexpected happened – 14th March 2020, aka you are unemployed for the next two weeks and another two weeks, and another two weeks…

This is how I ended up having way too much time on my hands. During this time I looked for new jobs, started knitting, watched a lot of films, baked cakes… Suddenly, on one fine May morning, I received a message from CLIC Seville talking about a 100% online CELTA course. There was no time like then. I replied, got an interview, got accepted and paid 1440 euros. That was the beginning of the CELTA adventure.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Benjamin Franklin

1st June 2020 came round and I was very nervous. I was afraid that I would be the worst addition to the course and the tutors would tell me not to teach ever again. I was wrong. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I learnt a lot of new techniques, but what I valued the most was the feedback and the observation of other great teachers. After spending five truly exhausting weeks, averaging eight hours a day in front of the computer, teaching, planning, completing the tasks, I made it to the very end with a Pass A.

This is what finally brings me here. This newly found confidence, realization that I am a better teacher than I ever was an engineer and the freedom, and ability to create – is what I truly appreciate about being a teacher. So here I am, at last ready to share my ideas with other teachers.

Hope you embark on this journey with me and help me build this creative space.