5 ways of keeping private students

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

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

Write down any important information

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

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

Personalised classes

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

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

Be understanding, empathetic and approachable

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

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

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

Be knowledgeable

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

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

Open up to your students

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

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

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

The science of attraction – C1 listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Valentine’s Day-themed C1 speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time management

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

Technical issues

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

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

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

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

Pair work control and teacher feedback

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

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

Material preparation

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

Classroom management

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

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

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

What fills your heart?

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

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

The mystery sentence

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

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

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

Match the halves of broken hearts

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

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

What fills your heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambridge CAE – Writing Part 2 (review)

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

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

Click below to download the lesson plan and the presentation.

2022 – The year of the Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambridge PET – Speaking Part 3

In the PET speaking exam, the students aren’t alone – they go in with another candidate (sometimes even two!). For the most part, they don’t need to communicate with each other. However, in Speaking Part 3 they need to exchange ideas and opinions for two minutes. And yes, they’re being scored on the way they communicate with each other.

I’ve got a series of short lesson plans on Cambridge PET exams, explaining each part and giving tips on getting a high score. Click below for all the other plans that I’ve done so far:

This class consists of the lesson plan and the speaking part 3 worksheet (with answers!). All are available to download at the end of the post.

In Speaking Part 3, students listen to a short imaginary scenario and look at a few options that need to be discussed for two minutes. All the options are shown as pictures, so students are required to have a wide range of vocabulary that would help them talk about the prompts. They also need a language that would help them with their discussion, e.g. expressing and asking for opinions, making suggestions, agreeing and disagreeing with their partner, etc. Additionally, they’re expected to have a natural conversation that forces them to think about their answers and listen to the other candidate at the same time.

Start the class by talking about going on a school/work trip. What is the best/worst trip they’ve ever been on? What did they do? Then hand out the worksheet and look at the task adapted from B1 Preliminary for Schools Sample Paper (available to download from the official Cambridge website).

Advertisements

Some students from a small village school are going on a trip to their capital city. Talk together about the different activities they could do in their capital city, and say which would be most interesting.

Students work in pairs and think of six possible activities they could do on a school trip to the capital. Share the ideas with everyone else. If you want to unify the activity, you may want to choose the best answers from each group and write them down on the board. Then ask the students to think of the advantages and disadvantages of each activity. In the case of big groups, give each group different activity and ask them to discuss only one prompt each. With smaller groups, you can ask them to think about the pros and cons of all of the activities. Share the answers and write them down on the board.

Explain the premise of speaking part 3 – students talk to another candidate and discuss the activities shown in the picture. This task tests the ability to share ideas, ask and give opinions, make suggestions, and agree and disagree with the partner. Introduce the most useful vocabulary. Students work on their own and put the phrases in the corresponding categories.

Divide students into pairs. Using the exam task, the prompt answers and useful vocabulary, ask students to discuss the task and choose the best activity. At this point allow students to talk freely without being timed. Collect the ideas and ask for the reasons why they think that it is the best activity to do in the capital city.

It’s time to reverse this exercise. Now present students with seven prompts, taken from the B1 Preliminary Sample Paper. All of them are connected by the exam task. Ask students to work together and write an exam task that could be used to talk about the prompts. Use the example task from exercise 1 to write their tasks. Students share their ideas with the rest of the class. From this point on, you can go in two different directions:

  • Students exchange their exam tasks and each group discusses their personalized task.
  • Share the real exam task and see how close the predictions were. All groups discuss the same exam task.

Whichever you decide on, monitor the activity and provide feedback.

This is the way I would normally approach Speaking Part 3. It covers the main parts of the exam, teaches useful vocabulary and most importantly, gets students used to this type of task! Click below to download all the files!

Your year in preview

Let’s forget about the past and start looking into the future! In my time teaching, I’ve taught the New Year’s resolutions class one too many times! That’s why I decided to switch it up just a notch. This year I dove into 2022 predictions about the world. I mean, the world is so unstable right now that it’s so interesting seeing what your students think may happen in 2022.

My last post was a short B1 lesson plan on happiness vs months fluctuation – Your year in review. This post is about the world predictions for 2022. Due to the difficult nature of this topic, this class is designed for older C1+ students.

Since most of my classes are done online, I decided to prepare lessons in this format. At the end of the blog post, you can download the lesson plan, the presentation (with the answers) and the jigsaw reading (divided into Student A, Student B, Student C and Student D).

In a true ESL teacher fashion, I scoured the internet to find the perfect and, of course, reputable article on 2022 predictions. That’s when I found The ideas and arguments that will define the next 12 months by the Washington Post. What drew my attention was that the article is divided into a bunch of shorter extracts, each centred around a different topic. Out of so many of them, I picked out four:

  • Climate change will keep getting worse. Our response won’t cut it.
  • The art world will learn to love the blockchain.
  • Fancy restaurants and casual chains will thrive. The places in between won’t.
  • The economy will see uncomfortable – but not crisis-level – inflation.

I decided to go with those because they had one thing in common – a title in Future Simple. I don’t think it’s necessary to revise Future Simple with a group of advanced students, but there are times when it may be useful to briefly go over the tense for uncertain future and predictions.

The class starts by discussing our 2021 predictions (personal or global) and checking if they came true. Since the lesson deals with rather impersonal topics, I wanted to allow the students to talk about themselves first. It’s also a good way of checking their mental state at the end of this tough year and whether they think that 2022 will be better (or worse!) in any way.

After the initial discussion, look at the four pictures associated with the four reading topics and predict their themes or headlines! Once you finish this part, show the actual headlines and quickly match them with the pictures. If you notice that students had some problems using Future Simple in the initial discussion, now would be a good time to analyse the titles and go over the uses and structure of this tense. However, since it is a class for advanced learners, this most likely will be optional.

That is when the fun starts! The texts are quite complex, long and with many complicated words that it is essential to divide the students into smaller groups or pairs. In this way, students can read texts together, analyse any vocabulary and answer eight questions. Don’t forget to mention that all students need to write their short answers as they will be needed in the next part! Mix the students, so that Students A are with Students B, and Students C are with Students D. Students use their notes to tell each other about their texts. Make sure that they don’t just read the answers and actually try to tell a story.

Here’s the twist. It has always bothered me that learners want to do their tasks as quickly as possible and then get into hibernation mode (= look at each other and stop listening). That’s why once everyone is done telling each other about their texts, put them one more time in their original pairs. Give each pair a set of questions about the texts they were just told about and ask them to answer them from memory! I guarantee that students will feel immediately awake, but will have fun by inventing the answers.

The last part of this reading and listening task is to retell other students the story they were told about by going over the answers. The students who originally read the predictions, correct any misunderstandings and errors. Finish with a general discussion on said topics and elicit their opinions. Do they agree or disagree with the headlines? What will happen in 2022? Do they have any predictions for their countries?

As always, click the links below to download the files!

Your year in review

Happy New Year everybody! I hope you all had a lovely winter break and enjoyed your time off work. When everyone else is planning their resolutions and different ways of achieving them, why don’t we look back at 2021 and analyse it month by month. I present you with a lesson plan for adults, levels A2/B1, which not only helps us think about the last year but should also put things into perspective.

While I was thinking of different ways of approaching this topic, when I stumbled upon Lesson idea: Using graphs to tell a story, a blog post by Emily Bryson ELT. I decided to plot the level of happiness vs the months of the year. And let me tell you, this was probably one of the most challenging years of my life.

This lesson consists of a plan and a worksheet that can be downloaded for free at the end of the post. Obviously, our years are so distinct that you need to make a personalized version of it. That’s why I included the editable worksheet that allows you to put your graph and events accordingly.

Start the class by drawing the graph without explaining the meaning of axes. If you teach online, you can either prepare your graphs beforehand (just like I did!), or quickly draw them on a digital whiteboard, such as Web Whiteboard. Keep in mind that drawing freehand on a digital whiteboard isn’t going to be as smooth as you would like!

Ask students to guess what the graph represents and predict the meaning of each axis. Since it is almost impossible to guess this correctly, give your student a hint and point out that the X-axis is divided into 12 parts.

The twelve points should give your students some idea that they indicate the months of the year. Now all they need to do is predict the meaning of the Y-axis. Let students brainstorm for a while and collect their ideas. Elicit that the Y-axis represents the happiness level / how good or bad the month was.

Show students 12 events that happened to you last year. Students match the events with the months. Tell them a short story about your year and check the answers. As I mentioned before, my year was not all that perfect. Here is a list of my events:

  • I went to visit my family for the first time in 1.5 years.
  • I recovered and came back to work.
  • I finished my one year contract and started my blog!
  • I had a serious accident and couldn’t walk for three weeks.
  • I decided to start working on my own.
  • I visited my family again and took a break from work and problems.
  • I was informed that I couldn’t return to the academy I’d worked a year before.
  • I rested, got a haircut and felt motivated to come back to work.
  • I started planning my website.
  • I earned money from my website and worksheets!
  • It was a lot harder to work on my own and find students than I’d anticipated.
  • Spring increased my productivity and creativity. I felt motivated to work and think.

I decided to focus my year in review on professional development and mental health. These two topics are quite hard to deal with, so I wouldn’t have this class with younger students. You can easily change your perspective depending on the level and age of your students! The sky is the limit!

After sharing your story, you may want to refresh the memory and go over the use and forms of Past Simple and Past Perfect.

It’s time for your students to work on their own. Students think about their 2021 and plot their graphs. Ask them to write 12 events associated with each month in random order. Students exchange their work and put the events in chronological order. Then everyone shares their 2021 with the rest of the group. It’s that easy!

Thank you, Emily, for the inspiration. It was so much fun playing around with the graphs. Stay tuned for my next blog post in which we will deal with the future and the upcoming year 2022!