Monday, 1 January 2018

8 Tips for New ESL Teachers

Happy New Year! In today's post I will talk about advice for newbie ESL teachers. I'll try and share a bit of the wisdom I've acquired in the last ten years doing this job.

In no particular order, here are my tips:

Keep Calm 

It's really important that you don't lose your temper in the classroom. Sure, many of us will remember our own childhoods and seeing teachers shout and scream... but it's no longer acceptable. You simply alienate your students at best, and at worst you may cause them to lose interest in the subject. You might even get yourself fired. Teaching can be incredibly frustrating at times, but like anything else in life you have to be able to take a deep breath and continue. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. 

Find the Line Between Permissive and Strict

In many cultures, teachers are very strict people who harshly enforce the rules. This does not, however, contribute to a positive learning environment. You certainly don't want to be too lenient, but avoid creating an oppressive environment by finding that ideal line. Students should feel free to express themselves and explore their new language, yet there must also be boundaries in place to ensure things don't get too out of hand. This is obviously easier with adults than children. 


It may sound obvious, but it's easy to forget when you're the one standing at the front of the room, telling everyone what to do. Leaders show the way rather than telling others what to do. When teaching something new, demonstrate how it should be done. Give examples. Only when your students have seen how it should be done can they realistically be expected to follow. If using new grammar, give plenty of examples and make it abundantly clear exactly what you mean before expecting the students to produce. 

Empathize with Language Learners

Learning a new language is difficult and scary. Once you understand this, you are in a better position to help your students. Look back to your own experiences, or else go out and learn a new language. Imagine being in an immersive environment where you can't simply revert back to your mother tongue... It's embarrassing and exhausting. Yet once you understand this, you can help your students a lot. 

Input -> Output

Again, this sounds so obvious but if the students haven't learned something, they can't be expected to use it! Lessons should be structured carefully so students can learn a piece of grammar or vocabulary from a text, then get its pronunciation and form, then practice using it in a limited context, before finally doing some freer practice. They must see it being used and then learn how to use it before they can actually use it themselves. 

Smile... but don't be a Clown

A lot of new teachers tend to go overboard making the students like them. Yes, you should build a rapport by being friendly. However, you are a teacher, not a clown. Act professional and take yourself seriously. Prepare solid lesson plans and don't rely on jokes and funny videos to get by. It's tempting to want the students to really love your classes because they are easy and funny, but sometimes you have to get serious. 

Feedback is Essential

Sometimes you need to teach fluency, and that means letting students talk without correcting them too much. However, all students require some level of feedback. They need to know what they are doing right and wrong in order to improve. This is true of speaking and writing. Make sure you don't only encourage their fluency or else they will soon hit a dead-end. 

Talk Less than you'd Expect

For my first few years' teaching, I tried to speak as much as possible. It was what my students expected and what most teachers here in China do. However, eventually I learned that it's a really bad method of teaching. The teacher should carefully guide students to their own understanding, and let them practice using the language. You are there to guide and model, not to endlessly explain. It will seem strange and awkward at first, but keep your words minimal, and you will see improvements. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

ESL Materials for Talking About Work and Salary

Merry Christmas! I hope you've all had a wonderful festive period and are looking forward to a fantastic 2018.

Today I taught a lesson about work and salary. In the class, I used the following materials as a lead-in and to spark a discussion.

First, I began by showing a list of professions. Of course, your students should know these by now. I've shared a useful PPT before that specifically relates to IELTS, but this stuff today is more general.

I have my students rank the jobs from most to least well-paid, and then show them the actual list for comparison. 

List of Jobs by Salary

Later in the lesson, I get my students to discuss whether celebrities really deserve to have so much money. I use this document to spark interest:

Highest Paid People

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Teaching the Passive Voice - a free PPT

The passive voice is not that hard to teach, but without the right materials it can be a challenge. I made this free PPT to teach my university class. It pretty much covers everything with plenty of examples and even a little test at the end.

For some constructive practice, here's a lesson I posted last year.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Teaching ESL Students to Describe Movies

Everyone loves movies, but can your ESL students adequately describe them? Sure, they can say "comedies are funny" or something like that, but do they know more than one or two genres? Could they say why they like horror films?

I recently taught this very successful lesson to a group of intermediate university students. It gives them the vocabulary needed to describe movies, along with IELTS questions to test them. (My students are all training for the IELTS right now.)

I like to start off with a compilation of good movie moments. You can find hundreds of these on YouTube so pick one that's suitable for your class in terms of contents, length, and interest. Then the students can say which films they know, and if possible mention some information about the film.

Then teach this PPT:

Monday, 20 November 2017

IELTS Reading Practice - free printable (with answers)

I love sharks and so when I found this article on New Scientist, I couldn't wait to share it with my students. As it falls under the topic of environment/animals, it's perfect for IELTS. It's also written in the right tone for IELTS, too, and all difficult words of vocabulary can be figured out from context.

I put together some questions aimed at developing key reading skills: figuring out vocabulary from context, highlight important features for later use, and some common question types. I've also put in a writing response at the end to make it a bit more productive.

I like to begin my lessons with a discussion as a lead-in activity. You can ask students some general questions like:

  1. How do you feel about sharks?
  2. What are some problems sharks face?
  3. What do you know about sharks?
and so on. Don't get them to talk about how to save sharks because that comes later. 

You can also show a short video that deals with the above questions. I like this one from Discovery News: 

Next, give out the reading paper and guide them through the questions, discussing each. I like to show where in the text each answer could be found. It helps them a great deal.

Here's the document:

Finally, when it comes to the writing, I show another short video to get some ideas in their minds. You don't have to, but it's pretty easy viewing.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Great PPT for Teaching Technology Vocabulary [ESL Lesson]

Teaching technology vocabulary is essential but you can't just rely on the textbook. The textbook my school gives me is great but it's also about 12 years old. In the world of technology, that's a dinosaur. Students all use tablets, smartphones, apps, and videostreaming services, but none of these things are mentioned in most ESL textbooks. If you want to teach, you've got to do it yourself! Well, actually, you don't. I've put together a PPT that you can use. It's got some really useful ESL technology vocabulary like:

  • tablet
  • smartphone
  • app
  • meme
  • social network
and much more. Feel free to download it, adapt it, and share it. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Fun Way to Practice Adjective Clauses

Grammar can be boring... but it doesn't always have to be that way. You can use games to teach grammar. Take TABOO, for example. It's a classic after-dinner game in English speaking countries. You probably didn't think of it much before, but often when playing TABOO you would use adjective clauses. Think about it:

You need to describe the Eiffel Tower but you can't say:

  • Paris
  • France
  • Tower
  • Tall
So what do you do? 

How about this: 

"It's a famous landmark which is located in a popular European city. It is a big structure that is made of metal." 

Look at that. Two adjective clauses! 

Here's a PPT I made that's ready to go for your students. Just download it (it's free) and take it to class.