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Teachers helping teachers: Find and share classroom tips, research, experiences, and stories.

What I Wish I’d Known: 6 Tips for New English Teachers

in Teaching

Starting out as a new teacher of English can be challenging, and it can take you a while to find your feet. Chelsea Wunneberger is sharing six tips she wishes she had been given when she embarked on her ELT journey eight years ago.

In 2014, I started teaching English in Madrid in a secondary school and with no experience. It’s my hope that new teachers will have an easier time adjusting to their new jobs than I did. Here are my top tips for new teachers – the pearls of wisdom I picked up on the way.

1. Sometimes we must be flexible

Some classes will go according to plan, and others will be a disaster. The best way to handle these moments is to adjust your lesson to your students’ needs . If the lesson is too easy, ask supplementary questions or have additional activities to get your students to think deeper. If they are having a tough time, adjust your plans to keep them interested. You can make an activity easier or change/take away parts, so your students enjoy learning English. You don’t always have to follow the plan. As a teacher, you have the (magic) authority to change things to satisfy your students.

2. Always have extra speaking activities on hand

Speaking is key! I am a firm believer in speaking more, so learners can apply the language naturally. For me, speaking can happen at any level – it is about finding speaking devices that meet your students’ needs. Teachers should have copies of tongue twisters, songs, poems, role plays, and practical questions to encourage speaking. These extra tools are fascinating for everyone because they break away from the normal textbook model. There are many ways to use them in class: competitions, karaoke, speaking training, skits and more. These extra activities can be useful when you have a few minutes left. The bottom line is to get your class to speak.

3. Get to know your students

When you know your students by name, they will show more respect and interest towards you. Teachers must give each learner personalised attention, so they feel that they are part of the class. You can ask them about their hobbies and daily life. If you take the time to invest in the relationship with your students, you’ll make them feel more valued as individuals. If you know some facts about them, you can apply these to classes with them. When educators personalise the learning experience, they can leave an impression on students that may last for years.

4. Find some teacher mentors

It is vital for teachers to have mentors because these people will help you get through the hard times. It is smart to reach out to veteran teachers who are qualified, experienced and can act as a support line, lunch buddy or sounding board. They will have lots of tips, ideas and suggestions to share. When you start a new job, try to reach out to coworkers and connect with them. These connections will make your job more enjoyable.

5. Find ways to bring culture into your lessons

Another part of language learning is understanding a different culture. Languages have strong ties to culture, so learning a language opens the door to the culture and customs of a people. When culture is part of the class, students gain knowledge about another country, about how the locals think, and understand deeper roots of the language. With some cultural knowledge, students will be able to communicate better with native speakers of a different language. It will also help them become culturally sensitive to people from different cultural backgrounds.

6. Take care of your mind and body

Always make time to take care of yourself. Sleep. Rest. Eat well. Exercise. You’ve been told these tips a thousand times before, but they really matter during your first year of teaching when the stress hits a high level. Stress will affect your immune system and can make you stay home sick. Start keeping your health at a good level: you can always go for a walk, cook a nice healthy meal or do other grounding activities to promote your wellbeing. If you have a sound mind and body, you will have fewer health issues to worry about. How about getting a good night’s sleep tonight or going for a thirty-minute walk?

Teaching is like driving or riding a bike. Time in the classroom will help you improve. Remember, you are an amazing teacher and you can do this job!


Teaching for the Win: Developing – and Not just Practising! – Listening and Speaking Exam Strategies

in Teaching

Why don’t football teams prepare for their big matches by…playing matches? The reason they don’t was the key to the concept of my ELTABB talk on Saturday 12th March. Here’s a brief rundown of the points that we covered.

So, if it’s not playing matches to prepare for matches, what do football teams do instead?

They have training sessions in which skills – for example, volleying – are isolated, worked on and developed. This focus allows that particular skill to be improved more rapidly and effectively than if it were sporadically practised in a match situation. And we should apply the same principle to our exam classes.

Developing vs practising exam strategies

Doing the exam, or part of the exam in our exam classes, is our students’ equivalent of the big game. This is where strategies such as exam sub-skills and techniques are jointly put into practice. The sole focus lies on passing the exam/winning the match.

However, our exam classes should also take on the form of training sessions: where we isolate exam sub-skills and techniques and look explicitly to develop said skills and techniques. That is the explicit purpose of the class, to ensure it progresses more rapidly.

To put this concept into a practical context, think about the Cambridge B1 Preliminary Speaking Part 2 below.

Imagine you get to spend, say, five lessons a year on this part.

Think about it – which five lessons would improve your pupils’ ability to interact with another person more:

Five lessons where students repeatedly do the exam task, or five lessons where the focus was developing turn-taking, backchanneling, interrupting, asking questions and agreement respectively?

I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Practice wins the battle – but is that a good thing?

As a teacher trainer, I have seen many exam classes that just relentlessly ‘practise’ exam strategies: doing exam questions, parts, activities or even whole papers, but don’t see anywhere near as many classes where individual strategies are isolated and developed.

This is what I attribute to slow progress amongst some students: the year-round using and practising, rather than developing of their exam skills.

However, that is not to say that practice shouldn’t happen: it should. It is vital that pupils deal with the exam format they will be confronted with on the big day. However, the balance is currently heavily in favour of practising, instead of being equal.

What exam strategies to develop

A common question that trainers often ask is: ‘But how do I know what strategies to teach?’.

And the good news is that teachers can find them in a variety of ways and places.

Firstly, from exam support material. Most exams will come with an accompanying handbook and marking criteria that will highlight good strategies that are worth developing. For example, all Cambridge exam handbooks give a detailed outline of the exam and the strategies that students should have to do well in any part of an exam.

Here’s an example:

Exam Preparation Strategies for English Teachers

Coursebooks affiliated with an exam or exam board will also provide you with ideas. Open World, to name just one, is a coursebook that supports the Cambridge exam series.

Don’t forget to ask your colleagues for their ideas too and, of course, don’t forget to ask yourself! Your knowledge of the exam can help you decide what your students need in order to succeed.

Know that part of the writing exam involves writing a story? Then, with a little thought, identify the strategies that you can develop to improve your students’ review-writing performance. Using the past perfect and reported speech may be just a couple of ideas worth pursuing in this case.

In context vs not in context

Another theme that we touched upon was the fact that the development of strategies is usually done outside of an exam context.

For example, I demonstrated an activity called ‘Guess Who?’ where students write five clues, each increasing in obviousness, to describe an obscure household item.

Taking it in turns to guess each other’s items, they use functional language to describe unknown objects. This is a skill that could help them with Parts 2 and 3 of the Cambridge PET Speaking exam.

However, while it will aid them in the exam, there is NO mention of the exam during the activity.

But why, you ask?

Real-world contexts are often more inspiring for students, especially teens and young learners. The very mention of the exam is often enough to provoke a chorus of groans amongst your classic teen class and affect the morale amongst the group.

So, keep it a secret… for the time being.

‘For the time being’ is key here because most development activities and lessons should be followed by a period of reflection where the purpose of the lesson is made evident to the students. By making it conscious, students are more likely to then retain and use what they’ve learnt.

Another way of ensuring this is to follow up all development with the opportunity to put it into practice by doing the relevant exam part.

However, development doesn’t always have to be outside of the exam context and in fact, sometimes certain classes or students dislike the fact that there isn’t a clear and immediate relevance to the exam.

It’s just about knowing your students and what they would prefer.

Interactive, practical and participative

The second and third hour of the talk focused on providing practical examples of developing listening and speaking. There were many activities in which participants acted as students before engaging in a discussion on the process and benefits of each activity. There were too many activities demonstrated to detail here but my personal favourites were:

  • Using voice recognition software e.g., Google Translate to test exam pronunciation
  • Concealing options in listening activities during the first listening, allowing students to just listen and avoid confusion caused by looking at the options whilst listening. Students then look at the options, before using the second listening to confirm their answer.
  • Information exchange: where students address a question/situation together, but each with limited information. This means that students develop their active listening skills as they are forced to listen to their partner to complete the task.

The workshop ended with a recap and a final message:

While it’s good advice for all teachers to look to develop skills more, it’s very much a case of doing what’s right for your students and particular setting. Whether that’s more practice, more developing, using the exam as context, or not having any reference to the exam at all: you’re the person who’s best placed to know how to prepare your pupils for match day.


Teaching Through Play: Using Role-Playing-Games to Teach English

in Teaching

Diving into the realm of fantasy and role-play is a foolproof way of getting your students to step up their language game (pun intended). Find out more about this communicative approach to learning English.

“You have been travelling through the galaxy for three days when you see the space station. It is enormous, but dark, with no shimmering lights or glowing windows. It doesn’t look like anybody has lived here for decades – the crew went radio silent thirty years ago while they were mining rare metals from a nearby asteroid and nobody knows what happened to them. It’s your job to find out. What do you do?”

In these five sentences we see the present perfect progressive and past progressive tenses, the present perfect simple, past and present simple, and two different forms of the auxiliary verb ‘do’.

But rather than thinking about the English, most people will be thinking about the spaceship when giving their responses, whether asking questions:

“Is the space station damaged?”
“How many people were working there?”

…or creating a plan of action:

“I think we should scan it for life.”
“We need a doctor, a soldier and a scientist. I’ll sneak in first.”

… The communicative purpose of the language comes to the fore. Students will use it naturally as it exists in the real (or fantastical) world.

Consider how much more interesting an RPG scenario – buying an invisibility potion from a surly orc – is than the textbook equivalent of the same language – buying bread and milk from a supermarket clerk. The latter example also offers no reward beyond praise; the former could be essential to their characters’ in-game success.

Role-playing games or RPGs are a fantastic way to learn English. They are basically ‘interactive stories’ and use a wide range of vocabulary and functional language, which must be used to convey complex ideas – often in a much more interesting and dynamic way than counterpart textbook exercises.


A picture of dice
Most RPGs use dice of varying sizes – but don’t worry, the rules can be very simple!

Some basic principles of role-playing games

RPGs come in a multitude of forms, covering every genre imaginable, but a fairly typical (sci-fi) game might proceed like this:

The Game Master, or GM, tells a story, and the players each represent characters (a dashing pilot, a cowardly robot technician, etc). The players might act or talk in-character, but they all make decisions and take actions. A die (or dice) is usually rolled to decide the results of an action, and the story continues:

[Player] “I want to scan the space station for life. I rolled a 14 on the die.”
[GM] “A 14? That’s a pass! Your ship’s computer detects a very faint, human heartbeat deep inside the ship. And also, something else… The computer doesn’t know what it is, but it’s not human. What do you do next?”

Thanks to their variety, these games are suitable for a huge range of learners – I have played a simple example of the genre, No Thank You, Evil!, with ESL students as young as seven. These are not just kids’ games, however – having really taken off in the late 1970s, RPGs have fans of all ages.

Furthermore, their variety comes not just in complexity and genre, but in entire philosophy – The Quiet Year is a game in which players work together to draw a map and tell the story of a single year in the life of an isolated village. There are no dice, and no GM – prompts come from drawing cards (“Which group holds the highest status in your community? How does one gain access to this group?”).

Very often, it’s not a matter of whether you like RPGs, but which one is suitable for you.


A simple map, made for an RPG
Professional-looking maps can be easily made with the right software.

Tips and tricks for using role-playing games in the classroom

Role-playing games are becoming part of the zeitgeist. The YouTube Show Critical Role aimed to crowdsource $750,000… and raised a record $11 million! New games are springing up, and new players are joining every day. Now is the perfect time to introduce them into your classroom…

… and that brings me to a little bit of self-promotion. I’m developing a gaming session for kids in Berlin; having run some trials, it will be launching very soon. I won’t sell it too hard here (though please check out our social media!), but here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way…

  • Find a game that suits your audience! Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is by far the most popular; your students might have already played it, or want to. It isn’t the simplest or easiest, though. For my game I use the Cypher System, as it can be adapted to any story genre and copes well with whatever left-field actions younger players want to take. It also, very importantly, requires little maths or arcane rules-knowledge when under pressure.
  • Find a story that suits your audience! Even within one game, there are many different stories to choose from (just as there is a difference in sci-fi between Star Wars, Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey). You can write your own stories, buy ready-made stories, or mix these approaches. This can tie in to my first tip – popular games such as D&D have a lot of material ready-made. Other perfectly good, but less popular, systems will require more preparation on your part.
  • Introduce your target language! Even without any extra work, these games are great for language use. Vocabulary will be introduced and reused and language will be deployed in service of a tangible goal. You can alter the script for your story to make sure it covers the language you want your students to hear (e.g. “People have visited this shrine for hundreds of years…”). I also customised my game to offer bonuses to die rolls if English questions are answered correctly.
  • Introduce other activities! Students could draw pictures of their characters to match the descriptions they have written, or draw maps of these characters’ home towns. They could prepare a speech their character must give at a wedding (too many mistakes and maybe they will cause a scene in front of an important noble…). Maybe they could design a wanted poster for the villain they are seeking. All of these extra activities can also have ‘real-world’ impacts in the game, providing greater incentive to do them well.
  • Consider props! I drew pictures of my students’ characters to help build their interest and created eye-catching cards as aides-mémoire, as well as maps of relevant locations (there is specialist software for this, see below, which makes it loads of fun!). I also use a toy duck to limit children speaking over each other. Only the person holding it may talk.
  • Practise! Gather your friends for an evening and play with them first. You can tweak the story a little so suits them, but just get used to the rules, to following a rough plot you’ve prepared and to improvising unexpected scenarios. It also helps you get familiar with your characters and locations – maybe you can try doing different voices for different characters or a friend will suggest an interesting plot twist you can steal.
  • And, to finish on a cliché… Have fun! If everybody’s having fun, they’ll be talking, asking questions, making suggestions and hanging on every word you say. Isn’t that every teacher’s dream?
The most famous RPG of them all – Dungeons and Dragons

Recommended resources (many of these can be bought as PDFs and home-printed, avoiding postage fees):

Dungeons and Dragons – the most popular RPG by far, set in a Tolkienesque fantasy world.

The Cypher System – the system I use. It is flexible, simple, and easy to use under pressure. It is also generic, meaning you can use it for any genre of story. I have used the supplement The Stars are Fire to help me create a sci-fi story.

No Thank You, Evil! – a modified version of the Cypher System aimed at young children. Very simple and easy to use – I’ve had success even with very low-level students.

The Quiet Year – not a traditional RPG; players draw a village on a map and draw cards which give them prompts to add to the map and describe interesting events. If you buy the PDF rules, this is also very cheap and easy to set up.

You Awaken in a Strange Place – a very cheap, no-prep RPG. The players decide the genre and setting themselves. I’ve not played it myself, but suspect it would work well in the classroom.

Inkarnate – an online app for making maps. Descriptions are great – but a picture paints a thousand words, allowing you to focus on only those that matter.

My sessions, Role Up!, will be starting in March-April, and will cater for both children’s and adult’s groups. To find out more, contact or


Webinar Review: “Let’s Do some Text Squeezing: How to Get Learners Excited about Reading” with Britta Landermann

in Teaching

This 60-minute webinar organized by Cornelsen provided a nice refresher on different ways for teachers to use reading texts with students. Jennifer Knaeble explains her most important takeaways.

To start off, Britta reminded us that some texts that we find exciting might be linguistically or lexically too demanding for our students, or the latter may not share our interests.

So to avoid silence and blank stares post reading, we should be prepared to fully squeeze the text for all it’s worth. We need to ask ourselves not only how we make the most of a text but also how we keep it fresh and relatable for our students.

Here are three ways Britta recommended approaching texts to enliven the way we teach.

Consider the text as a:

  1.  linguistic object
  2.  vehicle of information
  3.  springboard for production

Approach number one: the text as a linguistic object

A teacher can use the text to draw attention to specific lexical sets, grammar elements or word patterns. Fair enough – we see this all the time with activities in EFL course books. However, it’s nice to be reminded that this can be done before or after reading the text. (Especially if you’ve fallen out of the habit of reading tips provided in teachers’ resource books).

As a pre-reading task, teachers might ask learners to choose words from the text that they already know and explain what they mean aloud; or have learners choose a word from the text, spell it aloud, and see if their classmates can find the word in the text.

Similarly, teachers could get learners to identify grammatical or lexical patterns within the text (e.g., past tense verb forms, prepositions of place, adjectives, etc.), which will provide some initial context, such as time, setting, or topic, about the text.

These are quick, yet important, warm-up exercises that especially benefit low level learners (A1-B1) as they help familiarize them with the content while providing an opportunity for learners to demonstrate their previous knowledge.

Ultimately, this empowers learners to bring to the reading what they already know, which in turn builds confidence and motivation.


With more advanced learners (B2 and upwards), Britta recommends not diving too deep into the linguistics of the text prior to reading. This is because students at higher levels are more likely to welcome the challenge of reading the text without analyzing its features first. Instead, she suggests teachers use a BDA (before-during-after) approach to the text.

For example, first set short pre-reading tasks where students briefly discuss, say, the title (e.g., “The entrepreneur handbook to success”), then pose a more generalized question (e.g., What do you think motivates entrepreneurs?), followed by a personalized question (e.g., What motivates you in your work?).

As learners read the text, teachers might ask them to note down any new language or words they find particularly challenging, interesting, or useful. And as a post-reading task, students can be asked to share the words they’ve selected and to use them in a more personalized context.

Approach number two: the text as a vehicle of information

This approach seems quite straightforward, yet there is always room for improving how our learners interact with reading materials. Britta gave us a few tips:

  • prediction questions (What do they think the text might be about?)
  • follow-up comprehension questions that check learners’ understanding
  • dissection tasks, such as matching subtitles to each part of the text, a sort of signposting activity that can be useful for helping learners to navigate longer texts; one can ask gist questions, as well as questions for specific details

A personal favorite of mine is to cut up a larger text into sections and assign one section to each student (the teacher may help by providing three or four points to concentrate on). Then, after reading, ask students to summarize their text to the others in their group. Since the individual sections make up a whole, learners are often curious to know how the other texts relate to their own text. This works especially well with stories.

Lastly, another element of looking at the text as a vehicle is thinking of it as a means of transporting learners to somewhere else. This could be, for example, a similar experience they’ve had themselves.

You can do this by asking:

  • What did you like/dislike about the text?
  • Have you ever had a similar experience?
  • Do you know anyone like this?

Through personalizing a text, you enable learners to expand and incorporate the text into their own experience using their own repertoire of language.

Approach number three: using the text as a springboard

The last approach Britta mentioned is thinking about the text as a springboard for further reading, discussion, or a writing task.

After reading the text, teachers could give students the chance to transform it into other forms or styles; for example, turning a menu into a marketing ad, a letter of inquiry into a customer reply, a story set in the present into one set in the past. This gives learners the chance to recycle the language and to expand the content before embarking on a full-on discussion (something which can prove more challenging, especially for lower levels).

Another springboard activity that Britta suggests is web quests, in which you set learners a post-reading task of going online to research the topic further, then reporting their findings to the class. One of the webinar participants made a similar suggestion – that is, to use reading activities as a preparatory foundation for more challenging listening activities such as watching TED talks that are based on the same topic, or person, that the text was about.

Whatever the springboard task – remember that keeping it realistic and relatable is the best way to ensure learners engage with a text.

In short, this webinar provided some very useful suggestions and tips on how best to approach texts and use them with your students.


ELTABB Book Review: Top 10 Picks for English Teachers

in Teaching

Dear ELTABB, thank you for stocking my bookshelf with some fresh teaching resources!
I recently received €150 from ELTABB to purchase ten new books for my teaching library. My goals: to find material that would serve as quick resources for classroom activities and to find ways to further develop my teaching methodology. Which of these books did I find successful in accomplishing this? Here’s my review…

5 Books for quick access teaching ideas (in order of favourites)

1. 39 No-Prep/Low prep ESL Speaking Activities – Jackie Bolen

I love having warm up, filler and closing activities in my lessons. 39 No-Prep/Low Prep ESL Speaking Activities has been one of my go-tos since I got it. If you are at a loss for ideas of how to start your class or need something extra for your lessons, try this one out.

I’ve also been able to adjust activities so they’re suitable for any language level. What’s more, the book is easy to fit into your teaching bag and comes at a great price (under €10).

2. ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults – Shelley Ann Vernon

Shelley Ann Vernon’s ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults is quickly becoming my other book of choice. I had to get used to the strange way that activities are organized in the book (there’s no page index for the activities), but once I did, I found loads of interesting and creative ways to enhance my lessons.

This book definitely meets my needs of having fun and fresh classroom ideas at my fingertips.

3. ESL Classroom Games: 180 Educational Games and Activities for Teaching ESL EFL Students – Denise Scott

ESL Classroom Games: 180 Educational Games and Activities for Teaching ESL EFL Students also has some superb supplementary lesson content. What I found annoying however (yet again!), is that there is no clear index for how to find the activities. The author only has activities listed under language level headings (no page numbers). Once I started flipping through the book, it was furthermore hard to find activities because of the layout.

However, there’s lots of useful material and the book doesn’t cost much to buy.

4. The Ultimate Book for Busy English Teachers – Marc Roche

Looking for new content for your conversation courses? The Ultimate Book for Busy English Teachers will give you lots of material for upper-intermediate to advanced students. On occasion, you can also use this book for pre-intermediate classes if you adjust the language.

Marc Roche gives you an array of topics and discussion questions which require little to no preparation, yet lead to engaging and lengthy conversation from your students. There’s also a great section in the final part of the book about phrasal verbs.

I’ll be using this book a lot!

5. 39 ESL Vocabulary Activities – Jackie Bolen and Jennifer Booker Smith

Last on my list is 39 ESL Vocabulary Activities. I’ve looked through the book, but I haven’t found as many activities I’d like to use for my classes…yet. However, if you are looking for ways to practice and build vocabulary in your courses, I think this book is a great one to have on hand.

Books to improve teaching skills: My 5 picks

I’m excited to bring Andromeda Jones’ text book free lesson methodology to my classrooms:

1. The Ultimate ESL teaching Manual – Andromeda Jones

2. The Ultimate Teaching ESL Online Manual – Andromeda Jones

3. The Ultimate ESL Vocabulary Manual – Andromeda Jones

Jones’ Manuals can be used to either to design fully text book free courses or to provide you with extra material for already text book established courses. These books will not only enable you to have fantastic lessons, they will also help you to become all around better teachers.

I’m planning on taking some time this semester to read them all in order to ‘up my teaching game’.

4. The Drama Book – Alice Savage

Alice Savage’s The Drama Book is also going to be an interesting one for me to try in classes this year. Being a performing artist myself, I love incorporating role play work in my lessons. Theatre is fun and gives learners a more realistic arena to practice language.

Included in the book are things such as warm ups, pronunciation practice, sketches, scripts and script writing activities…and much more.

5. Word Order in English Sentences – Phil Williams

And lastly…Word Order In English Sentences by Phil Williams. Despite it being last on my list, it’s a good one. Are your students making silly mistakes with sentence structures? Do you need some brushing up on explaining word order to them? Take this book out and do a few exercises with them! You can even assign small sections of the book as homework.

My students are already having lots of fun with the material from these books and my teaching preparation has been made much easier. ELTABB, thank you for helping me to accomplish my goals through the scholarship funds!

With best wishes,
Vanessa Lanch


All books can be purchased on

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