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 Papers2 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.
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!
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.
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?
February is such a cold month associated with such a warm day! In this class, let’s talk about the truth behind physical attraction to another person while following the audio version of a TED-Ed video. The video talks about the science of attraction and explains all the fuzzy, gooey feelings we may get when meeting someone new.
So it happened. I fell into a rabbit hole of TED-Ed videos! After basing an A2+ lesson plan on the Chinese Zodiac, I started wondering if I can find something to show to my students on Valentine’s Day. Initially, I wanted to do a scientific class explaining how the heart works – a young learners lesson plan. But then I found a video called The science of attraction and got hooked almost right away.
This year my main focus is on C1 Cambridge exam preparation. That’s why I thought I should turn this TED-Ed video into a CAE listening part 2 task. Scroll to the end of this post to get the lesson plan and the presentation (with answers) for free!
Start the class by writing in the middle of the board – Why are we attracted to certain people and not others? Give a minute to think about different reasons and take five answers from different students. Write them around the question, so that it resembles the speaking part 3 exam task. Divide students into pairs and give them 2 minutes to discuss and decide which of these options is the most probable and why. If you teach 1:1 or have a bit weaker group, you can present them with the diagram below to discuss. Collect answers and provide feedback.
Divide students into groups or pairs and ask them to think about the five main components of attraction. If you want to make it a bit easier or ensure that the answers don’t repeat from the lead-in, you can say that they are all related to the human body. Once everyone has their predicted answers, play the audio of the TED-Ed video. I would recommend NOT showing the video, as it contains a lot of visuals that will give away the answers right away and may be more distracting rather than useful. Play the whole video and check the answers. The answers are eyes (sight), nose (smell), ears (hearing), touch and taste.
Now would be the best time to go over any new words that students heard while listening for gist. If you think that none of the words should impede the understanding of listening for detail, you can move on to the next part.
If it’s the first time doing this type of exercise, you can explain that it is based on CAE – listening part 2, in which students need to listen to a longer recording and fill out the gaps with the missing words. Tell them that they should write between one to three words, and any misspelt words will not count to their point count. They should write what they hear – not synonyms!
Proceed by reading a short text with nine gaps. Give students about 40 seconds to read the text and then play the recording one more time. Students write down the answer and compare them with each other. In case of any issues, play the recording one last time, just like in the exam. Alternatively, you can show the video with the transcript for better understanding.
Follow up the video/recording with a short discussion. Do your students agree with the notion that attraction is purely biological? What about people falling in love over the internet? What does love mean to them?
Click the links below to download the files for free.
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 – B1. Finally, 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.
Do you know of anyone who has changed the world for the better? Someone who has positively impacted society? Using a free CAE writing exam, we will discuss the topic and teach advanced students how to write a successful review. All while following the writing assessment criteria.
The other day, I was preparing an advanced lesson plan for one of my General English students. I usually look for inspiration all around and often go to my all-time favourite coursebook – English File C1.1by Oxford Publishing. One of the units deals with book and film reviews and gives a wide range of vocabulary that can be used to describe them. That’s when I felt inspired to use this class and adapt it to my CAE student – a passionate acting student, interested in art, literature and films.
I want her to be engaged in the topic and at the same time, I want her to learn how to answer each part of the Cambridge exam successfully. That’s why I headed to the Cambridge English website and downloaded their free C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, which offers free exams and explanations for successful writing exams. I’m always up for using free official resources and adapting them to my class. I feel like this is the most insightful and reliable source you can find.
The lesson plan and the presentation with all the links needed to complete the class are available to download for free at the end of the post!
The lesson starts by showing posters of six impactful films and asking students about the people shown in the pictures and what they may have in common. I tried to include some classics (Schindler’s List), some oldies (Gorillas in the Mist) and some new films (Hidden Figures). All of them are quite well-known, and your students should have seen at least a few of them. The common factor is that they tell stories of people who had a positive impact on society. If your students watched some of those films, you can elicit examples of the ways in which they impacted society. Ask if they know of anyone else, famous or not, who also made/is making a difference in the world.
Show a picture of Audrey Hepburn and ask if anyone knows who she is. As the picture from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most iconic in the world, your students should be familiar, at least with her image. Say that you’re going to watch a short video on Audrey Hepburn. Ask to predict who she was: Audrey Hepburn – an international m__________ s__________, f__________ i__________ and h___________. Watch the first 20 seconds of the video, Audrey Hepburn – International Superstar, Fashion Icon, & Humanitarian by Biography, and elicit the answers (movie star, fashion icon and humanitarian).
Read eight questions about Audrey Hepburn and watch the whole video (you can turn on the subtitles if necessary). Students answer the questions with short answers. Did they know about the humanitarian side of Audrey Hepburn? Were they surprised? Ask if the video convinced them to read a biography about Audrey Hepburn’s life.
Read a book review (you can find it in the C1 Advanced Handbook for Teachers, page 45). Ask if this review convinced them to read the book. Do they think that it’s a good review? What would they change about it? The most common answer will be the lack of paragraphs and many spelling errors. Students divide it into four paragraphs (introduction, point 1, point 2, recommendation) and correct any errors they can find.
After reading the review, say that this is a piece of writing based on a real Cambridge exam task. Ask to predict two main points of the exam task. Show the exam task and see how close they were to the real answer.
Present the writing assessment scale and explain how it works. The maximum number of points students may get in each part is 20 points – 5 points for content, 5 points for communicative achievement, 5 points for organisation and 5 points for language. Students read the answer one more time and score it out of 20. Check and discuss their answers. Compare their scores to the one given by the Cambridge examiner. Are they surprised by any of the comments? Not only does this task explain any doubts about the scoring system, but it also shows how strict or lenient the examiners are. Remind them about the importance of having clear answers, as examiners read tens of identical pieces of writing, and clear organisation will be reflected in their final score.
Set the homework task. Students think about the film or book that focused on a person who made an important contribution to society. Brainstorm some ideas and if you have enough time, students may plan their answers and present them to you and the rest of the class.
Click below to download the lesson plan and the presentation.
I feel like this post needs a little disclaimer, so here it goes. Disclaimer: all the stories and opinions written below are my own and come from my personal experience teaching in Spain. Teaching (very) young learners can be rewarding and a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone! We need to remember that even the youngest students are still students, should be treated with respect and be surrounded by professionals who know how to give them what they need.
Teaching young learners comes with a stigma. During my time teaching ESL in Spain, I have met only ONE person who truly loved teaching young learners. All the other teachers treated those lessons as a chore, this thing that you do twice a week and forget about it as soon as it ends. This thing that you don’t teach – you survive.
I’m not proud to say this, but I was the same. When I first started teaching ESL, I was excited to teach English to adults and teenagers. I was able to discuss many things, play adult games, joke around…with kids it was a different story. Every week, I struggled thinking about the types of activities we could do. I tried to keep it fresh and entertaining, bring a lot of games, research crafts that we could do as a group. I spent hours looking for the perfect tasks. There were times when all my efforts paid off, and the students loved everything we did. However, more often than not, that just wasn’t the case, and I’d finish the class feeling disappointed and stressed thinking about next week. I had six hours teaching non-stop, starting with a group of VYL and ending with adults, and I’d always tell myself, If you survive the first hour, the rest will be a breeze.
I tried to think of the reasons why I felt this way and different ways in which I could improve. Here are some things that came to my mind.
Going outside your comfort zone
I think that this sentiment is shared by so many of my fellow ESL teachers for one common reason – language academies expect ESL teachers to go out of their comfort and expertise zones. I can’t think of a situation in which a public school teacher has such a variety of students, level and age-wise. A kindergarten teacher focuses on VYL, and a high school teacher deals with teenagers. Then why do ESL teachers need to know how to cater for 3 year-olds and an hour later have a business class? One hour you do the Hockey-Pokey and the next you discuss the socio-economic problems of your country.
I remember having a YL class sandwiched in between two adult lessons. Let me tell you, that wasn’t fun. I’d quite literally roll on the floor with the kids, dust off my pants, fix my hair and suddenly act all professional. It was ridiculous. I asked my boss if I could wear more comfortable clothes for the YL classes and I wasn’t allowed to do that, because I had an adult class right after and there was no time to change. Plus, when we did crafts…let’s not talk about the chaotic cleanup and table moving.
I understand that ESL teachers often need to educate themselves on different topics, sometimes the ones that they’re not even interested in, just to provide a topical and engaging class. But this seems to be somewhat extensive, hence mentally exhausting.
Hiring non-professionals to teach children
Another thing that quite literally drives me crazy, is hiring non-professionals to teach young learners. I’m CELTA certified and feel best surrounded by students aged 12 years old and up. However, there is a belief that adult students need to be treated with respect and require a professional (at least professional-looking) teacher to keep them satisfied. The children don’t need that because they don’t know any better.
I strongly believe that kids need to be in the presence of a professionally trained teacher more than adults for many different reasons. First of all, children may need your assistance with most basic tasks like going to the toilet. In my first year of teaching, I had a group of eleven 3 year-olds, and at least two of them had to go and usually needed me to help them out. This meant that I had to leave the other children alone in the class while assisting the one child (I didn’t have an assistant).
Secondly, I knew how to plan an engaging lesson for adults, but I struggled with thinking of new ideas for the children. I was aware that they needed a lot of repetition, so I’d start every class with vocabulary revision. However, I couldn’t think of any new material, which kept me busy all weekends, researching and worrying about the classes. On the flip side, once I got more comfortable, I found a bunch of useful websites that provide ready lessons plans and games. I frequently visited ESL Kids Stuff which offers over 60 free lessons plans! WOW English YouTube channel has many interesting ideas for classroom games. I always tried to use some of their activities to make my classes more engaging and fun. If you spend some time going over their videos, you’ll find some gems that became my all-time favourite.
Another issue is that children often can’t control their behaviour and you need to know how to deal with it. This problem doesn’t come up (at least not that often) in adult classes. I believe that going to university and learning about the psychology, emotions and behaviour of children is difficult to learn on your own. There are so many different tricks that you are taught when you are prepared to work with kids. It’s something that only professionals can control.
Dealing with the parents
The behaviour problems tie in nicely with building a healthy relationship with the parents. In my opinion, constantly reporting about the classes is possibly one of the worst parts of teaching YLs. Parents will be always watching you and getting information on you. It can be a bit annoying, but my advice is to introduce yourself on the first day and get used to talking to them regularly. Once the parents see that the kids are comfortable around you, you are golden. I had a great relationship with all of the parents of my students. It wasn’t an easy task and I put a lot of effort into this, but it was worthwhile.
I was worried that if there were any problems, I’d be the one to blame. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Well, it became an issue only once. I was a short-term substitute in a private school and got to teach a group of VYLs. The kids behaved well with one exception. One of the students didn’t want to participate and made it clear by screaming and hitting everyone around. One time she just got up and ran outside of the classroom. I was shocked and frankly, didn’t know what to do. I told the kids to stay where they were and ran after her. I managed to catch her and in return, she bit me. I immediately called the coordinator and reported this. After the class, I went to speak to her father who didn’t scold her just said Oh, Maria! You can’t bite people! And that’s it. The problem wasn’t solved, and from what I heard she bit the coordinator, too. Just on a different day. It was just a one-time thing, but it left me mentally scarred (physically, I was okay).
Non-natives to teach children
I’m very sad to say this, but I have noticed this pattern and was affected by it, too. Native speakers (even those without any experience or qualifications) are given more advanced classes, while certified non-natives get to teach the kids because, as I said before, the children don’t know any better. Just have a class and then do some crafts. It’s good enough.
Children need to be close to other people, and you need to be ready for that. Mentalize that kids may randomly hug you, will try to sit on your lap and at times try to kiss you! It happens a lot, especially in Spain. My advice is to go with it, obviously don’t cross any lines, but don’t make it weird either. Kids don’t see it as a bad thing. They get to spend two hours a week with you, they have fun with you and want you to know that you matter to them.
As I mentioned before, I assisted children in the toilet. I didn’t think it was a part of my job, but at the same time, I didn’t mind that. However, one of my colleagues felt it was wrong and refused to do that, to avoid any problems. To that I say, it’s only weird because you make it weird. Act cool and everything’s going to be fine. If it worries you that much, maybe talk about it with your DOS or the parents.
Learning how to plan for YL
I have talked about this before in Is it possible to plan for very young learners. Planning for kids is so much different from planning for adults. For starters, you need to over-plan just in case. Children will give you immediate feedback on any activity they love or hate. And oh boy, if they hate what they are doing, it feels awful. Especially, if you had spent hours thinking about it. However, you need to go with the flow and adapt your plans as you go. With adults, the situation is a bit different, as they normally won’t complain to you about an activity that turned out to be a flop. It makes it a bit less stressful.
It’s good to prepare a range of activities, a mix of stirrers and settlers, to give the appropriate amount of stimulus for YL to learn. It’s good to have some reading and colouring time, mixed in with some singing and dancing, maybe some crafts, followed by some kinesthetic tasks. It’s a journey, but the truth be told, a successful YL class will pass quicker than you expect! And if you over-plan, don’t worry about it. You can use those activities in the next class.
Lack of resources
Once I had it all figured out and I knew how to prepare a class for the YLs, other problems started showing up. One of them was a lack of resources. I needed plenty of materials to make classes engaging and memorable. Unfortunately, I was teaching in a village that was far away from the academy (where all the resources were), so if I had to improvise, I couldn’t. I started buying a lot of materials and paying for them out of my pocket, a practice that I don’t do anymore. So if you ever find yourself teaching children, ask for the basics – coloured paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, pencils and rubbers. That’s the minimum that you need to have!
Despite all the negatives, teaching YLs can be very satisfying. Once you get to know the little ones, they will show you affection and gratitude like no one else. I can’t tell you the number of drawings and little gifts I received over my time teaching kids. Plus the biggest advantage of teaching children is the fact that you can go completely crazy, let loose and play so many cool games that you are otherwise too old to play!
If you feel like you need more practice on teaching YLs, you should look into IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers. I haven’t done it myself, but I heard that it’s quite useful. You learn some theory and at the same time, you are being assessed on your teaching. You finish the course with a certificate that will give you leverage when looking for new jobs. Remember that in Spain, ESL teachers will have to teach YLs 99% of the time!
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?
Happy New Year everybody! I hope you all had a lovely winter break and enjoyed your time off work. When everyone else is planning their resolutions and different ways of achieving them, why don’t we look back at 2021 and analyse it month by month. I present you with a lesson plan for adults, levels A2/B1, which not only helps us think about the last year but should also put things into perspective.
While I was thinking of different ways of approaching this topic, when I stumbled upon Lesson idea: Using graphs to tell a story, a blog post by Emily Bryson ELT. I decided to plot the level of happiness vs the months of the year. And let me tell you, this was probably one of the most challenging years of my life.
This lesson consists of a plan and a worksheet that can be downloaded for free at the end of the post. Obviously, our years are so distinct that you need to make a personalized version of it. That’s why I included the editable worksheet that allows you to put your graph and events accordingly.
Start the class by drawing the graph without explaining the meaning of axes. If you teach online, you can either prepare your graphs beforehand (just like I did!), or quickly draw them on a digital whiteboard, such as Web Whiteboard. Keep in mind that drawing freehand on a digital whiteboard isn’t going to be as smooth as you would like!
Ask students to guess what the graph represents and predict the meaning of each axis. Since it is almost impossible to guess this correctly, give your student a hint and point out that the X-axis is divided into 12 parts.
The twelve points should give your students some idea that they indicate the months of the year. Now all they need to do is predict the meaning of the Y-axis. Let students brainstorm for a while and collect their ideas. Elicit that the Y-axis represents the happiness level / how good or bad the month was.
Show students 12 events that happened to you last year. Students match the events with the months. Tell them a short story about your year and check the answers. As I mentioned before, my year was not all that perfect. Here is a list of my events:
I went to visit my family for the first time in 1.5 years.
I recovered and came back to work.
I finished my one year contract and started my blog!
I had a serious accident and couldn’t walk for three weeks.
I decided to start working on my own.
I visited my family again and took a break from work and problems.
I was informed that I couldn’t return to the academy I’d worked a year before.
I rested, got a haircut and felt motivated to come back to work.
I started planning my website.
I earned money from my website and worksheets!
It was a lot harder to work on my own and find students than I’d anticipated.
Spring increased my productivity and creativity. I felt motivated to work and think.
I decided to focus my year in review on professional development and mental health. These two topics are quite hard to deal with, so I wouldn’t have this class with younger students. You can easily change your perspective depending on the level and age of your students! The sky is the limit!
After sharing your story, you may want to refresh the memory and go over the use and forms of Past Simple and Past Perfect.
It’s time for your students to work on their own. Students think about their 2021 and plot their graphs. Ask them to write 12 events associated with each month in random order. Students exchange their work and put the events in chronological order. Then everyone shares their 2021 with the rest of the group. It’s that easy!
Thank you, Emily, for the inspiration. It was so much fun playing around with the graphs. Stay tuned for my next blog post in which we will deal with the future and the upcoming year 2022!
The year is coming to an end! It’s been a difficult year, full of changes and new beginnings. I’m happy that it also marks my six months of blogging. Over 2000 of you have entered my website, and hopefully, found in here some useful information. In this last post of 2021, I’d like to share with you my personal favourites, people and places that I visit frequently and often get inspired by.
Without any further ado, let me tell you about my favourite books, textbooks, platforms and people who have got me through this year and filled my head with so many incredible ideas!
Books for teachers
My all-time favourite grammar book that I open at least once a week is Teaching English Grammar – What to Teach and How to Teach It by Jim Scrivener. Whenever I look for a strong lead-in, I immediately go for this book. It’s more than just lead-ins. Each section goes over practice tasks, games and also the most common errors. I learnt about this book a while back but started using it on CELTA. I think what I truly love about this book is its simplicity and range of topics. The book was published in 2010 and some of the tasks need to be adapted to modern times or online teaching, but it’s a great point to start preparing for any lesson.
This title surely goes to English File 4th editionby Oxford University Press. I was introduced to this coursebook last year by no one else but the best DOS I’ve ever had. Gemma swore by these books and it’s hard to disagree with her. If I need to find inspiration or solid and engaging tasks, I always open one of their books. First of all, the range of levels available is overwhelming, all the way from A1/A2 to C1.2. All the topics are interesting, and one short speaking exercise can fill the whole class. What I love the most is their unique and refreshing grammar approach. They stay away from the typical grammar separation you see in other books. Students respond so well to that and not only them! Everything is so well-explained that I often feel like I learn something new each time!
Teacher on YouTube
Anyone who teaches online or needs to up their technology game should head to Charlie’s lessons on YouTube. This man has got everything – knowledge, charisma, sense of humour…What I particularly enjoyed was his series of YT shorts called Websites English Teachers should know. I don’t know about you, but I tend to use the same websites over and over again (looking at you Baamboozle!). Even though I love them, and it’s so easy to find something great over there, I feel like students need some variation. The problem is that it’s not a walk in the park to find a website that is as engaging as Kahoot or Wordwall. Charlie solves this problem for you. Not only that, he manages to give you a full tutorial in less than one minute! Here is a sneak peek at one of his shorts. I highly recommend visiting his YT Channel because it’s an endless source of ESL knowledge.
Teachers on WordPress
There are so many TEFL teachers out there that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the one that I like the most. The truth is that I follow many teachers and gain inspiration from every single one of them. Instead, let me share with you blog posts that I thought were top-notch.
My all-time favourite blog post of this year was Questions about teaching Very Young Learners (aged 2-5) by Sandy Millin. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again – I wish I had had this post with all its resources when I first started teaching VYLs. As an inspiring ESL blogger, I found this post to be a top example of what blogging is about. First of all, the research and sourcing of materials used in the blog is another level. From the perspective of a reader or an ESL teacher, it’s got everything you may need – the post starts with the idea of teaching VYLs, ways of dealing with children and a plethora of activities that you can follow. Sandy is an experienced teacher, and all of her posts are worth checking out.
When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure how to find my people and stand out from the overcrowded ESL teachers community. I started by looking for different people on Instagram. Amongst so many ESL teachers, some of them drew my attention. Let me start with the Dogme expert – teaching_with_tracey. I tend to overprepare for classes and still get nervous when I don’t have everything planned to the minute. Tracey does the opposite. She shows great low/no preparation ideas and talks about going with the flow. Hopefully, with some more time and experience, I will reach this level of confidence!
As a non-native speaker, I often get stressed about being not good enough. That’s why I love seeing other ESL teachers like me who are great, professional and well-respected. That’s why when I learnt about the_non_native_speaker I went through her whole content immediately. She isn’t afraid to speak up and deals with the injustice of native-speakrism. I truly relate to her and this problem as I’m frequently surrounded by native speakers with no experience who are being praised for their place of birth. Meri motivates me to move past this issue and continue being myself.
Since I’ve completely transitioned into working online, I decided to abandon my good ol’ paper agenda and started recording everything I do on the laptop. As stupid as it sounds, Microsoft Calendar is just the best. It motivates me to see students slowly filling my schedule while helping me stay organized. I also started using Microsoft To-Do. I open it every day, organize my lesson planning and note any new blog post ideas.
As for my blogging and digital resource making, I wouldn’t get this far without Grammarly and Canva. All my Instagram posts are made with the simplest version of Canva. It also helps me create unique worksheets and presentations that I, later on, share or sell on Teachers pay Teachers. Grammarly is like a friend that doesn’t complain about proofreading my writing. It’s so hard to read your material and it’s even more difficult to see your mistakes! I usually draft all the blog posts in WordPress and then go paragraph by paragraph in Grammarly. For sure, it would have been much easier and faster to do it with the paid version of Grammarly, but it’s somewhat stimulating to go over all the yellow lines and try different ways of correcting them.
From me to me
To end this post, I think I should acknowledge some of the things that I’ve created and are my favourites. First of all, I feel extremely proud of my B1 Christmas themed speaking and B2 Halloween themed speaking. They were a huge hit and got recognized by so many of you. These were the posts that went viral and made me feel that maybe I’m doing it for a reason. Another post was about The flakiness of adult students that encouraged many ESL teachers to message me and share their own experiences. It made me realize that I’m not alone in this difficult ESL teaching world and showed me that many people understood my everyday battle.
So these are a few of my favourite things! Let me know if you agree with them and what else you would add to the list! Thank you for being with me and I hope that next year will be even better!
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!