Group lessons on Preply

Preply is an online teaching platform that I’ve been using for the last three months. It’s mostly known for its 1:1 lessons, but recently I received a notification saying that I’d be an ideal candidate for their group lessons. After some thinking, I decided to give it a go and see if this option is as good for me as they claim.

On 28th April, Preply notified me about the possibility of teaching groups via Zoom. This email coincided with another Preply milestone – teaching over 60 hours on the platform, which isn’t quite common (only 50% of tutors reaches this far). The message initially freaked me out, but I decided to take it easy and firstly applied for their internal Teach group lessons on the Preply course.

The idea is straightforward and seems a bit too good to be true. You choose the level and the topic you want to teach. Then you decide on a day and time and you’re set. Preply provides you with lesson plans and presentations, and that’s pretty much it. You can sign up for as many or as few lessons as you want. The idea is to provide students with cheaper lessons which they can take whenever they want. It offers flexibility, exposes them to English speakers from all over the world and gives them the possibility to be surrounded by a variety of accents. Sounds too good to be true? I needed to check it for myself.

Firstly, I needed to register as a group tutor. Since all the classes are on Zoom, Preply provides teachers with the full software version. Before you give them your email, they warn you about all the lessons being recorded, which can’t be switched off, so you should create a new email that you don’t currently use on Zoom. Otherwise, you may have an issue with your private Zoom lessons and personal videocalls. I got the access to group lessons and a full version of Zoom in less than 24 hours after registering.

Immediately after receiving the confirmation, I started scrolling through possible lessons. There are a lot of options from A1 to C1 levels. You have the ability to go over the notes before you commit, so you can teach something that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. Initially, I signed up for one class and got nervous. After some thinking, I decided to fill my mornings with group lessons. In my first week of trying group lessons, I joined six group lessons. The advantage of choosing classes is that you can teach the same class over and over again, which reduces preparation time.

As I was waiting impatiently for my first lesson, something unexpected happened – it got cancelled. I realised that the majority of classes get cancelled. The Preply group lesson policy is that if no one signs up for the lesson 24 hours before, it gets cancelled, and you get paid 50% of your hourly rate after commission. At the moment of writing this post, I registered for 12 group lessons, and only four of them weren’t cancelled. I must admit that this Preply feature is quite beneficial for me and provides me with income that requires minimal effort.

However, four out of these 12 lessons happened, so let’s focus on them instead. Once the lesson is confirmed, you can check its status on your profile under Group lessons – Your lessons. After the cancellation, the lesson disappears from there. If you’re waiting for confirmation, you can check when you have this class and what the topic is. It also shows the number of available spots for this lesson. The class size ranges from 1-to 6 students. 15 minutes before the lesson starts, you get an email with a notification reminding you about the class and information about the number of students who signed up for this class. In two of my group lessons, I had two students who registered and in both, only one of them showed up. In the other two, only one student booked the class. One of the ‘group’ students told me that in the 13 lessons that he attended, he had a partner in only one of them.

The idea of these group lessons is for students to follow a 30-hour course with 30 different tutors. Therefore, you aren’t allowed to bring any new material to class. You can personalise and modify it, depending on your teaching style. I decided to follow the material. If the students were a little bit less chatty, I managed to do more vocabulary revision before the main part of the lesson. The lessons are 55 minutes long, and Preply offers more than enough materials to fill that time. You are also expected to finish the class with error corrections and help students find their homework and pre-lesson task for the next lesson. Yes, students are expected to complete a pre-lesson task, so they should come in ready and aware of the topic. Here is an example lesson plan I followed during my first group lesson on Preply.

TimeProcedure
5 mins1. Welcome the students and introduce yourself.
2. Get to know each other:
– How long have you been on Preply?
– Do you have any questions about the pre-lesson task?
– What task was difficult/easy?
3. Topic related questions:
– When did you last travel by plane?
– Where did you go?
4. Present the lesson objectives.
5. Present the lesson structure.
5 mins1. Warm-up:
– Describe the picture (a family waiting at an airport).
– Answer the questions: Where are they? Where were they going? What are they doing? What has happened? How do they feel?
5 mins1. Pre-teach / Revise vocabulary: read an airport announcement and fill in the gaps with the missing words (reschedule, depart, cancelled, announcement, delayed).
2. Explain any new vocabulary.
3. Elicit the difference between delayed and cancelled.
4 mins1. Set the listening: A woman waiting at the gate when she hears an announcement.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and answer the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
4 mins1. Pronunciation: Elicit the difference between the word stress -teen and -ty in numbers.
2. Model and drill pronunciation.
5 mins1. Set the listening: The woman’s flight was cancelled.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and write the answers to the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
5 mins1. Teach – grammar: cause and effect.
– When do we use why?
– How is because different from because of?
because of = due to + a noun
because (conjunction) + a clause
2. Grammar practice: fill in the gaps with because / because of / due to.
7 mins1. Review the use of why / because / because of / due to.
2. Controlled practice: Ask and answer questions about flying using new grammar.
3. Model the activity: write a question starting with why and ask the student to give you the answer.
4. The student writes in the chat three questions starting with why. Discuss the answers.
7 mins1. Set the roleplay: Student A works for an airline. Student B is a passenger. A flight was cancelled. Talk on the phone and discuss the reason why the flight was cancelled, reschedule the flight and ask about any vouchers.
2. Swap roles.
8 mins1. Error correction.
2. Reflect on your class experience – ask for a rating (1-5).
– How well can you understand an airport announcement?
– How well can you use because / because of / due to?
– What vocabulary can you add to your flashcards?
3. Discuss what needs to be done next (repeat the class, sign up for the next lesson, do the post-lesson task).
An example 55 mins lesson plan for A2 level (The flight has been delayed)

This lesson plan is very different from what I offer to my 1:1 students, but I stick to the rules and follow the materials as necessary. I noticed that the material provided by Preply is more than enough to have a successful 55 minutes long lesson. In the case of finishing a bit too early, at the end of each presentation, there are 3 or 4 more slides with extra activities, so there is no need to panic.

Once the lesson ends, you get an email with autoconfirmation of the class and get paid right away. After each class, you can leave feedback about each student, comment on their attendance and suggest their level. I believe that students have to do something very similar after each class and rate their tutor. My first “group” student told me that he would put me in the top 3 of all the Preply tutors he had up to this point, so I believe that so far I’m doing well!

Group lessons are a great way of making extra cash in your free time. I’ll definitely continue signing up for them while I’m waiting for new students. As Preply works on commissions, you still need to have private students to increase teaching hours and decrease the commission rate (group lessons don’t count, unfortunately). Another benefit is frequent cancellations and, of course, ready-to-go lesson plans. You can also keep signing up for the same lessons over and over again, which will decrease your preparation time to a bare minimum. The main disadvantage is that there are more tutors than lessons available, so you need to be quick to book your spot!

Do you teach on Preply? What do you think about the group lessons?

Starters – Listening Part 4 – FRUIT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 ways of keeping private students

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

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

Write down any important information

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

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

Personalised classes

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

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

Be understanding, empathetic and approachable

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

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

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

Be knowledgeable

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

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

Open up to your students

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

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

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

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.

Thanks, but no thanks!

When you first start teaching, saying ‘NO’ will be one of the most challenging things you will have to do. There are so many situations that come to mind when I should have said no, but didn’t and regretted it instantly. I also remember the very first time I stood up for myself and then needed to take a minute to relax as it took a whole lot from me. Here are a few times when you should stand your ground and say, loudly and proudly – Thanks, but no thanks!

I remember teaching for the first time, and the thought of disagreeing with my boss made me shake like a leaf. One of my colleagues always firmly stood his ground. He never did overtime and even dared to ask for days off to enjoy long weekends! I thought that he was crazy. Now I start to understand him a bit more. I think he was just very confident and knew his worth. Something that I learnt with time and started implementing a few years later. Here are some things that I can say a hard ‘no’ to, some things that I started being a bit more vocal about, and some others that are still growing on me (it takes time!)

Knowing your worth

I feel like teaching is often seen as doing someone a favour. Many employers in Spain will give you the minimum teaching wage, act as if you’re incredibly overpaid, and you should thank them for hiring you on every single occasion. First of all, you got hired because of your skills. Whether they are your teaching skills, your impressive resume, or you know how to convince someone at an interview – you still got the job.

There was one time when I didn’t agree to an hourly rate. One language academy offered me 6 hours a week teaching English at a company for 9 euros an hour. It was six months after I’d started teaching, and I already had a better-paid job, working every evening. This job didn’t clash with my previous one, but it started at 8 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t imagine waking up early and working until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. So I said no. The bags under my eyes have a higher price.

Now that I work on my own and am responsible for finding students, I stay away from anyone who wants economic classes for 8 euros an hour! (I’ve seen PLENTY of students asking for this price, or even less) I have my price, and I am quite happy with it. I always tell myself that it includes more than just the teaching time. It’s also preparation, my materials, my knowledge and of course, the class itself.

Doing things you aren’t uncomfortable with

When you first start, you’ll most likely take any lessons given to you. You’ll realize that being an ESL teacher in Spain means being an expert at teaching all levels and ages, and knowing about all types of English exams. I’m not the biggest fan of teaching VYLs. I think that hiring an inexperienced person to teach a group of 3-year-olds is unethical and unfair for the kids and the parents who pay for these lessons! Unfortunately, most likely you won’t have a choice.

Last year I signed a contract to be one of the main teachers at a private academy. I was told that I was going to have my classroom, teach all ages, including 5 year-olds, but in small groups. On my first day, I realized that it wasn’t entirely true. On my schedule, I saw a mysterious place that I was asked to go to every day before my contract hours. As it turned out it was a private school where I was teaching a middle-sized group of VYLs. This was a temporary situation that lasted three weeks, and I hated every single second of it. After the agony period, my boss offered three hours a week over there – I’ve never said no faster in my life. I needed to explain my decision, but I didn’t care because my misery was finally over.

Choosing your students

The first thing I did when I decided to go solo, I texted my previous students if they wanted to continue working with me. Even though I was in a difficult position and beggars can’t be choosers, I was a chooser. I didn’t message every single one of them. I thought about everyone I’d taught before and made a list (sorry, not sorry!). I crafted a message and sent it their way. I knew that some of them weren’t going to be interested, so I only asked them to write short reviews on my superprof profile. This mission wasn’t either a success or a failure. It was just right.

Another story is regarding choosing brand new students. I always offer the very first class for free. Maybe it’s my fault, but I want everyone to be happy about the situation. I want my students to know what they are paying for, so they get to decide at the end of the trial lesson to either commit or keep on searching. However, it got me thinking – what if I don’t like them after the trial lesson. Could I be the one saying goodbye? I know that I have more to lose in that situation, but at the same time, there is no point forcing a relationship that makes us physically and mentally exhausted. It hasn’t happened to me YET, but I’ll report on it when it does.

Using your personal things in class

At my first job, I was asked to use my own laptop in class. I agreed because I didn’t know any better. In hindsight, this experience shortened the life of my computer, and I was the one paying the price. Now, I don’t agree to bring my personal belongings anywhere, unless it’s for my private classes or it’s my idea to do so. If an academy doesn’t offer the basic devices, that’s a hard pass.

I would often spend my money to buy classroom materials and get no refund in the end! Now that I think about those days, it makes my skin crawl. I just wanted to have cool lessons with interesting things. I tried. I still believe that teaching English to children requires more than just a book and a pencil. In retrospect, my heart was in the right place, but I don’t think I was paid enough to do that.

Covering a class without any preparation

one too many times. At first, when someone wanted me to cover a class, I’d agree without thinking. However, I reached the limit pretty quickly when I was asked to substitute without any prior knowledge of the group (i.e. the size and what they’d done). I entered the room and had to improvise. You can improvise for a little bit, but if you have to do it for a few hours without stopping, you get exhausted quickly. That was the moment when I set clear boundaries – if the cover isn’t an emergency, you need to tell me in advance. I ask for a plan or the most basic outline of the class. I need some time to read it, think about the way I can approach it, and have something that I can report on afterwards.

Working outside your hours

Some jobs ask you to participate in unpaid meetings! I did that and here’s the kicker – the majority of the meetings weren’t even about teaching or my students. They were general meetings about the academy and its future. I was under the impression that I was getting paid for my time there. However, once the teachers started a little revolution and all the meetings got cancelled (sadly), I realized that my salary stayed the same! This means that I did HOURS of extra work for free (I guess I can put it as volunteering on my resume). Once every three months, we were also expected to come on Saturday and work for free. I didn’t do it, but I know that others did.

However, working outside your teaching hours also affects you when you work on your own. I think that it’s important to set some time for being with your family, relaxing and doing absolutely nothing. Just because you are freelancing, doesn’t mean that you can’t have some free time. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of it, too. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t teach at the weekends. Well…the truth is – I do. It’s not a regular thing, but there are times that I have an hour or two, on Saturday or Sunday mornings! I still need to work on it, but it’s difficult to be judgemental of your boss when the boss is you!

Doing inconvenient things

Last year, I spent 10 hours a week commuting. 10 hours! It didn’t bother me back then, but it does now. I didn’t mind driving and I entertained myself with true crime and mystery podcasts, but it’s 10 hours a week that I could have spent in so many other ways. It makes me even angrier when I think about this time as a whole – 350 hours in the academic year! 350 hours = 14.5 days. The truth be told, this was one of the major factors that swayed me into teaching online.

Another thing I was asked to do, was to stay 2 hours after the meeting to teach children in a private school. Double no. This arrangement ended after a short period. I was also offered classes in the morning and the afternoon. Since I didn’t live next to the academy, and it took me an hour one way to commute, I immediately declined. There is no price that you can put on that wasted time I would have in between.

Going outside your comfort zone

I don’t fully agree with this statement, but there are times when we need to know when to say no. I think that it’s good to come out of your comfort zone from time to time. When one of my students asked me to help him study for his fishing industry exam, I agreed. I had time and more than anything, I wanted him to succeed. It expanded my current vocabulary and knowledge and gave me a break from Cambridge exam preparation.

On the other hand, recently I was put in a similar position but with a different student. I met a girl who wanted me to help her prepare for her university exam on the history and types of insurance. Looking at her notes didn’t motivate me. Quite the opposite actually. I got an immediate headache thinking about the time I need to put into helping her. I felt that it was going to take more time than necessary for the price that wasn’t appropriate for this type of commitment. Maybe next time!

I think that we all need to know our worth and limits. There are still so many things that I need to learn, but I think I’m slowly getting there! When do you say ‘no’ to a student or an employer?

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!

The Christmas Countdown

If you live and teach in one of the European countries, it’s almost impossible to avoid Christmas-themed lessons. A year ago, when I worked at an academy in Alicante, I was asked to prepare a short Christmas video or project with some of my younger groups. With my Movers group (ages 7-9), we spent about 5 or 6 hours talking about Christmas and preparing for the big video.

Children love Christmas, and no matter how much you try to avoid it, you will have to devote some time to it. What’s a better joy than counting down the days to Christmas? I thought that maybe it’s possible to keep this holiday excitement while learning English. Why don’t you try using an advent calendar that helps you focus on different exercises in each class?

In this free to download version, there are four classroom activities, each one of them written down on a festive card. You can either print out the numbers and glue them to the back of the cards, or you can put them in festive envelopes! If you have a Christmas tree in your classroom, you can hang them and remove one card daily! Ask your students to uncover the task at the beginning of the class and follow this Christmas activity.

As mentioned before, there are four different festive tasks. Let me present them to you and give you my idea of how to use them in class.

Write a letter to Santa

There is no better way of starting December than thinking about the presents! You can ask the kids whether they’ve been naughty or nice this year. If they believe that they’ve been nice, elicit what kind of good things they’ve done. Think of a list of good deeds and move on to the fun part – the presents. You can then put the letters in the envelopes and send them to the North Pole!

Read a Christmas story

Ask your students to read this Christmas classic written by Clement Clark Moore. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is an interesting choice, but fit it to your kids’ needs and abilities. If you find it to be too long, use only one page and move on! Another way of using this poem is asking your students to work in groups and fill in the gaps with the missing words. You can also try choral reading to keep everyone engaged in the activity. The poem is well-known, so you may also want to use a recording to listen to someone else reading it while filling out the missing words.

Make a Christmas ornament

Your classes shouldn’t be only about learning. Aim to bring the students closer together and build a good classroom community. It’s as necessary as studying! Let each of your students choose one out of six available patterns and give them the freedom to decorate them. If you bring markers and glitter, then you can count on having a great time. In the end, decorate your Christmas tree or a classroom. Students love seeing their projects on display.

Listen to Christmas carols

I chose my all-time favourite kids Christmas carol – Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. First, ask the students to match the vocabulary with the pictures to make sure that everyone knows what words we are looking for. Once everyone is clear, use these words to fill in the gaps while listening to the song. Play this Christmas carol, write the missing words and if you have some more time or need to record a video – why don’t you learn it and perform it for the parents?

Here are some of my ideas for an ESL Christmas advent calendar for kids. It’s easy, low-prep, and most importantly, your YL will love choosing the numbers and seeing what kind of fun surprise they’ve got ahead of them. If you are an after-school ESL teacher with two hours a week, this should give you content for two weeks of classes! If you are looking for something longer and more engaging, head to my TpT store to download the full version with eight more activities and over 60 pages of PDF. The activities include the four previously explained and additionally, the Christmas alphabet, solve and create a Christmas jigsaw, design your perfect gingerbread house, write and design a Christmas card, write a Christmas cookie recipe, roll and colour the ornaments, watch and answer questions about Frosty the Snowman and design and hang your own Christmas stocking!

How are you going to celebrate ESL Christmas this year? Click below to download four activities for free!

Technical language vs. ESL

ESL teachers are expected to know all about the language. Of course, we have no problems explaining grammar, preparing for the exams and of course, going over the most commonly used vocabulary. What happens when you have to teach something you have no expertise on? Should ESL teachers have any other educational background to be more valuable?

One of my students has been preparing for the B1 Cambridge exam.
We’ve been working on all the exam tasks. We practised describing pictures, writing emails, and most importantly, answering according to the key! There are times when I question the accuracy of those exams and if this certificate verifies students abilities to function in the “real” world of English speaking. That’s why when I was asked to leave the exam preparation for two weeks and focus on helping with the fishing school exam preparations, I happily agreed.

I know nothing about fishing vessels, different types of fishing methods and gear used for each one of them. That’s why I started by studying the coursebook on my own. Since it is an adult evening school, there are students of all English levels, ranging from A1 to B2. Although the level is quite low, I found it quite challenging for one main reason – there were many new words to understand and memorise. The coursebook is packed with new vocabulary and explanations. It made me feel quite overwhelmed, so I decided to make a set of worksheets with definitions and pictures. If you are interested in those activities, you can download them for free (with answers!!) at the end of this post.

We went over all the worksheets I’ve prepared and supplemented them with free-hand drawings. I know my most effective way of studying and memorising new material. As my objective is for him to pass the exam, I wanted to give him a variety of different studying methods to make this experience pleasant and useful.

Apart from the ship parts and types of netting, we also revised the types of fish that they are designed to catch and their overall impact on the environment. This student is quite shy and it takes some effort to interest him in any topic. However, this time was a bit different. For the first time in a long time, I saw him genuinely excited about the class. He was happy to label all the pictures and even proceeded by explaining to me the environmental impact and the legal problems with the fishing methods.

Even though it took me a long time to prepare for this class and even longer to learn the new vocabulary, I realised one important thing – my educational background in environmental engineering, definitely helped me understand the topic. First of all, I enjoyed the challenge. Second of all, it reminded me of the marine science course I took in the first year of my master’s degree. I noticed that I was able to engage in a meaningful discussion on the fishing gear and its impact on the environment.

We finished with a discussion about this exam revision. I apologised to him for my lack of knowledge on the matter. I explained that I really tried my best to understand and give him an accurate description of the fishing industry, but I still wanted him to fact check some of the things we talked about. He told me that he appreciated my effort and that it helped him a lot (mostly because he didn’t have to study on his own). Then told me something that truly shocked me…his current technical English teacher doesn’t know anything about the fishing industry and what’s even scarier, apparently she doesn’t know much about the language either. She has a B1 level and all of their lessons are done in Spanish.

How is that even possible? How can a person with a low language level and no technical background be responsible for the education of a group of people? In my opinion, at the end of this course, the students will be able to point to different fishing-related objects and name them, but nothing more than that. These classes won’t prepare them to work in an international environment in the future.

I think that the best combination is to have an ESL teacher with additional educational background. My ESL experience helped me prepare a successful set of revision notes that also focus on possible exam questions. My scientific background helped me focus on the utility of this studying material. I didn’t want to focus on vocabulary only. I wanted to also categorize the items based on their functions.

We still have a few revision classes left. One of them will focus on writing a job application for a fishing expert and an oyster harvester. I’m so happy that I got a chance to work on something slightly different. It woke me up from the Cambridge preparation slumber and doing the same activities over and over again. Most importantly, it gave me the feeling of doing something relevant. I enjoyed getting back into the science mode and refreshing some knowledge obtained in the master’s degree.

What do you normally teach? Do you focus on the exam preparation or do you also dip your toes in more technical or scientific topics? If you are interested in seeing my worksheets, click the links below and get the worksheets with the answers for free

Where do babies come from? – question forms

The other day, I was preparing a C1 level lesson plan on question forms. It’s an exam preparation group, so we follow a coursebook. As always, I started the preparation by checking the approach in the teacher’s book and as always, I decided to put a spin on it. I ended up thinking of a class that starts with a revision of the question word order and rising/falling intonation, followed by question forms.

I started my preparation process by thinking of random or shocking questions that I could ask my students. As I was thinking about the first crucial question, it hit me. Why don’t I ask them the most commonly asked questions by children? They are quite random, at times funny, but most of the time they are head-scratchers. I opened the class by asking Where do babies come from? and Why is the sky blue? It’s a Friday evening class, and I needed to get their attention immediately. Of course, you need to be careful with the question choice as I know that asking about certain things may create an uncomfortable situation. I teach in Spain, and the culture here is quite free. I can get away with talking about unusual and at times inappropriate topics in any 16+ years-old class.

All you need for this class is a lesson plan and a PowerPoint presentation that can be used for both online and in-person classes.

The original lesson plan, suggested by the book, didn’t mention the question word order or the question intonation. I decided to quickly go over these rules, as even though my students are quite good, they make mistakes now and then. In Spain, questions are made by keeping a statement word order and adding an inflection at the end of the sentence. It is quite common to hear this tendency during any English speaking task, for example You like chocolate?

After the opening questions, I asked my students who may ask such tough questions. I proceeded by telling them about the internet survey from April 2020 by nypost, which focused on the most commonly asked difficult questions by children. I told them to think about six other questions that may appear in the survey. Once they finished their discussion, we compared their answers with the actual answers.

I continued by looking at two question types – one with and the other without a question word – and analysing the word order. We also went over other wh- question words. As a revision, students thought of some more questions that we used to complete the table. I asked them to explain the rules and then showed my presentation to help them remember this information. Since it was only a revision, I didn’t spend too much time on it.

Instead, I moved on to the rising and falling intonation in questions. It’s another common Spanish speakers problem. In Spanish, questions are made by rising inflection at the end of a sentence. I proceeded by showing a Y/N question (Do you like chocolate?) and said it in two ways, with a rising and falling intonation. Then I asked a wh- question (Where are you from?) and did the same thing. Students had no problems identifying the correct intonation, but they weren’t sure why it happens. I quickly explained the rules, so they can be more confident about their pronunciation and intonation in the speaking exam. We finished this part by modelling and drilling the intonations.

I finished this revision part by going back to the slide with the eight toughest children questions. I asked my students to rank them from the most difficult (1) to the easiest (8). Once students decided on the order, I revealed the answers, and we tried answering some of the questions!

Then I decided to go back to the book and focused on the question forms (the actual objective of this class). This particular part focused on Angelina Jolie and her rainbow family. I segued into this by asking them What is a rainbow family? (= a multicultural family). There were some wild guesses, but eventually, some of the students were able to define that term. It led to an interesting discussion about who and what may be classified as a rainbow family. Since the conversation was flowing and students were genuinely into it, I decided to get off topic and search for a proper meaning of a rainbow family just to clarify any doubts.

As we were all looking at the picture of Angelina Jolie and her children, I decided to ask them a set of questions using different question forms. I wanted to move to the teaching part as seamlessly as possible, and it worked quite well. It allowed my students to realise that they are familiar with different question forms and that their understanding is quite advanced. You can see all the questions mentioned below.

Once we finished talking about Jolie’s rainbow family, I asked them to decide on the type of question form used in each question. That was probably the hardest part, as some of the forms were not too straightforward. I let them work in small groups and brainstorm to clear any doubts. After the activity, I showed them the answers and explained the politeness and word order of indirect questions, the use and structure of question tags, and the use of question words as the question subject/object.

We proceeded with the grammar practice given in the book. However, since I’m planning on using the same lesson plan with my other C1 level students who don’t follow the book, I thought of two exercises that could be done instead. The first exercise is ordering the words to form questions. The second exercise is thinking about six different questions (total) for the classmates. This freer writing activity will give you a chance to monitor their understanding of the topic. The lesson ends with students answering the questions.

Do you always follow the coursebook and the teacher’s book, or do you like to venture, too? How would you approach this type of class? Let me know!

Click the links below to download the lesson plan and the ppt for free!

The oversaturated market of ESL teaching

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

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

Networking

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

Don’t burn your bridges

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

Ask for references

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

Build a good student-teacher relationship

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

Don’t appear desperate

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

Value yourself

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

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

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

Build your online presence

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

Sign up to reliable online teaching websites

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

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