The Christmas Countdown

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

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

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

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

Write a letter to Santa

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

Read a Christmas story

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

Make a Christmas ornament

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

Listen to Christmas carols

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

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

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

Technical language vs. ESL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do babies come from? – question forms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The oversaturated market of ESL teaching

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

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

Networking

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

Don’t burn your bridges

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

Ask for references

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

Build a good student-teacher relationship

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

Don’t appear desperate

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

Value yourself

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

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

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

Build your online presence

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

Sign up to reliable online teaching websites

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

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

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?

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 Exam Score Templates

Who said that ESL teachers don’t need to know math? We do math more than we would like to admit. All Cambridge exam preparation teachers, I’ve got something just for you!

As a teacher in Spain, you do quite a lot of things. You get to teach all ages and levels, and probably one of the most common things – you prepare for the Cambridge exams. If you’ve never prepared for the Cambridge exams, don’t worry, there are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you understand what you should do and what the exams are like.

What I found the most challenging was correcting the exams and explaining the scores to students. After three years of preparing for the Cambridge exams (this includes the intensive summer courses), I think I finally understand what’s going on there. Let me show you my system, how I present the grades to my future candidates and how I keep myself organised, which is especially important before the exams when all you do is give the exams left and right.

I’ve prepared a set of Excel sheets that you can use to stay organised and to help your students see their continuous progress. The first sheet is a detailed breakdown of all the components, scores, percentages and an overall score that can be shared with students and parents.

The worksheets are designed to help your students see each part separately and monitor their continuous progress. The idea is to give this sheet to your students after they complete each mock exam. In the case of teenagers, you may also want to share this file with their parents. The file is fully editable, so you can put the date, the name of your student and the name of the test.

Each part is divided into subsections that give a better overview of the exam and will help you pinpoint the problem areas so you can work on them in the future. It also includes the minimum points needed to “pass” each part to keep your students motivated. All the minimum scores and results breakdown were taken from the KSE Academy.

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The most important part is the final percentage score. It’s done by summing all the % scores per section and dividing them by the number of parts (in the case of B1, it is divided by 4 – reading, listening, writing and speaking). As you can see in the example above, I included a percentage indicator. This is not fully accurate, but I think it can give you a good overview of your students’ progress. Unfortunately, we can’t know the exact Cambridge score as it varies from one exam to another. Therefore, if your students find one exam much easier than others, this means that other Cambridge candidates probably think the same, so the score would be calculated differently on the Cambridge calculator. If you want to understand a bit more about the Cambridge English scale, go and watch a webinar on that topic.

However, I feel that it’s a safe bet when your students score more than 70% on all the exams. This means that they’re ready to take and “pass” the official exams. I intentionally put “pass” in the quotation marks because if students fail their level exam, they should be rewarded with a lower-level certificate. For example, if your B1 student scores less than 140 on the Cambridge English scale, they will be given an official title for the A2 level. Not what they wanted, but better than nothing.

This is the second part of the Excel sheet. It is designed to help you stay organised. I always find it challenging to keep a list of tests that my students have already completed. You can put the name of your student, the date of the exam, the test number (was it their first, second, third, etc.) and the test name. You can include the book title or the source of the exam, as well – trust me on that one.

The rest is the same breakdown as before, so you can see the progress of your students and identify the most confusing areas. In the end, you have a total score, so you can see if your students are ready to take the exam or if they need a bit more practice. Below you can download the Cambridge scores breakdown for students and the scores organiser for the B1 level. To get the full set of sheets for all the levels go to my TpT store – Cambridge scores breakdown – students and Cambridge scores breakdown – teachers. You can also get your copies by clicking the one-time payment button.

How do you stay organised? I need all the tips possible!

Click below to get the full versions of the Cambridge scores breakdown Excel sheets.