How would you promote your English academy in Spain?

Imagine you had your own English language academy in Spain. What would you do to promote it and make it stand out from your competition?

Wandering around Vigo last year, I passed an English academy with an eye-catching image on its window. I walked straight past it, did a double-take, and started to laugh:


Promotion english

Promoting English academies in Spain

I looked through the window and saw kids in one of the classrooms. Like many English academies in Spain, young learners and adults studied English there.

Did the parents who dropped their kids off at the academy understand the meaning of the catchy slogan used by the school?

ENGLISH MOTHER F****ER! DO YOU SPEAK IT (at the risk of being a punctuation Nazi, there’s a missing question mark).

Once I stopped laughing, I started to think about how English academies in Spain promote their services.

Here in the province of Granada, there are hundreds of English academies – yes hundreds! – and many of them don’t survive for very long. There are a few which have been around for decades, which indicates they are doing something right – providing great teaching – or have established a brand loyalty which means they can perhaps afford to rest on their laurels.

So, how do English academies in Spain promote their services? What strategies do they use to attract students? Why do some academies thrive while others fail to get off the ground?

When promoting any product or service, you have a choice of focusing on benefits or features. It seems to me that many English academies in Spain promote their features.


The (dubious) appeal of native English speakers

As a teacher and teacher trainer, I find it difficult to step into the shoes of an academy owner, but I do know that most of them (but not all) prefer to hire native English speakers. Like it or not – and I don’t – there are a number of reasons why English academies prefer to employ them.

  • Many parents and other stakeholders believe that native English speakers are more effective teachers for their children than local Spanish teachers.
  • Many Spanish people believe that only native English speakers can teach ‘correct’ pronunciation.
  • Many older Spanish people who failed to acquire a good level of English at school with local teachers assume that they can only find success with native English speakers.
  • Non-Spanish teachers may only stay at the academy for 9 months, so the academy does not have to offer them a long-term contract and may decide to pay them (in part) cash in hand. Non-Spanish teachers, especially the archetypal gap-year student, are more likely to work for lower wages and can be easily dismissed if necessary.

How important are qualifications and experience?

A common complaint among EFL teachers in Spain and many other countries is the lack of promotion opportunities. Many academies hire native English speakers without official teaching qualifications – would this happen in any other industry?

Other academies require a teaching certificate but don’t distinguish between online TEFL certificates, weekend TEFL certificates, unaccredited courses, and accredited 120hr courses such as the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity Cert TESOL.

More professional academies make a virtue of their teachers’ qualifications. They actively seek to hire teachers with advanced teaching qualifications (such as the Diploma DELTA) and have salaries grades based on qualifications and experience.

The problem is that the industry struggles to demonstrate the difference between TEFL I and TEFL – Q teachers. Many advertisements for teachers ask for a TEFL, CELTA, TESOL, or DELTA.

For info about continuous professional development in ELT, read this guide from the British Council.

TEFL – i = Teachers with an initial teaching qualification such as the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL. Accredited courses are graded as Level 5 qualifications in the UK (equivalent to the second year of a university degree).

TEFLQ = Teachers with an advanced teaching qualification such as the Diploma DELTA  and Dip TESOL and considerable teaching experience. These courses are graded as Level 7 in the UK (equivalent to a Master’s degree).

TEFLQ teachers are considered to be capable of undertaking teacher training, academic management, and syllabus design duties. Their wider range of skills should be reflected in terms of their salary and their position at academies. How often is this the case?

For an insightful read on native English speaker teachers, click here.

Facilities and Resources

Another option for academies is to promote the quality of their facilities, in particular, their adoption of the latest teaching technologies. When I started teaching, computer labs were all the rage but where are they now? At the moment, the ‘must have’ technology for English academies is the interactive or digital whiteboard.

I’ve have worked in several institutions (language schools, teacher-training centres, universities) and suspect that they are ‘white elephants’ in many English academies, mainly because relatively few academies have somebody available to train teachers in how to use them. Read here for some pros and cons of digital whiteboards.

Just last week, I walked past an English academy with a large street-level window, which meant that anybody passing could watch the class. The teacher had uploaded a document with complex grammatical explanations to the interactive whiteboard and seemed to be reading out the rules to the learners, who were trying to stay awake.

There was very little that was interactive about what was presented on the interactive whiteboard!

The main issue with promoting the facilities of your English academy is that most Spanish learners use smartphones. There is a trend away from interactive whiteboards in some countries and towards a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) approach. The use of technology in English classes has provoked much debate, but smaller academies might be wise to invest in training their teachers to deliver effective classes rather than expensive technology.

In fact, is there a strong case for cutting back on technology in the English language classroom?

Teaching Methods

If you spend any channel hopping in Spain, you’ll come across Vaughan TV. Richard Vaughan, probably the most famous English teacher in Spain, has his own language-learning method – called the Vaughan method, strangely enough!

No matter what you think of his method (oral-based with lots of instant translation into Spanish), you cannot deny its success. As well as TV and radio channels, there are Vaughan academies and bookshops are full of exercise and reference books promising to teach you the English you never learn in school.

One way to promote your English academy is to offer a unique teaching method or approach. Lots of academies highlight their uniqueness but read a few websites and you’ll notice that many of them offer the same ‘innovate, modern, dynamic, and interactive’ classes.

I wonder if these words have any impact nowadays. Increasingly, English academies in Spain are using content marketing (blogs, podcasts, videos) to promote their services.

Here are some interesting methods or approaches I’ve seen:


Most marketing experts advise companies to identify a niche and conquer it.

Have you ever watched Gordan Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares? The premise of the show is simple; renowned chef tries to turn around a failing restaurant. He usually starts by ripping up their inflated menus with tons of dishes and tells them to specialise in several they can cook really well.

I wish English academies in Spain would do the same. Many of them offer every type of class under the sun and proudly state that their teachers are experts at all of them.

I’ve been teaching for over two decades and I know that I’m not particularly good and not very experienced at teaching kids. Ask me to teach a TOEFL class and I’ll politely decline (taught in very badly years ago). Getting to know an exam or a type of class requires time, effort, training, and feedback.

Many of the more successful academies invest in training for their teachers. They become experts at teaching specific exams or types of classes.

Other academies become self-professed experts at teaching exams. Walk around your city or town and look at how many academies claim to have 90% – 100% exam success rate – effective marketing strategy, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask these academies to prove the veracity of these claims?

As well as exam courses, here are some other types of specialist courses:


It’s clear that the English language teaching industry in Spain is led by market forces. Most parents want their kids to learn English to prepare them for the world of work. Adults take classes to increase their chances of finding work or improving their current situation. Which means that a majority of learners take English in order to pass an exam which will demonstrate their English ability.

The impact of online teaching

The rise of online language learning is starting to impact the industry in Spain. Online teachers offer classes at very low prices (sometimes as little as five euros).

Academies obviously have to evolve and consider the competition. The world of language teaching is changing rapidly, as is the wider world of education. Many universities now offer free courses (MOOCs – Massive open online courses) so students can learn for free.

What is going to happen to English language academies here in Spain? Are prices going to continue to fall? Should academies offer incentives to ensure they don’t lose the price war?

What extras or incentives can these academies offer?

  • No enrolment fee
  • Free conversation classes
  • Online materials and resources
  • Online courses for free or at a reduced cost
  • Sliding scale fees (reduced prices for certain groups: children, pensioners, unemployed, students).
  • Loyalty schemes
  • Refer a friend schemes
  • Discounts for long-term students
  • Outcome offers: If you fail your exam, we’ll return your fees.
  • Social events
  • Free trial classes.


Opening an English language academy in Spain is a risky proposition. Although there are more academies than ever before, many of them close within the first couple of years. Also, as the level of English in Spain increases, learners are likely to become more discerning – which is a good thing surely for decent academies.

Are most academies just riding the wave of the demand for English classes? When will the bubble burst?

How would you market and promote your English academy in Spain?










Do you need business experience to teach Business English?

Have you thought about teaching Business English?

Don’t you need business experience to teach Business English?

Is it possible to be an effective BE teacher without having a business background?

Do you think your teaching skills and experience can prepare you for teaching Business English?

In this post, I’m going to look at whether teachers without a business background can teach business English?

What is Business English?

Broadly speaking, Business English is the field of English language teaching related to helping learners use English effectively for their work.

As you may have noticed, that is a rather general definition. If your learner is an accountant, will they need the same lessons as an entrepreneur running a small marketing company? What about doctors running their own private practice?

This has always been one of the problems with selling Business English classes. Professionals interested in improving their English at work have varied and specific learning needs.

Examples of learners who ask for Business English classes:

Pedro has a B1 level of English and wants to set up his own travel agency.

Maria works for the Human Resources (HR) department of a company with many English-speaking employees.

Juan is a lawyer looking to find clients in his town (home to many English-speaking inhabitants).

Carmen has just graduated from university with a degree in Marketing. She wants to move to the UK.

Pablo is the CEO of a firm with many international clients. He needs to give presentations and chair meetings in English.

Paloma has just passed her C1 exam and is interested in working for a multinational.

Guillermo teaches Economics at a university. From next year, he will be asked to give his lectures in English.

Pre-service vs In-service Business English classes

When I worked in London, it was common for higher-level learners to enrol in Business English classes. These learners were often typical EFL students in London, being young adults with little or no professional experience outside of working in service jobs (waiting staff, cleaners, shop assistants) in London.

They were pre-service (or pre-experience) Business English learners.

Teaching Pre-service learners

Pre-service Business English learners have very little experience of actually doing business in English. That means they need to learn:

  • Business-related vocabulary (stocks and shares, appraisal, VAT etc.)
  • Business concepts (marketing, human resources, projections, project management)
  • Business texts (reports, memos, minutes, articles, contracts etc.)
  • Business events (meeting, interviews, presentations)

As your learners are not likely to have much knowledge about the world of work, you will have to teach them about business concepts.

For example, they might not do how to analyse sales figures.

When I first taught BE to pre-service learners, I bought a subscription to the Economist magazine and a few books on teaching Business English. I had some experience working in offices, so I had an idea of how most businesses worked, but I needed to teach myself the basics about business.

The good news is that there are lots of BE course books available. They deal with topics such as:

  • Company structures
  • Starting a business
  • Management
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Recruitments
  • Sales
  • Training
  • Branding
  • Legal Issues

They also provide lots of activities to practise skills such as:

  • Talking about your job
  • Participating in meetings
  • Being interviewed
  • Writing emails
  • Solving problems
  • Dealing with customers

Even teachers with little or no business experience should be able to teach in-service learners effectively. However, you should prepare for these classes by researching these topics.

In Company is one of my favourites.

Teaching in-service learners

While pre-service classes are similar to general English classes in many ways (syllabus, coursebooks, lesson structures), teaching in-service learners (professionals) can be very different.

Types of in-service classes
  • Individual learners
  • A group of professionals from the same sector (Construction, Media)
  • A group of professionals with the same profession (a group of accountants)
  • A group of employees from the same company
  • A varied group of professionals from different sectors

Unlike pre-service groups, your learners will have either:

  • Specific needs related to their sector
  • Specific needs related to their profession
  • Specific needs related to their company
  • Varied needs depending on individual learners.

Analysing the needs of your learners is essential when teaching in-service groups.

What is surprising, perhaps, is that your learners’ needs may not be what you expect.

An example of an in-service class

I was asked to teach a group of accountants a few years ago. What did they need?

  1. Vocabulary and concepts related to accounting
  2. Skills related to doing their job effectively in English (writing invoices, contracts)
  3. Conversation skills.

Before their first lesson, I met them and asked what they wanted and needed to study in their English lessons. I assumed they wanted specific language related to accountancy.

I was wrong.

What they actually wanted and needed was to practice speaking on the phone to their clients. They knew all of the job-specific vocabulary better than I did.

However, they lacked confidence and skills when speaking with their international clients on the phone. They weren’t able to understand their clients’ questions about their accounts and had no small talk skills, which made the conversations awkward and uncomfortable.

Now, this was just an isolated case. Your learners may need you to have specific knowledge about their sector. They may have been assigned to the London offices of their company and have no idea about British accountancy regulations.

In which case, you may be required to teach them about accountancy regulations and best practice in the UK.

What could you do in this situation?

Well, if you are an accountant from the UK, you would probably be a good option for them. If you’re not a British accountant, you would have to take a different approach.

Firstly, you would need to be honest about your lack of professional knowledge. Secondly, you would need to think about how you could help them.

Let’s think about what this group of accountants would really need.

  • Learn about British accountancy practices and laws.
  • Learn how to work as accountants in the UK.

You wouldn’t really be able to help them much with the first need. But, you could help them with the second one.

If they are working as accountants in offices in the UK, they may need to:

  • Write emails
  • Speak to clients
  • Participate in meetings
  • Give presentations
  • Attend social events with colleagues
  • Write reports.
  • Learn about UK cultural aspects.
  • Develop intercultural communicative skills.

You would need to find out what they need to do in English for their job.

Being able to work in an English-speaking environment requires learners to develop speaking and writing skills to become effective communicators.

Which you, as a good EFL teacher, should be able to help them with.

In conclusion, having business experience obviously helps when you are teaching Business English.

You have an awareness and an understanding of corporate practices and working environments. You can draw on your own experiences to develop an authentic context in which to explore the real linguistic needs of your learners.

However, teachers without business experience can still perform a useful role. You may need to study business-related concepts and lexis, learn about the structures and features of business texts, research areas such as interview techniques and giving sales presentations.

If you study these areas and are willing to keep learning, you could probably teach Business English in lots of different contexts.

So, as in many areas of life, a teacher without a business background or experience in business can become an effective Business English teacher as long as they are motivated to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge.

Useful sites for Business English teachers

English for Business (British Council)

Business English site

Macmillan In Company

Business English Pod (Audio lessons for learners)

OneStop English

Professional Development Courses and Organizations

One option for teachers wanting to train to become Business English trainers is to take a course such as the Cert IBET (Certificate in International Business English Training).

Another option is to join a professional organisation such as BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group).

There are short courses available to train you in the basics of Business English teaching.

20 ELT Activities for Short Texts

In this post, I’ll look at what activities you can do with a short text in your English language classes. There is no agreed maximum length for a short text, but I would suggest that a short text includes fewer than 200 words.

There are many reasons why short texts are an effective teaching resource, and not just for low-level learners who struggle to deal with longer texts.

Short texts are ideal for classroom use, since they can be subjected to intensive grammatical and lexical study, without overtaxing learners’ attention or memory, as may be the case with longer texts. Scott Thornbury

Other reasons to use short texts include:

  • They do not overwhelm learners; they are perceived as being manageable.
  • Longer texts can – and perhaps should – be read for homework, leaving the classroom as the place where interactive communication can be practised.
  • Students read at different speeds; not such a problem with short texts as time differences are minimal.
  • The quantity of unknown lexis is likely to be higher in longer texts; teachers often end up defining words for a large part of the lesson.
  • Learners perhaps more likely to acquire reading habits through shorter texts. The ‘tiny habits’ principle suggests we should start with small and manageable goals (such as reading one short text a day).

I am not suggesting that longer texts should never be used in the classroom but I do think that using longer texts for comprehension tasks (learners read a long text and answer content questions and/or learn new vocabulary) can often be done at home.

Types of Short Texts

There are many types of short texts across a variety of writing genres:

  • News articles
  • Academic texts (abstracts)
  • Press releases
  • Adverts
  • Mini-sagas (very short stories)
  • Comments and anecdotes
  • Poems, literary texts
  • Social media posts (Facebook, Tweets)
  • Diary entries
  • Letters and postcards

How can we use short texts?

Short texts can be used to set the context for a particular lesson. We can use them to:

  • introduce the topic of the lesson
  • engage the learners with the topic
  • provide an interesting or unusual perspective on a common topic
  • review common vocabulary related to a topic
  • present topic-related vocabulary

They can also be used to raise awareness or provide a model of specific linguistic features:

  • Grammatical structures
  • Lexical chains
  • Idioms and phrasal verbs
  • Genre characteristics (Business texts, academic texts. news articles etc)
  • Literary texts (poems, limericks, short stories, reports etc.)

Short Texts for Skills Practice

Short texts can be used to practise all four skills.

Speaking practice

  • Focused pronunciation work
  • Prosodic features (rhythm, stress, intonation, connected speech)
  • Paraphrasing and summarising

Listening Practice

  • Dictation texts
  • Listening comprehension

Writing Practice

  • Dictation texts
  • Models of a particular type of text (Templates)

Simple activities we can do with a short text


The teacher reads out a short passage three or more times. The learners write down key content words during the first reading. Then, they compare with their partners. They add more content and grammatical words during the second dictation. They compare with their partners again and try to write the entire text. The teacher reads the text again and the learners made any changes and/or additions. After the third reading, learners compare their text with the original.

Missing Title

The teacher hands out a short text but the heading or title has been removed, The learners have to choose from several suitable titles or they guess the original title.

Sentence Jumble

The sentences in the text are given to the learners. They are asked to put the sentences in the correct order and reconstruct the original text.

Word Jumble

Take a text with between 3 and 10 sentences. Each small group/pair is given the words from a single sentence in the text. They are asked to put the words in the correct order. Then, they are given the jumbled words from a different sentence and order them into a sentence. Finally, the groups are asked to put the ordered sentences in the correct order to reconstruct the original text.

Cloze (Open)

The teacher removes several keywords (content or grammar) from the text. They read the text to the learners. The learners have to fill in the gaps. There are simple and free online cloze generators such as this one.

Cloze (Closed)

This is the same exercise, except that the words removed from the text are shown to the learners (usually in a box above or below the text).


Several content words are removed from the text and replaced with nonsense words. The teacher hands out this new text and the learners have to guess what the original words were. They should be encouraged to focus on word type and meaning from the context.

Running Dictation

The text is placed around the classroom. One learner in each group is nominated to be the scribe (writer). The other learners read the original text, try to memorise a sentence, and then read it back to the scribe as a dictation. This works better if each sentence is written on a single sheet of paper.

Error Correction

The teacher rewrites the text with small errors (spelling, grammar, incorrect words, false friends etc. The learners have to correct the errors. To make it easier you might want to: a) state the number of errors or b) indicate which words are incorrect.

The Story Continues…..

The teacher takes a paragraph from a longer text (the first paragraph in a news article). The learners have to write the next paragraph. Then, they compare it with the original text.

Missing Punctuation

The teacher removes punctuation marks from a short text. The learners are asked to punctuate it.

Make it longer

The learners are given a short text, e.g. 100 words. They are required to add details to make it into a longer text (200 words).

Make it shorter

The short text (100 words) has to be summarised in 50 words or fewer.

The Reporter

One learner is given the opening paragraph of a news article, which usually contains the basic facts (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?). They are given time to invent the details. The other learner plays the role of the reporter and interviews their partner.

Design an advert

Learners are given a short text about a product or service. They use it as the basis to create a radio or video advert. They write a script and then produce the audio/video.

Synonyms and Antonyms

The learners are given a short text which is written with simple and common words. They have to rewrite it with synonyms.


The learners are given a short text and are asked to rewrite it for a specific audience. For example, a short article from a serious news site could be rewritten for a tabloid audience.

Make it visual

The learners are given a short text and are asked to create a diagram, image, advert, or slide presentation about it. Then, they have to present it to the rest of the class. Instagram.

Social Media Post

The learners are given a short text which they have to transform into a social media post. Twitter is great as it has the 140 character limit.


A mini-saga is a very short story written in 50 words. Here are some examples. One way to use them in class is to ask them to read one and then add the details. This could be done as a dialogue, a longer story, or even an interview speaking activity.

Of course, getting your learners to write their own mini-sagas is a great activity too.

There are many ways to use small texts in class. What other ideas do you have?

5 Key Questions to ask before an Observed Lesson

You’re going to be observed. How do you react?

At some point this year, you are likely to be observed. If you’re lucky, you are one of those EFL teachers who are happy to let somebody from outside (probably your line manager) enter your class and watch you strut your stuff.

If you are not so lucky, the thought of being observed by your Director of Studies raises your anxiety levels. Your symptoms may range from a slight sense of unease to butterflies in your stomach to, in extreme cases, an overwhelming desire to burst into tears and call your mother!

Take a deep breath and get a grip of yourself. The stakes can be high when you are being observed but that may not be the case. Which is why it is important for you to get as much information as you can about the observation so you can make appropriate preparations.

When I worked as a DoS, I was always surprised by how my teachers reacted to being told them were going to be observed. Some of them were not phased at all (“Yeah, no problem. Pop in whenever you want. Oh, do you want a lesson plan?”) whereas others went deathly pale and lost the ability to speak. They would invariably produce a 5-page lesson plan and spend hours on creating beautifully-designed materials for the class.

In hindsight, I didn’t really think about the purpose of these observations. I just wanted to see my teachers in action and find out if they needed any help or not. This meant that some teachers gave me a set of bullet points on a scrap of paper ripped from a notebook and others wrote complex procedural documents written over several days.

My response to both types of lesson plans was the same; I just saw them as a brief guide to refer to while I was watching the class. Reflecting upon this approach many years later, I feel slightly ashamed that I didn’t provide clearer guidance about what was required of the observation.

Which brings me to the central idea of this post. Teachers often suffer a lot of emotional stress before, during and after observations because they are not aware of the observation requirements or even the assessment criteria.

So, next time you are told that you are being observed, I would suggest that you ask your observer a few questions so you understand what you are required to do in order to prepare and deliver the lesson. It goes without saying that you should find out about who you will be teaching if you are not being observed teaching your own class.

Of course, a professional/reflective/experienced Director of Studies should provide this information beforehand….

Question 1: Why are you being observed?

There are a number of reasons why observations take place:

  • It’s part of the interviewing process for a teaching post.
  • It’s part of your training as a new teacher (probation).
  • The school has regular observation schedule (e.g. every 3 months).
  • The DoS finally has time to observe teachers.
  • Complaints have been made and the DoS is concerned about your teaching.
  • The DoS is thinking of adopting a new teaching approach and wants to collect information about what is happening in the classes.
  • The school is planning to ‘downsize’ and wants to reduce the number of teachers.
  • Observations are seen as an integral part of CPD (continuous professional development).
  • The DoS is looking to promote a teacher within the organisation.

The important thing is for you to know why you are being observed. If you are the only teacher being observed, you might think you are in danger of losing your job when, in fact, you are being considered for a promotion.

If your DoS is unable to tell you why you are being observed, you might want to ask why…..

Question 2: What are you being assessed on?

This is a very important question because you need to be aware of the observation criteria.

Does your DoS want you to give the type of lesson you gave on your initial training course?

How will you be assessed?

  • on meeting your learning aims
  • on following your plan
  • on successfully teaching a grammar point
  • on developing your learners’ speaking skills
  • on demonstrating specific teaching skills such as CCQs, presenting new language, or correction strategies

You may have a Director of Studies who has a set of criteria (perhaps left over from their TEFL course) which they could show you so you can make sure you meet them.

You could even suggest that the evaluation criteria should be distributed to all teachers so they have a clear idea of what skills and practices they are expected to demonstrate in their lessons.

Question 3: What type of lesson plan are you expected to provide?

As I mentioned earlier, lesson plans vary among teachers. On most TEFL courses, a lesson plan template is used to ensure standardization.

More experienced teachers, however, will have their own planning preferences, ranging from detailed procedural documents to mind maps to bullet points and even perhaps a couple of learning aims stored in their head.

I have worked in schools in which experienced teachers were required to produce detailed lesson plans (resembling those used in training courses) for observed classes and this produced an overwhelming sense of frustration.

Asking experienced teachers to write formatted lesson plans solely for observations is likely to be viewed as a needless bureaucratic exercise. Any DoS who decides to enforce this duty should be prepared for an insurrection.

Using lesson plan templates may be an effective way of ensuring high teaching standards in a school. However, it should be reflected in the pedagogical strategy rather than ticking boxes.

Question 4: Do you want a ‘showcase’ or a ‘run-of-the-mill’ lesson?

Confessions of a Young TEFLer…

When I knew in advance that I was going to be observed, I generally made a special effort to create a great lesson. I’d spend ages on my lesson plan, design wonderful materials aimed at making sure my learning aims were achieved and prepped my students so they would appear to be some of the most competent, courteous and conscientious learners at the school.

Then, one day, my DoS said he didn’t want me to over-prepare for my next observation. He said that he wanted to see how I usually taught, without all of the bells and whistles common in observed classes.

He wanted to see what I normally did in class and not what I had the potential to do when I had time to create an ‘awesome’ lesson.

The class went really well and my DoS praised the organic nature of the lesson, highlighting the importance of providing a balance between keeping a lesson on track and responding to the immediate and often unanticipated needs of the learners.

Observing classes should be about observing a learning experience not just about observing the teacher. Some teachers perform really well in observed classes because; a) they know exactly what they observer is looking for; or b) because they have a few tricks up their sleeve which can dazzle the observer.

Giving a showcase class does not mean that a teacher is ready, willing or even able to consistently deliver effective classes on a consistent basis.

Question 5: What materials and resources should you use?

Many schools and academies expect teachers to follow course books. A good test of teaching skills is to ask a teacher to use a lesson from a course book to see how it can form the basis of an engaging and effective lesson. Good teachers can work with average materials and create an excellent learning experience.

If your observer has told you that they want to see a typical class and teachers typically follow course books, then it would make sense to use a course book for your observed lesson.

To sum up, when you are told that you are being observed, find out as much as you can about the nature of the observation before you go into panic mode and / or start creating the greatest lesson plan ever written in the history of English language teaching!

Here are some more posts about observations in ELT

Peer observation in TEFL

Observing EFL teachers

Questions You Need To Ask At Your TEFL Interview

If you don’t ask any questions at an interview for a TEFL job, you may regret not doing so…

You have an interview for an English language teaching position. You think you’ve made a good impression on your interviewer and then hear the words:

And do you have any questions for me?

I’ve interviewed lots of teachers and I’m always surprised by how few of them have prepared questions. The most common response is:

Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you something but I can’t remember what it was.

Asking a potential employer questions is not always essential in an interview – it could just mean the interviewer has covered everything you need to know – but it does indicate that you take your job seriously.

Also, asking these questions at the interview can prevent problems and misunderstandings later on.

So, my advice would be to prepare a list of questions and bring them with you to the interview.

Here are some of the questions you may want to ask.


How many hours per week are you expected to teach? Is that likely to change?

Will you be paid extra if you teach more than this fixed number of hours?

If so, how will you be paid? Cash in hand?

What non-teaching tasks are you required to do? (administration, creating materials, marking, placement testing of students). Will this extra work be included in your salary? Is it compulsory?

How many days of paid holiday are offered? (and does this include public holidays?)

Is there a probationary period during which either party can terminate the contract?

If you want to leave, how much notice are you expected to give?

What is your salary? When and how is it paid?

Is the salary net or gross?

Does the school have a fixed salary or is there a progressive salary structure (performance-related pay, length of service)?

Make sure you get your contract checked by a local expert before signing anything!!

Lessons, Learners, and Resources

What is the teaching philosophy / approach at the school?

Which course books does the school use?

Do the learners have to buy course books?

Are you expected to follow the course book?

Are you allowed / expected / encouraged to use / create your own materials?

What additional materials and resources are available? Access to online materials? Resource library?

What are the classrooms like? Make sure you have a look.

Does the school have internet access? Projectors? Multi-media?

Are teachers expected to use interactive/digital whiteboards? What training is given?

Does the school have a photocopier you can use? I’ve worked in a few places without a photocopier!

How many different classes will you have to prepare for? Find out about levels, ages, types of classes (General English, Exam preparation classes, Business English, One-to-One classes? Skype classes. Off-site classes.

If you are expected to teach off-site classes, does the school pay extra for travel costs? What about the extra time needed to travel to the off-site premises?

How big are the classes (maximum number of students) and what age groups will you be teaching?

What is the procedure for dealing with complaints from learners?

Are there any rules for learners? Lateness? Code of conduct? Absenteeism?

Teaching Support

Are teachers given a written job description?

Does the school have an employee policy handbook or some document detailing the company’s goals, policies and core principles?

Who should you talk to for teaching support, advice and problem resolution? Is there a Director of Studies? Senior teacher? Teacher mentor programme?

Are there regular observations? Could you observe any classes?

Is there a staff-room for teachers to prepare in? Ask to have a look and speak to any teachers if possible.

Does the school offer any in-house training? Teaching workshops?

Do teachers attend any external professional development training? Conferences? Local workshops? Does the school pay in full, in part, or are teachers expected to pay for their own CPD?

Is the school a member of any professional organisations?

How long do teachers generally stay at the school?

Are there any professional development opportunities within the school? Could you train to become an examiner? Teach other classes? Get involved in professional development or mentoring?

There are plenty of other questions you could ask at your TEFL interview so make sure you consider your local teaching context and cultural norms. In some cases, such direct questions won’t be appreciated or will be considered inappropriate so think about how you could phrase them without causing offence.

Have I missed any questions teachers should ask at interviews? Feel free to let me know.

10-step guide to Teaching Effective Conversation Classes

In this post, I’ll present my 10-step guide for teaching effective conversation classes to adult English learners.

Many adult learners enrol in conversation classes to improve their speaking skills. However, student numbers often drop as the course progresses. This can be due to several reasons:

  • Students are not interested in the topics.
  • Students don’t feel they are learning anything new.
  • Students don’t feel they are actually improving their speaking skills.
  • Students want more traditional grammar-structured classes.
  • Students feel they are learning new language rather than practising speaking.
  • Classes lack variety (just question and answer discussions).

Conversation classes are not always taken seriously by learners (just chatting), teachers (just listening to learners chatting) or academy owners (promotional tool for paid classes).

This is a great shame as conversation classes can be a really effective way to help our learners improve their speaking skills.

group of people sitting on sofa while discussing

Photo by Athena on


Read on for a 10-step process designed to help you give effective conversation classes.

Step 1: Get to know your learners

Conversation classes often fall flat because the learners aren’t particularly interested in the topics or don’t really know what they want from a conversation class. Some learners don’t even want to practise speaking in a conversation class!

A WIN analysis is a simple tool used in the business world that can help you discover essential information about your learners.

  • W: What do they want to talk about?
  • I: What are their interests?
  • N: What do they need to talk about?

In General English classes, your adult learners may enjoy the freedom to discuss whatever interests them (Wants and Interests). However, in other classes (Exam or Business classes), you will have to consider their specific needs.

Tip: Ask the learners to write down their answers to the WIN analysis questions before you discuss topics with the whole class. The WIN analysis should provide you with some important information about specific learners.

You could ask the learners to do the WIN analysis in small groups but some dominant learners may force their opinions on their peers.

Step 2: Work together to choose interesting and relevant topics.

Your learners will probably have a variety of wants, needs, and interests. But, they are not paying for one-to-one classes. Therefore, they will have to accept that they won’t always be interested in the topic of the lesson. There are a number of ways you could choose topics with your learners:

  • Ask learners
  • Find a list of topics
  • Each learner chooses a topic
  • Learners choose their top 3 topics from a list

Many teachers use a course book to decide on suitable topics. Course books are often written for the average learner, which means the topics are often a) bland b) Anglo-centric c) Global rather than local (maybe not suitable for monolingual classes d) aimed at teenagers and young adults rather than more mature learners.

Tip: Use the information from the WIN analysis and the topic syllabus from a course book to create a list. Then, ask learners to decide which topics they want to discuss from the new list.

Note: If you are teaching a group of employees, there may be specific work-related topics they want and need to discuss.

Step 3: Focus on language used in conversations, not just topic-related vocabulary

Many conversation classes are designed to teach vocabulary related to a specific topic. This, in my opinion, is a mistake because we need more than specific vocabulary to discuss a topic.

Which areas of language are found in typical conversations?

  • Functional language (agreeing, disagreeing, giving examples, asking for clarification, rejecting ideas, changing topics)
  • Communication strategies (asking for clarification, avoidance, using synonyms, circumlocution)
  • Discourse markers
  • Conversation features: False starts, hesitation, backchanneling, questions
  • Paralinguistic language (facial expressions, gestures, body language)
  • Prosodic features (intonation, stress, rhythm, connected speech)

By focusing on teaching vocabulary rather than conversation skills, we are not preparing our learners for the reality of authentic discussions in English.

Tip: Read this article for more info about teaching functional language. There is also a useful list of functions.

Step 4: Select purposeful and authentic tasks to follow discussions

I have observed conversation classes consisting of nothing more than an introduction to the topic, presentation of topic-related vocabulary, and a list of discussion questions. This might work for 20 minutes but learners are likely to lose focus if the discussion part continues for much longer.

Unless we are making small talk, we usually have a clear purpose for a discussion or conversation. In English, we may use the phrase ‘Can we have a chat?’ which seems innocuous but is usually a pretext for something else (dealing with a complaint, looking for a solution to a problem, asking for advice).

When planning a conversation class, we should think about what can follow the discussion. Here is an example:

Topic: Learning English

Discussion: Learners share their ideas, opinions, and experiences about learning English.

Task: Learners are put into groups to create a programme for an immersive 4-week English course. They will present their programme to the rest of the class who will vote for their favourite.

Without having a clear, purposeful and authentic task in our conversation classes, our learners will feel as if they are just having a chat about a topic with no identifiable outcome.

There are a variety of speaking tasks we can use for conversation practice. Here is a short list:

  • Ranking items in order of importance
  • Negotiating
  • Designing and delivering presentations
  • Reaching agreements about a plan or a decision
  • Solving a problem
  • Persuading others
  • Role-plays and case studies
  • Puzzle-solving
  • Critical thinking tasks
  • Summary tasks

Step 5: Find engaging materials and resources to introduce topics

Learning topic-related vocabulary takes time and effort. If we include too much new language in a conversation class, we will have to rush the discussion and accompanying task. This will result in our learners getting very little conversation practice.

Remember that our main aim is to help our learners become better at having conversations.

On the other hand, learners often benefit from having some language and content input at the beginning of the class to help them engage with the topic, activate their topic knowledge, expose them to useful language (topic and conversational).

There are a number of ways we can introduce and engage the learners:

  • discussion of a picture or an image
  • short video or audio recording
  • controversial statement
  • short text
  • short presentation
  • anecdote or story

If your adult learners have enough time and are sufficiently motivated, you might want to send them the materials before the lesson so they come prepared for the discussion task.

Step 6: Raise learner awareness of language used in conversations

Many adult learners feel the need to know specific vocabulary before discussing a topic. This can be a problem as it can lead to vocabulary presentations dominating the classes.

In your first class with your new learners, it’s a good idea to have a discussion about the objectives and outcomes of conversation classes. I usually tell them that conversation classes will help them develop their ability to have conversations and discussions about a variety of topics.

Then, we discuss the communicative functions and communication strategies used in conversations. I like to show them a video of a conversation or discussion (an interview or debate show) and raise their awareness of specific features.

Getting adult learners to think of reasons for having conversations and the objectives of participants in discussions can really help them identify what language and skills they need to acquire to become better conversationalists in English.

Another useful activity is to discuss what makes somebody a good or a weak conversationalist. This can be used to prepare the learners for the next task.

Finally, when your learners are more aware of what they need to improve to become more capable conversationalists, you should consider finding a way to measure progress. This could be done informally (discussions with learners) or more formally (create a set of assessment criteria). You could include some of the following:

  • Participation
  • Fluency
  • Range and accuracy (grammar)
  • Range and accuracy (vocabulary)
  • Pronunciation issues
  • Communicative functions used
  • Communicative strategies used
  • Task completion
  • Error correction
  • Examples of good language
  • Action points

Tip: Look at the assessment criteria for speaking exams and adapt them for your conversation classes. Make sure you get feedback and input from your learners about the appropriacy and relevance of the criteria. In general, most learners seem to benefit from receiving ongoing feedback (formative assessment) and you might want to consider asking learners to assess their own performance or even keep a learning journal.

Step 7: Agree on a Conversation Class Code of Conduct

Introverted learners or less confident learners often struggle with conversation classes. Extroverts, more confident learners, and more fluent learners tend to dominate. Therefore, I would recommend creating a conversation class code of conduct. You could include rules such as:

Do not use aggressive language

Don’t interrupt rudely when other learners are speaking

Respect the opinions of other members of the class

Sexist, homophobic or racist language will not be tolerated

All learners should be given the opportunity to share their ideas

Correction should be sensitive

Discussions can get quite heated, especially when talking about sensitive topics.

There is a strong argument for saying that learners need to develop the ability to defend their point of view and deal with interruptions and disagreement. To some extent, they will develop these skills naturally if you are able to develop a good rapport with your learners and they learn how to work together as a team.

Another tip is to introduce the concept of playing devils’ advocate. By doing this, learners can oppose the views of the peers without causing offence.

Step 8: Create a Conversation Class Lesson Plan Template

By this stage, you and your learners will have a clear idea of:

  • the objectives and outcomes of a conversation class
  • suitably interesting and relevant topics
  • how to behave during the lessons
  • linguistic and sociocultural aspects of successful conversations and discussions.

All you need to do is plan the lesson. The good news is that putting the work in at the beginning should result in enabling you to create simple but effective lessons plans.

My own preference is for the following lesson plan structure:

P: Preparation

  • Choose topic (Food and drink)
  • Select specific topic focus (Fast Food)
  • Choose suitable materials to introduce topic (video of effects of fast food)
  • Identify communicative functions for lesson (agreeing, disagreeing, sharing experiences, persuading)
  • Task: Learners have to present a Healthy Fast Food project to rest of the class.


  • Controversial statement: There is nothing wrong with fast food.
  • Pyramid discussion: Learners consider statement individually, discuss with a partner, each pair joins with another pair, report back to whole class
  • Brief discussion: 5 questions about fast food ranging from the personal (How often do you eat fast food?) to the more general (Why do so many people eat fast food?). This could be done as a mingling activity.


  • Put learners in small groups. Tell them they have to brainstorm a list of healthy fast food options.
  • Learners stay in groups. Tell them they have to submit a project for a new healthy fast food restaurant in their town. They have to decide on: type of food, name of restaurant, logo and slogan, location, menu, advertising strategy etc.
  • Each group presents their ideas to the rest of the class who ask questions after each presentation.
  • Learners vote for the best presentation (they are not allowed to vote for their team’s project).


  • Congratulate learners on successful performance of the task.
  • Review any errors, identify any interesting language used by learners in class, fill in any gaps
  • Leave time for practise of functional or communication strategy language which learners need to work on
  • Set some action points (Review exponents of giving opinions and aim to use in the next lesson)

Step 9: Get feedback from learners

The final step is to get some feedback from your learners. This could be done in small groups or as the whole class, You could even ask them to respond individually after the lesson.

Here are some sample questions:

  1. Did you enjoy the class? Why? Why not?
  2. What did you practise in the class?
  3. What new language did you learn?
  4. What would you like to practise in the next class?
  5. Was there anything you didn’t enjoy about the class?

Step 10: Encourage Learner Autonomy

This final step is very important for encouraging learner autonomy. When learners start taking more responsibility and control of the conversation classes, your job will become much easier and you will have to do less teaching and more guiding and supporting. After a while, your learners will choose the topics, present new language, provide feedback on each other’s performance and share useful resources and materials. Then, you will really be responding to their needs.

When learners feel involved in making discussions about the syllabus and management of the classes, they are more likely to get involved in the planning and even delivery of the classes.

This will give you the time and space to focus on providing personalised feedback which will really help your learners improve their speaking skills.

If you teach one-to-one classes to adults, you might like this collection of 30 Speaking Activities which require little or no preparation.

Link to Speaking Unplugged

16 Ways to Play The Hot Seat Game

One of the most popular TEFL activities for practising and reviewing vocabulary is called ‘The Hot Seat’ game. You have probably played it with your learners, although you may know it as ‘back to the board’. The procedure is simple:

  • One student sits in a chair with his or her back to the board.
  • The teacher writes a word on the board, which the student sitting in the chair cannot see but the other students can.
  • The other students define the word to the student with his / her back to the board. They cannot say the word.
  • When the student guesses the word or time runs out, he / she returns to his / her seat and another student sits in the hot seat. The teacher writes another word on the board.

This game/activity is great fun for learners of all ages and is an entertaining way to review vocabulary. I’ve even done it with Business English classes and they loved it, albeit they tend to get a bit too competitive and argue over every point!

Many teachers play it at the beginning of a lesson/week (to review vocabulary learned in previous lessons/week) or at the end of a lesson/week to practise the new vocabulary. I like to use a vocabulary box (or a digital equivalent) so I can access the new vocabulary items easily.

It’s also a good way to review vocabulary based around a specific topic.

If you want your learners to make the most of the game, you should also consider the pedagogical aspects of the game:

  • It’s great for practising the skill of explaining, describing and defining things and concepts using structures such as: It’s used for / Its’ made of / People do this when they need to / It’s a type of…. /defining relative clauses.
  • It’s also useful for practising simple metalanguage (It’s a verb used for / It’s a noun we use when we want to describe.., synonym, antonym)
  • As well as managing the game, you should also monitor what your learners said and record some common errors and examples of useful and correct language. Don’t forget to have a quick feedback session at the end.
  • It’s ideal for helping learners develop one of the key coping/communication strategies: circumlocution. This is what we do (native and proficient speakers too) when we forget the precise word for something. For example: it’s a thing we use when we need to….

It’s a simple game to play and requires very little preparation, except for a list of vocabulary items. Most teachers have a time limit (30 seconds / 1 minute / 2 minutes) for each word. However, there are several problems with the way the game is normally played:

  • individual learners sitting in the hot seat can feel rather exposed and embarrassed if they fail to guess the word
  • louder and more confident students tend to dominate when defining the word to the hot seat student
  • it’s not a particularly effective way of ensuring all learners get the chance to speak and define the words.

So, there are many ways of playing the game and ensuring all students get involved. Here are some variations – some of them don’t even require a seat!.

1: Two Teams

Divide the class into two teams and put two seats at the front of the class. Draw a vertical line on the board to divide the board into two sections. Group A defines the word to the student in Seat A and Group B defines the same word to a student sitting in Seat B. The smaller groups generally results in more students defining the words. Also, students who fail to guess a word can still be on a winning team. Finally, the element of competition increases motivation as it provides a clear purpose for playing the game.

2: Three or more teams

Why stop at 2 teams? If you have enough learners, you could play the game with several teams.

3: Post-its or mini-whiteboards rather than the main board

You can play the hot seat game with post-its, mini-whiteboards or sheets of paper if you don’t have a large board. Mini-whiteboards are particularly apt for this game if you have a small class.

4: Two Teams but with different words

One of the problems with asking teams to define the same word is that a student in one of the hot seats may actually guess the word correctly by listening to  another team’s definition. The problem can be resolved by selecting a different word for each team.

5: Two Teams but each team chooses words for the other team

There is no reason why you (the teacher) need to choose the vocabulary items. When your learners know the rules of the game (which are very simple), they can select the words themselves, which also increases learner autonomy. You will probably want to check the words before you play the game to confirm that they are words which have been recently studied.

6: Two Teams but each team has to define words related to a specific topic or word class

If you have been studying vocabulary items related to specific topics, you could ask Group A to define words related to one topic (food) and Group B could define words related to another (drink). You could also do the same with word types (verbs / nouns). To ensure that all groups get the opportunity to practise and review both topics, you could switch topics after a specific time. The winning group would be the one with the highest total of words guessed within the time limit.

7: List of words on the board rather than a single word

Extend the time limit (say 5 or 10 minutes) and write a list of words on the board for the groups to define. The students have to define as many words as they can to the student in the hot seat. You might want to appoint two judges to tick each word off the list as they are guessed correctly.

8: Pairs rather than groups

Put the students into pairs and ask one student in each pair to sit with the backs to the board. Write the word on the board and award points to the first pair to guess the word correctly.

9: Pairs with a list of words rather than single words

The procedure is the same as 6 but you have to trust in the learners’ honesty. You don’t need to use the board if you play the game in this way as you could just distribute a list to each pair. It’s a good idea to give Student A a list of words to define to Student B and vice versa so each student gets to define and guess. A good way to prevent / reduce cheating is to ask the guessing students to write the words down.

10: Parallel lines

You could ask the learners to form two lines. One line cannot see the board and the other line can. Students then define the words to the person facing them in the line. You could ask your students to stand up while they are playing.

11: Moving tracks

This is the same idea, but one of the lines moves. After a word is guessed, all the students move to the right or left (make sure the direction doesn’t change) and the student at one end of the line moves into Line B and the student in Line B at the opposite end moves into Line A. It’s more difficult to keep the game competitive if you use moving tracks but it means that the learners are not stuck with one partner.

12: Inner and Outer Circles

This is similar to 9 and 10 but you don’t write the words on the board. Instead, use sheets of paper or mini-whiteboards (some of them have a magnet on the back) and stick them around the class. The students in the inner circle define the words closest to them to the student facing them in the outer circle. When a pair has defined the word, you can ask the students in the inner circle to move to the next word. The problem with this option is that students often overhear their classmates’ definitions and guesses so ask them not to celebrate when they guess a word correctly.

13: Phonemic Script hot seat

If your students are learning (or already know  how) to use the phonemic script, you could write the words in phonemic symbols.

14: Images rather than words

You could use images rather than words. As you will probably want your students to practise the written word, you could add a rule that students only get a point if they guess the word and spell it correctly.

15: Phrases, phrasal verbs, collocations, idioms, proverbs etc

There is no reason why you need to limit the game to defining single words. Why not ask the learners to define longer items?

16: Taboo Hot Seat

Do you know the game ‘Taboo’? In this game, you have to define a word, but you have to do so without using 3-5 other words which are usually associated with the word on the card. Look at the example below. Playing Hot Seat / Taboo takes a bit more preparation (and more time to write the words on the board) but you could always ask the learners to choose the taboo words.

How do you play the Hot Seat Game?

There are lots of ways you could play this simple but effective and useful game for English language learners. I’d love to hear about some of the ways you play it.

Do you Teach the Communicative Functions of the First Conditional?

The first conditional is used for more than just talking about future events. We need to explore common communicative functions of the first conditional such as making promises and negotiating.

What is the first conditional?

The first conditional (as it’s often called) is generally a sentence with two clauses:

  • an ‘if’ clause with the present tense (or verb 1)
  • a conditional clause with some reference to the future (will, might, may)

Here is an example commonly found in grammar reference books:

If it rains tomorrow, I’ll take my umbrella with me.

Why is it sometimes called a real conditional?

The first conditional is sometimes called a real conditional. It is real because the situation (context) is not an imaginary one (it might rain tomorrow) and the consequence (taking an umbrella) is a likely or possible action in the future.

Most descriptions of the first conditional focus on form

Before writing this post, I did a quick online search for explanations of the first conditional. Most explanations (for teachers and students) covered the form but didn’t really explore the functions.

As a side note, make sure your learners know that ‘to be going to’ is often used in the conditional form.

If you do that again, you’re going to have an accident.

What is the most commonly taught function of the first conditional? 

Many explanations were vague. Here are some examples:

We use the first conditional to talk about the result of an imagined future situation, when we believe the imagined situation is quite likely.

It’s used to talk about things which might happen in the future. Of course, we can’t know what will happen in the future, but this describes possible things, which could easily come true.

We use first conditional when talking about possible future events.

Talking about possible future events is a general communicative function. There are specific functions of the first conditional which we should explore.

Why don’t we explore the range of functions of the first conditional?

Some course books and grammar reference books mention specific functions but I’m not sure they are explored in any depth.

The first conditional isn’t particularly difficult for our learners. It’s easy enough to present, the structure is logical, and we can give them lots of transformation and gap-fill exercises to ensure they master the form. 

I would argue that learners feel as if they have mastered the form but rarely get sufficient exposure and practice opportunities to perform the specific functions.

How often do we explore the range of functions associated with the first conditional? Our typical explanation (future possibilities related to real events) is rather vague and doesn’t really engage the learners.

The other functions are more difficult as concepts, but we can provide clear and memorable contexts to present the first conditional when used for these other communicative functions.

What are the specific functions of the first conditional?

There are many functions of the first conditional which are rarely explored by teachers. Let’s look at some examples:

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a big strong boy like your brother.

You’ll get sick again if you don’t take your medicine.

You’re going to get fired if I catch you smoking in the bathoom again.

If we don’t make a decision soon, we won’t have any options left.

You’ll be eating hospital food for a week if you speak to my wife like that again!

If we agree to a 5% increase in your salary, will you be willing to relocate to Manchester?

When we start thinking about the real function of these sentences, we can bring them to life.

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a big strong boy like your brother.

In this sentence, we can imagine a parent persuading their child to eat some vegetables. The parent is trying to influence the behaviour of the child. In other words, they are trying to persuade or convince.

Here are some common functions of the first conditional

Persuading / Convincing: to make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it.

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a strong boy like your brother.
If you don’t buy this product now, you’ll regret it.
Juts imagine. If you accept this job, you’ll be running the department within 6 months.

Warning: to make someone realize a possible danger or problem, especially one in the future:

You’ll get sick again if you don’t take your medicine.

If you don’t pass the exam, you won’t go to university.
If you walk home alone, something bad might happen.
If you don’t pay attention to the road, you’ll have an accident.

Making threats: to tell someone that you will kill or hurt them or cause problems if they do not do what you want

If you do that again, I’ll report you to the police!
I’ll leave you for good if you speak to me in that way again.
If I catch you smoking in the bathroom again, you’re going to get fired!

Making promises: to tell someone that you will certainly do something

If you eat those carrots, I’ll buy you an ice cream.
I’ll take you to the concert if you pass your English exam.
If you lend me £10, I’ll pay you back £20.

Making offers: to ask someone if they would like to have something or if they would like you to do something

I’ll pick you up from the airport if your plane gets in late.

If you buy two packs, you’ll get a third pack for free.
We’ll enter you in our competition for a holiday to New York if you write your email here.

Discussing options: to talk about a subject with someone and tell each other your ideas or opinions

Well, if we accept the offer, we’ll make $5000 in the next 6 months.
But, if we wait until next year, the long-term benefits will be higher.
Um, but if we don’t make a decision soon, they’ll take both options off the table.

Negotiating: to have formal discussions with someone in order to reach an agreement with them

So, if we agree to a 5% increase in your salary, will you be willing to relocate to Manchester?
If I relocate to Manchester, will you pay for the relocation costs?
How about this? If you agree to work in Manchester, we’ll pay for 60% of your relocation costs and put you and your family up in a 5-star hotel for the first month until you find somewhere to live.
OK. I’ll agree to that as you long as you provide two season tickets to watch Manchester United for me and my son.

Activities to encourage our learners to explore the functions of the first conditional

In my experience, learners are far more engaged by exploring functions such as warning and negotiating than something as general as ‘future events’.

We often present the first conditional to A2 level learners and give them plenty of opportunities to practise the form. Then, we move on to more complex conditionals and rarely explore the more interesting and useful functions of the first conditional.

Warning: Encourage rather than insist that your learners use the first conditional in these freer practice activities. Other exponents (structures and phrases) are used to perform these functions and insisting on only one form leads to awkward and inauthentic discussions.

Here are some activities you could use to explore these functions

Persuading and Convincing
  • Selling Products: Students try to convince their peers to buy their products/services
  • Speed Dating: Students convince their peers to choose them as their date.
  • Holiday Planning: Students try to persuade their peers that their choice for a holiday destination is the best option.
  • Purchasing: Students try to persuade their peers that their preference for a new car/computer/mobile phone is the best option.
  • Survival Task: Students are stranded somewhere (desert. the moon, on a raft in the ocean) and have to persuade their peers to take action.
  • Negative Consequences: Students try to dissuade their peers from doing something by focusing on the possible consequences. If you get married to him, you’ll be expected to give up your job. If you leave your job to travel the world, you’ll never buy a house when you’re older.
  • Safety Guides: Students create a guide (travel, going to university, moving to another country) with a list of warnings.
Making threats and rules
  • Role plays: Students act out situations of conflict, such as meetings between students and teachers, parents and children, husband and wife, rival businesses, police officers and suspects.
  • Creating rules, regulations, and laws. Create a class contract for learners and teachers: We can only use our mobile phones in class if our teacher says we can.
Making Promises and Offers
  • Sales copy: Students discuss how to promote their products or businesses. They think of enticing promises and offers.
  • Radio / TV adverts: Students use this sales copy to create short radio or TV ads.
  • Study contracts: Students work with the teacher to create study contracts detailing what each part promises to do. For example: The teacher will show us a short film every Friday if we all do our homework.
Discussing Options and Consequences (Negotiating)
  • Syllabus Planning: Teachers and students discuss the syllabus and type of activities for their English classes. This is a really valuable activity as it encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. They explore options using first conditionals. If we focus on speaking for the first 6 weeks, we can work on our writing in the second half of the course.
  • Business Negotiations: Great for Business English learners. Student A (or Group A) has a goal. Student B (or Group B) has a different goal. Both parties enter into a negotiation in order to achieve their goal.

As you can see, we can create a variety of authentic tasks related to the functions listed above.

These tasks can be used to give our learners the opportunity to practise first conditionals and related structures (provided that, in the case of, as long as etc.)

More importantly, they can acquire a deeper understanding of the specific communicative purposes of the structure.

Have I missed any common functions? Please let me know.

How to Use the Board Effectively in ELT

In this article and accompanying video, I will talk about using the board effectively in ELT (English language teaching). The board is perhaps the most useful piece of equipment in the language classroom.

Note that this post is written mainly for teachers using whiteboards (not digital interactive boards), although a lot of the advice still applies.

Watch the video here:

Types of Board
  1. Blackboard and chalk
  2. Whiteboard and markers
  3. Interactive whiteboards / Smartboards / Digital Whiteboards
A small confession

Like many experienced teachers, I don’t use the board as effectively as I should. Over the years I have developed a series of bad habits and could do with some extra training myself.

Ask your teaching colleagues for feedback on your board work. Take a few photos of your board and see what your other teachers think. Why not see if you can organise a training session in which teachers think of ways to improve board work at the school?

Read on for some answers to common questions about using the board:


1. What colours should you use?
  • Colours that contrast with the board. If you use a whiteboard, black and blue are easiest to read.
  • Use other colours (red / green) for highlighting, underlining, circling, identifying specific features, stress patterns, phonemic symbols, interaction patterns, syllable boundaries and so on.
2. How big should your writing be?
  • Write a sentence in different sizes on the board. Go to the back of the room and see which size is the most appropriate.
  • Ask your students for feedback. Let them decide which is the best size.
  • Make sure your writing is not too big – you’ll fill the board in no time.
  • Write reminders to yourself in very small letters in the corners of the board. For example, if you hear a mistake in class, write it down and then deal with it later. If it’s small enough, your learners won’t be able to read it.
  • As a rule of thumb, letters should be about the size of your thumb; unless you have extraordinary large thumbs!
3. Should you write in print or use a cursive (joined-up) script?
  • Use print with multi-lingual classes as most students will be able to read what’s on the board.
  • Most students will be used to reading on screens (print) so that may be most useful for them.
  • Cursive writing may be a thing of the past.  
  • Cursive writing may have other benefits, such as aiding creativity.
4. When should you use capital letters?
  • Learn the basic rules of capitalization
  • Capitalization can be used for effect when writing a topic heading.
  • Learners generally copy what they see on the board, so try to be as accurate and consistent as you can.
  • Use a Style Guide (notice the capitalization for effect!).
5. Can learners write on the board?
  • Yes, yes, and YES!!!
  • Learners should be encouraged to get out of their seats.
  • Think about how you could get several students to write on the board at the same time. This saves time, encourages peer teaching and learning, and reduces the risk of putting individual learners on the spot.
  • Divide the board into sections and ask pairs / small groups to write in each section.
  • Use dictation activities in conjunction with the board.
6. Should you use the board for correcting errors?
  • Make sure you let the learners know that what you have written is wrong.
  • Board mistakes and ask learners to correct & identify errors.
  • Collect several mistakes made by learners, board them, and then ask pairs / small groups to correct them.
  • Use green & red to indicate mistakes.
7. How can you use the board to record new vocabulary?
  • Spidergrams for eliciting vocabulary and adding new items.
  • Use margins to record unexpected vocabulary. Then, remember to review at the end of the class.
  • When presenting new vocabulary, use marker sentences to provide a context (clear examples of target language) and record syllable boundaries, stress patterns, intonation (chunks and sentences) and phonemic symbols.
8. What about grammar presentations?
  • Use the centre of the board to present new structures.
  • Ask learners to put their pens down while you are presenting (they probably need to focus).
  • Give learners time to record marker sentences and key features of structure, such as form / substitution tables.
  • Consider keeping the key aspects of the presentation on the board for follow-up practice activities but erase any non-essential information.
  • Create board plans and use them to refer to during the lesson.
9. How often should you clear the board?
  • Train learners to note down the essentials, not everything you write or draw on the board.
  • Ask learners before clearing the board.
  • Think carefully before erasing the target language.
  • Prepare the board for the next activity while learners are busy working individually or in pairs / small groups. This cuts down on dead time in the lesson.
10. What games can be played on the board?
11. What should you do if you make a mistake?
  • Confess. You’re only human; everybody makes mistakes – as long as it doesn’t happen too often.
  • Ask learners to check spelling in their dictionaries.
  • Ask learners to spell new words for you.
  • Congratulate learners on their powers of observation and pretend you made a deliberate mistake.
  • Prepare your board work before the lesson.
12. What can you do if you can’t draw?
13. Is there anything you shouldn’t write on the board?
  • Simple language (below the level of the learner) or language items they should know does not need to be written on the board.
  • For simple and known language, elicit spelling and other features from the learners. Nominate learners to write on the board if you think they need to practise or need confirmation. Then erase.
  • New language that you don’t think your learners need or will be able to understand. If you board something, you really need to explain it, so make sure you grade your language to the level of the learners.

With practise and feedback, your board work will improve. Make sure you plan what you want to write on the board and remember that you are responsible for your board after each class.


You don’t want to get on the wrong side of your Director of Studies or your fellow teachers. 

Why you Should Use Digital Storytelling in ELT

From Storytelling to Digital Storytelling

Throughout human history, stories have been used to share ideas, opinions and experiences. Stories are used for a variety of purposes – to entertain, to educate, to illustrate concepts, to provide moral guidance to inspire change – in all social activities in every industry. Indeed, this innate ability and desire to tell and share stories are tendencies which make us human.

Consider how you interact with others on a daily basis. You tell anecdotes, share events and experiences, and use stories to illustrate your ideas and opinions. We even tell stories when we give advice.

Storytelling is used for specific purposes too. Film directors use stories to make us feel and think. The media uses stories to explain and analyse events. Companies use stories to promote their products. Academics use stories to explore concepts and abstract ideas, which is one reason why storytelling is such a vital pedagogical tool in the ELT classroom.

We can use stories to present, study, practise and produce English in context, ensuring our learners practise all four skills and increase their awareness of grammatical, lexical and phonological features of the language.

Until recently, most stories used in the classroom were taken from published educational materials (course books and ELT materials). Published materials, however, do not always engage and interests our learners as the content is often too general.

In the 21st century, things are very different as there is content available online which meets the needs and interests of every learner. What is more, people can now create and publish their own content.

 What is digital storytelling?

Digital storytelling can be defined as the use of digital tools to record audio, graphic images and videos in order to create stories.

Most of these digital tools are readily available to teachers and learners: digital recorders, digital cameras, mobile devices, tablets, laptops and desktops. If you do not have a classroom connected to the internet, these devices can still be used offline to record audio and video, although you might decide to put them online later.

What types of digital stories can be created in class?

There are several ways to create digital stories:

The simplest form of digital story is an audio recording. Add music and sound effects to create mood and enhance the emotional intensity of the story. If you are a podcast fan, then you probably know about Serial.

A slightly more complex form of digital storytelling is to combine audio with text and/or images. Slideshow presentation software (Powerpoint, Google Slides, Prezi) allow for special effects (visual and sound).

Digital cameras and mobile devices make it easy to record talking head videos, so learners can tell a story while looking into a camera.

Finally, there are a number of video editing tools which can be used to combine moving images, text, music and audio narration to create short movies.

Do you need to be good with technology to create digital stories?

Now, you may be thinking that this sounds like a considerable amount of work or that you do not have the technical skills to create digital stories. However, creating digital content is easier than ever before. Digital recorders and cameras are easy to use and there are many simple apps for audio and video recording.

And, why do educational professionals need to master these digital tools? After all, our younger learners are ‘digital natives’, who have grown up with the internet, mobile devices. computers and tablets. Technology has always been a significant part of their life and younger people are often far more comfortable using digital technology than those of us who are termed ‘digital immigrants’. They are the experts, not us.

This does not mean that our role as teachers is less important than before. On the contrary, digital tools allow us to focus on helping our learners develop their linguistic and storytelling skills. Our learners can now tell their own stories in English and our role is to guide them through this process.

Some simple ideas for digital storytelling in the ELT class

Raising awareness activities: Use audio and video stories to present new language and analyse grammatical, lexical and phonological features of English.

Skills Practice: Learners listen to audio or video recordings of stories with transcripts to improve their pronunciation. When they are ready, they can record their own narration, focusing on stress, rhythm and intonation.

Audio or Video anecdotes: Learners write, rehearse and tell personal anecdotes which they can share. You can create a feedback template so students can assess each other on key aspects, such as delivery, speed, volume etc.

Slide presentations: Learners write stories and find images to illustrate the plot. Then, they create slides to accompany the stories Finally, ask them to record their screens as they tell the story while flicking through the slides.

Short film projects: Learners can write the script for a short film and then act it out themselves. All they really need is a smartphone. Video editing software can be used to increase production values.

Chain stories: Each section of the story is created by a different member, pair, or small group in the class. For example, in Lesson 1, each group writes the beginning. In Lesson 2, each group passes their beginning to another group who write the middle section. Do the same with the final part and then return the stories to the group who wrote the first parts. Then, each group can create use digital tools to present their completed story.

In my experience, all English language learners, young learners and adults, find digital storytelling activities stimulating and beneficial to their language learning. The sense of accomplishment they feel on completion of a storytelling project does wonders for their confidence too.

7 Must-Listen Podcasts for English Language Teachers

Podcasts are a great resource for English language teachers interested in professional development.

Teacher trainers on TESOL courses and by Directors of Studies can use podcasts as part of their CPD (Continuous Professional Development) programme for their teaching team.

What are Podcasts?

Podcasts are audio files, which can be uploaded to your phone, tablet, mp3 player, laptop or desktop computer and listened to at any time. They are basically radio programmes which can be listened to at home, at work, in the office, on public transport, in the car, in the gym, or while going for a walk or a run.

There are a number of podcasts available for English language teachers, for novice teaching and experienced professionals, and I will list a number of them in this post.

Some of them are only about teaching English while others deal with the broader fields of SLA (second language acquisition) and language teacher education.

7 Great Podcasts for English Language Teachers

The TEFL Show

This is a 30-minute podcast hosted by Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul, which deals with such issues as:

  • Teaching pronunciation
  • Taking the Diploma DELTA
  • Non-native English speaker teachers (NNESTs)
  • Teaching lexically

Style and Intended Listener: This is a podcast for more experienced teachers who are serious about the profession. The hosts are experienced teachers and trainers who discuss the topics in depth but always make sure they offer lots of practical tips and advice. There are some interesting guests too.

TEFL Training Institute

Ross Thornburn and Tracey Yu are the hosts of this podcast which deals with a range of issues including:

  • Career paths in teaching training
  • Reflective teaching
  • Learner and Teacher autonomy
  • Teaching listening

Style and Intended Listener:

Most episodes last for between 15 and 20 minutes, which means that topics are rarely dealt with in too much depth. However, this means the podcast provides an overview of the issues and the hosts (and frequent guests) keep things light and accessible.

The episodes on professional development and career options are particularly good, which makes the show useful listening for teachers looking to move into management or training roles.



TEFL Commute

The hosts, Lindsay Clanfield, Shawn Wilden and James Taylor, are familiar names in the industry. This light-hearted show deals with issues not normally associated with English language teaching such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Stationary
  • Alphabets
  • Staffroom
  • Clothes

Style and Intended Listener:

The hosts describe the show as a podcast for language teachers that is not about teaching. However, teaching-related issues (and lots of anecdotes) are not avoided for long.

What makes this show different is that the hosts are irreverent and love discussing some of the more bizarre aspects of life and teaching. It’s a fun show and thought-provoking at times.

The TEFLology Podcast

The hosts of this podcast (Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner, Robert Lowe) all work at universities in Japan. The show features frequent guests, many of whom are academics) and this means the show deals with complex issues:

  • Global Englishes
  • Bilingual Education
  • Critical Issues in ELT textbooks
  • Teacher Identities and Gender in ELT

Style and Intended Listener:

This podcast is probably aimed at experienced teachers who are familiar with SLA (Second Language Acquisition) theory. It’s ideal for teachers studying advanced teaching qualifications, such as the Diploma DELTA or Trinity Diploma (Dip TESOL) or an MA in Applied Linguistics. That doesn’t mean it’s a difficult listen, just that the interviews and issues discussed are more appropriate for teachers interested in the history, approaches and methods of language education.

Language Learning and Teaching Podcasts

Tea with BVP

This podcast deals with SLA and language teaching and is hosted by Profesor of Spanish and stand-up comedian Bill Van Patten (the BVP of the title). It provides a blend of serious discussion about methods and approaches with lots of humour. The format is unusual as listeners call in with their questions. Topics discussed include:

  • What is fluency?
  • Is fossilization real?
  • The role of conscious knowledge in SLA
  • What are appropriate goals for language acquisition?

Style and Intended Listener:

This is another podcast aimed at more experienced teachers with an interest in SLA. The host has some strong views and is not afraid to share them; he is not a fan of coursebooks for example.

Some episodes are quite long and the host does go off on tangents, so it’s not ideal for listeners looking for concise summaries of teaching issues.

Language Fuel

This is a new podcast presented by a team of teachers from New Zealand. This is an interview show aimed at people who love learning and teaching languages, so some of the issues are not directly related to English language teachers. However, each episode provides lots of food for thought about language teaching issues:

  • Dictionaries: To use or not to use
  • Creating (pseudo) immersion techniques
  • Understanding BYOD (Bring your own devices)
  • Self-directed language learning

Style and Intended Listener:

This podcast looks at changes and new approaches to language learning and teaching, making it a good listen for experienced teachers and newer teachers interested in novel teaching ideas.

Many of the interviewees teach other languages rather than English, so this is a great podcast for teachers looking for inspiration and ideas from outside the traditional English teaching sector.

I will teach you a language

This final podcast is actually aimed at language learners rather than teachers. What makes it so useful is that it provides plenty of ideas for teachers looking to encourage learner autonomy. The host, a former teacher and polyglot Olly Richards, answers questions from listeners such as:

  • Do you use apps in language learning?
  • What are the benefits of monolingual flashcards?
  • Should I rely on Google translate?
  • Adapting the Memory Palace techniques

Style and Intended Listener:

Episodes are generally short (20mins) which makes it a good listen for commuters. The podcast takes language learning out of the classroom and deals with the possibilities of using digital technology, mind hacks, and cognitive learning techniques to learn languages.

English language teachers interested in using technology or with an interest in motivation, cognitive theory and learning strategies can benefit from listening to this show.


Ideas for Podcasts for English Language Teachers

I made a few podcasts episodes a few years ago and the technological side was fairly complicated. Nowadays anybody can make a decent sounding podcast for English language teachers. All you really need is a smartphone, dictaphone or USB microphone.

I’ve got a few ideas about possible shows:

  • Interviews with successful English language learners. Successful learners have so much to teach us about learning strategies, maintaining motivation, useful resources, and feedback on what worked and what didn’t work for them in the classroom.
  • Teacher training. Many teachers do not have time or funds to attend teacher development courses. Podcasts do not provide the interactive benefits of face-to-face training, but training-focused podcasts could be a cheap alternative.
  • Context-specific podcasts. What is it like to teach in China or Spain? A podcast related to local issues could be really useful for teachers planning to work in specific countries or teaching contexts.
  • Vox pop Interviews with teachers. Most podcasts book guests with something to promote or interesting research to publicise. What about interviews with teachers in the field?
  • Lesson recordings. I’m not sure anybody would want to listen to a whole lesson. However, lessons can be recorded easily and segments could be extracted for analysis by teachers. Lots of micro-teaching feedback.
What about you? What shows would interest you?

I’m sure I’ve missed out a number of great English teaching and language teaching podcasts. Please let me know about of your favourites and I can add them to the list.


The one book you need before starting your Trinity Cert TESOL

Book Review: Jason Anderson: Trinity Cert TESOL Companion

Disclaimer: The author of this Trinity Cert TESOL guide is a former colleague. I was asked to look at samples before publication and provided a number of quotes found in the book.

However, I still stand by what I say in the review: It’s a really useful reference for trainee teachers.

I’ve been working as a Course Director and Course Tutor on Trinity Cert TESOL courses since 2011. I love the practical nature of the course and find training teachers to be an incredibly rewarding job.

If you are thinking of becoming an English language teacher and want a quick and easy read about the basics of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) you can download my Amazon bestseller here: A Short Guide to TEFL.

But, the course can be really intense and this is partly due to its procedural aspects. On every course, we have to convey a great deal of information to the trainees about the different units and related documentation – this takes ages.

So, one reason why this book is so useful is that it clearly explains the nature of each unit, what the assignments and projects consist of, and what you have to do in order to pass them.

Another reason why this book is worth buying is that it follow’s Einstein’s notion of making things as simple as they need to be but no simpler. The book doesn’t talk down to the reader. Trinity Cert TESOL courses are considered to be as difficult as a second-year university programme, which means that trainee teachers have to use their grey cells; they are not spoon fed. It is perfectly pitched at an intelligent adult without any or much teaching experience.

In fact, I would suggest that this book is ideal for anybody taking a TEFL course (Trinity TESOL , Cambridge CELTA, TEFL). Although it has been specifically written for Trinity Cert TESOL trainees, much of it applies to any initial English language teacher training course.

Finally, this book is an essential reference and resource for any course trainer / tutor / provider as it is full of ideas for workshops and training sessions.

The author, Jason Anderson, has also published a number of other useful books and materials for teachers. Check out his website here: Jason Anderson.


10 Reasons Why You Should Teach English in Spain

There are many reasons why you might want to teach English here in Spain. Read on…

If you have never considered living and working in Spain, maybe you should. The Spanish tourism industry uses the slogan ‘Spain is different’ and this is certainly true. It is a country with amazing natural resources and a wide range of vibrant and culturally-rich regions to suit all tastes.

So, if you can imagine yourself sipping a cocktail on a beach, wandering through a green valley, visiting some of the world’s most architecturally impressive monuments, or simply sitting in a plaza drinking a coffee and watching the world go by, read on and find out how you can live your dream in Espana and find a rewarding job to fund your stay.

By learning how to teach English as a foreign language, you can find work in Spain, or indeed, anywhere else in the world where people want to speak better English and make a difference while doing so. All you need to do in order to teach English is to obtain a TEFL / TESOL certificate (especially accredited ones like the Trinity Cert TESOL). These four-week courses will teach you the basics of teaching the English language and creating effective and dynamic lessons for your students. And, if you have a yearning to live in Spain, there is no better place to take the course. There are courses all over Spain but we recommend Granada!

Here are 10 reasons to take a TEFL course in Spain:

1. You can learn or brush up on your Spanish while you are doing the course. Spanish is one of the world’s global languages and is actually spoken as a first language by more people than English. If you take a TEFL course in Spain, you will be immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment. It’s a reasonably easy language to learn for English speakers as well.

2. You can experience a vibrant, exciting culture. If you want to teach Spanish people, it really helps if you get to know about their cultural values, what they think, how they feel and what they do in their daily lives. Spain isn’t for everybody, although most people love it here, you can get a feel for the life and the people here by taking a course in situ.

3. There are lots of jobs available. Even though Spain is in the middle of an economic depression, one industry is actually booming: English language teaching. Spanish, like Brits, are unfairly regarded as being poor at learning languages. It is perhaps more accurate to say that Spanish, like Brits, were not particularly motivated. Things have changed, however, and Spaniards are enrolling in language courses in droves. In particular, if you enjoy teaching children and are good at doing so, you will be turning down work!

4. Spanish people really, really need to learn English. Many Spaniards are seeking employment abroad, in the UK, in the USA, Germany, Scandinavian countries, all over the world. One of the main requirements for international jobs is the ability to speak English and this is an ability that is is difficult to fake. Internationally-recognised English language exams, such as the Cambridghighly valued by employers and the demand for teaching these exams outstrips the supply of teachers. Also, university students in Spain are now required to demonstrate they have a particular level of English before graduating.

5. You are making a real difference to people’s lives. Teaching English can produce tangible rewards. As your learners grow in confidence and ability when speaking English, you will feel that you are making a valuable contribution. My learners have gone on to find work and develop their education because I have helped them improve their English. Speaking better English can lead to an increase in the quality of life and I have hundreds of students who would testify to that.

6. Spain is different but not too different. While I have suffered from culture shock in Spain, it certainly wasn’t as dramatic as in other countries I have lived in. Spain is a modern European country in many respects and you can find home comforts easily here – you can even buy Marmite in some of the bigger supermarkets here! There is also a lively expat scene should you find the need to reconnect with your roots. Finally, cheap flights back to the UK or other parts of Europe are plentiful here.

7. Cost of living here is not too high. Spain certainly isn’t as cheap as it was and consumer goods can be more expensive here than back home. However, the simple pleasures in life, a coffee, a beer, a good meal, are more affordable than in most other countries in Western Europe. Rent outside of Madrid and Barcelona have dropped in recent years and you can find flats in smaller cities, such as Granada, for a few hundred euros a month. Rooms in shared flats can be very economical. Transport is reasonable here too so you can spend your weekends visiting some of the delights that the Iberian peninsula has to offer.

8. Fiestas! Fiestas! For an average Brit, the amount of local and national holidays here in Spain in bewildering but very welcome – you are never far from a long weekend. Spanish are also fond of the ‘puente’ (bridge in English): if a holiday falls on a Thursday, you will probably find that Friday is also added to make a long weekend! Another bonus for English teachers is that in some parts of Spain, you will have a four-day week as many students won’t want classes on Friday.

9. The sun! There are parts of Spain which are wet and cold, especially in the north, but, in general, you will see the sun much more here than you do in the UK. It really makes a difference to your overall well-being and you’ll end up leading an outdoor life here so that meeting a few friends for a mid-afternoon beer in a terraza (a space outdoors to drink and eat) will become a habit before long. If you are into sports, you’ll find lots of opportunities to practise them here and there are plenty of parks even in the big cities.

10. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Living abroad is a wonderful opportunity which will enrich your life. It can be challenging and stressful but it is rarely boring and gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and develop on a personal level. Teaching English is not easy: you have to learn to be creative, resourceful and manage your time and your classes. Even if you don’t end up making it your profession, you’ll certainly learn lots of useful skills doing so.

Find out more about Teaching English by getting my free ebook here: A Short Guide to TEFL

So, I hope I have convinced you of the reasons for teaching English in Spain. Your next step is to look at training courses.

Thinking about teaching English in Spain?

Are you thinking about teaching English in Spain?

There are thousands of English teachers working in Spain. Why are they here? What keeps them here? Why don’t they go home? What’s life like here for English teachers?

Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want to live and work in this wonderful country? The sun, the sand, the sea, the siesta, the sangria, and lots of other things being with the letter ‘s’.

Just like most things in life, living and working in Spain has its pros and cons. Speak to a few people who have been here a few years and they will tell you some awful stories about problems with landlords, bosses, bureaucracy, surly waiters and so on.

Most fluent English speakers living in Spain teach English at some time or another. A few do it for a couple of years while they are finding their feet and learning / failing to learn Spanish.

Other people do it to supplement other work (writers, musicians, artists) and there are even a few odd people (like your humble writer) who end up working in the English teaching industry for good. All in all, it’s not a bad life… 

So, in this post, I’d like to answer a few questions about teaching English in Spain. My answers are based on personal experience, anecdotes, observations, and my knowledge about the industry here.

To begin with:

Are you the type of person who is cut out to teach English as a foreign language in Spain?

There are a couple of essential requirements:

You must speak and write English reasonably well. You don’t need a degree in Linguistics, but you need to communicate clearly. The CEFR (Common European Framework of Languages) should help you here. As a teacher, you should have a C1 or C2 level in English. Most educated native speakers of English will have this level and many non-native English speakers (people who speak English as a second, foreign or additional language) have this level too.

You need to have a patient and friendly personality – or have the ability to fake these qualities! Being fairly organised helps, as does having the ability to manage stress levels (yours and your students).

There must be other qualities or requirements to teach English in Spain!

The honest truth is that there are some oddballs teaching English in academies all over Spain. Spanish language academies can be a little lax in terms of letting teachers into English classrooms. This lack of regulation combined with a massive demand for English teachers means that there are people working in classrooms who shouldn’t be working in the industry.

Things are looking up, however, and these teachers (many of them unqualified) find it increasingly hard to find work.

In fact, it might be more useful to list what requirements you don’t need to teach English:

You don’t need to be a native speaker of English. Some of the best teachers are non-native English speaker teachers (sometimes known as NNESTs).

You don’t need to have a university degree, but it probably helps. In some countries, only graduates are employed as EFL teachers; not in Spain.

You don’t need to speak Spanish, but that also helps. Lots of teachers work with young learners so learning to say ‘Shut up’ and ‘Pedro, stop stabbing Miguel in the leg with your pencil’ may be useful in terms of classroom management.

You don’t need to have a TEFL certificate, but would you really want to teach without any experience or training?

Do you really need to take a TEFL course to teach English in Spain?

Teaching English, whether to young learners or adults, can be challenging. Kids can be terrifying if you don’t learn the basics of classroom management and adults will complain if you are not able to answer their questions about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

Training is required if you want to teach well and keep your job. Most TEFL courses will teach you the basics of language awareness – I had a degree in English literature but didn’t know what an adverb was before starting my training.

You will also learn lots of practical techniques and strategies for planning and delivering effective classes.

My advice here is simple: get trained up! 

So, which TEFL course should you take?

There are several options:

  • Online TEFL courses
  • Weekend TEFL courses
  • Blended TEFL courses (online and face-to-face)
  • 4-week full-time TEFL courses (120 hrs +)
  • Part-time TEFL courses (120 hrs+)

Unless you have significant teaching experience in a related area, I would always recommend a full-time or part-time face-to-face TEFL course, because you will get real teaching experience.

There is nothing like practical training to prepare you for the language classroom. Online courses are fine to help you learn some theoretical knowledge about second language acquisition and the technical aspects of the English language.

What you get on a face-to-face course is the opportunity to put what you learn into practice. Most TEFL courses require you to teach for a minimum of 6 hours and these lessons will be observed by your trainers, who will do their best to help you meet the standards required of the course.

But, there are lots of different 4-week TEFL courses? Which ones are the best?

Like many things in life, you pay a little more for quality. Here are the basic requirements for a TEFL course:

  • 120-hrs or more
  • At least 6 hrs of observed teaching practice with real learners of English
  • Qualified and experienced trainers
  • External moderation / assessment

Courses which are externally moderated or assessed cost more because the training providers have to pay for the accreditation to ensure quality control.

Unaccredited courses may be excellent, but there is no guarantee that they meet international standards.

Many TEFL trainees are left rather disappointed when they receive their TEFL certificate after four weeks of blood, sweat and tears, only to find out that nobody wants to employ them because their certificates are not recognised.

There are two brand leaders in the TEFL world: Cambridge and Trinity College, London. These venerable institutions validate CELTA (Cambridge) and Cert.TESOL (Trinity) courses.

These two certificates will increase your chances of finding work in Spain because many employers respect and trust the quality of the training.

They are also the best choices if you are considering forging a career in English teaching, would like to work at the British Council or International House, or would like to work in the UK at an English school.

In other words, these courses are more expensive but they will open more doors.

So, where should you do the course? Spain or your home country?

There are lots of CELTA and Trinity Cert.TESOL courses but you might want to consider doing one in Spain if you have the time and the money. There are several reasons why this is a good option:

  • Teaching Spanish students will prepare you for teaching in Spain
  • Learn or brush up on your Spanish
  • Get a feel for the culture
  • Make some local contacts
  • Start applying for jobs (most academies want to meet you in person before offering you work)
  • Build up a support group of fellow trainee teachers who also want to live and work in Spain.

I hope I have convinced you to take your TEFL training in Spain.

You could do a lot worse than come to Granada…..
  • low cost of living
  • wonderful monuments (The Alhambra! Swoon!!)
  • surprisingly varied nightlife and cultural events (punk rock to flamenco to poetry)
  • lots of demand for English teachers (It’s a university city)
  • easy access to the mountains (Sierra Nevada) and the beach
  • Free tapas with every drink!!

If you would like to chat about doing our Trinity Cert TESOL course in Granada, contact us now.

10 Guiding Principles of TEFL

The 10 Guiding Principles of TEFL

An Accidental Manifesto

By Dylan Gates


This was a post I wrote over 5 years’ ago. I’m not sure I still agree with a couple of the points but any comments are welcome.

Somebody asked me if I had a philosophy about TEFL, a manifesto if you like, perhaps a mission statement, a set of general beliefs about teaching English to speakers of other languages. I laughed and said I didn’t really believe in grand statements. Besides, I was watching the Wimbledon semi-final and didn’t want to be distracted.

A couple of days later, I read a blog post and it got me thinking about creating my own manifesto for TEFL. I’m not for one moment suggesting that I have found the secret to successful English language teaching, but I’d like to think that I have found a set of guiding principles that I generally follow when teaching, and suggest that my trainees follow when I am delivering TEFL training courses.

My 10 guiding principles of TEFL

  1. Learners need to practise using English, not the teacher.
  2. The learners are your best resource.
  3. Teaching doesn’t necessarily result in learning.
  4. If there was a magic pill to help learn a language, everybody would take it.
  5. Knowing how a car is built doesn’t mean you are a good driver.
  6. Learning a second language is like building your own house to live in.
  7.  Speaking and writing are 2 nations separated by a common language.
  8. Make grammar presentations as simple as possible but no simpler.
  9. Base your lessons around your learners’ needs and interests not your own.
  10. An empty room with 2 people and something to write and draw on can be the best way to learn.


  1. Learners need to practise using English, not the teacher.

When I started teaching, I loved being the centre of attention, making my students laugh and generally hamming it up. I feel like the actor-director in my own film with a particularly appreciative audience. However, over time, I started noticing that the learners weren’t really improving at the rate I had expected. They seemed to be enjoying the classes but a few comments on the ‘anonymous’ feedback forms were ever-so-slightly critical. “He’s a very funny teacher but I am not sure I learn enough” wrote one. Another commented “Good energy but I don’t speak too much in class” added another.

If you find yourself doing most of the talking, you are not letting your learners practise. Put a sock in it!

  1. The learners are the best resource.

Let’s face it, most people like talking about one thing in particular: themselves! We all want to contribute in some way, to express our ideas, views, opinions and show the world who we really are. Using too many published resources in the class results in an over-reliance on other people’s words and interests. Most coursebooks are fairly bland, are often Anglo-centric, and don’t really engage your average student. The topics are often relevant due to their universality but the specifics aren’t. Use these materials as a starting point for discussions about your learners’ lives.

  1. Teaching doesn’t necessarily result in learning.

Remember the idiom “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I believe the same applies to learners. No amount of explanation, explication and exposition can make somebody learn English, if they are not receptive. We are starting to realise that we teach ourselves to a large extent. Also, we often learn more from our peers than our teachers! Have a look at this TED talk and wonder if we haven’t got it wrong for the last couple of millennia.

  1. If there was a magic pill to help learn a language, everybody would take it.

Learning a language can be a slog, you feel like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down again. Yet, I find myself thinking that our belief that learning a language is a struggle leads to it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We set ourselves unrealistic targets and compare ourselves to our peers, usually the strong ones, and berate ourselves for our failures rather than celebrate our, often incremental, achievements. Learning a language is a tour not a quick trip. Make sure your learners know that but also praise them for their efforts and their successes.

5. Knowing how a car is built doesn’t mean you are a good driver.

One day, I observed a trainee teacher giving a grammar lesson to a group of Advanced level learners. During feedback, he complained that the learners didn’t even know what the present perfect was so had spent 20 minutes giving a detailed explanation of when, why and how we use it. When I pointed out, that they had used this tense successfully in his opening activity and less successfully in his final activity, he was lost for words. I asked him if he had known what the present perfect was before he had enrolled on the course and he shook his head. I asked if he was able to use it in oral and written communication before he had enrolled on the TEFL course and he laughed as the penny finally dropped. He offered an interesting analogy, comparing learning a language like driving a car. Certain actions become automatic over time, you do them naturally, without thinking about the mechanics. Isn’t that what language learners aspire to? To have tacit knowledge (knowing how to do something through experience and practice) rather than explicit knowledge (knowing how to describe this knowledge / ability).

  1. Learning a second language is like building your own house to live in.

When I explain the concept of interlanguage to my trainee teachers we discuss what happens when you build a house. You lay the foundations, construct a framework, add walls, floors etc, do some internal fitting and then get round to decorating it. Of course, most house owners don’t stop there, they make constant adjustments and modifications as time passes. In other words, a house never reaches a state of perfection, it is in a perpetual state of evolution. I then ask my trainees when they think a  construction becomes a house – not an easy question to answer! Some people think that the construction is recognisably a house when the framework has been erected. Others prefer to wait until the 3D TV has been installed and wifi connectivity in every room. My own belief is that each individual has the right to build their own construction and they determine when they think it is fit for living in.

You can live in a hut or a palace but your learners have to decide what kind of home they want to live in.

  1.  Speaking and writing are 2 skills separated by a common language.

When I worked as a Director of Studies at a school in London, one of my teachers asked me if she could move a student down a level. I knew this student – but had never taught him – and mentioned that I felt he was a fluent and confident speaker and almost ready to move up a level!

Oh yes, he’s very good at speaking, but his writing’s terrible and his spelling is atrocious!” she replied.

Learners are rarely balanced in terms of the four skills, just like native speakers. If you have the gift of the gab, does that make you a great writer? Are expert novelists captivating conversationalists?

Communicative competence (a learner’s ability to use language to perform communicative acts ) needs to be taken into consideration as well as the learner’s specific needs. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with categorising learners rarely works; they have their own strengths and weaknesses and we have to try to deal with them on an individual basis.

  1. Make grammar presentations as simple as possible but no simpler.

Many adult learners believe that formal, explicit grammar study helps them learn a language. As mentioned above, they might gain explicit knowledge of grammar rules but there is little evidence to suggest that explicit learning of grammar results in tacit knowledge, which can be applied in communicative situations. This is an age-old discussion in the field of language learning so I don’t want to dwell on it. But, my experience convinces me that simple, contextual analysis of language works far better for most students than lots of complex detail. You may impress your learners with your infinite knowledge of the English language but how much of this information will they retain? When I watch trainee teachers drowning their learners in linguistic analysis, I think of the book ‘A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings. It has sold over 1o million copies but how many people have actually read it? And, of those who have, have many actually understood it?

  1. Base your lessons around your learners’ needs and interests not your own.

A no-brainer this one! Find out what they need and what they like and use this data as the basis for your classes. Over time, you might be able to introduce them to topics that interest you but the bottom line is they will be more engaged, motivated and responsive if they feel that their needs are being addressed. If they trust and respect your judgement, you can make suggestions about what you feel they need and they will be willing to follow your advice.

  1. An empty room with 2 people and something to write on can be the best way to learn.

If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d define myself as a Dogme / Teaching unplugged teacher. Learning is communicating and communicating is learning. Everything else (coursebooks, technology etc.) can be defined as learning aids but they are not indispensable. Let your learners express themselves, respond appropriately to the content (what they said) and form (how they said it) and work on improving their ability to express themselves clearly and confidently.

So, I seem to have inadvertently created some kind of manifesto. I’m off to buy a beret, grow a beard and learn how to play “La Marseillaise” on my ukelele.

Happy teaching and please join me at


Supportive Observations in ELT

Observations in ELT should be supportive not just evaluative, but how often is this the case?

When I started training teachers on TEFL courses, our Course Director told us that he wanted all members of the training team to observe each other. One of the trainers, an experienced TEFL Q (DELTA-qualified) teacher, managed to avoid being observed for nearly a month. She would agree a time for an observation and then, often at the last minute, come up with an excuse and try to reschedule.

Finally, she had to admit the truth: being observed terrified her. She had gone through a series of assessed observations on her DELTA Diploma training and this had scarred her for life.

Even experienced teachers often feel uncomfortable when an outsider enters their classroom. There is probably a significant psychological component to this. Self-efficacy,  one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task, can affect how we feel when we are observed by other teachers:

We may believe we are skilled and competent teachers because we get positive feedback from our learners, but there is always the risk that an experienced professional observing our classes may not have such a positive opinion regarding our skills, competencies, and overall teaching approach.

This might not be such a bad thing; we may not have an accurate assessment of our actual teaching ability. However, conflict may arise if our observers have a significantly different idea of best practice to our own.

But, I wonder if this risk of damaging our self-image as teachers results from an institutional failure in many language schools and academies to identify the true purpose, in my opinion, of observing teachers. I have had many conversations with experienced teachers who have complained about the observation policy at their academies being too focused on assessment and evaluation.

What I propose in this blog post is that observations, especially those of experienced teachers, should be primarily designed to encourage professional development rather than serve as an assessment tool.

Many academies seem to adopt the following approach when observing teachers. The Director of Studies informs their teachers that they will be observed. A timetable is created and teachers are asked to submit lesson plans before each observed lesson. The DoS (Director of Studies) observes their teachers and arranges a time to give feedback.

Feedback consists of the DoS and the teacher discussing whether a set of criteria were met and to what extent. A set of action points may be agreed and the teacher is expected to work on acquiring new skills and improving their weak points.

In my opinion, there is one major flaw in this approach:

Teachers on English language courses do not give discrete lessons; they teach over a number of lessons.

Observers have no real way of knowing what the teachers and students did in previous lessons leading up to the observation. Teachers do more than just teach a discrete language point; they build rapport, create a classroom atmosphere conducive to learning, they diagnose individual strengths and weaknesses, they negotiate a syllabus with their learners, they recycle target language etc.

To use an analogy; imagine I wanted to know whether it was worth watching a long-running TV show such as Games of Thrones. Would you recommend that I watch Episode 4 from Series 5 and base my assessment of the quality of the show from this isolated sample? I very much doubt that this would be a sensible recommendation.

If observations are to be used for assessment or evaluative purposes, then surely it would make more sense to observe over the duration of a course rather than a single lesson.

How can observations be more supportive?

There are a number of approaches which could be implemented to change observations from being an assessment tool to being a system for encouraging professional development.

Firstly, why should Director of Studies be the only people who conduct observations?

Senior teachers, who may need to be trained in observation skills, should be able to fulfil the requirements of the role but may be perceived by teachers as mentors rather than assessors, reducing the level of stress teachers may feel when being observed, which, in turn, should result in them giving more relaxed lessons.

The other reason why Senior Teachers may be more suited to observing teachers than a DoS is that this may reduce the observer effect, which states that the presence of the observer may have a significant effect on the phenomenon being observed. Experience tells me that both teachers and learners act quite differently when they are aware of the presence of the observer, especially when that observed is a figure of authority.

Secondly, planned observations may not demonstrate what a teacher normally does in the classroom.

When your DoS tells you that you are being observed next week, you are likely to do one or all of the following:

  • spend hours, maybe even days, planning an amazing lesson
  • repeat a lesson which you have given successfully a number of times (your showcase lesson).
  • tell your students that they are being observed and train them to behave and respond in a way which will meet the approval of the observer. Confession alert here: I once gave a lesson on a Monday and told the students that I would repeat the lesson the next day when I was being observed. The students were happy to collaborate in this deceit as I bribed them with the promise of free cakes!
  • spend the time before the observed lesson procrastinating about what to teach, getting increasingly anxious as the lesson approaches, only to implode in the observed lesson due to your high-stress levels.

When we give teachers advanced warning of their observation, they may respond by giving a wonderful lesson (which shows their potential) or they may panic and give a substandard class (which shows how they respond to stress). Unless teachers are used to being observed, they are not likely to give a representative lesson which means calls into question the validity of the observation process.

There are other approaches academies could take.

Involve teachers in deciding on the observation process and criteria.

Observations must be relevant to the teaching context. When I worked as a DoS, I used a fairly generic observation template without really evaluating the validity and appropriacy of the criteria. Why not hold a meeting with teachers and decide upon the observation criteria and the observation process. This would provide two clear benefits: the observations would be related to the actual needs of the teachers and this would also encourage them to invest in the whole observation process.

Peer observations could be encouraged so teachers get used to having observers in their classes.

This could be done in two stages. The first stage could consist of the observers noting down what they liked about the class and what they learned from observing their peers (positive feedback). The second stage would require the teacher to ask their peer to focus on aspects of teaching they would like to improve (negative feedback) and suggest improvement strategies.

The DoS (or whoever is observing) could do shorter but more frequent observations so they get to see what normally goes on in classes.

The information collected from these mini-observations could then be collated and feedback could be given to the teaching body and not just individual teachers. The advantage of this approach is that the Director of Studies gets a wider perspective on what is going on at the school, which can help with standardising best practice.

Another benefit of this approach to observations is that the DoS may discover that certain teachers have a talent or innovative approach in relation to a particular aspect of teaching. For example, a teacher may have wonderful board work. This teacher could then be encouraged to give a skills workshop for the other teachers.

Teachers could record (audio or video) segments of their lessons over a period of time and then submit a report (including the recorded samples) to their Director of Studies.

Feedback would then consist of the DoS and the teacher discussing the findings of the report and agreeing on action points.

In this post, I have made a few suggestions about adopting a different approach to observing teachers. They are certainly not intended to be prescriptive; each school or academy should consider what approach will produce the most beneficial results in relation to the quality of teaching provided.

If you are interested in some simple formative observation tasks for the EFL / ELT classroom, click on the image below:

Peer observation in TEFL

Observing EFL teachers




Simple Tips for Choosing a Coursebook for your EFL Class

Walk into any bookshop selling English language materials and you’ll be met by a bewildering array of options. Some have straightforward names, usually with the word ‘English’ in the title, whereas other names, such as Cutting Edge or Headway, could be used for other products, such as razor blades or hair gels.

Choosing a coursebook for your EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class that will meet the needs of your students, your teachers, and your employers (and parents if you are teaching kids) can be tricky. As the old adage goes, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’.

Bearing that in mind, we can confidently state that there is no perfect coursebook. They take a long time to plan, design and produce, which means they are always slightly dated when they are published, especially those aimed at Young Learners or Young Adults. They are also aimed at the typical class rather than individual learners. As we all know, no learner is typical. Finally, great teachers can create great lessons with mediocre coursebooks but poor teachers are unlikely to give great lessons even when they are using great coursebooks.

So, assuming that the stakeholders (your students, other teachers, and employers etc) want to use coursebooks, we need to make an informed choice about which ones to invest in. The aim of this article is to give you a set of questions to help you choose the best coursebook for your students.

How attractive is the design?

First impressions count, unfortunately some might say. If a coursebook looks cheap, tacky, unprofessional or dull, our learners might not respond positively to it. If the content is good, they might change their minds after using it for a while, but a coursebook that doesn’t match what your students consider to be visually stimulating may prove to be a tough sell.

Length of Course.

How long is the course you are teaching? Coursebooks are designed to provide the teacher with enough material for a set number of hours. This can, of course, be extended by using supplementary materials, often provided online or in the form of a DVD-ROM. A common complaint of teachers and students is that coursebooks contain too much material and teachers have to rush through the units to ensure that students feel that they are covering all the essential material. This can be a serious problem as it can result in teachers going at the pace of the stronger students and leaving the weaker learners behind.

Supplementary Materials

Most coursebooks are accompanied by a workbook, classroom activities (usually found in the Teacher’s book or DVD-ROM) and, increasingly, online practice materials. These materials are often ideal for homework but they should supplement the coursebook rather than provide new content. Remember that learners need to recycle and review materials to ensure they retain new language.


Have a look at the Teacher’s book. Does it clearly state the thinking behind the coursebook? What approach to learning does the book recommend? Does it match the teaching philosophy (often expressed in the promotional copy) at your school? Check that the approach proposed in the Teacher’s book is reflected in the choice of activities found in the Student’s book? Refer to the contents page.

Ease of use for students

Put yourself in the role of a student – or better, ask a student to test-run the book – and think about how easy or difficult it is to work your way around the book. Are the goals for each unit clear and appropriate? Are the topics clearly stated? Where are grammar explanations and how clear are they? Is there enough white space to prevent overwhelm? Where are the review activities? Are tapescripts to listening texts found at the back?

Ease of use for teachers

Experienced teachers can generally navigate any coursebook. Inexperienced teachers may struggle if the Teacher’s book is not well-designed. Go through the first unit in the coursebook and see how easy it is to follow the teacher’s notes. Are there some clever ideas for adapting or extending coursebook activities? Where are the answers? Do you understand any technical terms used?

Appropriate and relevant topics

Are the topics likely to engage or bore your learners? Are the cultural references specific to English-speaking countries? If they are, they may not hold the interest of your learners. Are the images, in particular, the images of people, likely to appeal to your learners? In recent years, coursebooks have made a concerted attempt to appeal to a global rather than local audience.


Have a look at the contents page. Is there good coverage of the 4 skills? What about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation? Are there review activities at the end of each units? What about tests? Are there regular progress tests and an end-of-course test?

Listening materials

Good coursebooks should provide the right blend of authentic and scripted materials for the level of the learners. Advanced learners can find some scripted listening activities condescending if the materials are obviously scripted. Coursebooks now include a mix of native and non-native English speakers conversing in listening activities. How will your learners respond to being asked to listen to people from their own country speaking English?

Coursebooks, at least those created by established publishing companies, are the product of a long and thorough research and development programme. They are tested and trialled with a large number of teachers and students before they are let loose in the marketplace. Good teachers should generally be able to create effective learning opportunities for their students when using coursebooks.

Which isn’t to say that you need to use coursebooks in class…….that’s for another post.


15 Reasons Why You Should take a TEFL Course

The reason why I took a TEFL course in 1996 (imagine, smartphones didn’t even exist then) was the standard one.  Just 6 months out of university, I saw teaching English as a foreign language as something that could fund my travels around the world, in particular, Mexico and Central America.

Strangely enough, there was only one other person on my course like me. The rest of the trainees were older and had different reasons for taking the course. One was an amateur linguist and wanted to work part-time; another was thinking of moving to Turkey where her husband was from; one lady was born to Polish parents and wanted to work with the local Polish community in North London.

It’s certainly true that the reasons why lots of gap-year students take TEFL courses is to travel around the world, doing lots of wild and crazy things before they settle down. But, they are not the only types of people who train to teach English as a foreign language and there are lots of reasons why you should take a TEFL course.

Taking a TEFL course allows you to do something different with your life. You may not make an enormous amount of money, although there is enormous money to be made in the English language teaching industry (£1.2 billion in the UK alone), but money isn’t the only reason to do something, is it?

Here are 15 reasons why a TEFL course might be a good idea for you:

1. You are interested in teaching but are not sure you want to take a degree. TEFL is a great way to test the waters and discover if teaching is a) something you might enjoy doing and b) something you might be good at doing. Also, TEFL courses are much cheaper than degrees (usually under £1000) and you can recoup your investment in next to no time.

2. You are a lover of the English language and love telling people about it. Teaching EFL (English as a foreign language) can be surprisingly creative and innovative teachers can find original ways to present and practise the language with students. You don’t need to speak English as your mother tongue (native speaker) as some of the most effective EFL teachers speak English as a second language. If you have a C1 or C2 qualification in English, you could apply to join a TEFL course.

3. You are thinking of taking a gap year and need to support yourself while you’re abroad. TEFL work is fairly easy to pick up in certain countries. Many people teach somewhere for a few months and then move on. There are lots of programmes which offer short-term contracts to qualified teachers. Be careful though, lots of teachers find somewhere where they feel at home and stay for years.

4. You have just graduated and not sure what you want to do next. You don’t need to rush into a decision and teaching helps you develop lots of skills, such as public speaking, which you can add to your CV. Learning the local language may also help you stand out in a crowded job market.

5. You are retired after working in a different sector but would like to continue working. Teaching English gets you out and about and you can meet many interesting people. If you have professional experience, you could promote yourself as a specialist English teacher (ESP – English for Specific Purposes) and carve out a niche for yourself, teaching lawyers, nurses or journalists.

6. You have always wanted to live and work in another country. Who hasn’t wanted to live in another country? The grass is always greener, right? Well, if you have ever wanted to experience Rome or Rio, Barcelona or Beijing, you can do so with a TEFL certificate.

7. You are feeling worn-out or dissatisfied with your current job and looking to do something different. Fed up with working in an office cubicle, staring at a computer screen all day? TEFL is a really social job, you spend your days surrounded by people, and the rewards can be immediate: when you see your students improve day by day, you realise you’re making a difference.

8. You have been made redundant and looking for a change of career. There is a steep but short learning curve in TEFL. The course is tough but many trainee teachers become competent teachers in the space of a month. You don’t need extensive training to teach English which can help get you back to the world of work again.

9. You are a qualified teacher looking to gain experience or expand your range of skills. I’ve trained professional teachers and many of them said that taking a TEFL course was more stimulating and practical than taking a degree in education. TEFL courses generally train you how to teach language using the communicative approach, and you might find techniques which reinvigorate your teaching.

10. You are a professional living in another country and are finding it difficult to get work in your field. Most teachers don’t teach EFL forever, but it is a great job for a few years. The job can be very flexible (many teachers work part-time) so you can always support yourself teaching English while you continue looking for work in your field.

11. You are looking to move abroad to be with your partner and wondering what you could do to support yourself. It’s amazing how many people in TEFL move to be with their partner. It may not be the job of your dreams but it’s not a bad option if you want to be with the person of your dreams.

12. You are looking for flexible part-time work to fit around your other commitments. Lots of people teach English in order to pay the bills while they are working on other projects, such as completing post-graduate qualifications. 

13. You are a creative person (musician, artist, writer) looking for a job which can provide you with some supplementary income. I’ve worked with artists, musicians, writers, actors and comedians and their artistic talents and interests often made them great teachers. Actors, in particular, are often fantastic at teaching pronunciation.

14. You are looking for work which you can do from home. You can teach online if you want to stay at home, which makes it a good job for parents or people looking after elderly relatives. 

15. You want to do a job which allows you to help other people. Learning English can make a huge difference in your students’ lives. Knowing that I helped people find work, pass university entrance exams, or move abroad makes me feel pretty good about the job I do. 

Teaching English as a foreign or second language is a boom industry at the moment. All over the world, people are determined to learn or improve their English skills, which means that qualified teachers are very much in demand. It doesn’t have to be a job for life, but it can be a lot of fun and is a great way to broaden your horizons and become a global citizen. So, if you have a good reason to take a TEFL course, why not get in touch?

If you want to know more about TEFL, read my free ebook A Short Guide to TEFL.


13 TEFL Observation Tasks

It’s amazing how much you can learn from observations. Unfortunately, in my experience, many language schools use observation primarily as an assessment tool rather than for professional development purposes. This post describes a range of simple but useful TEFL observation tasks. They can be used by a Director of Studies, teacher trainers on TEFL or professional development courses, and by teachers observing their peers. Also, some of them could also be used by teachers who record and then analyse their own teaching.

These TEFL observation tasks are probably more appropriate for newer teachers but experienced teachers may find them helpful, especially for identifying their own bad habits. I know that I could certainly benefit from being observed when I train teachers as I’m sure I am just as guilty as anybody of failing to practise what I preach!

These TEFL observation tasks should be adapted to your particular teaching contexts. You might want to use them with video lessons as part of your school’s professional development programme.

Task 1 – The Teacher’s Persona – Imagine you were a student in this class. What impressions would you have of the teacher?

  • How approachable and accessible are they?
  • How supportive are they?
  • How confident and relaxed are they?
  • Do they have any mannerisms that might be annoying for learners?
  • How would you describe their persona?
  • How do they use body language to aid understanding and develop rapport?

Task 2 – The Teacher’s Voice – Consider how the teacher uses their voice (not the actual words) to communicate effectively with the learners.

  • How fast do they speak? How appropriate is that for the level?
  • Are they easy or difficult to hear from the back of the class?
  • What about their intonation? Expressive or monotonous?
  • How do they vary the pace and volume of their voice?
  • How successful are they at modelling word and sentence stress?

Task 3 – Grading Language – Consider how the teacher grades their language to communicate effectively with the learners.

  • Note down any examples of the teacher grading their language.
  • Note down any examples of instances when the teacher fails to grade their language. What was the effect on the learners?
  • Note down any examples of the teacher using ‘artificial’ language.
  • Note down any examples of ‘colloquial’ or ‘idiomatic’ language.
  • Note down any examples of ‘metalanguage’. Do you think the learners understand?

Task 4 –  Interacting with the learners – Consider how the teacher builds rapport, engages, and maintains the interests of the learners.

  • How does the teacher build rapport with the learners and put them at ease? Voice? Body language? Genuine interest in the lives of their learners?
  • Does the teacher interact with all students equally? Does the teacher have any ‘favourite’ learners?
  • How effectively does the teacher praise learners? Any instances of overpraising? What words or phrases do they use when praising? Do they use gestures?
  • How does the teacher use names and nominate learners to develop rapport?

Task 5 – Giving Instructions – Consider how the teacher gives instructions to set up and manage activities.

  • How does the teacher signal the start and end of an activity?
  • How successfully does the teacher grade language when instructing?
  • How does the teacher use gestures to support instructions?
  • How does the teacher check learners have understood instructions? Instruction check questions?
  • How does the teacher demonstrate and model tasks?
  • How do learners indicate they have not understood or need clarification?

Task 6 – Using the Board – Consider how the teacher uses the board to meet the aims of the lesson.

  • How successfully does the teacher use the board to present new language?
  • How organised is the board?
  • How could the teacher improve their board work? What do they do well?
  • How does the teacher use the board to support activities?
  • How often do the learners write on the board?
  • How effectively does the teacher use the board for correction?
  • Ask to look at a learner’s notebook. What did they write down?

Task 7 – Interaction Patterns – Consider how the teacher changes interaction patterns to manage different activities in the lesson.

  • Note down the interaction pattern used for each activity.
  • How often does the teacher change interaction patterns?
  • Why do you think the teacher chose specific interaction patterns for each activity?
  • How did the students respond to changes of interaction patterns?
  • Could the activities have worked with different interaction patterns?

Task 8 – Presenting New Language – Consider how the teacher presents new language (both planned and unplanned).

  • Consider how the teacher presented new language (grammar and lexis). Inductive or deductive approach?
  • How did they cover MFP (meaning, form,pronunciation)?
  • How did the teacher check understanding? Were any CCQs (concept check questions) used? Were they effective?
  • What controlled practice opportunities were learners given to use the new language?
  • What freer practice opportunities were learners given to use the new language?
  • How well was the class able to use the new language? Did the teacher insist or encourage use of the new language?

Task 9 – Eliciting – Consider how the teacher gets the learners to provide information.

  • What techniques did the teacher use to elicit language from the learners?
  • How did the students respond to these eliciting techniques?
  • How many students did the teacher manage to elicit language from?
  • How clear were the contexts used for eliciting?
  • How patient was the teacher when attempting to elicit language?

Task 10 – Error Correction – Consider how the teacher corrects errors.

  • What techniques did the teacher use to correct errors?
  • How does the teacher use self-correction and peer-correction strategies?
  • Does the teacher encourage the learner/s to produce the correct version?
  • How does the teacher use the board to correct errors?
  • Why does the teacher choose not to correct learner errors?

Task 11 – Student utterances in Open Class Activities – Observe how often each learner speaks in the lesson.

Studies show that some students contribute much more than others. Draw a table like the one below and note down how often each learner speaks in open class activities. Consider why some students contribute more than others. Is it because they have a higher level of fluency or competency? Are they nominated by the teacher more often than their classmates? Does the teacher neglect to nominate? Is is because of where the students are sitting (in the teacher’s line of sight)? 

Student Name Number of utterances
Pedro llllllllll
Maria llll
Carlos llllll
Sara lllllllllllll


Task 12 – Teacher Student Interactions – Observe how often the teacher interacts with each learner.

Note down how often the teacher interacts with each learner. Is there a relationship between the open and positive body language of the learner and the amount of times the teacher interacts with them? Does the teacher’s positional sense encourage or discourage interaction? Does the teacher interact with the more competent or less competent learners?

Student Name How often teacher interacts with them
Pedro llllllllll
Maria llll
Carlos llllll
Sara lllllllllllll

Task 13 – Focus on just one learner – Observe what an individual learner does during the lesson.

Choose one learner and observe them during the whole lesson (or a substantial part of the lesson).Make notes about what they do, who they interact with, how engaged they appear, how often they speak, the quality of their utterances, their facial expressions and physical gestures, and any other actions they take during the lesson. 

These TEFL observation tasks are designed to help teachers develop their teaching skills. In the post-lesson feedback stage, the issues raised should be discussed rather than delivered by the observer as an assessment.

Over to you. What other TEFL observation tasks have you tried which can help teachers develop their teaching skills and deliver more effective lessons?


10 Tips To Help You Pass Your TEFL Course

So, you have spent a considerable amount of money on taking a TEFL course. You’ve heard that everybody passes but, then again, you’ve also heard that it’s a boot camp. Well, let me tell you that not everybody passes and that a TEFL course doesn’t have to be a boot camp, as long as you make sure you’re prepared when you begin.

You ever-so-slightly concerned that you won’t make the grade. How can you maximise your chances of passing your TEFL course?

In this post, I’m going to provide 10 tips that should help you pass.

1 – Take the Pre-course tasks seriously

Make sure you complete the pre-course tasks. Don’t leave them for the night before you pass the course. Get them done early and review what the tasks before you start the course.

2 – Brush up on your Language Awareness

Make sure you buy and study the recommended language awareness books. Don’t study general grammar books because you need to learn the terminology used in English language teaching (pedagogic grammar). A good way to do this is to buy a grammar book for students (Intermediate level should be fine). Familiarise yourself with the terms and concepts.

3 – Find online resources before you start the course

Spend a few hours looking for TEFL-related material online. Think about enrolling in an online TEFL courses to get a head start. Watch videos of English classes online. Just type ‘TEFL blogs’ into Google and see what you find. Watch out though. When you start the course, you run the risk of wasting lots of time surfing the net for info and resources. It may be better to use tried and tested materials recommended by your trainers (See point 9).

4 – Review your notes on a daily basis

Input sessions in which you learn about different aspects of English language teaching will come at you thick and fast throughout the course. You’ll be learning new things every day so make sure you review your notes at the end of each day or early in the morning. Why not record yourself talking about what you’ve learnt, make mind maps, slideshows, to ensure you don’t forget.

5 – Team up with a ‘study buddy’

Trainee teachers are assessed on their ability to work with colleagues. Arrange study sessions with other trainees on the course and test each other. The best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else so team up with another candidate and do some ‘peer-to-peer teaching’.

6 – Really pay attention in classes you observe

During the course, you will have the opportunity to watch experienced teachers – often your trainers – give classes. You will learn so much in these observed classes as these teachers will demonstrate techniques and activities which you can use in your own classes. Also, you will observe the other trainee teachers giving classes. Don’t use these classes as an opportunity to catch up on your sleep or plan your next class. Ask your trainer for specific observation tasks and ask your fellow trainees if you would like to focus on any specific areas (giving instructions, corrections, classroom management). Remember that your trainer will expect you to give some useful feedback to the other trainees during the feedback sessions.

7 – Listen carefully to your tutor’s feedback – and don’t take it personally!

Nobody likes being observed and some of us have a real problem receiving constructive criticism. Your trainers want you to pass the course because it reflects well on them. If you feel deflated by the feedback, ask your trainer for some practical advice on what to do to improve. Also, don’t compare your teaching performance with other trainees – you want to pass the course not ‘out-teach’ your fellow trainees.

8 – Learn how to plan effectively and efficiently

Many trainee teachers spend too much time planning and not enough time rehearsing the lesson. Your plan should be clear and concise but it does not have to be a work of art. Also, the plan you give to your trainee may not be a working plan that you can refer to in the lesson. Make yourself a simple plan that you can refer to while you’re teaching.

9 – Use approved reference materials when planning

The internet can be a trainee teacher’s greatest enemy. You have to teach the Present Perfect and decide to do some online research. 6 hours later you’re still looking for the perfect activity or grammatical explanation, glance at your watch, and realise you have to start the class in 10 minutes. Refer to reference materials and resources created especially for language learners. They should provide you with the information you need to prepare your plan. Remember that you have to teach according to the level of the learners and provide them with lots of activities that will allow them to practise the language you want to teach them. In other words, keep your language explanations simple and practical.

10 – Make sure you meet the criteria of each unit

In order to pass the course, you need to meet the requirements of each unit. Nothing more, nothing less. TEFL courses are initial teacher training courses which means that you are not expected to reinvent the wheel. Use check-lists to ensure you do everything that is expected of you on the course. You may not think certain tasks are particularly useful but you need to complete them to pass your TEFL course. If you have any complaints or suggestions, wait until the end of the course or the external moderation.

So there we are, I hope these 10 tips help you pass your TEFL course with flying colours.

10 Board Games for EFL Teachers

How often do you play board games with your English learners?

With a little bit of imagination, you can use your board to practise grammar, lexis and pronunciation in lots of fun and engaging ways that will make your learners love your classes.

If you’re lucky, the board may be a new-fangled, hi-tech snazzy interactive smartboard. If you have never used one of these, they are basically like a giant tablet. You can do anything with them, but they do have a habit of breaking down when you’re in the middle of an activity.

The majority of private language academies – and even universities and training centres – still use boards which aren’t very smart at all – but are much more reliable.

There are two main types:

1. Old-school blackboards with chalk and dusters

2. White plastic boards with coloured markers.

Now, whichever type of board you use, I hope you use it for more than delivering boring grammar presentations and noting down new vocabulary.

I hope you use it for language learning games.

In my experience, even to most po-faced, straight-laced adult learners (the ones you often find sitting at the front in business English classes) understand the appeal of board games in language learning.

1. Hot Seat / Back-to-the Board

One student sits with their back to the board. The teacher writes a word on the board and the other students have to define the word to the student in the chair. Here’s a video explaining the game.

That’s the boring version.

Make it more competitive by putting the students in teams. A student from each team is chosen to sit with their back to the board and then the members of each team try to define the word to the seated student from their team.

Total mayhem will ensue and you’ll feel like a WWF referee. Great fun though!

2. Hangman

I’m sure you know how to play this classic game. Make it more engaging and challenging by getting the students to choose the words. In fact, why stop with words? Use phrases and idioms. You could even substitute letters for phonemic symbols!

3. Countdown

This is a TV show in the UK. Ask one student to pick 9 letters which you (or better still, one of your learners) write on the board. Make sure there are at least 3 vowels and 4 consonants. The students have to create the longest word possible from the combination of letters.

A variant of Countdown which I often play with students is to write a long word, such as ‘elicitation’, on the board and set a time limit of 3 minutes. The students (individually, in pairs, small groups) have to write down as many words as they can they can be found by using the letters found in the chosen word. Award extra points for longest word, funniest word etc. This is great for raising awareness of spelling combinations, prefixes and suffixes.

4. Bingo

Write 10-20 words or phrases on the board. Best to use lexical items that your students have recently studied. Your students choose 5 of the words and write them on a piece of paper. You – or one of your students – randomly read out the words and the first student to cross out all of the words on their paper is the winner.

This game is fine but can also be adapted to make it more fun and/or challenging.

Instead of reading the words, why not read out a definition. Write the word ‘rich’ on the board but say ‘This is a word that describes somebody with a lot of money’ to your learners.

You could also read out a synonym. For example, write the word ‘rich’ on the board but read out the word ‘wealthy’.

Tell a story and use the words. Students will have to follow the narrative and listen out for the words. To make it really challenging, you could tell a story and ‘beep out’ the words. For example, “Even though my grandfather was extremely poor, he married a woman who was (beep)… When they met,…’

5. Board Races

You can do board races in lots of ways. Draw a line in the middle of the board (or even divide it into 4 sections) and assign a section to each team. Students have to write their answers in the part of the board.

One very simple way to do a board race activity is put the students in two lines in front of the board. A student from each team stands in front of the board with a marker in their hand. You say a word and the first student to write the word correctly on the board wins a point for their team. A simple and fun way of practising spelling.

This game is also easy to adapt. Read out definitions rather than words. Read out a sentence with a missing word and asks the students to fill in the gap. You could even ask students to draw the word. If you want to practise telling the time, draw clock faces on the board, read out a time, and the students have to draw the hands on the clock face.

As well as spelling and vocabulary, you can do grammar board races. Modals, tenses, conditionals….

6. Pictionary

Give a student from each time a word. They have to draw the word on the board and the other members of the team have to guess. Higher-level students could draw idioms. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ could prove very amusing!

7. Blockbusters

Another TV show from my childhood. Draw a grid on the board (20 squares with 4 columns and 5 rows). Write a letter in each box. Team A starts from the left-hand side and Team B from the right. Each team has to cross the board by choosing a letter and answering a question about a word beginning with that letter.

Student: “Can I have a p please?” (British people of a certain will titter nostalgically)

Teacher: “Of course. P is a word we use to describe a large, tropical fruit”

Student: ” A pineapple”.

If one team is unable to answer, the other team can answer and win the square. This is basically a ‘3-in-a-row’ game and I’m sure you can find ways to adapt the basic premise. Here is a more detailed explanation of how to play with ESL learners.

8. Word and Sentence Jumbles

Write a word on the board but put the letters in the wrong order. Students have to rearrange the letter and write the correct spelling of the word.

Do the same with a sentence to practise grammar or syntax. You could also write idioms or phrases and scramble the words. As always, once you have modelled the game with your learners, you should aim to encourage learner autonomy by asking them to create the word and sentence jumbles for their opponents.

9. Grammar Auctions

Grammar auctions are really simple to create. Write a sentence on the board and ask your students if they think it is grammatically correct or incorrect. If they choose correctly, they win a point. Here is a template you could use.

This simple idea can be adapted in several ways:

  • Hand out toy money and ask students to place a bet on whether they think the sentence is correct or not. If they are right, they double their money; if they are wrong, they lose their bet.
  • Get each group to write a correct / incorrect sentence for the other group.
  • Instead of grammar, write sentences with idioms, phrases or definitions on the board.

10. Board Dictations

If you have a large board, enough markers, and a reasonably small class, you can get most of the students writing on the board at the same time.

Read out a sentence and ask the students to write what they hear on the board. Correct sentences earn a point.

With higher-level learners, read out short passages. Even better, get students to dictate to each other.

If you haven’t come across dictogloss activities, you should try them. Read out a short text at normal speed and students write the keywords on the board. Read the passage again and let them add words. Read it out a third time and they may be able to write out the full passage, by using their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and syntax to complete the sentences.

Finally, you could always do a ‘running dictation‘. Write words, phrases or sentences on pieces of paper (post-its) and stick them around your area of study. Each group nominates a ‘scribe’ who will write down what they hear. The other students in the group run around, read the words on each piece of paper and try to memorise them. Then, they have to run back to their scribe who is waiting by the board and dictate what they read. The scribe writes what they hear on the board. This is a great example of an integrated skills task because it practises speaking, reading, listening and writing.

These are a few of my favourite board games in the English language classroom. You might like to try some of them for yourself. Working out how to instruct and implement board games with your learners will take some trial and error. In my experience, the learners themselves will often give you some useful feedback and ideas about the best way to play these board games in class: they may even like to design their own (learner autonomy!!).

What about you? What board games do you like to play with your learners?

I’m a great fan of using board games in the ELT classroom. If you’d like to know more about this topic, why not listen to this webinar by my friend Jason Anderson, author of Speaking Games.

As well as being great fun, I believe speaking games offer some of the best opportunities for ‘authentic’ language use in both adult and teenage classrooms, promoting real communication in interaction between learners, interaction with the teacher and interaction with materials.

Jason Anderson. Speaking Games: Learning to Play Webinar

What is TEFL anyway?

What is TEFL anyway?

TEFL, TESOL, ESOL, ELT, CELTA, EAL, EAP, ESP etc. The list of acronyms (abbreviations consisting of the first letters of each word in the name of something, pronounced as a word, for example IKEA or UNICEF) initialisms (like acronyms but each letter is pronounced separately such as the BBC or the FBI) and abbreviations (short forms of words or phrases) is maddening. Terms vary from country to country and a term in one place may have a different meaning elsewhere.


TEFL  is probably the most common term (at least in Europe) and it stands for:

Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

There it is, simple isn’t it? ELT is another term I like to use and I’ll use this to refer to the English Language Teaching industry. Now, lots of people in this industry have a problem with the term TEFL because of the internationalisation of the English language – known as EIL (English as an International Language) or ELF (English as a lingua franca).

Is it accurate to say that English is a ‘foreign language’ in many countries where it is studied and used almost as deftly as the native tongue? Let’s be honest, your average 25 year-old Norwegian is as comfortable using English as many Brits, Americans or Australians. In fact, they may speak a version which is closer to the ‘standard and correct’ version than many native speakers (people whose mother tongue is English) who speak in a regional dialect with distinct grammatical structures, vocabulary items and pronunciation features.

Anyway, TEFL is what I shall be talking about; other terms might be used but they are mostly interchangeable unless you are having an academic discussion. I’ll be referring to the type of teaching that occurs in classrooms all over the world where a group of adults, children or adolescents turn up to speak with and learn from a teacher who supposedly speaks better English (wider vocabulary, awareness of formal grammar structures and accuracy and fluency when writing and speaking) than they do.

For many students, the only type of teacher they feel can do this job effectively is a native speaker teacher.

This might seem reasonable but just consider this for a moment: imagine going to, let’s say, Liverpool in the UK or Alabama in the USA and listening to the local native English speakers. Do they use the same variety as presenters on the BBC or CNN?

Rightly or wrongly, many students believe that the best way to learn ‘correct’ English is from a native speaker. If one is not available, the next best option is a non-native speaker (a person whose second, third or eighth language is English) who has mastered English and has no problems communicating with native speakers of English (our 25 year old Norwegian for example).

As a last resort, many students will begrudgingly accept classes with a teacher from their own country who is able to communicate more effectively in English than they can. It’s not really fair on non-native teachers of English but there is, unfortunately, a considerable amount of discrimination in the TEFL world. Click here if you want to join the campaign for TEFL equity.

But, why do so many people want to learn English?

There are several main reasons. They may need it to integrate into a society where people speak English in their daily lives (integrative motivation) or they need it to improve their study or work prospects – (instrumental motivation).

In many countries, English is mandatory in schools, colleges or universities (extrinsic motivation). There are those unusual souls who love it for its own sake (intrinsic motivation) and want to read Charles Dickens in the original language or understand the lyrics of Bob Dylan or their favourite rap artist but I doubt if they form the majority.

However, it’s also true that many people learn English in order to have a voice in the global community through social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

To sum up, TEFL is teaching English to people who don’t speak it as a first language. People do this all over the world from Afghanistan to Zanzibar.

There is also a huge market for teaching English to non-native learners (students or immigrants on the whole) in English speaking countries (The UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, Ireland etc.) but relatively few positions in countries where the majority of citizens are bilingual (Sweden, Norway, Gibraltar). This means that many teachers go abroad for a few years, enjoy the work and then find teaching jobs in their own countries.

A TEFL certificate is often described as being a passport to the world. With it, you can live and work (with a few exceptions) anywhere you want to.

10 Dictation Activites for EFL classes

Why write things on the board for the students to write in their notebooks when you can dictate them? In this post, you’ll read about 10 simple but fun dictation activities  that can be used with kids and adult learners.

Dictation fell out of fashion in EFL but smart dictation activities give your students a clear model of pronunciation and allows them to practise their listening and writing skills

Here’s an example:

Imagine you have a few topic questions you want your students to discuss.

You could write them on the board yourself or let them read the questions on the handout or in the course book, but if I were you, I would……


The teacher’s words are in italics. Note the use of imperatives to instruct the learners.

“Close your books”

“Write down what I say”

“What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

“I’ll repeat. When ?”

(Pause while they write down what they have just heard)

“Now, discuss what you have written with your partner. Don’t show what you have written.

(Make exaggerated gesture hiding your notebook from your partner).

(Let them discuss what they have written, spelling out words out to each other if necessary)

“OK, one more time. When are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Let them make any final changes)

You have 2 options here:

Option 1

“Jose (there is one in every class here in Spain) Tell me what I said.”

Option 2

“Jose, write the question on the board.”

“Everybody, is Jose correct?”

(If Jose is correct, proceed to the next step. If he isn’t, see if the other students can produce the correct sentence)

“Everybody, repeat after me. What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Students repeat in a choral drill)

Jose, say the sentence. Juan, your turn, Carmen, Patricia.

(Ask each student or several students to do individual drilling)

Now, in your pairs, discuss the question. You have 5 minutes.

Now, you might feel a bit uncomfortable dictating at first  but it can be, without doubt, a very student-centred teaching strategy which allows you to identify and deal with any grammar, lexical or pronunciation issues.

Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for recycling vocabulary items or grammar structures: if students are familiar with the language, why board it?
Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for introducing new language: English is often cited as being a non-phonetic language but many words actually have a strong sound and letter relationship so students can benefit from predicting spelling patterns. If the sound / spelling relationship is weak, dictating a word, letting students attempt to spell it, and then giving them the correct form may prove to be an effective strategy for retention.
Dictation helps students develop their note-taking ability. A useful skill to have in meetings, conferences, lectures etc.
Dictation is an integrated skills task. Students practice listening, writing, speaking and even reading.

Here are 10 Dictation Activities you might like to try

1.Jumbled Discussion Questions

Most course books use a series of discussion questions to interest and activate students current linguistic and cultural students knowledge about a topic.. Dictate them but jumble the words so they have to put them in the right order to create the questions. This will give them extra practice with word order in questions, which is often difficult for learners.

2. Single sentence dictations

If you have a series of sentences (or questions), give each student a number and only ask them to write down the sentence (or question) corresponding to their number. When you finish the dictation, the learners can dictate their sentences to each other in an information-gap mingling activity.

3. Running Dictations (with text)

These are often used in language classes. Take a text and cut up the sentences. Stick them on the walls of the classroom or even around the language centre (in the corridors, on windows, on computer screens, doors etc.). Put the students in small groups and assign a scribe (or secretary) to each group. The rest of the students have to read the texts, memorise them and then dictate them to the scribes. The winners are the first group to write down the text without any errors.

4. Running Dictations (with pictures)

This is the same activity as the previous one. The only difference is that the learners have to look at pictures and memorise what they see. This can be used with low-level learners to help them acquire and retain vocabulary. It is also useful for learners who have to describe pictures for exam tasks. In this activity, accuracy is not the main objective.

5. Running Dictations (with live speakers)

This is a fun activity with larger groups. Rather than use text, students have to dictate short texts to each other. Choose 4 students and ask them to stand or sit in one corner of the room. The other students have to go to each corner and listen to each of the 4 students dictating their text. Then, they run back to the scribe and dictate what they heard. This can be used with Business English students as each of the 4 students in the corner promote their brand. You could also create an activity based around a series of clues, for example, a murder mystery puzzle, in which the students have to go around asking for the clues so they can solve the problem.

6. Shopping lists

Writing lists is something we all do on a regular basis. Think of a real-life situation in which one person dictates a list to another. For example, an housebound elderly person dictating a shopping list to a home helper or a boss dictating a ‘to do’ list to their personal assistant.

7. Dictagloss

This is one of the most complete dictation activities, testing each of the 4 skills. Choose a short text and tell the students you are going to read it to them 3 or 4 times at normal speed.

When they listen for the first time, tell them to write down the content words they hear (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). Let them compare what they wrote down with their partner.

When they listen for the second time, tell them to write down the content words they missed. Again, ask them to compare with their partner. They should, at this stage, have identified most of the keywords.

When they listen for the third time, tell them to see if they can fill in the missing grammar words (pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, articles etc.). When they compare with their partner this time, they should be able to write down the sentences they heard.

At this stage, the sentences may not be grammatically correct so they can join with another pair and work together, using their existing knowledge of grammar and word order, to reconstruct the sentences they heard. This can be difficult so I recommend reading a final time so they can check their sentences against the originals.

What is so useful about dictagloss activities is that they allows learners to identify any recurring errors they make and notice any gaps they have. Here is a great post on dictagloss activities.

8. Recorded Message Dictations

If your students need to use English on the phone, put them in pairs and ask them to sit back-to-back. Student A calls Student B and Student B reads out a ‘pre-recorded’ answer phone message. This could be a phone number to call, an email, a timetable, or even a list of numbered options (Dial 1 to speak to a customer services operator, Call 2 to make a complaint).

9. Consequences / Mad libs

If you don’t know this game, click here. We usually play this game by writing down our answers, folding the paper and passing it on. However, this game can also be played as a mingling activity. Students walk around asking the prompt questions, such as ‘Who was the man?’ to a different student each time and then write down the answer they hear on their sheet of questions.

10. ‘Breaking News’

There is no reason why students have to write down exactly what they hear in dictation activities. In life, most of us take down notes not verbatim copy. You could create dictation activities based around real-life situations such as press conferences. You could use authentic or created audio files and ask your learners to take down notes. Then, put them in short groups and ask them to write a short news report about the event.

Traditional teaching consisted of teacher-led dictations. By letting students dictate to each other, we are giving them extra speaking training in class and encouraging them to develop their ability to speak clearly in English.

What dictation activities work well with your learners?

Last-minute Love Lessons

Whoops! You’ve completely forgotten that Valentine’s Day is round the corner and you haven’t planned anything with a romantic theme for your classes.



Don’t panic – Here are 3 last-minute love lessons / activities for you to try which require very little preparation.

TIP: Not all learners feel comfortable talking about their private lives and relationships. In order not to invade their privacy, you might want to ask them to create roles based on pictures.


Briefly introduce the concept of ‘speed dating’. It may be unfamiliar to some cultures.

Divide the students into men and women. If you have an unequal number, just ask some of the students to play a member of the opposite sex.

Arrange the seats in two lines facing each other, one line for the women and the other for the men.

Give each student a photo of a single man or a single woman (you could ask them to draw a face) and create a profile for their portrait (age, name, job, interests, favourite movies or music etc.).

Tell them they are single people looking for a partner and their aim is to find somebody who wants to go on a date with them.

Let them show the portrait/ picture to their partner.

Do a trial run by asking the students to chat to the person sitting opposite them for 2/3 minutes and try to charm them

Then, ask the men to stand up and move one seat to the right. Give them they 2/3 minutes to chat to their new partner.

Continue the activity until all the men and all the women have had a 2/3 minute chat.

To finish, ask the students to write down their first and second choice for a date.

Collect the slips of paper and see if any if any of the choices corresponded, if a man choose a woman as her number 1 and she also choose him as her favourite.

Great for: 2nd conditionals “If you were to go out with me, you’d have the night of your life.”




Create a simple handout on an A4 sheet of paper. Draw a picture of a man and woman at the top. Write the following questions on the page. Leave enough space after each question so that students can write their answers. Tip: fold the sheet 3 times and you’ll have enough space for 8 questions

 Who was the man?

Who was the woman?

What was he doing when they met?

What was she doing?

What did they say to each other?

What did they think of each other?

What did they do after they met?

What happened in the end?

Hand a sheet to each student and ask them to write their name at the top of the sheet and an answer to the first question.

Wait for all students to finish, ask them to fold the sheet below their answer. Tell them to pass the sheet to the person to their left. The next person can see the second question but not the first answer.

Ask your students to answer the second question, fold, pass the sheet to the next person.

Continue until all of the questions have been answered.Collect all the sheets and then hand them back to the person whose name is at the top.

Finally, let the students read the stories. Some of them will be nonsense but a few are bound to make sense.

Ask them to correct any errors.

Great for: Practising narrative tenses.

Love is in the air


Give each student a portrait photo. Tell them that the person in the photo is single and ask them to create a profile for the person in the photo.

Then, ask them to write down 3 reasons why this person is single (they have poor dress sense, terrible personal hygiene, embarrassing habits etc.

Put the students in small groups of 3 (make sure the groups are mixed in terms of gender) and ask them to discuss a series of dating-related questions such as:

 What should people do to find a partner?

Where should they go on a first date?

What should men/women wear on a first date?

What topics should / shouldn’t they talk about on a first date?

What behavioural habits turn people off on a first date?

Who should pay the bill?

4.Get some whole class feedback and then move onto the role play.

5.Assign a role to each member of the group of 3: Man on a first date, woman on a first date, and dating coach

6.Rearrange the chairs/desks to make the classroom resemble a restaurant/bar/cafe and play some romantic music to get the students in the mood.

7.Ask the men and the women to act out the blind date (remind them that they should behave according to the profile they created) and tell the dating coach to observe the date and make notes about how each participant performed.

8.Give a time limit (I find between 5 and 10 minutes is fine for Intermediate level learners) Stress that they are to assess their dating performance not their English speaking ability: Were they polite? Did they listen attentively to their partner? Were the conversation topics appropriate?

9.When the ‘date’ ends, ask the dating coaches to provide feedback on the participants’ performance.

10.Change roles / groups and repeat the role play.

11.The teacher can monitor and note down errors and examples of good language which could benefit the whole class.

Great for: Modal verbs for advice, suggestions, warnings etc.







glass wine


Love is in the air…do dee do dee do dee dee…

Have a great Valentine’s Day.

5 things to do before starting your TEFL course

So, you’ve been accepted onto a TEFL course. How are you feeling?

  • Relaxed because you are a fluent English speaker with a good educational background.
  • Perhaps you feel a little trepidation as one of your friends took the course and said it was one of the toughest months of her life.
  • Maybe you’re worried that you’re not going to ‘cut the mustard’, ‘hack it’, ‘pass muster’.

TEFL courses are tough. We try to squeeze 5 weeks worth of input into a 4-week time period. Not our fault as it’s just the way the market has evolved. What can help is doing a bit of preparation before the course starts.

Here are 5 things you should do to prepare for a TEFL course:

In at number 5, read a book or two, some articles even, about TEFL. You’ll experience what it’s all about on your course but a little background reading won’t hurt. Remember that “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”  The Jeremy Harmer book shown above is a great primer and includes a DVD with real-life scenes from a classroom. A cheaper and shorter alternative is from the Teach Yourself stable of guides.

Jeremy Harmer. How to Teach English. Pearson Longman.

David Riddell. Teach Yourself: Teach English as a Foreign Language.

At number 4, find out what a phonemic chart is and familiarise yourself with some of the sounds and symbols in the English language. Why not go to the BBC British Council Teach English website and play around with it:

Straight on to number 3. Brush up on your grammar. Learn what a verb is, a noun, an adjective, a dangling subjunctive participle relative pronoun clause (don’t worry, I made the last one up). You don’t need to become an expert but knowing the basics will mean that you’ll hit the ground running when you start the course.

Michael Swan. Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press.

Martin Parrott. Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.

Heading down the home straight now.

At number 2, ask the TEFL centre if you can come in and observe a class. If that fails, see if there are any English schools / academies close by and ask if they’ll let you sit in on a class. The most important thing is that you see a teacher and their class in action. The DVD accompanying the Harmer book will help too. You should watch demonstration classes on your course before you teach but the more exposure to the TEFL environment the better.

Finally, at number 1 with a bullet is….have a beer / red wine / coffee / tipple of your choice with some friends before the course. Let your hair down and relax. The course is intensive and you’ll probably have to do assignments and teaching preparation at weekends so partying during the course may knock you off your stride. Besides, once you start the course, you will alienate close friends and family with your endless references to eliciting, correction strategies and, most egregious of all, your constant correction and reformulation of their grammar!!

So, if you are embarking upon a TEFL course sometime soon. Do some preparation and you’ll have time and energy to enjoy it. Good luck.

10 Things you shouldn’t say in an interview for a TEFL job

Over the years, I’ve interviewed about 50 TEFL teachers. Some people walked through the door and I automatically knew they weren’t appropriate for the job: stinking of alcohol, 3 hours late with no explanation, tattoos all over their face when they were applying for an in-company position…..little things like that.

Other applicants seemed fairly normal and then made certain comments which made me think twice about employing them.


1. I don’t like teaching grammar. I like my students to chat and play lots of games

Does this comment suggest a professional approach to teaching?

2. My favourite coursebook. Well, that would be Face2Head, no, I mean Facehead, wait, I meant to say Faceway, Cutting Head, Cutting Face, New English Face, way, head…..

Does this teacher have a memory ravaged by heavy drug use  or alcohol abuse?

3. How would I describe myself as a teacher? I like to be their friend, go out to bars with them, maybe date some of the cute ones. Ha ha, only joking! I don’t do that much now.

This teacher clearly has an ulterior motive!

Did you just say that?

4. Well, I don’t want to stay in teaching very long. Is it a problem if I sometimes miss classes or arrive late? I have a lot of interviews to go to. Teaching English to foreigners is not a proper job, is it?
This teacher will disappear very soon.

5. I believe in correcting every single tiny mistake my students make. It’s the only way they learn.

This teacher is going to scare students off.

6. Sometimes, I tell my students to sit cross-legged on the floor and close their eyes. Then, I put on some Bach and read them some of my poetry.

For every student who loves this approach, 10 others will go straight to the Director of Studies and complain.

7. I prefer to teach Beginners. Higher- level students ask some really difficult questions.

This person has no idea about the difference between a noun and a verb.

8. I prefer to teach Advanced levels. Lower level classes are really boring!

This person has no patience.

9.Most days, I show my students a movie. For homework, I get them to write reviews of the films. Then on Friday, I get them to vote for their favourite and we watch it again.

Do the students do anything else? Practise speaking or learn grammar for example.

10. Well, I’ve taught students from lots of different countries. The (insert nationality here) were the worst – really lazy. And the (insert other nationality here) were just as bad, they just sit there, staring at me like cows in a field, really stupid people.

This person probably doesn’t like anybody who is from a different country to his or her own. 

Welcome to TEFL
Welcome to TEFL


  • Trained teachers who can actually remember what they did on the TEFL course
  • New teachers are fine if they show they are willing to learn and develop their skills
  • Friendly and enthusiastic personalities
  • Professional teachers who will be reliable and flexible
  • Teachers who actually respect their learners and consider their needs

 Have you said anything in an interview that you later regretted?

Can non-native speakers of English become good TEFL teachers?

This is a source of constant debate in the TEFL world. Here in Spain, many Spaniards (employers and students) request native speaker teachers. They hold beliefs, or prejudices, such as:

British speak proper English not like Americans

My German / Dutch /Spanish teacher of English knows grammar but speaks with a terrible accent

I want to speak proper English like my British / American/ Australian / teacher

This is a complex and controversial topic and I don’t presume to know the answer. In fact, I’m not exactly sure how we can define native speakers anymore. What I’d like to do is present both sides of the argument and let you make up your own minds:

Native Speaker Teachers are better because….

  • They provide accurate pronunciation models for learners
  • They can explain lots of idioms and colloquial phrases
  • Students will use their English to communicate with native speakers
  • They can show me how to use the grammar in the way it is actually spoken / written

Non-native Speaker Teachers are better because…..

  • They use an international form of English that can be understood by everybody.
  • They don’t use these idiomatic English. They can communicate clearly and unambiguously.
  • Students will use their English to communicate with people from all around the world. English is now an international language.
  • They had to learn it as a second language so they know how to explain it in a clear and accessible way.

What do you all think? 

What other reasons can you think of why native speakers or non-native speakers make better teachers.

We love to know what you think so please add your comments.

Reasons why 3 is the magic number in ELT

Throughout human history, the number three has been seen as something magical.

Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end
Presentations and essays have an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion.
Even humour uses the rule of three structure: I’ve met a woman. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent and her name is James. (Sorry for the terrible joke).

After thinking some more about the rule of three, I realised that it also applies to many elements of teaching and learning languages. 


Preparing classes

Most of the lesson planning models have 3 stages:

PPP – Presentation, Practice, Production

TTT – Test, Teach, Test

ESA – Engage, Study, Activate

TBL – Task-based learning. Pre-task, Task, Post-task reflection.

ARC – Authentic use, Restricted use, Clarification and Focus

It would seem that most lessons follow a similar three-stage-process:

STAGE 1: The context is created

STAGE 2: The context is used as a platform for using, experimenting and practising language

STAGE 3: Feedback occurs in which teachers and learners discuss what they have learned.

Summary: In essence, most lessons can be imagined as having a beginning, a middle and an end. My ‘rule of three’ theory is working so far.

Presenting new language (grammar and vocabulary)

Many of the major grammar structures in English can be presented with a positive form, a negative form, and a question form.

Present Perfect Simple

I have visited New York          POSITIVE FORM

I haven’t visited New York.   NEGATIVE FORM

Have I visited New York?      QUESTION FORM

Now, I know it is common to think of the form and function of grammar. However, when I train teachers, they often focus exclusively on the written form. If we agree that knowing the spoken form of a grammatical structure is essential, I think the rule of three works here too:

Meaning/ Function: We can use the Present Perfect to talk about life experiences

Form: The Present Perfect is formed with the subject + have + Past Participle (written form)

Pronunciation: The Present Perfect is pronounced in the following way (spoken form)

You may be familiar with the term MFP (Meaning, Form and Pronunciation) and this seems to be an effective way to present new language and you can use it as a model for presenting new vocabulary too.

The English language seems naturally suited to the rule of three. Examples include:

Present / Past / Future
Three aspects of verbs: simple, continuous and perfect
Verbs (1 part), phrasal verbs with two parts, phrasal verbs with three parts. Are there any four-part phrasal verbs?
First / Second / Third Conditional: Why isn’t there a fourth conditional?
Working on Pronunciation

When we want our students to pronounce new language correctly, I’m sure many of you use three steps to do so:

1) Model the pronunciation

2) Choral drills (get all of the learners practising together)

3) Individual drills (ask learners to practise by themselves)

Correction and Feedback

I don’t know about you but I often use a ‘rule of three’ technique for correcting oral and written errors as well.

1) See if the learner can self-correct (Self-correction)

2) See if another learner can correct the error (Peer-correction)

3) I correct the error and provide the correct form (Teacher-correction)

Reviewing / recycling language

1) I give an example of the language item in context

2) Students explain what it means in this context

3) They create their own sentence using the language item

Role-plays / Discussions

1) Set the scene

2) Play the roles

3) Feedback on the performance


1) Prepare for the test

2) Take the test

3) Give feedback on the performance

Needs Analysis

1) Assess the learner (What can they do now)

2) Identify their needs (What do they need to do)

3) Plan a strategy for meeting their needs (How can we help them)

Learning Styles

1) Visual learners

2) Audio learners

3) Kinaesthetic learners

The rule of three approach may seem simplistic to some of you. Learning and teaching are complex processes with an infinite number of variables and reducing everything to a three-part formula won’t suit all tastes.

However, I’d like to remind you of these words from Albert Einstein:




As educators, we plan, deliver and reflect upon our lessons (the experiential cycle) and this rule of three helps us become more effective educators.

What do you think? Does the ‘rule of three’ apply to any other aspects of teaching and learning?







Am I the right age or nationality to get into TEFL?

I’ve worked with and trained recent graduates who were able to manage classes without raising their voices and middle-aged former project managers who went blank in front of a group of expectant students. Most TEFL training courses will not accept trainees younger than 18 but there is no upper age limit. However, the demands of the job probably rule out all but the sprightliest of octogenarians. Basically, anyone who is old enough to work is probably capable of being a TEFL teacher. Sally, who I mentioned earlier, was in her early 60s and used her wisdom and experience to great effect.


On the other hand, it is also true that some students may prefer teachers of a certain age. Teenagers may respond well to younger teachers at first but can change their attitude if you try to be their friend. Mature students may feel dissatisfied with teachers who are substantially younger than they are. Older businessmen, for some bizarre reason, often like to learn from young women who think a hedge fund is the money you save up to buy a new lawnmower.  I think it’s fair to say that first impressions do count and younger and older teachers might find themselves victims of prejudice in certain contexts. On thw whole though, competent  professional teachers should be able to overcome any initial student scepticism after delivery a few solid lessons.


The nationality of a TEFL teacher is more problematic and revolves around the native versus non-native teacher debate. I have trained Brits, Americans and Australians and some of them were excellent teachers while others struggled to spell their own names correctly on the whiteboard. I’ve also trained Spanish, Italians, Brazilians, Germans, Dutch, Danes, Hungarians, Japanese and other nationalities. And you know what? Some of them were excellent while others struggled. To become a TEFL teacher, you need to have an excellent command or spoken and written English (C1 /Advanced level and above). Beyond that, your personal qualities and teaching skills are what really matter.


Unfortunately, the industry – influenced to a large extent by students – seems to prefer native speaker teachers. This means that excellent non-native English speakers are overlooked in favour of mediocre native speaker teachers of English. I know of a number of  non-native teachers who are less than 100% honest when it comes to revealing their nationality to their employers and students. It’s amazing how many of them suddenly discover English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish parentage!

My advice to novice teachers is simply to do your job to the best of your abilities. Your students will probably learn to accept and respect you if they feel they are learning from you regardless of your age and nationality. But, you might have to tell a few white lies to get employed.

The Minimalist One-to-One Classroom



Sometimes I think the ideal one-to-one class is just two people talking about things that matter to them. No distractions, no course books, no technical gadgetry, no fancy materials……and most of all….no gap-fill exercises!

Can we actually teach English with nothing more than a pen and something to write on?


“By reducing the amount of material that is imported into the classroom, the teacher frees the learning space for the kind of interactive, talk-mediated learning opportunities that are so crucial for language development.”

Scott Thornbury: Teaching Unplugged


Is it time to declutter our classes?

What kind of people become TEFL teachers?


I’ve been in the business since 1996 and I’ve watched a wide range of people enter a classroom and teach. I’d like to present a few of my favourites – names have been changed to protect the innocents.


Bob was a favourite of mine. In his late forties, he had worked in publishing for years. After being made redundant, he took a TEFL course and started working in a small language school in central London. Something of a pedant, he was known for his insistence on correcting every minor grammatical error and abhorred Americanisms, which to him included such inoffensive terms as ‘cool’, ‘how are you doing?’, ‘wanna’ and ‘gotta’, and the insertion of ‘like’ in phrases such as ‘I am really like confused by your explanation of like the present perfect man’.


The funny thing was that a minorityof his students, mainly graduates from countries as varied as Brazil and Russia, really appreciated his classes as he fitted their preconceived idea of what a teacher sounded and looked like. His classes may not have been as much fun as those of other younger and hipper teachers but they felt that his hour-long lectures on dangling participles (sounds painful, doesn’t it?) would help them improve their English. However, although they learned the terminology for complex grammar structures, their speaking skills actually deteriorated while studying with him! They always paused for two minutes to analyse some fiendishly complex common phrase such as ‘How are you today, Vladimir? When they were finally ready to respond, the person asking the question had invariably got fed up of waiting and walked off.


Sally was a ray of sunshine in a dark and dingy school in smoggy East London. Unlike the other teachers, she was rarely hung-over, had no hygiene issues and didn’t view her lessons as an excuse to watch her favourite gross-out comedies over and over again. Instead, she was unusual in that she prepared her lessons the night before, learned her students’ names, gave them homework  – which she actually corrected – and was generally able to answer their grammatical questions without a) providing Byzantine explanations which sound impressive until you actually realise that the future present perfective passive active noun doesn’t exist in any language or b) glaring out the student in the style of Lee Van Cleef in Spaghetti westerns before spitting out the phrase  ‘That’s how we say it in English’, thus ensuring that student would be so traumatised that they would never dare to ask a question in class again. Her students adored her and the transformation in their level of English was astounding. Most impressive of all was that the most timid of students started smiling and speaking in English after a couple of weeks of her classes. The grey haired lady with the infectious smile was able to work wonders.


Andy was an actor. Times were hard and his swarthy looks were rarely required by casting agents. He did a nice line in voiceovers but needed a more regular income. He couldn’t work full-time but was able to arrange his working hours around his auditions. He made an ideal cover teacher and proved a hit with private students (those who prefer to have individual classes). While his knowledge of the intricate details of English grammar may have been less than comprehensive, his strength was assisting students with their pronunciation issues. You could always recognise one of his students because they invariably used mellifluous intonation to massacre syntax (word order) and tenses.


The bottom line is that good people skills and a modicum of intellect will probably be enough to make someone a capable teacher. You need to be patient of course, especially if you are teaching low level classes. Some teachers are extroverts but they can overwhelm students with their energy. Indeed, some great teachers I’ve worked with have been fairly introverted and many learners respond to their ability to create a calm atmosphere in the class and listen to rather than talk at the students.


There is no archetypal TEFL teacher. The great ones have a great passion for teaching, communicating and a love of English and have developed a style which keeps them and their learners motivated.

5 Quick and Easy ways to use YouTube in class with the sound turned off!

YouTube is a wonderful resource for language teachers and learners. When I mention this to trainee teachers, many of them assume I am only talking about YouTube clips which have been specifically created for language learners. When this happens, I’ll show them a few simple ways to use authentic YouTube clips for speaking practice. These activities can be used if you have access to interactive whiteboards, desktop projectors or only video cassettes and a TV.


Remember the old adage: a picture tells a thousand words. Well, a quick and simple way to use YouTube clips with your learners is to turn the sound off and focus on the images. This means that your learners create the audio! These activities should work with young learners and adults and could even be used in one-to-one lessons.

1. Silent movie

Type of video: Any clip with physical movement and actions.

Language focus: Tenses and questions using tenses

Film is primarily a visual medium. At the beginning of the 20th century, movies were silent and the viewers were able to follow the story by watching the images on the screen. This activity requires the learners to describe what they have seen, what they are looking at, and make predictions about what will happen next.

Watch the clip with the sound turned off and pause at regular intervals. Practise past tenses by stopping suddenly and asking the learners to tell you what they saw. Practise present perfect, especially with ‘just’ by pausing and asking them what has just happened. Practise the present continuous by asking your learners to provide a running commentary about what they are watching (like a sports commentator). You can practise future forms by pausing and asking learners to predict what is going to happen.

Let your learners take control of the pause button so they can practise asking questions in different tenses.

2. You write the script

Type of video: Scene between 2-4 people with lots of dialogue. Scenes from soap operas or movies.

Language focus: Natural sounding, conversational English. Fixed and semi-fixed phrases, exclamations. Focus on sentence stress and use of intonation to convey emotions

Tell the learners that they are scriptwriters and their job is to create a script based around a short scene from a soap opera or dramatic movie.

Watch the clip with the sound turned off and  ask your learners what they think is going on, who the people are, what they are talking about etc. Ask your learner to create a thumbnail character profile of the characters (She is Mary, she’s married but is in love with her brother-in-law. He is Bill, he is Mary’s brother-in-law and wants to take revenge on his brother for inheriting the family business).

Play the clip again and ask your learners to improvise a conversation based around the events that are happening on screen. What is great about this activity is that the situations are generally really familiar for learners (most cultures seem to watch soap operas) and even low-level students are able to produce appropriate dialogue.

After improvising the dialogue, your learners might like to write some dialogue and perform it in front of the class.

3. Advertising agency

Type of video: Commercials / adverts

Language focus: Business English phrases, slogans and language of convincing and persuading

Find a short commercial on YouTube (or let your learners choose one) and ask them to watch it a couple of times then ask them to create the script for an advert. As well as being good fun, many learners find it a useful exercise for improving their pronunciation (especially intonation and stress patterns) because they are aware of the need for an exaggerated, dramatic delivery. This activity is particularly good for Business English learners and you can analyse how slogans and jingles are used in ads and also linguistic features of commercial language such as alliteration and repetition.

4. Voice-over artists

Type of clip: Movie trailer

Language focus: Present simple used in narration

This is a similar activity to the previous one. However, rather than use an advert, find a promotional trailer for a film. Again, our learners are familiar with the exaggerated and dramatic delivery of the actors employed to promote the movies. It’s probably a good idea to listen to a few first and let your learners notice and even imitate the sentence stress and intonation patterns. In terms of the language practised, you could use this activity to demonstrate how we use the present simple for narrating anecdotes, telling stories and jokes, and generally involving the audience in the events of the story.

Then, let them find a trailer (or choose them yourself) and tell them they have to create a promotional trailer based on the images only. Make sure they turn the sound off! If possible, let each group choose a voice-over specialist and let them rehearse it. Then, turn the lights off (to make the classroom seem like a movie theatre/cinema) and let the student narrate their trailer while the clip is playing.

5. Memory Test

Type of clip: Anything with visual details which may not be noticed on first viewing

Language focus: Question formation

Find a YouTube clip with lots of visual details such as a scene from a movie, a documentary or a promotional video. Write down a list of quiz questions about the clip, for example, what colour tie was the man wearing? How many people were sitting at the table?

Tell your learners that you are going to watch it together and they have to remember as much as they can from the clip. Some learners might like to write notes but others may prefer just to watch. Then, put them in pairs or small groups and ask the questions about the clip. Check the answers by watching the clip again with the class.

Follow-up activity

Find another clip and show it to the learners. This time, ask each group to note down 5 or 10 details about the clip. Using these notes, each group writes their own memory quiz and then let the class watch the clip again. Encourage them to focus on the details. Then, ask each group to give their quiz sheet to another group who have 5 minutes to write the answers. After 5 minutes, each group hand back their answer sheet and the group who wrote the quiz mark it. When all the quiz sheets have been marked, watch the clip again and let the students identify the correct answers.

Can you think of other ways to use YouTube in class with the sound turned off? I’d love to know your ideas.


One-to-One Teaching: “Getting to know you” Questionnaire

Asking a series of questions to a new private student has many benefits as you get some idea of:

their listening skills

how fluent they are

their ability to produce extended speech

range of grammar and vocabulary

common errors they make

gaps in their knowledge

pronunciation difficulties

personal interests

learning experiences

ideas for future lessons


With higher-level learners, I use a set of questions which I have tried and tested over the years. Rather than a scripted interview (one in which you only ask the questions you have prepared), I prefer to give a semi-scripted interview in which I follow most of the questions in order but may modify some, omit others and even add some, if I feel they are suitable.

Here’s a list of questions you might find helpful (you certainly don’t need to ask all of them):

Growing up

  1. What’s your full name?

  2. How do you spell it?

  3. Where were you born?

  4. Where did you grow up?

  5. What were you like as a child?

  6. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

  7. What’s your earliest memory?

  8. What hobbies did you have as a child?

  9. Who were your heroes / role models when you were a child?

  10. Who was your best friend as a child and what did you like about him/her?

Professional life

  1. What do you do for a living?

  2. What are some of the things you like and dislike about your job?

  3. What qualifications or training did you need for your job?

  4. Tell me about a typical working day.

  5. Do you prefer working alone or in a team?

  6. What are your professional ambitions?

  7. What qualities do people need in order to do your job successfully?

  8. If you could do any job, what would you choose?

Free time

  1. What do you like doing in your free time?

  2. At weekends, do you get up early or do you prefer to stay in bed?

  3. Describe your perfect weekend

  4. What do you like reading?

  5. What kind of music do you like listening to?

  6. Do you watch much TV and if so, what programmes do you like?

  7. What is your opinion of social media such as Facebook or Twitter?

  8. If you could invite 5 people to your home for a dinner party, who would you choose?

Learning English

  1. How long have you been learning English?

  2. Do you think you have a talent for learning languages?

  3. Why do you think some people pick up languages easier than others?

  4. Do people from your country have a reputation for being good at learning languages? Why? Why not?

  5. Have you ever been to an English-speaking country? How was the experience?

  6. Rank the 4 skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) in order of importance.

  7. Do you think you are primarily a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner?

  8. Do you think you are a global or analytical learner?

  9. What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of successful language learners?

  10. What are the characteristics of effective teachers?

  11. How do you like learning? What teaching methods or activities do you dislike?

  12. If you were the teacher, how would you teach this class?

What other questions might you ask a new private student?

Coffee, biscuits and the Past Participle

I’m sitting here, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a chocolate biscuit and thoughts pop into my head:



As a kid, I adored chocolate biscuits. I reckon I had eaten hundreds of  biscuits by the age of 5.

An an adult, I have drunk more than my fair share of cups of coffee.

By the age of 50, I will have drunk thousands of cups of coffee and eaten hundreds of  biscuits.

Every day, all over the world, millions of cups of coffee are drunk and millions of  biscuits are eaten.


I finish my coffee and brush the final crumbs of  biscuit off my hands and a couple of thoughts pops into my head.

Why do we use the past participle to talk about future actions?

Why do we use the past participle when we use the passive voice to refer to present actions or future predictions?

The answer is probably that the term was adopted from descriptions of Latin grammar (Click here for a fuller explanation) but I’m more interested in the next question that enters my mind:

Why don’t we make things easier for our learners by talking about verbs 1, 2 and 3?

Imagine, instead of using present simple, past simple and past participle (eat / ate / eaten), why don’t we just say:

Verb 1                   Verb 2                Verb 3

eat                          ate                       eaten

Wouldn’t it just make it simpler and less confusing for everybody?

Then, we could avoid telling our students things like: “We use ‘will’ and ‘have’ plus the past participle to refer to actions which will have happened before a specific time in the future?

When we use terms which trigger confusing thoughts in our learners’ heads, we are making grammar more confusing and mysterious than it should be? Surely our job as teachers is to clarify language.

Let’s get rid of the term ‘past participle’ and replace it with something more logical!!

What does everybody think? Have you tried talking about verbs 1,2 and 3? I’d love to hear your views.










The Curse of Knowledge

Do you ever despair of your learners and wonder why they can’t understand your explanations of grammatical structures?

You can’t understand it. You studied the grammar diligently until you knew everything about the structure you were going to teach.

And yet, when you shared your knowledge with your learners, they looked at you in that way, with confusion written all over their faces. And then the questions started, first a trickle, then a flood.

You left the classroom deflated thinking ‘What’s wrong with them? Why didn’t they get it?

 Well my teaching friend, you may have fallen victim to the curse of knowledge!!!!


What is the curse of knowledge?

When we know something, we find it very difficult to remember a time when we didn’t know it. We find it even more difficult to put ourselves in the position of somebody who doesn’t know what you know now.

Do you want to know why many parents are the worst people to teach their children how to drive?

Simple. For them, the act of driving is so natural, so internalised (they have probably been doing it for 30 years) that they can’t imagine what it’s like not to be able to do it. Maybe that’s why friends or older siblings do a much better job. They are not yet experts and remember what it was like to be a novice.

So, how can we make our grammar presentations more effective?

One thing you can do is avoid abstraction and make things concrete. In the book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath (watch a video here)say the following:

“The difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly.”

We are the experts and have insights into language which have come about through years of experience. We have a higher and more abstract level of understanding.

“Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air”.

Click to see a video about the Curse of Knowledge

Read on if you want a real TEFL example:

One of my trainee teachers was asked to teach the past continuous to a group of Elementary learners. She hit the grammar reference book and prepared an incredibly detailed presentation.

When she taught the class, I watched the learners’ faces: first, confusion then despair. I swear one lady was about to burst into tears! They were frustrated with the teacher and themselves, thinking they were stupid for not grasping the concept.

I did something I rarely do: I stopped the lesson and asked the trainee to sit down and let me take over.

I took a clock down from the wall and asked the learners what the time was.


“What are we doing NOW?”

We are learning English.

What day is today?

It is Wednesday.

What day was yesterday?


What were you doing at 7.25 (this time) yesterday Pepe?

Er…I am…was watching television.

Suddenly, a collective sigh of relief echoed around the classroom.

Pepe, ask Patricia the question.

For the next 10 minutes, the learners threw questions back and forth at each other. They started changing the time, the day and responded perfectly using the target language (past continuous).

That’s all it took. The clock changed everything: it made everything concrete and sticky.

So, that’s my tip for today:

get away from abstract concepts (like grammatical structures) and use the classroom environment to make everything as real, as concrete, as ‘sticky’ as possible.

Would love to hear some other ideas for ‘sticky’ grammar presentations.



Rolling Dice: Speaking Games for TEFL teachers

All you need for these fun speaking games are some dice. I recommend you buy a few sets and carry them around with you all the time.

This blog won a British Council award in September 2013. 

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Dice are a great resource for TEFL teachers because they are portable and suitable for adults and kids

Speaking games for TEFL students

What I love about dice is that the options are endless, only limited by your imagination and creative ability. Let’s look at a few ways to use them.

Tense reviews

  • Choose which tenses you want to practise (Advanced learners can practise all 12, Elementary learners could practise 2 or 3).
  • Assign a number to each tense, for example, 6 is Present Perfect simple. Students roll the dice and have to create a sentence using the tense that corresponds with the number.
  • Experiment with different variations such as positive, negative, questions, active, passive, correct & incorrect, subject & object pronouns etc.

Question formation

  • Choose a question word for each number on the first dice: 1 = Who, 2 = Why, 3 = Where, 4 = When, 5 = What, 6 = How.
  • Choose a topic for each number on the second dice: 1 = Food, 2 = Sport, 3 = Hobbies, 4 =Jobs, 5 = Clothes, 6 = Travel.
  • If a student rolls a 3 and a 1, they have to create a question such as: Where did you eat dinner last night? You could use a third dice roll to determine who answers the question.
  • You can adapt this with other words used in questions, such as modals (could, should, must etc.)

Great for Business students who can practise interview scenarios and students preparing for speaking exams.


  • The first dice represents the ‘If’ clause and the second shows the result.
  • Let students choose verbs for each number on both dice. Choose a topic like Crime to practise verbs:1 = burgle, 2 = steal, 3 = murder, 4 = mug, 5 = deceive, 6 = lie. The second dice (the results), could be possible punishments such as 1 = 10 years in prison, 2 = community service, 3 = stand in the corner etc.
  • Students can play judge and jury, a roll of 1 and 6 could produce sentences such as: If you burgled my house, I would force you to stand in the corner of the room for 10 minutes.

OK, it sounds ridiculous but the students will have a lot of fun and activate lots of vocabulary. Can also be used for creating superstitions, threats, promises, regrets etc.

Story building

  • Create stories using the dice. Get students to create 12 characters, 12 locations, 12 verbs.
  • Each roll of the dice continues the story. Before long, they’ll be generating dozens of ideas and plot lines.

Practising phonemes

  • Choose some phonemes you want your students to practise and assign them a number from 1 to 12 (vowels), 1 – 24 (consonants).
  • They get points for finding words which have these sounds.

Functional language

  • The first dice shows the context such as relationships, work, travel, health.
  • The second dice can be used to practise functions (regret, giving opinions, apologising) and their exponents (I wish I hadn’t, In my opinion, I’m awfully sorry).

Before you know it, students will be creating fantastic mini-dialogues, peer-teaching, discussing meaning etc.

General vocabulary game

  • Match a letter to a number. For instance, p is 4. A student rolls the first dice to identify the letter.
  • The second dice dictates how many words they have to say with this letter.

This requires no preparation and great for recycling / activating vocabulary. Also, the categories game works with dice and students can play it in groups.

Phrasal verbs

  • The first dice indicates the verb (put, give, take, stand, look, get)
  • The second dice is used for the preposition / particle  (up, away, in, out, under, over).
  • Students win points for creating real phrasal verbs and using them in sentences (2 and 1 might result in a sentence such as:He gave up smoking after he visited the doctor.

Tip: Make the games competitive by having different scoring systems. Two I like are:

  • The Dice Bomb: If students complete the task or use language correctly, they roll the dice to determine how many points they’ll receive. Get the other team to choose a bomb number, e.g. 3. If the first team roll 4, they’ll get 4 points; if they roll the bomb number (3), they lose all their points.
  • Dice Gambling: Teams or students can choose to get 3 points for correct answers. However, they can gamble and roll the dice again and this new number will give them their points.
  • Finally, use dice to nominate students to answer questions or do certain tasks. This random element keeps them engaged and on their toes.

Let me know if you have any other dice games to use with your English students.

The Pixar Pitch Lesson

What do these animated movies have in common?

Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Up, Ratotouille and Brave (The winner of the best animated film at the Oscars in 2013).


All of these movies were made by Pixar, the animated film studio linked with George Lucas of Star Wars fame and the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Pixar has in less than 20 years become the most successful animated film studio since Disney. These films have been critical and financial smashes but why has this company succeeded where so many others have failed?

In his new book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink talks about pitches – concise verbal or visual presentation of an idea for a film made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio in the hope of attracting financial backing – and how Pixar have created a simple but incredibly effective template.

The Pixar Pitch Template uses the following sequence adverbs to create a basic storyline.

Once upon a time….

Every day…

One day….

Because of that…..

Because of that….

Until finally….

Reading this part, I realised that it could be adapted to create a simple but effective integrated skills lesson for EFL students:

For this lesson, I have used a simple Engage, Study and Activate plan based on the Harmer model. Follow the link below to read more: ESA method.


ENGAGE –  Tell the students briefly about the last good film you saw. Put them in pairs / small groups and ask them to tell each other about the last good film they have seen. You could board these 3 questions:

What was the last good film you saw?

What type of film was it?

What happened in it?


(You might have to prepare this part before the lesson).

Read a short pitch for a movie you think the students will have seen. Here is an example. As the students if they can you guess which film it is?

Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy called Peter who lived with his aunt.

Every day he went to school where he was often bullied and made fun of because he was a science nerd.

One day he went to a science expedition where he was bitten by a radioactive spider.

Because of that, he developed superhuman powers which meant that he was incredibly strong and fast, could climb walls and could sense danger before it occurred.

Because of that, he started to use his powers to take revenge on people who had made his life unpleasant and realised he could use his new powers to become rich, famous and successful with women. However, he made many enemies and they wanted to destroy him.

Until finally, he realised that with great power comes great responsibility. Instead of trying to become rich and famous, he had to use his powers to become a force for good.

Look out! It's Spiderman

Look out! It’s Spiderman

Simple isn’t it! With this simple template, you can create a simple and concise plot description. Provide the students with this template and briefly analyse the sequence adverbs and pronunciation features.

In order to provide students with a suitable model for a pitch, the teacher should ask them to identify key pronunciation features here such as word stress, intonation, and rhythm. Drilling each component of the pitch might be an effective way to do this and you could provide a simple handout on which they could note down phonological features and practise delivering the pitch in pairs.


You have a range of options here. You could:

  • Ask each student to prepare a pitch for a well-known movie. Then, do a mingling exercise in which the students pitch to each other and try to guess the movie.
  • Give the students a series of genres (horror, romance, comedy etc) and perhaps a location (New York, a language school, an office, a small village) and ask them to create a basic story on their own.Then put them in pairs and give them roles. Student A is a screenwriter and Student B is a producer. A pitches to B and then change roles.
  • Do the above but divide the classes into screenwriters and producers and do a mingling role play. Change roles so everybody has the chance to pitch and listen to a pitch.
  • Put students in small groups and give them a few ideas or pictures to create a story idea. Give them time to create a collaborative pitch and ask them to choose somebody to deliver the pitch in front of the whole class.

I hope you can try out this lesson with your students and I’d love to hear how it goes.

If you like this blog, why have a look at my new Ebook:  A Short Guide to TEFL


English teachers are now in the improvement business

The times they are a-changin’

Back in the old days of TEFL, learners could count themselves lucky if their teacher used a course book that had pictures in. They could count themselves really blessed if the classroom was equipped with a cassette player to play audio materials, usually performed by impoverished drama students intoning phrases such as ” The fat cat sat on the mat” with unintentionally hilarious received pronunciation – did people ever really talk like that?

In many teaching contexts nowadays (those with easy internet access)  there is a glut of audio materials and written texts for our learners to use in order to gain exposure to English.

The digital revolution and globalisation have proved to be game changers – English teachers are no longer the only people who have access to written and spoken English. We are no longer the high priests of arcane, esoteric grammar structures and vocabulary definitions. Our learners have the product (the English language) so they don’t need to buy the raw materials off us any more.

Does that mean that English teachers are on the way out? 

I doubt it. There is still and will continue to be a huge demand for English teachers because we are now in the improvement business.

Teaching One-to-One: Stop teaching, start coaching!

Do you find one-to-one teaching frustrating?

Do you find it hard to keep your students interested and motivated?

Do you get the feeling that they are not really satisfied with your classes?

Do you and they feel they are not making progress?

If your answer to any of the above questions is YES, maybe you should stop teaching and start coaching.

What is teaching?

Many of us feel that teaching is related to the transference of imparting of knowledge. The teacher is an authority who knows all the answers.

What is coaching?

Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance. Timothy Gallway. The Inner Game of Tennis (1975).

Coaching adopts a different approach. The learner already has the resources to find out the answers. The teacher’s (or coach’s) role is that of a catalyst – an instrument of change.

The other key difference revolves around the nature of the questions.

In traditional teaching, the teacher asks the questions, the learner answers correctly, incorrectly or fails to answer, and so the teacher corrects or provides the answer.

But, in coaching, the teacher may begin by asking leading questions which motivate the learner to discover what questions to ask and answer their own questions. In short, the learner not the teacher sets the agenda.

But, I hear you ask, what does all this have to do with one-to-one classes?

Well, I believe that we do our private students a great disservice if we assume the role of an authority figure who knows exactly what they need. It is not our job to tell the learner what they need – they should be telling us!

Private students, in my experience, know what they need and what they want…..the irony is that many of them don’t know that because they see themselves as passive consumers rather than active participants in the learning process.

This is why the teacher’s leading questions are so important and there are really only 5 of them:

  1. What do you want from these classes in the long-term?

  2. What do you need from these classes in the long-term?

  3. What do you need right now?

  4. What do you want right now?

  5. How do you think we should begin then?

Just by asking these five questions, we can make that switch and put learners in the driving seat.

One-to-one teaching is like being a co-driver: we may read the map, change a tyre, keep the driver’s spirits up, but we are not the ones with the hands on the steering wheels and we certainly don’t decide upon the destination.

In coaching, clients are ultimately responsible for their learning and actions. Maybe we teachers need to relinquish some control.

As Socrates said: “I cannot teach anybody anything – I can only make them think.”  

15 ways to use ‘post-it notes’ to teach English


Although they may not be great for the environment, the humble ‘post-it note’ is one of my favourite teaching resources. They follow me into every class I teach (along with their less eye-catching cousin, scraps of used paper) and they are always on hand, to help me engage and activate my students’ English.

Post-it notes, those little squares of brightly-coloured sticky paper, are a simple and cheap addition to your teaching tool-kit.

Here are some ways you can use them with your classes:

Ways to Use Post-it-Notes to teach English

1. The Rizla game

I first came across this in a pub and originally played it with cigarette papers (hence the name). Each player writes the name of a famous person on the non-sticky side of the post-it. Then, they stick it on the forehead or back of the player on their left. Make sure that everybody looks at the names on the other players’ post-its – you can’t see the name on the post-it stuck to your own forehead or back. Finally, you play a version of 20 questions, asking closed questions such as:

Is this person a man?

Is he an actor?

Does he have dark hair?

The great things about this game are a) it’s fun b) it’s great for questions with auxiliaries / modals and c) it’s adaptable as you could use it to review any vocabulary topic. For example, if I were teaching fruits, the students might ask questions such as :Is it round? Is it yellow? Do monkeys eat them?

2. Word jumbles

Great for spelling practice. Write a letter on each post-it, stick them on the board, table or  around the room and ask the students to reorder them to form a word.

3. Sentence jumbles

Great for syntax (word order). Write each word in a phrase / target structure on a separate post-it, stick them on the board, table, around the room, and ask the students to reorder them to form the phrase. Get them doing their own later.

4. Running dictation

Write short pieces of text on each post-it then stick them around the room / school. The students have to read them, remember them, then rush back to the scribe / secretary and dictate what they read. Practises all 4 skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

5. Matching activities

Packs of different coloured post-its are helpful here. Write a word on the yellow post-its and the definitions on the pink ones. Stick them on the board and ask students to come up and match them. Better for kinaesthetic learners than writing words and definitions on the board and then connecting them with arrows.

6. Word stress

When analysing the pronunciation of longer words, write each syllable on a post-it and then ask students to identify the stressed one by sticking it on the board a little higher than the others.

7. Sentence stress

The same activity but with phrases rather than words. Great for identifying how meaning changes according to which word is stressed.

8. Connected speech

Write each word on a separate post-it an get students physically moving them closer to the next word as a tangible demonstration of elision, assimilation and linking sounds.

9. Phonemic symbols

If you have a big poster of the phonemic chart in your classroom or on your IWB, write a word on a post-it, underline a particular syllable and ask students to stick it next to the phonemic symbol. Alternatively, if you want to get students practising writing the symbols, write a word on the board and ask them to write the symbol on their post-it and stick it above/below the word. Make it into a board race!

10. Peer-correction of writing

If you ask students to write something, ask them to peer-correct. Post-its are great because the students don’t have to write on the text itself. They write their comments on the post-it instead. Not as messy as asking students to write directly onto the text.

11. Brainstorming / mind-mapping / spidergrams

If you have a regular whiteboard but only have one or two markers, getting students to come up to the board and add examples / ideas can take too long. With post-its, students can all contribute at the same time (which also means individual students don’t feel so exposed). The other great thing about doing it this way is that you can ask the learners to categorise their ideas easily just by moving the post-its around.

12. Grading and organising language items

When you want learners to grade pieces of vocabulary, for example,adjectives describing weather (cold, hot, cool, freezing, boiling, mild, warm), you can use a cline to determine the hottest to the coldest . By using post-its, learners can physically move the words around, discuss and experiment, before finding the right order.

13. On-the-board gap-fills

Gap-fills can be dull but they are useful. Write sentences on the board with gaps. Write the missing words on post-its then ask students to come up to the board and stick them in the correct gap – make it more fun by making it a board race. Open cloze activities can also be done this way if you ask the students (in pairs/small groups) to write their answers on post-its.

14. Storytelling activities

Paraphrasing skills can be practised effectively with post-its. For example, you could read a story and ask students to write down keywords on post-its. They can then use these post-its as a series of cues for retelling the story. Alternatively, you could write a set of keywords from a story then stick them in random fashion on the board. Read out or tell the story and ask the students to listen. Then, ask them to order the post-its on the board according to how they were used in the story. They can then practise retelling the story to each other using the post-its as prompts. Finally, get some words on post-its and stick them on the board. Get the learners in a circle in front of the board and ask them to tell a group story in which each learner has to keep speaking until they are able to use a word on a post-it. When they have, they remove the post-it from the board and the next student continues the story.

15. Texting simulations

Post-its can be used for texting practice if you don’t permit learners to use mobiles in class. They write their text on the post-it, then send it (hand it) to the recipient who, in turn, responds. Get students doing this in pairs or small groups then collect the texts (post-its) and stick them on the board in random order. Ask another pair / small group to put the messages in order to reform the text dialogue.

I’m sure there are hundreds of other activities you could do with post-its. What’s great about them is they can be used to get students out of their chairs and moving around, encouraging them to interact with the language.

Can you think of any other ways we can use post-it notes in class?



How should I correct errors and mistakes?

First of all, it is common in ELT to establish a difference between an error and a mistake.

An error is when a learner uses language incorrectly because they are a) not aware of the correct form or b) unable to use the correct form or c) they have misunderstood how the form is used.

In other words, errors tell us that our learners are not able to use the form correctly.

A mistake is when a learner uses language incorrectly because they are a) tired and under pressure to perform in real-time communication (native speakers often make these mistakes too) or b) able to use the correct form but have used the incorrect form due to carelessness or lack of attention.

In other words, mistakes tell us that the learners are just like me or you and are not perfect

This leads us to the key question: How do we know when a learner has made a mistake or an error?

One technique we can use is to see if the incorrect language can be corrected.

Firstly, see if the learner who made the mistake can produce the correct form – SELF-CORRECTION.

Secondly, see if another learner can produce the correct form – PEER-CORRECTION

Finally, if nobody can produce the correct form, you will probably have to correct- TEACHER-CORRECTION

  • If the learner who made the mistake can self correct, they probably made a mistake.
  • If a peer needs to correct, the learner who produced the incorrect form might have made a mistake or an error. We should see if they can now produce the correct form.
  • If nobody can correct, this might mean that the learners are not aware of the form or use it erroneously. You might try to teach then the correct form on the spot or decide to come back to it at a later time.

What is eliciting?

Back in the good old day, teachers would stand in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk in their hand and start imparting information to their learners. The learners would make notes, copy down what was written on the balckboard, and feel blessed to be in the presence of a master educator.

Well, this ‘chalk and talk’ approach is generally frowned upon in the ELT classroom in which learners are expected to take more of an active role. Most ELT teachers I know agree with the maxim that ‘the learners need to practise English, not the teacher.’

One way to maximise STT (student-talking-time) is to elicit information and language from the learners, to get them to give you information rather than you providing it. Eliciting refers to a set of procedures or techniques to get learners to actively produce speech or writing. It is based on the premise that learners possess knowledge of the language and the world which needs to be activated in the classroom.

In order to elicit information from our learners, we need to provide some input or stimuli. We might show them a picture and ask them questions about it. These questions could be factual (What do we call this animal?) or responsive (Do you like these animals? Why? Why not?).

We also use eliciting after modelling new language. We may tell them an anecdote or present a short dialogue and ask students to identify and notice the new target language. We can then elicit the form (Is it a verb or a noun?) and the function (Are we talking about the past?) by asking questions which require the learners to work out meaning from the examples provided. They may have been exposed to this language previously so eliciting can be used to prompt access of stored knowledge.

In essence, by eliciting from our learners we can involve them in the learning process. We can use elicitation to activate their knowledge of the language and the world, encourage them to respond to stimuli, and to work out meaning from context.

Warning: Eliciting can be overused by teachers. We shouldn’t try to elicit language students don’t know and won’t be able to work out (flogging a dead horse). Also, eliciting should be used to challenge our learners but not to trick them. If we try to elicit language which is too simple for them, they may feel patronised and bored. Equally, eliciting simple language can confuse learners who may provide an incorrect answer because the answer their teacher is looking for is far too obvious. Finally, learners from certain countries are not used to eliciting techniques and may wonder why their teachers is asking them questions when they already know the answer.

What is monitoring?

Once we have instructed our learners, they can begin doing the task or activity we have set them. We may feel inclined to breathe a sigh of relief at this point and put our feet up.

Unfortunately, we shouldn’t take our eyes off the road at this point. We need to check that the learners are able to progress with the activity. We do this by moving around the class and making sure that all the learners are on task. In a big class, we might have to walk around, briefly looking over the students’ shoulders to check. In a small class, we might just have to raise our head and check everybody is OK.

Once we are confident that they are able to start doing the task and have cleared up any queries regarding the instructions, we can probably relax a little and give our learners time and space to immerse themselves in the activity without worrying about the teacher. If we over-monitor and continue checking our students, they might feel they are being micro-managed.

Keep yourself available at all times though. I like to position myself in the centre of the room so students can easily get my attention if they need help. Sitting back behind the desk may put a barrier between you and them. After a while, walk around the room again and check that the students are doing the task appropriately. You might want to have a quick look at their written work or listen to their conversations to assess how they are doing. In fact, you might want to provide assistance or correction at this point, especially if they are doing an activity focused on accurate use of specific language. With more communicative activities focused on developing fluency, you might prefer to note down errors and examples of good language the learners are using.

Finally, you should monitor to make sure you know when to end the task. Don’t wait until all of the students have finished as the early finishers will feel bored. On the other hand, finishing the activities when the early-finishers are ready will frustrate the others.

To review, monitoring performs several functions:

  • We monitor to make sure the students can start the activity
  • We monitor to provide assistance while they are doing the activity
  • We monitor to know when to end the activity

Also, monitor actively and note down errors and examples of good language so you can provide feedback on how the learners have done the task.

What are Instruction Check Questions?

As well as presenting, explaining and defining new language, teachers also have to give students plenty of activities so they can practise the language. We may ask them to do these exercises or activities individually, in pairs, in small groups, or with the whole class working together.

Before they start doing the activities, our learners need to know exactly what to do. Therefore, teachers must instruct clearly and concisely. If we make our instructions too vague and wordy, our students will get confused.

After we have instructed, we need to make sure our learners have understood. We can do this by asking them instruction check questions.

Example Task Instruction

Teacher: I want you to work in pairs and write 5 questions about holidays.

Example Instruction Check Questions

Teacher: Do I want you to work in groups of 3?

(If students say yes, they haven’t understood the instruction)

Teacher: Do I want you to write 5 questions about food?

(If students say yes, they haven’t understood the instruction)

Instruction Check Questions should be simple and it is often a good idea to use a combination of right and wrong questions. For example, Do I want you to work in groups of 3? In small groups? In pairs?

Warning: ICQs can be overused in the classroom and some learners might feel the teacher is making fun of them or patronising them. An alternative way of checking that instructions have been understood is simply to ask a student to repeat the instructions back to you.

Maybe the best way to check understanding is simply to ask:

So Pedro, what do you have to do?

What are Concept Check Questions?

Concept check questions, also known as CCQs, are used extensively in English language teaching. They are used when teaching new lexical items, phrases, and grammatical structures.

On all the TEFL courses I have worked on, the trainers have made sure that the trainee teachers include CCQs in their lesson. Some trainers even go so far as penalise trainees for NOT writing them down in their lesson plans!

yellow banana on hand

Photo by Kimona on

What are CCQs?

When a teacher introduces a new piece of language (lexis or grammar), they may present it first in context and then define or explain how and why it is used. Now, explaining or defining something to a person who shares the same mother tongue as you can often be tricky. Imagine doing it to a speaker of a different language.

So what CCQs do is they enable the teacher, and perhaps the student, to confirm that understanding has taken place.

I hear you say, what’s wrong with asking students if they have understood?

Well, think about what we do when somebody explains something complicated to us. We often nod thoughtfully, add comments such as ‘I see’ or ‘That’s interesting’ to make the speaker feel good about themselves. We don’t want to tell them that they are making no sense whatsoever. Also, we might not want to appear to be a bit slow on the uptake and often fake understanding to save face. Go on, admit it! You’ve done that haven’t you? You might even be faking understanding right now as you’re reading this blog post.

To ensure, as much as possible, that our students have understood our definition or explanation, we can ask them CCQs.

Let’s imagine that you’ve defined the word ‘banana’ to your student  – naturally, you would only do this were you not able to magically produce a banana out of thin air or draw a recognisable banana on the whiteboard. You may have talked about fruits, shapes, peel, favourite food of chimpanzees etc.

But, how do you know the student has understood?

You could try asking them directly if they had understood but they may lie to save face or say they had understood but you’ve only got their word for that. They may have completely misunderstood the meaning of banana and confused it with an apple.

You could interpret their body language and facial expressions. Might work but I remember teaching three young guys from Sri Lanka who spent the whole lesson shaking their heads. I was devastated and assumed they would go straight to my boss and complain about their dreadful teacher. A fellow teacher sympathised with my plight and cheered me up no end when he informed me that Sri Lankans shake their heads to register agreement and understanding.

Anyway, I digress. Back to CCQs.

A CCQ is a question we ask the student to ensure they had understood our definition or explanation.

  • If I have just taught the word ‘banana’, I can ask the student the following questions:
  • Is a banana red? (If he says ‘yes’, he hasn’t understood)
  • Are bananas hard or soft? (If he says ‘soft’, I can assume he hasn’t confused a banana               with a stick)
  • Are bananas eaten by monkeys or tigers? (Do tigers eat bananas? I hope not)

If the student answers the questions correctly, we can assume that they are not completely confused by my banana definition.

10 Fun Activities for Business English classes

Summer is on its way here in Southern Spain but the 10 teachers on the TEFL in Spain Introduction to Teaching Business English course  managed to stay focused and upbeat last Saturday in Malaga. For the final seminar, or workshop as we will call it next time, they had to present a game or activity that they might use with a group of Business English students.

For information about the course:

They came up with some great ideas:

1. Answerphone Dictation– Put the students in pairs and ask them to sit back-to-back. Give each student a short answerphone text with numbers, fractions, percentages, dates etc.For instance: Sales increased by 24% in the last quarter of 2012 peaking at 21,003 in December. Student A reads out their answerphone message to their partner who has to note down the key data. Simple and adaptable. This could also be used to practise talking about trends and the students could represent the data in chart or graph form.

2. Sentence Swap Needs’ Analysis – A quick icebreaker in which you’ll get to know what your students need and want from  the course.Ask them to write down their needs for the course on post-its. Collect them in then redistribute them, making sure that no student receives the post-it they wrote on. Ask them to read out what’s on the post-its they picked up and everybody guessing who wrote what. This could then lead into a discussion about needs and expectations for the course as a whole and could be compiled as a document that could be referred to throughout the course.


3. Hotel Negotiations – Two of the trainees chose to present a hotel role-play in which the two parties had to negotiate over room rates. In the first role-play, the students had to divide into 2 groups: the clients and the hoteliers. The clients have been reserving rooms in the hotel for a number of years as they attend a yearly conference in this particular city. They feel they are due a special price as they have been loyal customers. The hoteliers are in the tricky position of wanting to keep these valued clients but need to ensure profits are still made.

4. Hotel Holidays – The second hotel role-play was based on a negotiation between a Human Resources Manager and a Company Director. The company has recorded strong yearly profits and the CEO has offered to pay for a weekend break for all the staff. The conflict arises because the Human Resources Manager knows the staff are expecting a luxury hotel in some exotic location but the management want to offer a cheap city break in a cheap and cheerful resort town like Blackpool.

5. Battleships, Bingo, Blockbusters – One trainee drew up a grid on the board and demonstrated how competitive games can be used in the classroom to practise all sorts of Business vocabulary. These games are commonly used in TEFL classes but can be easily adapted for Business English students.


6. The Hands of Hans – The most bizarre moment of the whole 2-day course happened when one of the trainees, a qualified Physical Education teacher, presented one of his favourite team-building exercises. We were all required to form a circle and join hands. Then, we had to twist around so we become a tangled web of interlinked arms. Our task was to reform the circle without letting go off anybody’s hands. Perhaps not the greatest activity for recycling financial terminology but a great energizer.

Buying a lemon

Buying a lemon

7.  Selling  lemons – In British English, we can talk about buying a lemon,, which means we have purchased something broken or worthless. For this activity, we were shown pictures of ridiculous gadgets and asked to prepare a sales pitch to impress potential investors. We had to do a lot of lateral thinking to work out what the products could be used for, which was great for developing our creative muscles. A challenging and fun activity for viewers of The Dragon’s Den.

8. Rumours of Cutbacks – The next activity was based on an all-too-real scenario. We were split into two groups and given role cards as employers or employees. The staff had heard rumours of staffing cutbacks and were afraid they were about to lose their job. An emergency meeting had been called to find out the truth. For the employers, this was an exercise in putting a positive spin on an unfortunate situation. For the employees, it was an exercise in weeding out the truth. Not sure I would do this activity with a group of students from the same company though!

9. Spot the Lies – There is an old BBC TV show named Call my Bluff which is played in many TEFL classrooms around the world. This game works extremely well with Business English students who know or need to learn some specific job-related vocabulary. Students are given an unusual word with three definitions: one true and two false. They read out these definitions to the rest of the class who try to identify the correct one. Great for practising how to keep a poker face and it can be made more challenging if you ask the students to choose their own words and create their own false definitions.

boss's wife

Mrs Smith, your husband is the worst boss I’ve ever had! More wine, please.

10. Small Talk Circles – The final activity got us all out of our chairs again. We were asked to form an inner and an outer circle with the inner circle people facing outwards and the outer circle facing inwards so we had to look another person straight in the eye. The trainer then asked us to imagine we were sitting or standing next to the person we were facing. Then, we were presented with a scenario, such as The person facing you in the inner circle is the boss’s wife, make small talk with her, and asked to improvise a conversation.  We only had 30 seconds to interact before the teacher clapped her hands and the inner circle revolved, meaning we were facing a new partner.The teacher then gave us a different scenario in which we had to quickly strike up a conversation. An excellent activity for developing fluency in social interactions.

Hope you get the chance to try some of these activities with your General English or Business English students. Maybe you have some other ideas you’d like to share.

My ebook A Short Guide to TEFL is available from Amazon for the price of a cup of coffee!


Bad English

I’ve recently participated in an online discussion about “corruptions in the English language”. Here are a few of the “corruptions” which raise the ire of some of the contributors and some from discussions I’ve had with teachers over the years:


“should of” instead of “should have”

the insertion of “like” into every utterance

the word “irregardless”

confusion over less and fewer

I’m loving it

saying advertisement rather than advertisement

gotten instead of got

angry man

Incorrect English drives me crazy

Now, I don’t consider myself a complete linguistic libertarian but I am surprised when:

Some people (mainly Brits, talk about some of the disgusting Americanisms that have entered our wonderful rich English (belongs to the English right!) tongue.

Some people work themselves into a frenzy about the heinous use of less when  fewer must be used. I wonder if communication has ever broken down because of this confusion?

Some people mutter darkly about how young people are degrading the language with their new expressions and how this is symptomatic of the end of Western civilization as we know it. I’m sure these people never used expressions like “cool” or “groovy” or “hip” when they were young. It would be scandalous of me to suggest that they spoke anything other than the Queen’s English when they were spotty, hormonally imbalanced teenagers.

Excuse the heavy-handed sarcasm. It’s just that I get worked up by other people getting so worked up about the way other people choose to express themselves.

business man with laptop over head - mad

10 items or less….aaarrrggghhhh!!!

In his fascinating read The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher talks about how language change results from three tendencies:

economy  – the tendency to save effort

expressiveness  – our tendency to strive towards achieving greater effect and meaning for our utterances

analogy – our craving for order and regularity in the language.

Teacher Pointing at Map of World

English is an International Language

So, if we look at the corruptions mentioned earlier, we might be able to discover why they are used:

‘Innit’ seems to me to represent an attempt to be economical. Many languages have simple equivalents to question tag such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. How much easier is it to say ‘You will come to my party, yeah?” than “You will come to my party, won’t you?”

‘Should of’ instead of ‘should have’ in spoken English surely derives from our tendency towards phonological economy. Pronouncing the ‘h’ in ‘have’ after the modal verb ‘should’ requires a lot more effort than eliding it (I do agree that it’s absolutely wrong, if understandable, to use ‘should of’ in written communication).

Using ‘like’ probably derives from our attempt to be more expressive: to engage the listener and prepare them for our next utterance  A discourse marker used to inform the listener that we are about to say something of importance.

It was… like… absolutely awesome, bro’.

Irregardless, a blend of irrespective and regardless, probably results from analogy. The fact that this word is so frequently used suggests that the two original terms are semantically similar and we are not always sure about which one to use. We hedge our bets by using ‘irregardless’. It’s better to be partially wrong and partially right than fully wrong.

I wonder if the confusion over ‘less’ and ‘fewer‘ is also a result of our tendency towards analogy. I’ve been teaching countable and uncountable nouns to English language students and trainee teachers for years and nobody ever fully gets it. He eats less chocolate than his brother but his brother ate fewer chocolates last night. Using one word (less) and keeping the other (fewer) in the last century is an option I would seriously consider.

‘I’m loving it’, a phrase which irritates the hell out of me , does offer a more immediate and dynamic option than the present simple stative form. A classic case of expressiveness.

Advertisement and advertisement is probably a combination of economy and analogy. I’d imagine that the verb ‘advertise’ has grown in popularity in the last few decades and this has influenced our pronunciation of the noun form. Not to mention the influence of those pesky Americans and their economical use of English.

union jack

British English

USA flag

American English

The final item, ‘gotten’ instead of’ got’, often gets up the noses of us Brits and we fume about how our cousins over the pond have corrupted our language. Well, most linguists agree that English had two past participle forms of the verb ‘to get’ and the American kept both and the Brits discarded the gotten form. So, it appears that we ‘corrupted’ the language due to our tendency to economise (or is it economize) it.

Well, that brings me to the end of this post. I’m the same as everybody else and get irritated when people use English in a way I think it should not be used. I do think that we have to be alert to the use of corruptions in the language if meaning is not conveyed successfully. On the other hand, non-standard forms are used among members of different social-linguistic groups for reasons we may not be aware of.


Young people can’t speak English these days!

As Henry Hitchings writes in ‘The Language Wars’:

People who use standard English allege that those who fail to do so lack linguistic ability, but in reality people using stigmatized forms of English may have complex abilities as speakers – incomprehensible to many observers but powerful among their peers.

Please send me your ‘favourite’ corruptions.

5 reasons why Spanish are (or could be) good at learning English – according to an English teacher

As ’tis the season to be jolly‘, I’d like to begin this post on a positive note:

Actually, Spanish are or should be good at learning English for the following reasons:

Roots of English

Roots of English

Firstly, many words in English and Spanish share etymological roots. In other words, there are masses of Spanish and English cognates (maybe 40%). Spaniards have a fairly good chance of correctly guessing the meaning of a new lexical item for this reason. Sure, there are lots of false friends but they are not as numerous as the number of cognates or near cognates. Grammatical structures in the two languages – such as time and aspect – are not as dissimilar as between, for example, Hungarian and Thai, so communicative breakdown due to incorrect or inaccurate grammar can generally be resolved through reformulation.

Jobs for English speakers

Jobs for English speakers

Secondly, Spanish need to learn English. They are highly motivated (instrumental and increasingly integrative) and not only to pass exams. Young Spanish do not see their short-term future in Spain and are increasingly looking to go abroad to find work. In order to do so, they realise a good level of English is a major advantage and are opting to gain internationally recognised qualifications such as the FCE or CAE in favour of local exams which are not acknowledged abroad. Furthermore, in order to study at universities in Spain, it is now necessary to have a B1/B2 level in English. More money for the Cambridge coffers! The other point to mention here is that – perhaps for the first time ever – lots of Spanish speakers are able to communicate effectively in a second language from outside the Iberian peninsula. Positive role models are everywhere!

tv spanish learning english

Thirdly, Spanish can now watch TV shows in the original language. OK, this is not really an intrinsic quality that Spaniards possess but their love of ‘the idiot box’ means they can use it to improve their English. Lower level learners can listen to English and read Spanish subtitles if they wish and advanced students can challenge themselves and listen without a safety net. Constant exposure to the sound of English can only have a positive effect on speaking and listening skills, areas which were -until recently  – neglected in the teaching of English in Spain. Online or on TV, English is everywhere. As mentioned in a previous post, many Latin Americans have a better phonological awareness of English than most Spaniards. Well, watch this space – Spanish will catch up in no time.

Spain - still number 1 destination for Brits abroad

Spain – still number 1 destination for Brits abroad

Next reason, Spain is still an extremely attractive location for native English speakers. The country is full of Brits living it up in the sun and Americans living out their Hemingway fantasies. There are lots of English speakers in the big cities, a smattering in smaller towns, and, due to books such as ‘Driving over Lemons’, lots of older Brits living in the country. So finding teachers or language exchange partners is fairly easy. It’s a lot easier to have a beer with a Brit in Alicante than Algiers.


Finally, Spanish love to talk. Quickly, loudly, enthusiastically, forcefully. Once they have overcome their fear of embarrassment (el miedo al ridiculo), they love to converse in English. Remember the tertulia (a social gathering to discuss anything and everything) is an important feature in Spanish social and cultural life (just watch TV in the morning) and Spanish students, in my experience, really enjoy discussion activities, role-plays and giving presentations. You’ll find the most challenging part of setting up a speaking task will be ending it! Buy a Klaxon.

Can you think of any other reasons why Spanish should actually be successful learners of English?

What to ask at a TEFL interview

You sit back, take a deep breath and relax. The person sitting opposite you has asked all of their questions and you have acquitted yourself pretty well. Your interview for a TEFL job has been a success.

Your interviewer thinks you are motivated, enthusiastic, creative, professional, responsible, dedicated. You give yourself a mental pat on the back and have the urge to make that ironic, self-congratulatory gesture when you close your palm, breath on the top digits of your fingers and rub them on your chest .

The interviewer turns to you again, peers over the top of their glasses and smiles:

So, is there anything you’d like to ask me?

You think for a moment, an image of a cold beer pops into your mind. In a few minutes, you could be sitting in the sun feeling proud about your performance in the interview, how you didn’t bat an eyelid when confronted with the question about the best way to teach the Past Continuous. All you have to do is say: “No questions actually, I think we’ve covered everything”. Hearing these words, the interviewer will shake your hand and offer you work, starting on Monday.


What, if any, type of contract are you being offered?

How much and how often will you get paid? Gross? Net? Holiday pay? Sickness? Cancellation by students?

Where and when are the classes taking place? At the academy? On-site? At student’s homes? Will you get travel costs?

Do the students have a coursebook? If not, are there materials available at the school? Are you expected to create your own lessons?

Is there a photocopier at the academy? Reference materials? Board markers? Internet access?

How many students are in each class? Have they been level-tested? Age?

Does the school provide teacher training? Observations? Teaching mentors?

If you feel that the interviewer is being evasive, think twice before accepting a position at the academy. There are some unscrupulous employers in the TEFL industry and asking simple questions like the ones above should help you make an informed choice about whether you want to accept the job or not.

5 best books for TEFL teachers

A former trainee asked me which TEFL books she should buy to improve her teaching. Naturally, I admonished her for not having bought my best-selling e-book A Short Guide to TEFL (shameless plug) but she promised me that she would and I dutifully went home and inspected my bookcase.

Over the years, I’ve amassed about 150 TEFL books. Before you think I’m some sort of TEFL geek – that is if you don’t already – I must tell you that I had to buy about 30 books to do my DELTA Diploma and another 30 for my MA. The other point in my defence is that a week after beginning my MA, I walked past a charity shop in my home town and saw a table bending under the weight of a mountain of old TEFL tomes dating back to the 80s and 90s, a time when some of you weren’t even twinkles. Anyway, I bought the lot for about £5 and about 25% were really informative and the others were gainfully employed to prop up table legs, to help me reach a can of baked beans on the top shelf, or as a sleeping aid.

So, in today’s post, I’d like to tell you about my 5 favourite TEFL books.

At number 5, we have Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings. As you may have guessed from previous posts, the whole Dogme / Unplugged approach really interests me and this book explains the methodology and has a collection of lesson ideas and activities for teaching who want to live in the moment in the classroom.


Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings

Number 4 is Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener. This is a guide for new teachers but old hands will learn lots too. There’s some easy-to-digest methodology and a plethora of teaching ideas and and activities. This book really helps the reflective teacher who wants to develop their skills.


Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener

My 3rd favourite TEFL book is written by our old friend Scott Thornbury, appearing for the second time on the list. An A-Z of ELT is perfect for those teachers who are bamboozled by all the jargon in TEFL teaching. The book consists of short entries for key topics and terms in ELT, just the thing to help you remember the difference between inductive or deductive learning or which order the different stages in the PPP model come in.


An A – Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury

At number 2, I finally, after much soul searching, decided to plump for 700 Classroom Activities by David Seymour and Maria Popova. I love this book because it gives you ideas for lessons based around grammar items or vocabulary topics. So, if you’re stumped and can’t think of an activity to get your students using the Past Continuous, you’ll find ideas in this book. Great for those days when you have to plan your class in five minutes.


700 Classroom Activities

So, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Wait for drum roll. I’m opening the envelope and about to announce the winner.

And, without further ado, my favourite TEFL book is:

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. This book is – to quote the blurb on the back – the indispensable reference book on language problems in English for teachers and higher -level learners. Before buying this book, I used to wake up in a cold sweat because I had to teach the Past Perfect Continuous or indirect speech to a group of grammar obsessed Advanced level students. This book always saved my bacon. It’s easy to navigate and the grammar explanations are practical and pedagogically sound. Of all the books mentioned, this one helped me develop the confidence to teach some fairly complex linguistic items.


Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

So, what about you? What books would you recommend for aspiring or practising TEFL teachers? Are you looking for a type of book but don’t know how to find it? Let me know.