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Top 5 Problems When Teaching EFL

POSTED ON June 20th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Any classroom, whether you are teaching in Taiwan or Guatemala, has its set of challenges and problems when teaching EFL. If you haven’t taught before and came across this article in preparation for teaching EFL, then this might sound scary: There isn’t a way to avoid these problems. However, there are, of course, ways to prepare for these challenges that can arise.

Let’s have a look at the top 5 problems when teaching English as a Foreign Language.

1. Students Don’t Speak English In Class

If you have a class full of young learners, then it is very likely that they will speak more in their native language (L1) than in English.

The Solution:

You might be aware that every class is different. However, it doesn’t matter what the students’ English proficiency level is or how old they are; every student in class needs to understand that, at the very least, they need to try to speak as much English as they can. For young learners, awarding points for speaking only English in class could work very well.

2. Dependent Students

This EFL problem occurs when the students in your class are constantly seeking attention or assistance. There are two scenarios here: They may either ask you to assist them in completing an exercise or say they cannot or do not know how to complete the task on their own.

The Solution:

It is vital to empower your students and let them feel as if they are able to complete the exercises. For example, say they have to complete an exercise on choosing ‘many’ or ‘much’ with countable/uncountable nouns, you can do the first or first two exercises on the worksheet with them. Ask the students, “Is it many apples or much apples?” They should answer “many”; then ask them why – the answer should be something along the lines of apples are things you can count. Your students may simply feel overwhelmed by the exercise, but by nudging them in the right direction, they should have the confidence to complete the rest of the exercise on their own.

3. Students Take Over

On the other hand, students taking over the class is another common problem and can easily happen when you are a new teacher or just the new teacher of that particular class. Two possibilities are (1) when a student comes in all excited over something, tells the class, and then the class gets all excited or (2) the students think they can improve the activity you have picked for them.

The Solution:

The obvious: Take your control back. But how? You need to let them know – firmly and kindly – that the lesson needs to take place, but that if work is finished in time, they can have some time – a few minutes, really – to talk about whatever it is that they are excited about. Or, as for the second case, you need to let them know that you have already planned this activity or game, but will consider their ideas for the next one.

4. One Student Takes Over

This third problem when teaching EFL is related to the third challenge above; however, in this scenario, only one student – usually an eager beaver – dominates the lesson by blurting out the answers or raising their hands first. These students typically like to win and are quite competitive.

The Solution:

There are quite a few ways that you can deal with this. One way is to take straws or pebbles (or something like this) with you to class. Consider the lesson and how many times – ideally – there are questions to answer, etc. Give each student, for example, 4 straws – meaning that they have 4 opportunities in the lesson to answer questions or say something. Once the straws are finished, they have to stay quiet, unless you call on them. Turn this into a game for young learners, whereby there is some sort of prize for having no straws left at the end of class. This will also help the quiet students – hopefully, they will want the prize and speak up a bit.

Another solution for this eager beaver student is to make them the helper for the day or lesson. The student can help you to give out books, write things on the board when necessary, or help other students find the right answers or complete an exercise.

5. Unmotivated/Bored Students

For any EFL teacher, no matter whether you are still a newbie or very experienced, this problem when teaching EFL is something that is bound to happen from time to time. Your students’ eyes will glaze over – whether it is from no motivation, no interest in the lesson, or because what (or how) you are teaching is boring.

The Solution:

It is easy to blame the students, the grammar you are teaching, or even the course book you have to work from. Unfortunately – and this is the truth – the reasons for your students’ boredom or lack of motivation is you. After all, you are the teacher and, thus, you are responsible for keeping the students engaged. There are always ways to make the lesson more fun – doing research on the internet, seeing what other teachers do, and adding your own interesting ideas should be a priority.

Last Thoughts

There are of course some other problems you can experience in an EFL classroom, from students being late and not doing their homework to not doing what you ask them to do; nonetheless, the problems when teaching EFL discussed in this article are the top 5 that any teacher can and will encounter in their class.

About the Author

Denine Walters currently works in the events industry and freelances as an EFL teacher, writer, and proofread/editor. 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 what free time she has, she likes to travel, watch Netflix, read, and do scrapbooking and grammar quizzes.

Setting Homework for Adult Learners

POSTED ON April 18th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Homework isn’t just for school children. Everyone can benefit from it, no matter the age. Read on for some tips on how to effectively set homework for adults.

The benefits of homework are numerous, from consolidating knowledge, through giving students time to work through things at their own pace, to encouraging students to use English outside of the classroom. When managed well, adults will gain as much, if not more, from set homework as school pupils.

To find out how one English teacher used homework to elicit more enthusiasm and participation from his adult students, check out this inspiring blog post.


Adult learners generally have strong intrinsic motivation when it comes to language learning. They have their personal reasons for wanting to learn the language and are keen to succeed. You can use homework to help your students to meet their language goals. When setting the homework, explain to the students, what skills or language points they will practice the task.


When deciding what and how much to set for homework, keep in mind that your adult students are likely to be a busy individual with jobs, families and other commitments. If you plan to set homework several times each weak opt for shorter activities requiring little time to complete. If you want to set longer homework, consider giving your student more time to turn it in.


Just like children and teenagers, adults like variety. Alternate the tasks you set as homework and do not be afraid to set homework that is creative or unconventional. Worksheets and writing tasks can be great, but why not also ask your students to record an interview with a friend in English, set a reading assignment, ask them to watch a short film or listen to a podcast in English.

Homework set, but not returned

Even if you set homework that is fun, relevant and engaging, you are likely to find that for various, valid reasons some your students will not do their homework. It is therefore important to not rely on students completing homework for your lesson to work. Plan your lessons in such a way that the students who did not do the homework can still fully participate in the classroom activities.


Do not neglect to give your students feedback on the homework they completed. Whether it is short verbal feedback or a detailed, long written comment, providing your students with feedback for homework is very important. Aim for your feedback to help your students know what went well and what they need to work on to improve their English.

Please share your thoughts and tips for setting homework for adults with us on Facebook or Twitter.

About the Author

Aleks Kaye completed a blended CELTA course while working full-time in Student Support at a university in the UK. She is currently exploring Canada with her husband David and blogging about it at

5 Ways to Use the Power of Smartphones in your ESL Classroom

POSTED ON April 3rd  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

If you can’t get your student to stop playing on their phones in the classroom, don’t struggle with it. Embrace it and get students to use their smartphones to learn English in your classroom.

Phones in the classroom are often viewed by those of us who teach as an unwelcome distraction preventing students from paying attention. With the growing popularity and widespread use of smartphones (in China alone there are over seven hundred million smartphone users), maybe it is time we instead embrace the many learning opportunities offered by smartphones in our ESL classrooms.

Read on for five fun ways to use your students’ smartphones to help them learn English.

Reading and Writing with a Smartphone

After your students read a text for gist and then for detail, why not supplement the reading task with a permitted search on their smartphones for unfamiliar words? You could then ask your students to explain the new word to you in their own words. If you are setting a writing task, you could encourage your students to use their smartphones to expand their vocabulary and find synonyms for common words.

Classroom Polling and Multiple Choice

For an alternative way to get your students to participate in answering questions, you could use a program such as ResponseWare or Poll Everywhere to create interactive questionnaires and PowerPoint presentations. These programs enable students to link to your presentation or questionnaire with their smartphones and provide answers through their devices. The answers get processed and displayed in real time on your screen or smartboard.

Smartphone Games in the Classroom

Games are a fun and engaging way to learn a language. There are hundreds of smartphone games dedicated to grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary building. For example, Words with Friends, a smartphone variation on Scrabble and 4 Pics 1 Word offer an entertaining way for your students to learn new words.

Language Teaching Apps

There are thousands of smartphone apps, or applications, dedicated to teaching English. Duolingo is perhaps the most known and is available in a format specifically catered to the classroom called Duolingo for Schools. This version gives you an overview of what activities your students do and how well they perform. Other similar, popular apps include Rosetta Stone Ltd., Memrise and Hello English.

Group Texting

A group chat for your class can be an excellent way to encourage your students to write in English. Programs such as WhatsApp, WeChat or Line are all apps facilitating group texting and sending videos or pictures. Hopefully, the text conversation between your students will float naturally, but you can always post some questions to get the conversation going again if the group goes too quiet.

For more ideas on how to use technology in your classroom make sure to read our exhaustive blog post on the subject.

We’re keen to know if you allow your students to use their phones in your classroom? If so, what are your favourite ways to use them to teach English? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter.

About the Author

Aleks Kaye completed a blended CELTA course while working full-time in Student Support at a university in the UK. She is currently exploring Canada with her husband David and blogging about it at

Teaching English to Different Age Groups

POSTED ON March 27th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

In order to best enable children who want to learn or master English, English language classes should be adapted to the age of the students.

English language classes are usually held in groups. This is true for children aged 3 to 5 years, that is, pre-school children. But it’s equally so for schoolchildren, both for those attending lower grades as well as those in higher grades. It is imperative that the teachers adapt the curriculum so that it matches the students’ age and abilities.  For example, the youngest students will most likely master English through various games and singing, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that young children best acquire a foreign language when it’s presented to them in a familiar way. Older students can use much more sophisticated learning methods.

Teaching Students Age 3-5

The youngest students, who are between three and five years old, should be introduced to the basic concepts they know in their mother tongue while learning English, and they will learn them better through playing, drawing and singing. Activities should, therefore, be organized in a way that they revolve around activities the child would usually do for fun at that age because such activities will not bore the child as easily and will hold their attention for a longer time, as opposed to tedious exercises.

Furthermore, at such an early age, it is important not to force the children to learn through rules and definitions because an approach like that will most likely not yield the positive results the teachers should strive to achieve with their pupils.

Moreover, teachers should try to motivate their pupils to work and learn by, for example, giving them interesting stamps that vary in shape and size, like star or heart shaped stamps, that is, give them praise when it is deserved, and other rewards, with the aim of developing creativity and team spirit, which will have an extremely positive effect on the acquisition of knowledge of English language.

Taking into account that this is a specific group of children, who are younger and cannot be tested in writing, as in the case of older children. Testing here should be carried out mainly orally.

To maintain interest with younger students, it’s also good to have A Fair Reward System in a Class of Young Learners

Classes with Students Age 5-7

When working with young children, teachers should fully adjust the curriculum to the age of the students, which means that they will help them in the best possible way to adopt knowledge that suits their age. Since in this age group there could still be pupils that haven’t mastered the writing skill, teachers should try to adapt the curriculum and classes, first and foremost, to the abilities and knowledge of such young learners. This means that in this case, similarly to working with students 3-5 years of age, most of the learning will take place through games that are already familiar to them because this is also the best way to master English language skills that are suitable for children from 5-7 years of age.

Also, sounds of English language should be introduced to children at this point so that they will, through fun and interesting activities and play, get to know the sounds of a new language, learn their first words in English and, at the same time, develop curiosity and listening skills.

And it’s always good to know How to Motivate Young Learners.

Working with Students Age 7-10

For students in first to fourth grade, that is, for those whose age is from 7 to 10 years, different ways of acquiring language skills should be envisaged. The curriculum should contain mostly topics and areas that are close to students, that is, those that will stimulate interest so that they will be relatively easy to master.

Apart from the fact that the students at this age should learn how to communicate properly in the foreign language, and at their level of knowledge, team spirit will develop, since it is best that the teaching be as interactive as possible. This approach to teaching should very positively reflect on the acquisition of knowledge that the teachers seek to convey to their students.

It is expected that all students who attend a course of English language at this age should learn to communicate in the spoken language, at the level appropriate to their age.

Since the lessons should be designed primarily as interactive, so that all students participate equally in them, it means that it will, among other things, have positive effects on their further learning at school.

Teaching Students Age 11-14

Students attending higher grades of elementary school, that is, children aged 11 to 14, should already have a certain level of knowledge of the English language, and the teacher should determine what these skills are, but also perfect them in a way that they follow the school’s curriculum as closely as possible.

The curriculum should also be adjusted to the students’ interests in order to hold the students’ attention during lessons, and through the practice of all language skills (writing, reading, listening and conversation) students will get the necessary security in the knowledge they have acquired.

Furthermore, versatility in class activities will not only help with mastering all language skills, but it will awaken the interest in students to learn more and they will be less likely to get bored during the classes because they will be more interesting.

Testing learners should happen at this level, and in accordance with the students’ age, be done in a way that will put each language skill to the test – writing, speaking, reading and listening comprehension.

If you are just starting to teach English or want to develop your skills in working with children and improve your career opportunities, these are just some of the guidelines that you can follow in order to achieve your goal. After all, have in mind that not every child is the same nor do they possess equal learning abilities and knowledge.

This is also a good age for adding some modern tech to class: 11 Tips for Using Technology Effectively in Your ESL Classroom

About the Author

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

Four Things Your TEFL Teacher Wishes You Knew

POSTED ON March 19th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Have you ever wished you could get into the mind of your TEFL teacher and know what they’re thinking? Take a look at our list of top things your TEFL teacher wishes you knew.

1. We know when you’re lying.

Teachers are a bit like parents – we want the best for you, we do our best to encourage you, and we know when you’re letting yourself down. This means if you come to class with the excuse that your dog ate your homework or you say you finished the reading assignment when you didn’t, we know. Even if there is no proof (i.e. lack of the homework paper) the fact that you haven’t done the work will be obvious to us – teachers can tell who is prepared and who isn’t. If you haven’t done the work, don’t lie about it – just be honest with us. We’d rather you told us the truth than tried to pull the wool over our eyes.

2. We want you to trust us.

If we propose a game or activity that doesn’t sound like it’s going to help you learn – trust us. We took the time to plan this lesson and chose the activity for a reason. It mightn’t be clear to you straight away, but everything we do in the class is for a purpose. Likewise, if you want to work with certain classmates for group work and we say no, there’s usually a good reason. Trust us.

3. We’re human too.

Students come from all different backgrounds and have different experiences. Sometimes a student is having a good day, and sometimes a bad one. Teachers are the same – we have lives outside of the classroom, we have bad days, we get bad news, and sometimes we lose confidence in ourselves just like students do. Be kind to your teacher. Like all important jobs, teaching can also be a difficult job. We don’t want to be the butt of your jokes, we just want to encourage you, nurture you, and help you to enrich your lives.

4. We believe in you.

As TEFL teachers, we’ve dedicated our lives to helping you succeed in learning the language. Don’t ever think that your teacher doesn’t like you, or doesn’t believe in you – we do. We want you to reach your goals, and we believe you can do it too.

Want more learning tips? Visit our Language Learning Tips blog. Or find a Shane English School near you.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.

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 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.

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.