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Inter-Disciplinary Lesson Planning: English and Character Development

POSTED ON February 6th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Inter-Disciplinary lessons are a hot potato at the moment – these days it seems like teaching one subject at a time just isn’t enough, and that teachers are integrating elements from different subjects into their classrooms. Similar ideas are being introduced in EFL classrooms.

While you might not be finding yourself brushing up on maths or history to deliver alongside your standard English lesson, you might be asked to incorporate character development into your lessons. Even if your school isn’t following a character development curriculum, it can’t hurt to introduce a few of these elements into your EFL lessons for children. After all, character development for children doesn’t just come from their parents – even if you only see them for an hour a week, your students will benefit from activities which promote character development as well as improving their English. Let’s take a look at what character development in the classroom is all about, and see if any of our sample activities could work for you.

What is a Multidisciplinary EFL Lesson?

A multidisciplinary/inter-disciplinary EFL lesson is a class where the students are not simply studying English from their English textbooks. The class will contain games and activities which combine two or more subjects, mingling together for a multidisciplinary experience. For example, in a lesson which combines EFL and art, a student may be working on a creative project using English only (‘please pass me the paintbrushes’, ‘I need a green pencil’, ‘my clay model is finished’). Another example is combining EFL and music – students can learn songs in English and play musical instruments while they sing.

Multidisciplinary lessons which combine EFL and character development are slightly different because the character development element will probably not be overtly clear to the students. Carefully chosen games and activities will give students the opportunity to grow in certain character strengths, such as compassion, grit/perseverance, self-control, independence, kindness, teamwork and patience. These are all character strengths which develop naturally as you grow, and as teachers, we are in a position to help students develop their characters.

Including integrated character development is not the same as having a theme or topic for the lesson – you won’t walk into the classroom and say ‘Today, we will be developing our self-control!’ and write it on the whiteboard. If your character developing methods are well integrated, the students shouldn’t even notice it’s happening. You don’t even need to focus on one particular strength – in fact, it’s better to take a broader approach because focussing on different strengths will give you opportunities for a better variety of activities. Take a look at some of our suggested activities which you could easily incorporate into your language lessons. If you wanted to explore this way of teaching further, sign up for Coursera’s MOOC (massive online open course) on Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms. The online course is totally free, delivered by passionate professionals, and will completely change the way you approach your classroom.

An Activity to Promote Sharing

Sharing is a vitally important character skill for children to learn, particularly in cultures where students are not used to doing so. For example, the one-child policy in China means that many children are without brothers and sisters, and are used to getting what they want all the time – which makes them not so inclined to share. One way you can encourage sharing in your classroom is by not providing enough materials for all the students to have one each. For example, if you’re doing an activity which requires scissors, only give out one pair of scissors per two or three students. Make sure you tell the students that they need to share the scissors before you start handing them out! You might have a riot on your hands the first time you try it, but the students will adapt to it.

An Activity to Promote Patience

If you are teaching boisterous, outspoken students who love to talk and answer questions, such as chatty Mexican or Spanish EFL learners, patience is a great strength to encourage – mainly because it gives you some peace and quiet! If you want students to act more patiently, have a ‘talking toy’ such as a soft ball or small cuddly toy, and make it a rule that you cannot talk unless you are holding the toy. This will force students to zip it until it is their turn. You can make a joke of it when you are first introducing the talking toy by, when explaining what it is, ‘accidentally’ drop the toy and immediately stop talking, as if a switch has been flicked off. Students will also enjoy playing along – wildly flapping their arms to indicate they want the toy because they know they can’t shout out ‘Me next! Me next!

An Activity to Promote Grit/Perseverance

If an activity is easy to complete, students feel very little satisfaction when they’ve finished. However, if something is a struggle and requires them to put a lot of effort in, they feel great once they’ve completed it. Providing opportunities for this sort of experience isn’t always easy – make something too hard and your students could feel disheartened and give up altogether. An activity which promotes grit requires careful planning and tailoring for your students. One way you can promote grit is by giving the students something difficult to do for a short period of time (so they don’t struggle for so long) but then when you do it next time, increase the time limit. For example, you could ask your students to brainstorm descriptive adjectives for 30 seconds, and then in the next lesson, try again for a minute. Gradually increase the time to give them more opportunities to push themselves.

An Activity to Promote Leadership

Activities which require a ‘leader’ are easy to come up with and give the student in charge the chance to develop in all kinds of ways. Pick the leader yourself, have them elected by their peers or pulled out of a hat for variation and to ensure everyone gets a chance.

Coursera link:

Want more teaching tips? Check out our blog here. Or for learning tips to pass on to students, visit our Language Learning Tips blog.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specialises in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.

15 Simple Flashcard Games Your Kindy Kids Will Love

POSTED ON January 30th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Whether your classroom is equipped with a computer and projector or not, laminated flashcards are a simple, old-school, and excellent tool to get your students engaged and learning. Perhaps the best thing about them is the unlimited ways you can use them!

If you think flashcards are boring or if you are looking for some new games to spice things up, then you have come to the right place. Flashcards are very versatile and don’t have to be used solely for drilling, as you will shortly see. With this age group, as long as you are excited, they will be too!

Jump and Say

Line the flashcards in a straight row with space in between on the floor. Depending on your class size, you can either have one student or one student on each side of the line. Have students jump and say the flashcard they land next to. Students hop along saying each card. You can change things up by making it a race or laying out a circle instead.

Lip Reading

Use the flashcards so that you know which word to say and to show students if they are correct. Silently mouth the vocabulary word. Make it as exaggerated as needed.

Fast Flash

Having the flashcards facing down and away from you, start low and raise the flashcard above you head quickly so that the image shows but only for a second. Students try to guess what it is they saw. You can do this in different ways to make it more exciting, such as from side to side and a simple flash turnover.

Slow Reveal

Opposite to Fast Flash is Slow Reveal. Use a blank or piece of coloured paper to cover the flashcard. Slowly slide the cover paper to reveal only a small part of the flashcard at a time. Students can shout out and guess what it is.

Want some more games for young learners? Active Games for Young Learners


A personal favourite, this game will liven up any class. Hold the flashcard in front of you and squat down. Whisper the vocabulary word. Rise up slightly. Say the word quietly, Rise up more. Say the word in a regular voice. Continue on until you when you hold the card over your head and are standing straight up the students shout the word.

Under Over

Have students make a line with an arm length’s space in between each child. Two lines work well after the kids are used to the game and therefore can do it as a race. Give the flashcard to the first person in line. Still facing forward, he/she passes the card over his/her head to the child behind. That child then passes the card through his/her legs to the next person in line.

Pass and Say

This one is simple but effective. Have students sit in a circle. Show them a flashcard and say the word. Pass it to the kid sitting next to you and encourage him/her to say the word and pass it to the next person. For larger groups, you could have two or three cards going around at once.

Roll the Dice

This works well if you have a giant die. (You can make one out of cardboard and tape to use for different activities in all your classes.) Put the numbers 1-6 on the board and a different flashcard or the vocab word next to each number. Each student gets a chance to toss the die up. The number it lands on is the card they say out loud.

Musical Circle Pass

Have students sit in a circle. Give random students a flashcard: one for every 3 or four students you have in your group. Play some music. As it plays, students pass the cards around. When you pause the music have the kids who have the flashcards stand up and say what they have.


Have two students stand back to back. Give them each a different flashcard to hold facing out and away from them. When you say go, they walk three steps, turn to face each other and say what the other student has. You can make it competitive with older kids in your other classes.


You will need the picture flashcard and the written word card for this game. This will only work if you have worked on word recognition with your kindergarteners. If you aren’t already familiar with Memory this is how it works: Lay all cards facedown on the floor. Students take turns to flip over two cards in hopes that they get a match. If not, they are flipped back down for the next person to try.

Say It Fast, Say It Slow, Say It High, Say It Low

If you are a kindergarten teacher, then it’s assumed that you aren’t afraid of being silly. Play with your voice as you say the flashcard word. Students should repeat the word how you say it. They will have a ball!

What’s Missing?

Lay out flashcards on the floor, or display them on the board. After going over them, ask students to close their eyes. Remove one card. Students open their eyes and say which card is missing.

Musical Chairs

Put chairs in a circle facing outwards. Tape a flashcard to the back of each chair or put them on the ground underneath each chair. Have students make a circle on the outside of the chairs. At this age, there is no need for there to be one less chair than the number of students. Some groups will have more fun if it is not as competitive. Play music and have students walk around the chairs. When you pause the music, students find a seat to sit in. They say the flashcard word on the chair. If the students know actions and movements, make it more exciting by telling them to jump, tiptoe, walk, swim, etc. around the circle of chairs.

Slap the Board/Floor

Another oldie but goodie. Lay out the cards on the floor or put up on the board so the kids can reach them. Decide whether to call one or two students up at a time. When you shout out a word, they should hit it with their hand.

Want more like this? Visit our Teaching Tips blog. Or if you want to share some helpful hints with your students, check out our Language Learning Tips.

About the Author

Yvette Smith is an English teacher currently in Vietnam. She has taught in China and Mexico as well. She enjoys writing about the ESL field and thinks everyone should take the chance to travel abroad at least once in their lives.

How to Motivate Young Learners

POSTED ON January 23rd  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Whether you’re a newbie or novice teacher, walking into an ESL class full of young learners can be a daunting experience. Not only can these little munchkins not speak your language but most of them can’t sit still in a seat for 5 minutes, either!

I used to dread my classes with young elementary school students during my first few months of teaching English in Korea. There were so many days that I would wonder how such tiny little cuties could cause me so much grief! After class, I would be straight on the internet looking for miracle solutions that would help me control my students and get them to be quiet and sit still for a minute. However, over time, I came to learn that there was no miracle solution that would help me control them.  Instead, I had to learn to go with their behaviour- not against it and find ways to keep them motivated to learn.

The thing is, one of the most difficult things with ESL students is energy and motivation- but young learners? They have heaps of the stuff but a very strange way of showing it. It’s up to you to use that energy to your benefit and keep them engaged for the length of your lesson.

To save you hours spent traversing multiple tabs on google to find a solution, I’m going to teach you what I learned for myself. Here are some of my favourite ways to motivate young learners.

Have a Rewards System

No matter how old we are, we all love to get rewarded for our work and know that we’re doing a good job. We love games, we love competitions and (secretly) we all love beating our peers! My students in Korea loved getting one up on each other- actually, they were pretty brutal about it! So, I used this to my advantage.

I turned all of my lessons into mini-games with rewards for accuracy, effort and respectful behaviour.

Every time I wanted to reward a student, I’d give them a star. At the end of the month, the student with the most stars would get a small prize. I don’t like to give out candy, so the prize would usually be a cute (but inexpensive) piece of stationery.

Keep your Lessons Fun and Varied

If you want to keep your students motivated to learn English, you need to have lessons that are memorable and fun. Young learners tend to have short attention spans so if you give them 30 minutes of straight grammar work, they’re not going to be too fond of you!

Instead, switch up your lessons. Maybe warm up with a song, do a little bit of writing, move on to a speaking activity and end your class with a game to test their understanding. If you follow a structure with various short and fun activities, you’ll do a much better job of keeping your students engaged through your lesson. Especially if you’re teaching your students in an afterschool setting when they’re both tired and hyper at the same time.

Make Your Activities Group Centric

If your idea of an effective ESL classroom is a silent one, then you really need to change your mindset. When your students finally get the chance to practice their English in a real-life situation what are they going to be doing? They won’t be sitting writing sentences; they’ll be talking and communicating. You know, with other human beings!

For that reasons, try to make your activities group centric or at least pair based. Not only is this a much more immersive way to learn a new language, it’s a lot more useful for their needs, too. It will help them get over their fear of speaking English aloud at a young age and help them develop conversation skills, too.

Here are a few good ones: 6 Favourite ESL Games and Activities to Use in Your Classroom

Make Time to Discover their Interests

As a teacher, you’ll soon realise that every class is different. You can do the same activity with two classes and the outcome will probably not be the same. Some will absolutely love it and others won’t quite share the same enthusiasm!

You need to get to know your students and understand what characters you have in your class. What activities do they love? What’s effective for them? Some students might enjoy doing role play activities while others might prefer learning in a more systematic way. It’s up to you to discover this and use it to your advantage.

Never Revert to Their Language

If you’re an English teacher in a country that’s language you can’t speak, you’re at an advantage in the classroom. Many teachers find it easier to use their students’ language in certain situations, but this can promote a reluctance to learn English. If you’re likeable in the classroom and only speak to your students in English, they’ll have more motivation to keep learning- at least because they can communicate with you.

Learn more about reducing L1 interference here.

Don’t Get Hung up on Mistakes

Learning another language is a huge challenge but the biggest barrier of all is getting over the fear of making mistakes. If you continually correct your students on their English every single time they speak aloud, they’re going to develop a fear of using English in front of their peers.

Instead, let your students talk freely. And even if they don’t use perfect grammar, refrain from correcting them! If there are recurring mistakes, correct them all together at the end of the class and review them again at the beginning of the next lesson.

It takes years to develop perfect English but if you shoot your students down at the first hurdle, they’re never going to have the will to get that far. The most important thing is to allow them to play with the language. When we were learning our native language freely as babies, we definitely made mistakes, but we weren’t chastised for them.

Make sure your students know that they’re doing a great job and continually ensure that you’re harbouring a safe and positive environment for your students to explore the English language!

I hope these tips will let you have better classes with more enthusiastic students. Motivating young learners is simple really; make learning English a fun and positive experience for them and make sure they know they’re doing a great job. If you do this, you’ll have happier students, better results and much less stressful teaching experience.

Have any tips on how to motivate young learners? Share them in the comments so we can all learn from one another!

Want more articles like this? Visit our Teaching Tips Blog.

About the Author

Hailing from Scotland, Nicole is an eternal expat addicted to travelling and eating spicy food. After spending 3 years teaching English in South Korea, she’s now on an indefinite journey through Latin America. She spends most of her days hunting out the best coffee and strongest WiFi but will never turn down the offer to hike a volcano or find a hidden beach. You can follow her blog, Wee Gypsy Girl, where she writes about all her international adventures! Visit her blog for a great read. Visit her Instagram or Facebook Page to connect.

Explaining Abstract Concepts to Language Learners

POSTED ON January 16th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

People have a mental picture of a concrete concept, such as an apple, for example, but it’s very difficult to present a visually abstract idea such as, let’s say, selflessness. Abstract terms use only the most general characteristics for the description of the object. Such terms are “be” or “one.” However, an abstract concept can become concrete if we know the examples that fall within its scope.

In order to better explain the educational content to students, we need to keep in mind that different students understand and remember different concepts in different ways. Understanding abstract concepts can often be a problem, especially for younger students. For example, abstract concepts such as numbers and operations with them can be explained to younger students or students with difficulties in understanding math, using colours and shapes.

Math through Colour and Shape

Georges Cuisenaire, an elementary school teacher, is the author of a method of explaining numbers and basic mathematical operations using coloured rods. The essence of this method is that you can explain basic mathematical operations to students by using their power of visualization.

This is done by using wooden rods, with a basic unit of 1 cm and assigning different colours to each rod according to size. The set contains rods in the following colours:

  • White: 1 cm
  • Red: 2 cm
  • Green: 3 cm
  • Violet: 4 cm
  • Yellow: 5 cm
  • Dark green: 6 cm
  • Black: 7 cm
  • Brown: 8 cm
  • Blue: 9 cm
  • Orange: 10 cm

This way, it is easy for students to see which number belongs to which rod because they differ in length as well as in colour. By comparing the rods, it is possible to gradually introduce arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. For example, by joining the purple and the yellow rod, we will get the length of the blue rod.

Language Learning through Colour and Shape

Caleb Gattegno used this method even in language learning, called Silent Way, in which he uses the principle of connecting the same colour to a certain sound so that the student can visualize an abstract concept, thereby quickly and easily adopting its use. The essence of these methods is the recognized need of students to concretize the concepts that are explained to them because in that way they can more easily master their use. More broadly, this principle must always be kept in mind when teaching, so that whenever it is possible, you use practical examples, compare abstract concepts with specific terms from the environment that associate them to the concept in question and help students visualize their content.

These rods can even be used to represent entire situations in an abstract way. The teacher could use them to represent people or object. After pointing out the meaning of the rods to their students, the teacher may introduce the students to an everyday situation by using them and introduce different grammatical features of the language while explaining.

The rods can also be used to represent the word order in a sentence of a language and test the students’ knowledge by asking them to put the rods in the correct order.

Using coloured rods helps create mental images that, consequently, improve learning. This theory is based on the concept that we can learn much more if we link verbal associations with visual ones. In this way, two neuro-connections occur in the brain, one representing a verbal presentation and the other that is visual, therefore the information is much better consolidated in the memory.

To summarize – creating a unique mental picture that is not generic, but one that we can relate to, can help us remember a certain abstract concept, so the concept of selflessness can be linked to the image of a certain person who represents an embodiment of selflessness in our minds.

So the next time you are talking about abstract concepts, try using this clever technique and make it easier for your students.

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.



CLIL and Teaching English through Maths

POSTED ON January 9th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

When I first came across the acronym CLIL it didn’t mean much to me. I thought here’s another one of the many acronyms that the education sector seems to be full of. I decided to look up what it stood for and what I discovered was that CLIL is quite an exciting teaching proposition.

What is CLIL?

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. The idea is for subjects, such as maths, to be taught through a medium of a foreign language, such as English. Such an approach enables learners to study two diverse but connected subjects at the same time. The subject-content drives language learning. Although the term CLIL was only coined in 1994 by Professor David Marsh, the idea behind it is not new. Bilingual teaching and learning dates to ancient times and offers many benefits for both the students and the teachers.

Why use CLIL and teach English through maths?

Teaching English through Maths or another subject can help your students stay motivated when learning the language. The benefits of each lesson can effectively be doubled, as two subjects are being learnt simultaneously. The learners interested in maths will be keener to acquire the language necessary to gain a further understanding of the subject.

The CLIL approach takes away the need for teachers to artificially generate lesson topics, and gives students a context and real-life reason for learning English. There are many resources online for almost any topic in maths you can think of and many established maths curricula you can base your lessons on.

In a world where English is becoming the lingua franca of business and higher education, CLIL teaching is likely to gain increased popularity. People looking to gain access to employment and education across the world will want to be able to learn new skills in English. The CLIL approach in a classroom can help your students to develop these necessary and sought-after skills.

What to think about before using CLIL to teach English through maths?

Many of the teaching skills developed during a CELTA course are transferable and relevant to the CLIL context and equip you well for this type of teaching. There are however differences worth thinking about before embarking on teaching English through maths.

The first thing to consider when planning a CLIL lesson is that you will need to have both subject-content and English-language learning objectives for your students. What language skill do you want your students to learn and what mathematical skill or topic would you like them to acquire?

You will need to be confident in the mathematical topic you will teach. Prepare well, read around the topic you will be teaching and practice your maths skills by doing several exercises yourself. Expect to be asked questions about the subject topic, not just about the language you will use.

Maths uses English in its own specific way. A tip from David, my Maths-teacher husband, is to pay extra attention to words, such as enlarge, expand, or stretch, which in mathematical context have important differences in meaning, despite having similar meanings in general English. Other terms, such as evaluate, have a totally different meaning to when they are used in common English. Ensure you introduce your students to the functional language, the subject-specific vocabulary, they will need to understand the mathematical topic before proceeding further.

The abilities of your students in English and maths will not necessarily correlate. Remember about this when preparing for the lesson. Use differentiated tasks, so that all your students, regardless their mathematical abilities, are engaged in the classroom. If you are preparing worksheets for your students to answer, then consider how you can break down the maths tasks into smaller steps without adding too much extra complexity in the English used. Mathematical problems which are broad and have a wide variety of approaches will both allow students of all mathematical abilities to access the work and, also importantly, promote discussion about the maths (in English of course).

Remember that at the heart of it CLIL promotes links between subjects. If the mathematical topic you are teaching relates to other topics make these links  obvious to your students. Maths lends itself particularly to the science subjects and geography, but you can also include other subjects in creative ways.

If you would like to learn more about teaching Maths using the CLIL approach, check out this Cambridge English publication.

Moving forward with CLIL

The beauty of integrated learning is that it offers a huge scope to combine topics to suit the needs of you and your students. CLIL does not need to be limited to combining English with academic subjects such as Maths, Geography, or Science. You can teach English through diverse topics such cricket, cooking or a popular TV show, or whatever you are knowledgeable about and you think your students will find interesting. Moreover, you do not need to commit to teaching an entire subject curriculum to use CLIL teaching in your classroom. Why not start with one lesson and see how it goes?

If this article spiked your interest in CLIL, then you might be interested in the monthly, electronic CLIL Teacher Magazine. You can check it out here.

As always, we are very keen to know what you have to say on this topic, so please share your comments with us on our Facebook page.

About the Author

Aleks Kaye has completed a part-time CELTA course while working full-time at a university in the UK. Her husband David is a Secondary School Maths teacher. They are currently travelling across Canada and blogging about it at

How to Use Video Clips in Your TEFL Classroom

POSTED ON January 2nd  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Technology offers many great resources for language learning, but all too often we see teachers taking advantage or using media clips in the wrong way. How many of you know a teacher who happily plays clips of Mr Bean at every given opportunity, or will spend a whole lesson watching a film in English to cut down on their planning time? Media clips can be used to great advantage in the TEFL classroom, but if clips are too long or badly graded, students will lose focus and get bored.

Let’s look at some top tips and suggested activities for how to use media clips effectively in your TEFL classroom.

Looking for some good video resources? Check this out.

Write the Dialogue

Using video clips is a great way to get students to practice their speaking, and there are so many ways to do it. For students of intermediate level or above, a creative activity you can organise is for students to write a dialogue to go with a media clip. First, show the students a short clip without sound – one minute should be long enough. A clip with two or three characters is good – any more and it gets too confusing. Choose a clip where there is action and also the use of props – if the actors are just sitting chatting together without moving, there isn’t much for the students to go on. However, a clip where one character picks up a vase and throws it at the other character, then that is sure to inspire your students! After watching the clip, ask students what they think the characters were talking about, and ask them to write the dialogue. Students can then read/act it out to the class, or read it as a voice-over with the clip playing again.

Watch and Describe Pair-work

Arrange your classroom with the chairs in two lines – one line facing the screen, and the other line opposite those chairs, facing away from the screen. In pairs, one student faces the screen and the other student faces away. The student facing the screen needs to describe what they can see happening in the video clip. The student facing away has to listen to the description – they are not allowed to turn around and watch for themselves. Stop the clip halfway through – the listening students should then tell you what happened in the clip, based on what their partner told them. For the second half of the clip, get the students to change over. Lower-level students can manage this task if the clip is very action-packed and fast-paced so there is plenty to describe. For example, a clip of the cartoon Tom and Jerry provides ample opportunities for using action verbs and describing props.

What Happens Next?

If you’ve been studying the future tense, this activity is perfect. You can find plenty of You’ve Been Framed-types of media clips. Some videos are even designed with a pause in the middle so that you can guess the outcome. Show the students the first half of the clip, and then in groups/pairs get them to guess what happens next. You could even turn it into a game by awarding points if they’re right, or getting students to bet Monopoly money on their answer. This activity is also a great ice-breaker, particularly for teens – the funny clips are sure to make everyone feel at ease.

Fluency Description

With higher-level students, video clips provide a great opportunity for speaking fluently. Choose an appropriate clip of up to ten minutes in length. Turn off the sound (or, even better, select a video without sound) and ask the student to give a commentary while the video plays. If things are moving too quickly, slow down the video and play it at half speed to give them more time to think. Meanwhile, listen to your student and write down any mistakes they make. When they finish describing, go through the mistakes they made and see if they can correct them by themselves. You can also brainstorm new vocabulary which the student could have used during their description. This can lead on to other activities – such as asking the student to write a short summary of the clip, using the new vocabulary you brainstormed.

You could also share this with high-level students.

Top Tips

While using video clips is a great way to engage students in class, there are a few warning points you should be aware of:

  • Always check the material first. Never play a video in class which you haven’t watched yourself, especially with younger learners. Materials found online could have been uploaded by anybody, and if you haven’t vetted the material before class, it could be full of inappropriate language or images, including scary horror movie type images, pornographic material or offensive language. If you trust the source then a quick skim through the screenshots should be sufficient, but if not, you’re better off playing it safe and checking materials properly.
  • Prepare to the second. Let’s say you want to show students a clip from an episode of Mr Bean. The whole episode might last thirty minutes, but if the relevant clip is only forty seconds long, just show them those forty seconds. Students may cheer when they see you’re preparing a video clip – they usually think this means they won’t have to do so much work. However, the reality of watching overly long clips is that students get bored. Also, in private language schools, customers (often the parents of the students) won’t be happy if they’re just paying to sit and watch TV.
  • Load the clip before the class. There is nothing worse than explaining an activity to the students, getting them all ready and then…. buffering. Before your class begins you should turn on the computer, warm up the projector, find your clip, skip it to the exact section you want to show, and then let it buffer so it’s ready to go. Even just a few seconds of standing and waiting like a lemon at the front of the class can seem like a lifetime when students are losing focus.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specialises in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.

Fun Ways to Set New Classroom Intentions for 2018

POSTED ON December 26th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

New Year’s resolutions: love them or hate them? No matter what side of the line you stand on, you have to admit that the first of January is as good a date as any to set new intentions. For ESL teachers, this is the perfect time to freshen up your class environment and set new intentions for the year ahead.

Did you know that many of your students are intrigued by the idea of Western New Year’s celebrations? They see glamorous countdowns in movies and on TV. They want to be part of it! Don’t forget that in a lot of countries, New Year falls on a different date. So, if you’re a teacher in a country like Thailand, South Korea or China, take advantage of that enthusiasm and let your students experience New Year for themselves from the comfort of your classroom.

There are, however, some parts of our New Year’s traditions that should be left at the front door. The biggest culprit? Mindlessly writing down resolutions. Even the biggest New Year’s resolutions aficionados have no interest in this and your students certainly won’t either. Don’t put them off the fun of December 31st before they’ve even had the chance to properly enjoy it!

Instead, find ways to make setting new intentions for the year fun. This is a great opportunity to really set the tone for the rest of the school year. How do you want the year to go? What are your learning outcomes going to be? Or come up with questions specific to your group.


Before you get into setting new intentions, take an opportunity to reflect on 2017. You could do this by creating a collage of some of your favourite class memories or having a mini awards ceremony.

Another idea is to give your students prompts as part of a writing or speaking activity. For this, you could ask students to reflect on certain occasions from last year. For example, a time when they were kind, a fun class outing and the best thing that they learned. It’s also worth reflecting on things that they wish they could change from last year.

When it comes to setting new intentions, it’s best to look to the past for inspiration- no matter what age you are!


There’s a reason why routines like journaling and morning pages have gained so much popularity recently. Even with new technologies, the practice of putting pen to paper is still the best way to clear your head and be mindful of your thoughts.

It should be no surprise then, that writing activities go hand in hand with setting new intentions.

You might be worried that a project like this will be too complicated for your less advanced students and you definitely have reason to be. That’s why it’s important to really consider your students’ level when designing your activity.

For older and more advanced students, writing a letter to their future selves gives them a creative outlet to use their writing skills. Plus, it’s a fun activity to go back to before the summer break that will hold them accountable for their new intentions!

Younger students, on the other hand, could complete a semi-structured activity. This could be a simple fill in the blanks passage that they could decorate or a series of interview questions to answer.

Of course, in these situations, make sure your students feel comfortable to ask for guidance when they’re brainstorming their ideas. A complex writing activity like this is one of the few occasions when I’d recommend bringing some translation dictionaries to class.

(Don’t get too lax though. Absolutely no Google translate!)

New Class Rules

After your students have worked out what their own personal intentions are for the year, it’s time to set new class rules.

The first rule of ESL teaching is to harbour a positive and encouraging environment at all times. It’s for that reason that I advise throwing a lot of the old-fashioned rules about teaching out the window. Ironically, the first of those rules is dictating rules to the class.

The thing is, though, we all know that a well-disciplined class runs much more smoothly than a chaotic class. Truth be told, we do need class rules. We just need to be creative with them. Achieving a balance between a friendly environment and well-behaved class is difficult. But, it all comes down to how you develop and deliver those rules.

Almost all experienced ESL teachers will agree that creating new rules together as a class is the best way to go. By involving the students in the process, they’ll take it upon themselves to get involved in policing the class and be more mindful of their own behaviour at the same time.

This can also be made into a fun writing or conservation activity – setting rules AND encouraging good behaviour sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Despite all the clichés about setting New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the new term is the perfect time to set new intentions with your class. Whether your students are kindergartners or Tokyo salarymen, everyone needs time to sit down and reflect on what they want to achieve in the year ahead. Hopefully, these fun class activities will help you shoot straight into 2018 with clear goals and intentions in mind!

About the Author

Hailing from Scotland, Nicole is an eternal expat addicted to travelling and eating spicy food. After spending 3 years teaching English in South Korea, she’s now on an indefinite journey through Latin America. She spends most of her days hunting out the best coffee and strongest WiFi but will never turn down the offer to hike a volcano or find a hidden beach. You can follow her blog, Wee Gypsy Girl, where she writes about all her international adventures! Visit her blog for a great read. Visit her Instagram or Facebook Page to connect.

5 Hands-on Christmas Activities

POSTED ON December 19th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

The period leading up to Christmas is a great time to bring some festive joy, music and games into your classroom. It is also usually an incredibly busy time of the year, so to help you out, below are some fun, hands-on Christmas activities to try out in your classroom. The activates presented are aimed at teenagers and adults, but can be adapted for kids.

If you are looking specifically for some great Christmas classroom games for children, check out this article.

Christmas Carols and Songs

Incorporate some music into your classroom with Christmas carols and songs. You can base a listening lesson on a popular Christmas tune. Get your students to listen to a couple of songs or carols twice without any prompts. You could even show them a music video that goes with the song, for added entertainment, as Christmas music videos are usually very cheesy.

When selecting what carol or song to use for your lesson, remember that hearing and understanding words from songs can be much harder than from spoken recordings. Once your students hear the songs a couple of times, proceed to a listening activity, such as filling in the gaps in a printed out lyric or answering questions about the content of the songs or carols. An activity on the lyrics will help your students to familiarise themselves with the words and hopefully give them more confidence to have a go at singing the carols or Christmas songs with you. Don’t worry if you are a bad singer, it might even make your students more inclined to join in.

Christmas Mystery

Do you remember the game of Guess Who? In this game, two players raced to figure out which one of the 24 people pictured was selected by the other person. The players could only ask questions about the selected person’s appearance that could be answered with yes or no.

How about Cluedo? The game where a mystery crime takes place at the beginning of the game and the objective is to figure out by asking questions how, where and by whom the crime was committed.

The game of Christmas Mystery is a combination of Guess Who? and Cluedo. You will need to prepare cards with Christmas characters, such as Santa, Rudolf, Snowman, the elves, Mrs Claus, naughty children and so on – the more characters you think of the more challenging this hands-on Christmas activity will be.

Divide your class into small teams and then pair the groups. The first team, in secret from the other team, comes up with a mysterious Christmas crime and chooses which Christmas Character committed it. The second team’s objective is, by asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no, to figure out who committed the crime. You can set a limit on the number of questions that can be asked before a guess has to be made to keep the game snappy. Each person on each team should ask or answer at least one question.

Christmas Charades and Pictionary

Christmas charades and Christmas Pictionary are both very hands-on activities that involve almost identical preparation. You will need a set of Christmas related terms written down on separate bits of paper. You can pick your own terms to match your student’s level of English, or you can use this free pre-prepared set. For Pictionary, you will also need a board or some paper for your student to draw on. Explain the rules, divide your students into small groups and let the fun begin. Both charades and Pictionary are fun ways for your students to practice and recall new Christmas vocabulary. For even more vocabulary games have a look at this resource.

Classroom Decorations

This hands-on Christmas activity is a way of adding a bit of colour to a grammar and vocabulary lesson about expressing desires for the future. While teaching how to use ‘to wish’, ‘to dream’, ‘to want’ and ‘to hope’ get your student to produce a Christmas chain that you can later hang in the classroom. You will need strips of coloured paper and tape for this activity. Firstly, demonstrate to your students what you would like them to do: write a wish on a strip of paper, get a bit of Sellotape and make a loop out of the strip. Then repeat the steps, making sure you link your second strip through the first one when making a loop out of it, hence creating a chain. Distribute the strips of paper between your students and ask them to write their Christmas wishes on individual strips of paper and add them to the classroom’s Christmas chain.

Christmas Cards

Sharing Christmas cards with friends and family is a popular custom in the UK, but many countries do not have this tradition. Structuring a lesson around Christmas cards offers a great opportunity to teach your class about a bit of British culture and get them to practice their writing skills.

Bring in some Christmas cards, or you can make it even more of a hands-on Christmas activity by getting your student to make their own in the class. Compose a sample Christmas greeting with your students. This can be very simple or more elaborate depending on your students’ level.

Alternatively, you can prepare Christmas cards with fill-in-the-gaps messages inside. Give each student an envelope with the name of one of the other students in the classroom written on it. Then get your students to write Christmas wishes for the person named on their envelope. At the end of the lesson ask your students to exchange cards and remind them to wait until Christmas Day to open their cards.

With a bit of creativity almost any classroom game can become Christmas themed – Christmas Match Up, Christmas Bingo or Christmas Two Truths and A Lie. What hands-on Christmas activities do you use in your classroom? Share your ideas with us in comments below, or on our Facebook page.

About the Author

Aleks Kaye loves cooking, skiing and learning. She completed a part-time CELTA course, while working full-time at a university in the UK. She is currently travelling across Canada with her husband David and blogging about it at


Holiday Special: Fun Activities for the Holiday Season

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

It’s a fact that every child loves Christmas and New Year. This may be because everything is festive around this time of the year, but mostly because they get a ton of presents (which is becoming a cross-cultural phenomenon, too). Since the holiday season is upon us, we wanted to do something special so we came up with this list of fun activities that you can do with your students to celebrate.

Decorate the Classroom

For this activity, all you are going to need are 2-4 pairs of scissors, Scotch tape, and some blank paper. You can divide your students into 2-4 groups, depending on how many you have in your class so each group can get one pair of scissors. Your students will then make and cut out snowflakes, Christmas trees, and other decorations and tape them to the classroom windows. Those that are more creative can make a snowman, a house or a sleigh with Santa and colour them with crayons.

We do not recommend you do this activity with younger students whose fine motor skills have not yet fully developed. The scissors you are going to use should be sharp enough to cut through thin pieces of paper, but not so sharp the students could hurt themselves while cutting. Teacher supervision is, of course, a must here.

Write a Letter to Santa Claus

This is one of the easiest but possibly most fun activities that you can do with your students around Christmas. Each student should take a piece of paper and write their letter to Santa telling him what they want to get for Christmas. You can join in the fun and write one yourself.

At the end, when everyone has finished writing, you can give each student in your class an envelope and a stamp so you could send all of the letters to the North Pole.

In addition to encouraging children to learn through playing, the goal is to introduce children to the world of grownups through writing and literacy and to cherish written communication.

New Year’s Resolutions

If you plan on doing an interesting writing activity closer to New Year, this one is always a good choice. Have your student write down everything they want to achieve in the following year, be it related to school or not.

You will then take out a box or a bag in which you will put all of the letters your students wrote and come next winter holiday season, you will open the box and you and your students will read together what they wrote last year. They will then tell you if any of their wishes came true and what they did to make it happen.

“Happy Holidays” Greeting Card

In this simple activity, your pupils can make greeting cards to send to whomever they want. It can be their grandparents, mom and dad or even one of their classmates. The cards can be made by simply folding a piece of paper in half. Instruct your class to decorate the cards by drawing on them, encourage them to use as many colours as they like and to make the cards as festive as possible.

They can even take pieces of cotton and glue them onto the cards to resemble snow or little pearls from old necklaces that will be the ornaments on their trees.

This creative activity is perfect for all ages and that’s what makes it so great. You can do it with both your younger and older students and the results will be amazing every time.

Sharing is Caring

In the spirit of the holiday when we receive most presents, it is only fitting we give something back. You can talk to other teachers working in your school and make it an even bigger project or do it just with the class that you are teaching.

Ask your students to bring items they no longer need – it can be toys, clothes, old books or anything else. Tell them they can bring it throughout one whole week and that when the week is over, you will take everything they collected and donate it to the Red Cross, a children’s hospital or any charity that helps children in need or those that are less fortunate. Let your students know that they are making others happy by giving a little, and teach them about sharing and love through this project.

Secret Santa

This game is part of the Western Christmas tradition and it is something your students will love. Write down the names of everyone in your class on small pieces of paper and put all of them in a bag. Your students will then take turns until each one of them has pulled out one name out of the name bag.

They should not tell anyone who they got. The students should then prepare a Christmas present for the person whose name was on the paper they got – they will be that person’s secret Santa. The presents need not be expensive. You can advise the class to make the presents instead of buying them, it could be a card or a drawing, etc.

All of the presents will be put in the corner of the classroom or under the tree if you have it. The students will open up the presents before winter break starts (or on Christmas if it’s not a holiday where you’re teaching). Once a student opens up the gift they got, they should try and guess who their secret Santa was.

This is another activity that teaches kids about the importance of sharing and giving to others and it is guaranteed they will they have a lot of fun pretending to be Santa, even if it is for one day only.

The holiday season, and especially New Year, is a time for new beginning, but also a time to learn new things and teach your pupils love, understanding, sharing, and teamwork. Hopefully, you will find a way to include these holiday activities into your curriculum and have fun with your students. Happy holidays!

Do you want more classroom activities? Check out our Teaching Tips blog. You can also go to one of our older holiday activity posts here.

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia with experience in working with young learners.

Motivating Young Learners in ESL

POSTED ON December 5th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Struggling to motivate your young learners in your ESL class? If so, read on for 10 tips on how to motivate your young learner students.

Why Motivation is Important (for Young Learners Specifically)

Teachers know that motivation in a class can make all the difference; however, motivating young learners is a different ball game. Why is that?

  • Young learners, unlike adults, most likely do not have a say in whether they want to learn English (or attend class).
  • They don’t understand the importance of learning ESL.
  • The attention span of young learners is also a lot less than that of adults.
  • Adults usually pay for their own English studies, which further motivates them; young learners do not.

As such, motivation in an ESL classroom for young learners takes on an important part of any lesson – after all, you want your students to be engaged and learn. If they are unmotivated and uninterested in the lesson, then they are not going to learn, and this will make your job teaching them all the more difficult. This source sums it up perfectly: “To be motivated to learn, students need both opportunities to learn and steady encouragement and support of their learning efforts.”

Want to know more about different kinds of motivation? Check this out: Motivated to Learn: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

How to Motivate Young Learners: 10 Tips

  1. Planning

Planning is key to motivating young learners in an ESL class successfully. When planning your lesson, keep in mind:

  • Plan activities for your students
  • Look at each activity lasting for ± 5 minutes; for activities that require the students to be more actively involved, you can plan for more than 5 minutes
  • Look at a balance of ‘active’ activities like singing or those that involve moving around the classroom versus ‘calming’ activities such as drawing, copying, etc.
  1. Keep to a Schedule

Somewhat related to the first tip on this list of motivating young learners is keeping to a schedule. When you stick to a schedule in class, then students know what to expect and it can help them be organized, too, especially for those children who struggle. For example, if students know that weekly assignments are due on a certain day of the week, you can put this up on somewhere in your classroom and a further benefit is that you won’t have to spend so much time reminding them.

  1. Immediate Motivation

Since young learners are not goal oriented or able to see further than the activity they are engaged in, your class/lesson needs to be stimulating from beginning to end. You need to provide immediate motivation for the task that you are going to be doing at present time.

  1. Incorporate Fun

Young learners are going to be learning better if they are having fun while doing so. Them having fun while working on a task means that they are active as well as engaged with the material. A variety of short activities work best. For example, do a drawing, writing, fill in the word, game, and song activity in one lesson for that variety factor.

  1. Share

It is valuable to share your plans for the lesson with the students. They will cooperate better if they know what they will be doing, and where suitable, give them a choice or say in the format of the lesson (e.g. reading/story time first and then writing practice later).

  1. Praise

Giving praise where praise is due in a class full of young learners can work wonders. Verbal praise will only go so far; young learners respond better when that praise is tangible, like a star on the board next to their name. A key reminder is to reward consistently. 

  1. Each to Their Ability

Related to the motivating tip above, you should relate to your young learner students according to their ability as they learn ESL. For example, one student might be more advanced and use nearly all of the language that you have been teaching while another might only be able to use some of the language taught. In both of these two cases, you need to praise each student. This will only motivate the less advanced student(s) to continue to learn. If the less advanced student feels successful, he/she will continue to try; after all, success leads to success.

  1. Opportunities to Succeed

You should be flexible enough to give your young learners more than just one opportunity to succeed. If one student is not able to name all of the 5 activities you can do for fun during the first week, give them a chance to do so in the second week of the teaching the theme.

  1. Personalisation

No matter what the theme or what you are teaching in class, look at how you can personalise the language for your students. How can they use the language to talk about their world or themselves? Young learners, especially, like to talk about themselves, so use this to your advantage in class. For example, when teaching different types of food, relate it to what they like and don’t like to eat, what they do eat at home, etc. When students see that they can use English to talk about they are interested in, they will be more motivated and will also try harder in class.

  1. Be Motivated

Lastly, an uninterested teacher isn’t going to improve motivation in the classroom. If you are interested in what you are teaching and make the subject matter interesting for your students, then chances are that your young learners will be motivated much more easily. To be motivated and keep yourself motivated, do activities in class that you are excited about.


Motivating students, young or old, should always form part of your lesson planning and be kept in mind even while teaching. As you can see, there are many different ways in which you can motivate young learners in an ESL class from being motivated yourself to incorporating fun into the class and sticking to a schedule.

Are there any motivating tips you can share for teaching young learners in an ESL context?

Want more like this? Visit our Teaching Tips blog. Or go to our learning tips blog for something to share with the students.

About the Author

Denine Walters is currently a freelance writer, editor/proofreader and ESL teacher. Previously, she taught online English lessons to students from all around the world and, before that, she lived and taught English to young learners in Taiwan. In her free time, she likes to read, do scrapbooking and grammar quizzes, and travel. For her educational background, she has an MA in Politics, with a dissertation written on post-conflict peacebuilding, a BA Journalism degree, a TEFL and CELTA certificate, and also a few certificates in various other short courses.