Archive : Tag

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.

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.

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.

Teaching Tips: Reducing Language 1 Interference

POSTED ON November 28th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Language 1 (L1) basically means your first language or mother tongue. When students are nattering away in their first language, it makes it difficult for them (and their classmates!) to concentrate on learning English. This isn’t such a problem if you teach in a cosmopolitan language school which has a mix of nationalities in every class – I’ve heard of some popular schools that have such an awesome mix that they can arrange to have no more than two students of each nationality in each class, wow!

However, for most of us teachers we don’t have that luxury – chances are that most (if not all) of your students will speak the same mother tongue, and so being able to get them to zip it and concentrate on ‘English Only’ is of vital importance. Take a look at our top tips on how to reduce L1 interference in your classroom.

Split Friendship Groups

You’re more likely to have a gossip with your best buddy than you are to be chatting away to someone you’re not close to (or perhaps don’t even like). One of the first things you can do to stop L1 interference is to split up people who are likely to chat together. Teenage girls are probably the biggest problem – they love talking with their friends, and the fact that they are sitting in a language class isn’t likely to put a stopper on it! Split up tight-knit friendship groups and the chatting will soon stop, especially if you mix the boys and girls together.

If you’re worried about complaints from the students, try one of these methods to leave it a bit more to chance. You could pick their names out of a hat to dictate the seating order or have students pick playing cards or numbered slips of paper to see where they’ll sit.

The No _____ Rule

Split your class into teams and tell them that they can speak English only, no ____ (insert their L1.) If you hear a student speaking L1, their team loses a point. You could also encourage other students to let you know when they hear someone else speaking it, though be careful with this if your students are too competitive. At the end of the class, see which team has the most points. You could award a prize (stickers or a sweetie) to students from the winning team, or perhaps a penalty (staying behind after class or having extra homework) to the team who spoke the most L1. Putting the students into groups like this is great for developing a class mentality – a ‘naughty’ student might not mind punishment for speaking L1, but once their teammates realise that they’ll be getting punished too, it won’t be long before they’re encouraging their classmate to tow the line.

If you’re looking for other group activities, check this out:  6 Favourite ESL Games and Activities to Use in Your Classroom

Pick Your Battles

With low-level learners, or perhaps students that are particularly difficult to control, completely cutting out L1 can be a big task! If it seems impossible, try instead to have ‘English Only’ activities or certain times of the class when students know there is a zero-tolerance policy on speaking L1. For example, in a free practice activity where students are going out on a limb and trying to be creative, it is probably much harder for them to control their L1 usage. However, during a controlled practice (such as reading dialogues from a script in pairs) there is no excuse at all for speaking in their mother tongue. Make these activities L1 red flags, but be more lenient during freer practice.

Teach Useful Phrases

With low-level students, it may be all well and good for them to point at a flashcard and say ‘Monkey! Banana!’ but are they able to ask to go to the toilet in English? One of the most common reasons for L1 usage in the classroom, particularly with younger students, is simply that they just don’t know how to say it in English. Teaching useful stock phrases like ‘raise your hand’, ‘can I borrow a pencil’ and ‘please may I go to the toilet?’ may seem like a waste of time with young learners – after all, a four-year-old won’t necessarily know and understand every word in that sentence, even if they can say it beautifully. However, even if they don’t understand it all, getting them to repeat these phrases will help to keep them in English, and will also give them a great prompt in the future for when they do come on to studying those grammatical structures.

No Easy Answers

Rather than allowing students to be overly reliant on dictionaries and translation tools (something particularly hard with Japanese students!) encourage your students to find other ways of finding out what they need to know. Rather than immediately trying to translate something, encourage them to explain what they mean using useful English phrases, such as ‘it looks like a…’, ‘you use it for…’, or ‘you can buy it in…’. Also, encourage students to ask ‘how do you spell…’ rather than immediately looking it up – if another student knows how to spell it, this will give them a chance to use their English too. Also, have a notebook handy so students can draw a picture to elicit what they mean. It’s far more creative and keeps L1 out of the classroom!

Want more like this? Visit our Teaching Tips blog. Or get some learning tips for your students here.

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.

Teaching Tips from a Foreign Teacher of English

POSTED ON October 10th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Teaching a language that was once foreign to you is an interesting experience. The fact that you once had to learn the language yourself makes it easier to empathise with your students. It also means you have a good idea of what might cause students difficulties, so I came up with some teaching tips from this perspective.

English outside of the Classroom

Every person who signs up for an English course wants to improve their English. An obvious but nonetheless very important teaching tip is this: encourage your students to not limit their education to the classroom. Urge them to practice and engage with English as much as possible outside of the classroom too. Use your lessons to give your students the tools to continue with their learning outside of the classroom. Making your lessons relevant to real life will keep your students keen on English.

What helped me immensely was making some English friends. At first, we communicated mainly by wild hand gestures, but eventually, my English improved enough for us to have proper conversations. Being in an English-speaking country offers endless opportunities to practice the language, but thanks to technological advancement students in countries outside of the Anglosphere can also surround themselves with English.

If your students need suggestions for out-of-classroom English activities you could suggest reading books, newspapers, or online articles in English. Wikipedia even has a special Simple English version aimed at the learners of English. To practice their listening skills, advise students to watch films or TV programmes in English, to subscribe to English videos on the internet, to listen to free podcasts or BBC World radio broadcasts. Encourage your students to practice speaking English with other students outside of the classroom or to find a language exchange partner skilled in English. The more acquainted and experienced your students get with English the more confident they will feel about using the language.

Accents and Pronunciation

Another teaching tip is to embrace the variety of accents and make your students understand that good pronunciation is about being easily understood by others and not about completely getting rid of their accents. When I first signed up for the CELTA course I was quite concerned that I shouldn’t be teaching people how to pronounce words in English, because even after living in the United Kingdom since I was 10, the Eastern European intonation lingered in my speech. During the CELTA course, I came across the idea of World English, also known as international English, where English is seen as a global communication tool. Your students are going to come across and will have to interact with people from different parts of the world and the way these people speak English will not sound the same. It’s important for students to get familiarised with a wide variety of spoken English early on, in preparation for the world out there, so if you don’t sound like a BBC presenter, don’t despair.

There are many different resources and books out there to help you teach pronunciation. For some games, you can use in the classroom to teach pronunciation, check out this book.

Phrasal Verbs

You will inevitably find that your students will have difficulties with phrasal verbs. When broken down into individual words the meaning of a phrasal verb is often far from clear. Learning individual words won’t help. So what teaching tip can I offer?

If your students hear and come across specific phrasal verbs enough times they will eventually remember them, which brings me back to the teaching tip of encouraging your students to read and listen to as much English as possible. There are other ways to help your students learn them of course. My dad had this big silver phrasal verb dictionary that I found helpful, but times moved on and now there are many apps for smartphones that do the same job. There are also interactive games available online, for free, which your students can use to improve their knowledge of phrasal verbs.

Teaching tips for spelling

When I first moved to England I found English spelling horrendous. Same letter clusters can be pronounced in several different ways, some letters are silent in some words but not in others and every spelling rule seems to be followed by many, many exceptions. As a teaching tip, I would suggest staying away from spelling lists, which can be dull for students and can sometimes feel a little infantile. Instead, you could structure a lesson around looking for spelling patterns and grouping words with similar spellings together. Such word families are easier to remember than individual words, as one letter order applies to many words. Something else that helped with my spelling and which I found quite fun was finding short words inside longer ones, like a ‘bra’ in ‘library’. You could structure an entire writing lesson around hidden words within words. Finding an ear in hearing is a piece of pie. (Or cake, depending on where you’re from.)

Explaining new words and concepts

Throughout your teaching career, you are going to have to explain many words and concepts in simple terms. A teaching tip here is to be ready to have to come up with alternative explanations on the spot. Repeating yourself slower and louder might help, but if you tried that once and your student is still looking back at you completely puzzled, change your approach. Trust me, not being able to understand their teacher is just as frustrating for your students, as not being able to explain something is to you. You are in it together, so take a breath, regroup, and use a different approach. Think of different words to explain what you mean or be creative and use a prop or act it out. An inventive explanation can be very memorable and could help your students to recall the words you taught them for a long time to come.

My personal experiences and teaching tips, of course, are not conclusive and you will likely find each of your students to have different concerns. Speaking to your students individually about their language goals and worries will help you to know them better and become a more effective teacher for them You never know, perhaps one day, they too will become English teachers and will remember the valuable things they learnt during your lessons.

What do you think about this? Let us know 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