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?

The problem with Halloween

It is my last post of October, and even though I had fun with all my themed lessons, a few questions stood out to me. What if I don’t like teaching themed classes? What if I don’t like teaching Halloween? To all those questions I say – fair enough. You shouldn’t teach anything that doesn’t bring you joy. If you are not excited about the topic, neither are your students.

If you work on your own, you have a choice to avoid any type of themed lessons. You don’t need to celebrate any local or British/American holiday. However, if you work at an academy, then from time to time, you’ll be asked to prepare a themed class (whether you like it or not!). Remember that you are still in charge of lesson preparation, so be creative and spin the topic in your favour! PS. This class was heavily inspired by the Teaching with Tracey’s IG post.

This is a B2+ lesson plan that focuses on reading supported by expressing and responding to opinions. You can download all the files at the end of the post for free. I hope it will spark some creativity and not much controversy in your classroom!

Start the class by asking about students’ experience with Halloween. In some countries, it has become popular recently. The chances are that some of your adult students don’t have any memories or sentiment on this holiday (I’m one of them!). You can ask them to share their opinions on this holiday, and if they have children, ask if they allow them to go trick-or-treating. Maybe they have been to some Halloween parties and got dressed up. If yes, what were their costumes?

While you are on the topic of Halloween costumes, show some outfits taken from the Insider – 15 offensive Halloween costumes that you shouldn’t wear. Just yet, don’t mention the problem behind those outfits. Instead, casually chat about them and ask if the students like them, which one is their (least) favourite and if they would ever wear any of those costumes. Once you finish the first part of this discussion, you can mention that these outfits may be a bit problematic. If your students haven’t mentioned the way, in which the costumes are controversial, you may play a snippet of a Bo Burnham song – Problematic (0:52-1:10). I wouldn’t focus on the whole song, as it talks about the cancel culture, which is a whole other class. Instead, focus on the following lyrics:

I'm problematic (He's a problem)
When I was 17, on Halloween, I dressed up as Aladdin (He's a problem)
I did not darken my skin
But still, it feels weird in hindsight

If your students haven’t guessed the theme of the outfits, this verse should help them figure it out. That would be a good moment to explain the meaning of in hindsight and introduce the phrase cultural appropriation.

Move on to the main part of the class – the reading of an article by Alessandra Malito A lot of really bad things are more likely to happen on Halloween. I divided this article into two parts – the problems and the solutions. Firstly, divide the students into pairs or groups and ask them to discuss any other problems that may occur on Halloween. If they struggle with thinking of any other issues, you can help by giving main topics, such as crime, theft, accident, etc. Then let your students read the first part and check if any of their ideas are mentioned in the text. Ask them to read the text again, this time paying attention to the details and answering multiple-choice questions. Proceed with the vocabulary task – matching the words with their definitions, for example, perilous and deductible.

Go to the reading part 2. Before you ask your students to read the text, ask them to work in groups and discuss different ways in which they can stay safe or protect others on Halloween. Read part two and check if your ideas are similar to the ones mentioned in the text. Explain any new words and move to the last part of the class.

Since the class is hand-picking problems in a relatively harmless holiday, ask the students to complain about other topics related to Halloween. You can illustrate it by giving an example.

Put one minute on the clock and start by saying: Don’t get me started on…candy. Proceed by complaining about it in the most ridiculous way, for example, Who needs it? You get so much of it, and all it does is damage your teeth! Pointless! Hand out topics to your students. With weaker groups, you may want to give them some time to prepare their answers. Other topic suggestions are candy, Halloween, costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, parties, etc.

That’s my idea of going against the typical Halloween lesson! Click and download all the files below.

You can do it before or right after Halloween to check on your students and their non-problematic costumes. Did you celebrate Halloween in your class? If yes, what did you do?

A bad date – teaching using anecdotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option #1

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

Option #2

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

Option #3

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

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

Option #4

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

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

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

Halloween Escape Room

If you want to have a fun and relaxing class, look no further. I’ve got something just for you! Your teenagers will love this Halloween-themed escape room style class. All you need to do is monitor the answers and make sure that your students don’t get too heated in this instalment of spooky classroom activities!

As educators, we need to promote student independence, group work and above all, know when to sit back and just relax. What bothers me the most about typical Halloween classes is that teachers normally choose the same activities over and over again. I think that it’s important to know the history of holidays, but we also need to think about keeping our learners engaged and motivated in learning languages.

Before I knew how to manage my planning time and prepare good lessons, I’d often resort to searching and downloading free worksheets from websites such as iSLcollective. It’s a great website with so many resources, but what I realised when I worked alongside other colleagues is that we often chose very similar if not the same activities. It saves a lot of time, but these classes are predictable and at times boring.

As I was researching different possible Halloween activities, I started thinking about exercises that are fun, different from your normal class, allow independent group work and most importantly, give you some time to sit in the corner of your classroom and just observe. Escape rooms check all the above! This class is designed for A2+ level groups (possibly Flyers).

If you are back in the classroom, you can download the tasks, print them out (and laminate if you can!), divide your students into pairs (or small groups) and start! Make sure that students know that they compete against each other. That will make them more determined to finish the tasks as quickly as possible. At the end of the post, you can download a set of three tasks for free. If you want a full version of six tasks, feel free to visit my TpT store.

Task 1 – This is Halloween

If you divide your students into smaller groups, you can start with the song. In this way, all students can do the task at the same time and then continue at their own pace. Play This is Halloween, a classic Halloween song, and ask your students to write the number of times the word Halloween is mentioned. This will make them settle down and concentrate. Once the song finishes, students write their answers on the answer sheet. If the answer is correct, they can move on to the second task – if it’s wrong. They get to listen to it one more time!

Task 2

Following the typical Flyers exam task, give your students three definitions of Halloween related objects and creatures. Students read the prompts and write their answers. Remember to accept only the answers that are spelt correctly! If your students get a bit stuck, you can help by giving some hints. If they know the word in their L1, you can allow the use of dictionaries – it is about learning after all!

Task 3

Students put a jigsaw together. This can be done using the physical or a digital version of the jigsaw (in case your learners have their phone in the class). Both versions have the same number of pieces. The puzzle has four questions written on it. Once your students put the puzzle together, they need to answer the questions about the escape room and the number of phonemes in Halloween and witch. Explain the meaning of phoneme if necessary.

A jigsaw from the task 3.

These are just examples of tasks that can be done in the escape room style class. I think that this escape room shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes, which gives you some time to teach certain vocabulary or phonemes that may be useful in this activity.

As always, these are only some ideas that you can expand on or use as a filler. Click the file below to download the a set of three tasks, an answer sheet and the answers for free.

The flakiness of adult students

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

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

Why does it happen?

Why are adult students unreliable?

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

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

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

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

Prepaid classes

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

Cancellation policy

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

Organizing a course

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

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

Halloween Comparatives and Superlatives

Grammar doesn’t have to be boring! Ask your students to come dressed in their best costumes and practise comparatives and superlatives for short adjectives, using different Halloween objects and creatures.

I love themed lessons. However, I don’t think they should always be the same and focus on the vocabulary. That’s why I’ve prepared a set of worksheets for young learners (Movers level). It will not only refresh the Halloween vocabulary but will also allow them to practise the use of short adjectives as comparatives and superlatives.

At the end of the post, you can download the lesson plan, a set of worksheets (3 pages) and a card game for free. They will help with the reinforcement of the spelling of short adjectives in comparative and superlative forms.

The class starts with the first exercise on the worksheet. You can divide your students into pairs and ask them to find as many Halloween words as they can. If you want to make it a bit more competitive, you can give a time limit and reward them with candy (or another, possibly healthier option) as points. Another way in which you can make this task a bit more engaging is by giving the first letters to the words that your students are looking for. You can make it into a race and point out any spelling mistakes.

The next task can be either done as writing or as speaking. Students read the questions and answer them by looking at the picture. Some of the questions are open-ended and students can give their subjective opinions! For example, some of the learners may find zombies scary meanwhile, others may find them quite cool!

Then you can move on to the next exercise that deals with comparatives of short adjectives. Students read the statements and answer them by saying yes or no. To make this task more engaging, you can draw the Halloween objects and creatures or ask your students to do that for you! If you are currently teaching in a classroom, then you know the joy of drawing on a whiteboard! (Drawing on a Zoom whiteboard is quite fun too).

Once you’ve got your sentences all figured out, ask your students to point out the adjectives and explain the comparatives. Young learners are so intuitive and observant that they will immediately spot the -er pattern! Your task is to show them that even though they all end with -er, there may be some spelling variations, for example, double consonant, or changing -y to -i. To establish this newly-learnt form, ask your students to practise it by writing four short sentences. Check for any errors and always help if necessary.

Moving on to superlatives. You can do it in the same class, or you can separate it into two days. Depending on your group level, sometimes it’s worth dividing the content into a few lessons! Look at the pictures of three skeleton animals and three Halloween costumes. Students read and discuss the questions. This is how the superlatives are introduced. Your learners are already on the lookout, so they may notice them before you say anything!

Once again, students identify any adjectives and write their superlative forms. Since you’ve already discussed different ways of spelling, they’ll immediately answer your questions about the double consonants and -y to -i change. You can supplement this activity with another speaking or writing exercise, just to help your students with any grammar issues. The last task is reading about the Ghost family. Students read the text filled with superlatives and fill in the gaps with the corresponding family members.

You can end this class by playing Black Peter! I used to love playing this game as a child. It’s ideal for groups of 4-5 students. Each student gets 6-7 cards and randomly chooses one card from the person to the left. If they have a set of three cards – an adjective, a comparative and a superlative (e.g. big, bigger, the biggest), they say the sentence using one of the forms and get a point! Be careful! There is a Black Peter card that doesn’t have a pair! A student with the Black Peter card is the loser. These cards can be also used to play memory or any other variation of Black Peter. The choice is yours!

That sums up my Halloween grammar class. Do you teach Halloween-themed classes? Do you teach the vocabulary and play games, or do you take this opportunity to still cover any grammar points? I hope you enjoyed my lesson! Download all the files for free below! If you are looking for the full version of the Halloween worksheet on comparatives and superlatives, head to my TpT store and get it today!

Journey to freelancing – one month later

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

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

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

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

Student count: 1

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

Student count: 1, Failed job interviews: 1

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

Student count: 4, Failed job interviews: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October – here I come!

Cambridge PET – Listening Part 1

Listening is one of the two receptive skills, which is quite polarising. Your students will either love it or hate it! I enjoy Listening Part 1 as it’s entertaining and possibly the easiest of them all. On the flip side, it requires a wide range of vocabulary to choose the correct answers.

I’ve already done short exam preparation lesson plans on Speaking Part 1, Reading Part 1 and Writing Part 1. Let’s move on to Listening Part 1. A lesson showing four easy steps to understand and pass this part of the exam.

This short lesson plan follows the listening that you can download from the B1 Preliminary Sample Paper. I supplemented it with a worksheet that follows an approach to get the most out of this part.

Before we begin with the explanation, let’s look at the optional lead-in. Since the class focuses on listening, it’s good to give your students some extra speaking and teamwork time.

The class starts by showing pictures of everyday objects. Your students see and maybe even use them daily, but will have no idea what they’re called in English. Purposely, I chose a screwdriver, a rake and a thimble. You can put your students in pairs or small groups and ask them to name the objects. Tell them that you don’t accept ‘nothing’ or ‘I don’t know‘ as answers! Once you’ve got some (hopefully) funny words, ask what these objects have in common. No hints! Remember that for What they’ve got in common part there are no wrong answers.

Move on to the Listening Part 1 worksheet. The pictures are taken directly from the B1 Preliminary Sample Paper 1. Students need to write words associated with the pictures and, of course, name the objects (a bookshelf, a desk lamp and a cushion). Don’t give them the answers just yet, as they should get used to predicting the words that may appear in the exam. Form pairs or small groups one more time and ask them to predict the question that may be asked. As it is a class focused on listening, this will give them some time to practise speaking.

Listen to the recording and pause after extract 1. Make sure to listen to it twice. During the listening, students should choose the correct answer and justify why the other two are incorrect. This will make them pay attention to the whole recording while helping them understand that all three things are always mentioned.

Once you finish this part, you can explain this listening part and follow the four easy steps to get a high score!

Step 1 – Underline the keywords

The first step is to underline the keywords in the question. Your students should only concentrate on a few words. That will help them narrow down their focus during listening.

Step 2 – Identify and predict vocabulary

Your students should get into the habit of predicting the words that may appear in the listening. It also helps if they can identify the objects in the pictures! It’s okay if they don’t, as they can easily use the process of elimination to get the answer. While doing that, they can predict the answers, but tell them that the Cambridge listenings are tricky on purpose, so they should expect the unexpected…

Step 3 – Listen and choose the answer

Remind everyone that they will listen to the recording twice. Even if they don’t catch the answer on the first try, they shouldn’t stress. In the case of not hearing the answer on the second try, tell them that at this point they should choose any answer! They may be right, and this one point can help them pass the exam!

Step 4 – Justify the answers

Students should always try and justify their answers. Yes, even the incorrect ones! In this way, even if they are unsure, they may be able to get it right by the process of elimination.

You can pass the exam in only four steps – it’s not a lot! As always, try using the worksheets only at the beginning of the year, just to get your students used to underlining the keywords, identifying the vocabulary and justifying the answers. This part is quite simple, and I’m sure that your students will find it quite fun to do.

Click the links below to download all the files!

First class – what can you do?

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

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

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

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

1. Two truths and a lie

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

2. Three things in common

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

3. Love, like, dislike or hate

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

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

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

4. Riddle me this

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

What’s my name?

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

5. Find someone who…

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

6. What’s my secret?

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

7. Form a line

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

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

What is your go to first class activity?

Creating a classroom community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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