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How to prepare for a Skype demo lesson

So you’ve had a Skype interview for that teaching job you want in China and everything went really well (you probably followed our tips!). Now the company has asked you to prepare a demonstration (demo) lesson and give it to them over Skype. You might be asking yourself: How do I do that? What do I need to include? What should I think about? I’ve given a few of these lessons in my time, and there’s really nothing to stress about … if you follow my tips on how to prepare for a Skype demo lesson.

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Before the lesson

Prepare a detailed lesson plan. You may be an extremely experienced teacher, think this is all a piece of cake, or think you work best a Capella, but you should always have a lesson plan to work from. This will help you clearly map out what you want to happen in the demo, and many interviewers will in fact ask you to submit a lesson plan prior to the demo class.

You might be doing the demo lesson for just one interviewer, or you might be giving it to a panel. You should keep this in mind when lesson planning (and of course while giving the demo), particularly with your interactive activities.

Make sure that you’re absolutely clear on the grammar point (or points) you need to cover in the demo lesson – if you’re unsure, double-check with the interviewer. Don’t incorporate other grammar points if you’re not asked to; be sure to stay on task.

From the grammar point(s), you should be able to work out roughly which level the learner is (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and then tailor your lesson plan accordingly. Again if you’re unsure you can ask the interviewer (but keep in mind that sometimes part of the interview may be to identify the learner level).

Confirm with the interviewer how long the demo lesson should be, and then plan for that time frame. But, always make sure you include extra activities, just in case they’re needed to fill the time.

Ensure you know how old the students at your (potential) new workplace are likely to be (adults, teenagers, or young learners) and keep that in mind when planning the lesson and activities. This demonstrates to the interviewer that you have the ability to teach the students at their school.

Find out how many students would be in a typical class at the school you’re being interviewed for and plan the lesson activities for that number (as well as a few more, and a few less!).

It’s always good to try to include different activities that are tailored for different learning styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. This might mean including a mix of mediums like a video, some cue cards, and some writing exercises, for example.

In your lesson plan, highlight any potential problems or challenges that you may encounter during the lesson (for example explaining vocabulary, or a tricky grammar point) and outline how you would overcome these issues (both in a class and before it).

Check everything tech related, as we’ve suggested in our article about preparing for a Skype interview (here).

 

During the lesson

Be yourself and relax as much as you can. Sure you might be nervous, and it can be a weird feeling giving a demo lesson over Skype, but it’s important to give the interviewer as good an idea of your teaching skills as possible.

Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. There’s nothing worse than having to repeat yourself over and over because the interviewer can’t hear you. It’s embarrassing, and obviously will affect the flow of the lesson. On the other hand, make sure you’re not speaking so loud that you’re deafening the interviewer!

Keep on track with your lesson plan as much as possible, but also have the flexibility to deviate if needed to ensure the lesson objectives are met.

 

After the lesson

Do a quick self-assessment: what went well, and what could I improve on for next time? This will help you with your next Skype demo lesson, and perhaps also help when discussing feedback with the interviewer. Some interviewers may even ask you to discuss the good, and not so good parts of your demo.

Seek feedback. The interviewer may not give you any feedback during or straight after the lesson, so you may need to request feedback in an email after the interview process. In your email, it’s good to be clear about what type of feedback you want, and on which specific aspects of your demo lesson.

 

Skype demo lessons can be a daunting thought, but you’ll find they do get easier the more of them you do. If you go into a demo with the mindset of ‘it’s just a normal face-to-face lesson with a student’ you should be able do it as naturally as possible, and show off your teaching skills! And hopefully these tips on how to prepare for a Skype demo lesson will help you land that awesome new job you want in China. Good luck!

 

Have you had a Skype demo lesson before? How did it go? What tips can you share?

Written by the Travelling Penster

How to ace a Skype interview

Preparing for face-to-face job interviews can be nerve wracking. You’re usually deciding what to wear, what to say, and thinking about how you’ll impress the interview panel. When getting ready for Skype interviews it’s likely you’ll have the same sort of thoughts running around in your head, however there are some major preparation differences you also need to think about. Before coming to China, I had numerous Skype interviews while living in Panama. Most of them went really well (and I got offered several jobs!), so I’d like to share my tips for how to ace a Skype interview.

 

Headphones with microphone on white background.

Before the interview

Before you give out your Skype details, think: Do I have a Skype name and profile that is professional? The interviewer doesn’t want to see some party pic in your profile, nor do they want to know what your cute nickname is (no matter how cute you think it is!).

One of the most important things to do is to check your internet connection well before the interview. There’s nothing worse than having connectivity problems during a Skype interview, where your picture freezes, your sound comes in and out, or the call drops altogether.

Check that the camera and microphone are working. This sounds simple and you might not have had any problems with your camera or microphone before, but this is one less thing you’ll have to worry about. Remember, there’s an option in Skype to do a test call.

Turn the camera on and look at what’s in view of the camera. Make sure that your head and shoulders are centred in the view and make sure there’s something neutral behind you (like a plain wall). You don’t want the interviewer seeing your unmade bed, or laundry in the background!

It’s crucial to check the time difference between where you are and where the interviewer is. There’s nothing worse than agreeing on a time to Skype, then either being way too early, or being late and missing the call!

Make sure you wear an outfit appropriate for an interview (at least on your upper body) and you look well groomed. Sometimes the interview might just be a voice call, but often it’s going to be a video call, so you need to make sure you look professional (and not like you’ve rolled out of bed and you’re still in your pjs!).

Test the lighting in the room and how it looks around you on camera. You should make sure there is enough lighting for the interviewer to clearly see your face, but not too much so that all they see is light!

Have a pen and notepad ready beside you. Before the interview it’s a good idea to write down all the questions you have, and you’ll then be able to take notes during the interview on the main things you need to remember.

Make sure you know who you’re talking to! This sounds strange, but you may have several Skype interviews scheduled over the course of the day or week, and it can be easy to confuse who you’re talking to on which day at which time!

White Keyboard with Sell Yourself Button.

During the interview

Look into the camera. There’s nothing worse than Skyping someone who’s gazing off screen somewhere. On the other hand, too much gazing directly into the camera can also be distracting. Just relax and give your interviewer a measured amount of eye contact, as you would in a normal conversation.

Speak clearly and loud enough for the interviewer to hear you. If you’ve done a test call in Skype before the interview, you’ll know just how loud is loud enough.

It’s easy to become too eager and get closer and closer to the computer screen, but don’t sit too close to the camera. You should’ve checked your camera view before the interview, so make sure to try and maintain that distance throughout.

Don’t have any noise in the background. You don’t need your flatmate blasting his favorite music or tv show, your kids wanting your help grabbing a snack, nor your cat or dog craving a cuddle.

Maybe most importantly of all, be yourself. Even though you’re not face-to-face with the interviewer, be sure to let your personality come across in the interview, and don’t be camera shy. Just relax and nail that interview!

student Man sitting and using computer

After the interview

Send a follow up email thanking the interviewer for the opportunity, asking them to contact you if they need any more information, and that you look forward to hearing from them again soon. This doesn’t take much of your time and shows that you’re keen and thoughtful.

Some of these tips might seem like common sense for Skype interviews. But, it’s surprising how many of these things people just don’t think about, or don’t realize how the little details can make the difference between landing a kick-ass job, and being passed up for someone who was better prepared. So follow these tips, and hopefully you’ll be on your way to an awesome new job and be experiencing a fascinating part of the world!

What are your tips for acing a Skype interview? Let us know in the comments.

How to manage your students, without saying a word

One of the biggest factors of having a good class is how you, as the teacher, can effectively manage the classroom. Also called classroom management. Classroom management is where new teachers struggle to adapt because a lot of teacher training today is focused on how to teach vocabulary, grammar, and writing but doesn’t dive deep enough into the art of actually having the students under control. It is not only about how your students behave, or whether or not they sit quietly and listen, but also about how you move from topic to topic, how you explain the steps of your activity and how you deal with students who lose focus or are having difficulties.

Classroom management, for me, is perhaps the single biggest factor that determines whether or not a class went well. I can have a great time teaching students who are struggling with the content but somehow seem to understand what I want to do and how to do the activities. Similarly, I can have a terrible time teaching students who are at a high level, but I am unable to manage efficiently, and they start doing their own thing. Also, if the students do not understand my instructions, fail to understand the activity I am explaining and have no idea why I just raised my voice, the class can feel rather exhausting.

After struggling with classroom management myself for months, I finally found my best weapon was not my words or my voice, but my body. I always had a talent for imitating characters like Mr Bean, and I always loved to act. I realised that my movements and gestures were often more efficient in conveying meaning than my words, just because my students did not know my words, but my actions were. I started to teach students to look at my actions as well as my words, made it an integral part of my classroom routines and suddenly explaining new vocabulary, a new game or activity became a lot easier, and my classes started flowing much better.

Gestures accompany your language, but cannot entirely replace it.

Some gestures are powerful enough that they can replace upwards of a dozen words of explanation. The same way a picture says 1000 words, gestures can save time explaining, and keeping your gestures and language linked closely together will increase your students understanding, and you can use that gesture later.

Gestures can communicate pretty much anything, whether you need to facilitate discussions, encourage more interaction, do error correction, teach vocabulary or convey an emotion. You are likely already using some simple gestures in your classroom already, “stop,” “stand up,” “be quiet,” “sit down” and “listen” as well as students raising their hand when they have a question are all commonplace in classrooms across the world. A thumbs up or an applause for praise and encouragement, an open palm to invite a student to talk or making an X with your arms to signal a wrong answer are also fairly common, but you can take non-verbal classroom language much further.

Try and consider some of the classroom languages you often have to use that maybe your students do not always understand. For me, it is often instructions like “make a sentence,” “what does this mean?” “ask a question,” “work in pairs,” or even something as simple as “take a break.” Try for yourself to make gestures for each of these words or phrases:

• Work in Pairs
• Ask the other students
• What do you think?
• Nearly right
• Stand up / Sit down
• It is your turn
• Make a longer/complete sentence
• Please, stop talking now
• Three minutes left
• Listen to me
• Don’t show your paper to your partner
• Good job
• Open your book (to page #)
• Read
• Write
• Listen
• Spell
• Quiet Down / It is time for class

Can you think of any other useful classroom language words or phrases for which you could use gestures?

By using my body more than my voice has allowed me to make my classes more enjoyable for my students and myself. I spend less time raising my voice, even when my students are misbehaving because they can look at my gestures and body language to know what I am thinking. On top of that, I tend to make my gestures exaggerated and comical because laughing is always a good way to keep students interested in you.

4 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching

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Having been in the ESL industry in China for many years I’ve seen the ins and outs, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations of the ESL teacher.

The joy of getting through to that first child – the frustration of encouraging a challenging student, week after week, in the hope that you’ll help them achieve the potential you know they’re capable of.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I’ve spilt paint on the shirt during the craft stage of the lesson.

Having been through the trenches of teaching under pressure, when sick, or when missing home – there are a few nuggets of truth and wisdom I  have to offer – if you’re open to hearing them.

YOUR KIDS WILL PULL YOU THROUGH.

When you first arrive in China, as with any country you’re settling into for a year, we’re exposed to new bugs and “nasties” – colds we’ve never been exposed to, food that’s playing havoc on our tummies.   Trust me, it happens to all of us: you’re in your new job wanting to make a good impression, but all you want is Mom.  You dread the idea of a dozen excitable kids waiting for you on the other side of that door.

The funny thing is – it’s the kids that are going to pull you through that class.  Remember, you can’t fool kids – they’re a notoriously honest audience – you can’t fake it.  Level with them.  Tell them you’re not feeling great and you want them to treat you with a little tenderness today.  You’d be surprised how the most rambunctious boisterous boys will be offering to bring you a tissue or pick up the pen you just fumbled to the floor for the 40th time today.

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.

The pursuit of perfection is enough to drive any teacher of young learners ’round the bend.   There’s only SO PREPARED you can be for a class.  You’ll eventually come to terms that KIDS WILL BE KIDS – and we should celebrate them for it.   You’re likely to encounter the repeated audio onslaught of a box of pencils being dropped from the desk to the ground and rolling everywhere.  First time, okay.  Second time, really?  Third time, now you’re doing it on purpose.  Fact is kids will be kids, they’re clumsy and energetic and their arms and legs are longer than they were last week.   Learn to enjoy them for what they are and use their energy and silliness to keep you young in the classroom.

LAUGH AT YOURSELF WITH YOUR STUDENTS, BUT NEVER AT THEM.

Don’t learn this one the hard way like I did.   Students will happily spend an hour drawing ridiculous clothes on a print-out of you, and they’re likely to give some weird names too – especially when they’re learning new vocabulary. How often have you had a 5-year-old say “Teacher is a pencil.”  Not funny at all right?  But you laugh anyway cause we’re teachers and we’re approachable and we have a connection with the funny guy.   Allowing the kids to feel safe in your company – safe to express themselves and try out new things with the language will result in hours of giggles and chuckles – but there’s a big difference between laughing AT a mistake and laughing WITH someone who made a mistake.  Kids are emotional creatures still figuring out how to react and build a thicker skin – feeling laughed AT is going to shut them up faster than a clam in low-tide.   Learn to find the moments of humor in the lesson, don’t take what your kids say personally (no, you don’t really look like a monkey), know when to laugh and when to empathize and encourage.

AND FINALLY….

HAVE PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO.

Think back to your favorite teacher from kindergarten or primary school.  If you’re as old as I am (that was a good few rotations round the sun ago), I honestly don’t remember WHY Mrs. Urry was my favorite teacher.  I remember getting in trouble, being told to stand at my desk, not earning the gold star because I was talking to my desk-buddy…I was that challenging kid!  So how could it be that she would be my favorite teacher?  Because, she always gave me another chance.   She helped me get that gold star, she reminded me that talking during reading time is rude to the others who want to read, and that when there are 20+ kids in a class – sometimes you got to give a lady a break.   The point is I remember her forgiving smile and encouraging aura.  I don’t remember the words she used to encourage me but I remember the feeling.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be that teacher to someone?

 

Teaching is a work of passion – and the kids are going to teach you as much, if not more, about whom you are as a teacher and as a person.  It taps into that sense of nurturing even the most macho men would try denying.   Whether you’re asking hyperactive Emma to sit down back in her chair for the 1,000th time, or giving Leo a high-five for finally nailing his spelling test this week – enjoy your kids – enjoy the chance you’ve been given to make a difference in someone’s life.  We’re educators – we were born to make a difference.

Written by Matt Zweig | Recruitment Associate & Blogger at ESL Suite

644372_829753400381070_7018025203776288672_n Matt is a born and bred Capetonian from South Africa and has been living and working in China since 2010. He’s worked in many different departments of the ESL industry, and won the SINA GOLDEN TEACHER OF THE YEAR award in 2014. Matt became a recruiter so he could share his love of teaching in China with the rest of the world. Matt’s favorite China moment was a shopping trip to Hong Kong in 2013.

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Teach English in Tianjin: NOW HIRING at Public Schools & Universities

Great news for job seekers in China: There are still plenty of jobs at public schools and universities in Tianjin. Interested parties may apply to the link, or with the email address listed at the bottom of the post. You may apply yourself or refer a friend. I hope to hear from you soon!

Overview:

We’re seeking teachers for public school and universities across Tianjin Municipality. Public schools and university positions have the benefit of a regular work schedule, and the schools offer fully comprehensive curriculum with lesson plans and teaching materials provided, plus induction training upon arrival.

About Tianjin:

Tianjin is best known as the main port of entry for China’s northeastern manufacturing corridor. It’s the largest coastal city in the north and is just a stone’s throw from the capital – going to Beijing is a 30-minute ride by high-speed rail.

Tianjin has a rich history and has many examples of old British and Italian architecture. The famous Italian Concession Area has the largest cluster of Old Italian architecture outside of Italy. Other local attractions are the Huanyaguang section of the Great Wall, the Tianjin Eye and Tianjin’s Ancient Culture Street. Outside the city centre is Binhai, which includes Tanggu and TEDA (Tianjin Economic Development Zone). These areas are home to much of Tianjin’s commercial activity and is one of the engines driving the city’s rapid economic growth.

Job Title:

English Teacher in Tianjin, Tianjin Municipality | Public Primary/Secondary Schools and Universities

Contract Duration:

1 September 2015 – 30 June 2016

Responsibilities:

  • Teach classes of 25-45 students
  • Up to 25 classes weekly; full-time position (40 total hours)
  • Teaching oral English, preparing class activities
  • Monday – Friday schedule (weekends off)

Requirements:

  • Native English speaker from United States, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, or New Zealand
  • 24-60 years old (to meet work visa age restrictions)
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university
  • Teaching experience is preferred
  • TEFL/TESOL certification
  • A clean criminal record
  • Excellent physical and mental health
  • Must be able to commit to a one-year contract

PLUS:

  • Sociable, positive and hard-working
  • Culturally inquisitive
  • Looking for a challenge

Remuneration:

  • Salary CNY 8,000 – 15,000/per month (commensurate with the teacher’s qualifications and experience)
  • Overtime paid at CNY 100/hour
  • Apartment allowance CNY 2,000/month OR a fully furnished single apartment (inquire during the interview for details)
  • Flight allowance CNY 5,000
  • Contract completion bonus CNY 3,000
  • Z-visa and residence permit
  • Health insurance
  • Paid Chinese holiday (11 days)
  • 7-days unpaid annual leave
  • Additional unpaid leave is negotiable with adequate prior notice
  • Unpaid holiday during summer and winter break (with the OPTION to work at private schools, international kindergartens, etc.)
  • Comprehensive cirriculum, lesson plans, and teaching materials provided
  • Teaching assistants for classes with young students *Induction training after arrival
  • Arrival support (airport pickup, arrange local bank account, phone, etc.)

How to apply:

If you are interested in applying for this position, we kindly request you prepare the following materials:

  • Your resume/CV
  • A recent photograph
  • Scan copy of your passport information page
  • Scan copies of your degree and TEFL/TESOL certificates
  • Your current location and preferred start date

Option 1: Apply through the link.

Option 2: Apply through email (jobs@eslsuite.com) and write “Tianjin Public School – WP” in the Subject Line of the email.

Due to the volume of applications received, please understand it may not be possible for the company to contact each candidate individually. A recruitment professional will be in contact with you if we are interested in pursuing your candidacy further.

Thank you again for your interest in this position, and for choosing ESL Suite to assist you with your job search in China!

Sincerely,

Christopher Ribeiro

Managing Director at ESL Suite in Tianjin

Why Study TESOL?

Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?
Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?

A TESOL certificate is your passport into the thrilling field of Teaching English overseas. There are over 300 million people studying English in China alone, so your job prospects after completing the course are fantastic.

But, this question should really be: why do you want our TESOL Certificate Course over all others? We provide a comprehensive course, which includes practicum here in Tianjin, an online specialization, and lifetime career support. We prepare our students for all aspects of life overseas.

What is TESOL? Teaching English overseas is a word full of acronyms. Here’s an overview: TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) all teach English to non-native English speakers. The difference is: TESL is for teaching in an English speaking country while TEFL is for teaching English abroad. TESOL encapsulates them both. CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is the British equivalent to the TESOL, but the 80-hours a TESOL student completes at their own pace is done in a classroom setting.

Why would I want a TESOL Certificate instead of a TESL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate? A teaching certificate is an investment, so it’s important to think about the upfront costs, and the return on investment. CELTA is very well-known, but a TESOL can be completed in less time, and at a fraction of the cost. The last part is important, because unless the job you’re applying for specifically calls for a CELTA, you’ll probably be able to get the same job with a TESOL.

Which study options does ESL Suite offer? We have two different methods of study. The first is our In-class course which is offered in Tianjin, China. This is the preferred method of completion. Classes are fun, lively, and full of like-minded people. Students learn from each other, as well as the instructor. If you cannot find the time or cannot attend the course in China, you can take the course online. There is no difference in the materials covered, regardless of the method of study. So, it’s simply a matter of deciding which learning style is best for you, while taking into account your budget and schedule.

What kind of job can I get after I complete the course? When teaching abroad, you may teach students of all ages. Children as young as three go to English kindergartens, while senior citizens study English as a hobby. You might teach primary or secondary students, businessmen, housewives, other teachers, or people who study English to improve their job prospects. Most schools focus on one or two age groups, so if you have a very strong preference for a specific age, make sure you’re placed accordingly. English teachers are in high demand in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the Middle East, so it’s also a good idea to start thinking about which location fits your broader personal/professional goals.

How can I get started? We have weekly information seminars in Tianjin, but for those who don’t live nearby, we’re happy to answer questions by phone,email, or schedule a consultation via Skype. The course dates are listed below, and you may register for one of our sessions here.

2015 Courses

  • October 14-18
  • November 4-8
  • December 2-6
2016 Courses

  • January 20-24
  • February 24-28
  • March – Dec: TBD

“Friends of the Firm” Referrals: Don’t forget to tell a friend! We believe there’s no better source for teachers than from a trusted friend! That’s where you come in. We offer generous bonuses for referrals to our TESOL courses, or for successful teacher referrals. Here’s how it works:

  • Online TESOL referral: $50
  • In-Class TESOL referral: $100
  • Teacher referral: $100

***Bonuses are paid for TESOL referrals after the student has paid in-full; for teacher referrals 3-months after the teacher arrives in China. 

There’s no better motivation to launch your overseas teaching career than to enroll in a TESOL course. I did it seven years ago, and it completely changed my life. I came to Tianjin in 2009 and haven’t looked back. In the meantime, I’ve traveled to Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and at least a dozen other countries! And, I’m not alone – for many people, teaching English and traveling the world becomes a preferred lifestyle choice.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.” Your dreams also may be waiting for you just around the corner – get started today!

http://www.eslsuite.com

Establish Yourself as a (Likable) Authoritative Teacher

When I was in primary school, I had enormous respect for my teachers. I didn’t always behave well, but I was a good student and hardly ever got into trouble. I knew my teachers well, and I had a good idea of how much fun I could have in class before my teachers would get angry with me. I was attentive, did my homework, and behaved. However, when we had a substitute teacher, things were different. It was like it was a lesson without consequence. Substitute teachers rarely got mad, wouldn’t call your parents, and if you forgot your homework they wouldn’t care. They were always nice and played games, so we liked them but didn’t respect them. At least not as much as we respected our regular teachers.

In China, I feel there’s a similar comparison between Chinese and Foreign teachers. I’ve seen it in all three schools I’ve worked for. The local Chinese teachers command a lot of respect in the classroom, the students seem very disciplined, and the classes run smoothly. But, as soon as the Foreign teacher starts, the students flip a switch and go into “play mode”. They test your limits, act up, and if you scold them in English they don’t understand. I’ve seen many examples, including myself, of foreign teachers being treated like a “play uncle” in the classroom. Although our teaching style is often more interactive than Chinese teachers, it’s not how the students should be perceiving us. We should command the same respect from the students as their Chinese teachers do.

When you first start teaching a class, it’s important that you show yourself as an authority figure early on. It’s easy to be too sweet at first because we want the students to like us. However, if you’re too much fun at first, they’ll always think you’re playing around and not being serious. It’s easier to start strict, then gradually ease into a friendlier version of yourself. But, it also means being patient with the students because they won’t fall in love with you as fast as they otherwise would. In the long run though, they’ll respect you more, and will treat you more like an authority figure.

As with anything new, you should start any new class with setting clear rules and boundaries. Let the students know what they can and can’t do, what you expect of them, and ask them what they expect of you. Getting the students involved in the rule-making process is also a good idea, because it gives them ownership. With older students, you can simply take the first class to discuss class rules and expectations. With younger students, it’ll take longer, but it can mostly be done through games and activities. Teach them words like “stand up,” “sit down,” and other vocabulary related to classroom instructions and rules.  Practice with the students, and be strict at first so they know your boundaries.

In my opinion, it’s important to find a balance between being strict and nice. A good teacher never needs to yell at students, but always has clear rules, and consistent methods for punishing bad behavior. In my classes, I have a scoreboard for each student. When they do well they earn points, represented by checks; when they do something they’re not supposed to, I erase their checks. Students quickly learn what earns and costs checks, and they behave accordingly. I have taught my current students for about two years; now they know me well enough to know how much they can play around, and when to sit down and listen.

There’s a maxim for teachers to establish discipline early on in their classes: “Don’t smile until Christmas.” This may be an exaggeration, but it’s true that establishing clear rules and discipline is easier if you start early. Kids feel more safe in a classroom with clear rules; this leads to better academic performance from the students, and less stress for the teacher!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He’s lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Reusable TESOL Games and Activities: Sticky Ball and Dice

The key with TESOL games and activities is keeping them fresh. Even the most exciting activity can induce eye-rolls from your students if you return to the well too many times.

When I got my first teaching job in Luoyang in 2011, I generally only saw the same students once every two weeks. Over the course of a week, I would teach 18 different classes, and the following week I might teach 18 different classes. This made it difficult to remember all my students names and their language proficiency level. On the positive side, it meant that any game, activity, or ice-breaker I designed had a very long lifespan.

I could play a game with one class, and when I saw them again two weeks later, the game would still be new and exciting. I could use it again a third time as a warm-up, so a single game or activity could sometimes last as long as six weeks.  However, at my current school I teach my own classes, and sometimes see the same students twice a week. Now, remembering their names and skill level is easy, but I sometimes find myself running out of games to play, because the lifespan of the games is much shorter.

As a teacher, you learn to value games and activities that are reusable or easy to adapt. Games can be used repeatedly, even though you’re teaching levels, or different words and sentences. These are also useful as “fall-back” activities, for when you need to suddenly fill-in for another teacher, or you have extra time left at the end of class. I’d like to share a few with you here, today.

Sticky Balls and Dice
The sticky ball and dice are a teacher’s best friend–they’re versatile and useful teaching tools. Some schools don’t have a lot of teaching aids and materials, so you must make do with some basics to keep the class exciting. Something as simple as throwing a sticky ball on a flash card stuck on the whiteboard is something children love. Chinese students are extremely competitive, so it can infuse energy into a class. Plus, it can add a little randomness to what they want to say, because the language they use is dictated by what card they hit on the board.

With younger students, when you teach them prepositions such as on, under, in, over they can throw the sticky ball on the whiteboard, the computer, the window, a chair or even a book, and then use that to make a sentence, e.g., “Where is the ball? It is on the wall!

I also have the alphabet printed on laminated cards, and students can spell simple words by throwing the sticky ball at the letters, hitting the letters in sequence. They enjoy it because it’s spelling practice, but it’s also like a sport; they’re competing to get the most points. This works better with slightly younger students, as it takes to long to write words like “Music Performance” and “Birthday Party” when you have to throw a ball at each letter.

Similarly to the sticky ball, dice can be used in a myriad of ways. For example, I use a big plush die to play “hot potato” with my students, having them pass it to each other until I say, “Stop!” Then, they must either ask or answer a question related to the subject or grammatical point I’m teaching.

Instead of sticking flashcards on the whiteboard, I number a set of words from 1-6 and I have the students roll the dice to see what word they have to use. I also conveniently usually only have 6 students in my class and they sit in numbered chairs from 1-6, so I draw boxes on the floor with words or small assignments and then throw the die in a box to see which student has to perform the action or make a sentence using the word. These are small simple activities that are in no way topic specific and can be used for teaching and practicing almost anything. I find that simplicity is king when it comes to designing games and activities, because the simpler they are, the easier they are to modify. That way, one game turns into many games!

Do you have any dice or sticky ball games you like to play with your students? Share in the comments below, or send a link to your blog!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Make your students laugh (at you)!

Fun with students
Mikkel having a laugh with primary students.

The use of humor—especially self-deprecating humor—is a fantastic skill to have as an ESL teacher. Making sure your students have a blast while learning English is important, but you shouldn’t make “having fun” the most important goal of your lesson. Having fun is….fun—it can inspire students to work hard for you—but you also need to make sure they learn something. The novelty of being a foreign teacher eventually fades, so it’s important to balance fun and laughs with enriching content. If you learn to do this, you’ll have a captive audience every class.

Foreign ESL teachers teach English in a different way than most Chinese teachers do, and at first I didn’t understand the difference. Chinese teachers at public schools often teach students with rote memorization, while ESL style teaching is more interactive and engaging. This might be why the students were always thrilled to see me and the other foreign teachers—they see us as a breath of fresh air from an otherwise dreary day at school.

My first long-term employment was at a kids’ school in Luoyang. I worked there for about two years, and I taught two kinds of classes. For primary aged children I would visit 16-18 different classes per week, and I usually returned to the same classes once every two weeks. Total it was around 33 classes—each with 12 students—and I had about 400 students who saw me regularly. Walking into a classroom once every two weeks for 50 minutes was great. The students would expect my arrival, so it was easy to keep them interested.

Later I started teaching older students; every weekend I taught three classes of Middle School students for two hours each.

As I gained more experience my teaching style started to evolve; I became more of an entertainer while teaching. Since I was a child I always had this weird talent for making sounds and noises; this proved to be a useful skill in the classroom. I wanted to be an actor when I was a child, and as a teacher I have the opportunity to bring that dream to life.

Being animated in the classroom is useful when teaching kids. For example, when I teach vocabulary I act out every word into an elaborate scenario. Luckily, I’m not afraid to make a complete fool out myself, so I entertain the children with drama, sound-effects, and exaggerated movements. A class with me usually keeps my students laughing, smiling, and definitely learning. If I acted like this on the street I might be thrown in a mental hospital! But, for the students it’s a refreshing change, and they’re appreciative if a teacher can make learning English exciting.

Small kids will laugh at almost anything, but older students are more discerning. Entertaining teens with games and activities was more difficult because they’re at a self-conscious age—they’re more cautious than small children about making a fool of themselves. Plus, I saw them more often and for a longer time than my younger kids, so the well of games and activities ran dry faster than with the little ones. It takes a certain kind of funny, and sometimes you need let go of your pride and just lose it. Still, aside from the goofiness it’s key to create an environment of mutual respect. Older students benefit from knowing you’re never laughing at them, you’re laughing with them. As a teacher it’s important to never make fun of students, and don’t let them harass each other, either. Teenage kids in China have the same anxiety and fears as kids in the west; you should have fun, but mustn’t let students suffer or get hurt. It’s possible to be a teacher who commands respect, but is also someone they look forward to seeing.

I’ve been teaching in China for the past five years, so occasionally I have lapses of motivation. But, when I make my students smile I feel re-energized. When everyone’s happy and having a good time learning is fun for the students and the teacher. Sometimes when my students are struggling with the lesson I shift into comedy mode. Adding a bit of levity can break the tension, and if I’m lucky the joke will actually help them understand what I’m doing. So in that way I’ve found self-deprivation doesn’t only lift the spirit, but it also can be an effective teaching tool.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

How to Run a Fun and Efficient ESL Activity

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One of the biggest challenges faced by an ESL teacher in China is trying to re-invent yourself to your students. As you spend more time with the same students, your methods will have a shorter lifespan. You want your students to learn, but no one learns well if they aren’t engaged with the lesson materials and activities.

Over the course of my four years teaching in China, I’ve used numerous activities, warmers and games. Some are instant hits, others don’t quite fit the energy or English level of the students. It’s unrealistic to think every activity will be a “home run”, so it’s important to accept that some activities will fail. Good teachers learn from those experiences as well. A successful TEFL activity takes preparation, planning, and sometimes a little luck.

Running an activity can be divided into Five Steps. Each step has a specific purpose, and following this guideline will ensure your activities are effective and run efficiently.

  1. Lead in

Before starting an activity, it’s a good idea to get the students focused on what they’ll be doing. For example, if I’m teaching new vocabulary and the words are mostly verbs, I might start by having the students brainstorm all the verbs they already know. Since kinesthetic learning is so important for children, I’ll also tell them to act out the words as they say them. This way I’m getting the students engaged, and previewing what’s next. Now they’re already thinking about verbs, so I’ve given them context when I present the new vocabulary.

  1. Set Up

Naturally, the students will not be able to do the activity without clear instructions, so demonstrate the activity first. If the activity is simple, you can give instructions for the whole thing at once. If it’s long or complex, do it in stages and have the students follow you. Never hand out papers, tools or toys before you’re finished explaining. Students will be more interested in what you just gave them, rather than listening to your instructions. To be sure your students understand what you want them to do, ask concept check questions, or ask a student to explain the activity back to you.

  1. Run

Once all your students understand what you want them to do, the activity should be able to run itself. The teacher must monitor, make sure students use the target language, and make corrections as necessary (try not to interrupt unless you have to!). Some corrections can be made after the activity, because every time you stop the students it disrupts the flow of the activity.

  1. Close

Closing an activity can be difficult. Try to sense when the students are ready to stop. It is better to stop an activity before the students get tired or bored, but make sure you give them enough time to be productive. Time warnings are a good way to inform the students the activity is about to end without suddenly stopping. Sometimes you stop when one team has finished, or when the majority of the students are done. You can’t always wait for everyone to finish your activities. Try and set a time-limit or a clear goal for when the activity will end, and make sure the students understand when the activity is finished.

  1. Post-Activity

When your activity has finished, it’s a good idea to ask the students what they learned. You can also correct some of the errors you observed while the students were doing their activity. And don’t forget to praise your students for doing a good job!

Remember, regardless of the age or level of your students, they will feed off your energy. If you’re presenting an activity with no enthusiasm, your students won’t get excited, either. Make your activity fun and interesting, and use big gestures when you’re demonstrating what to do; even if you look or feel foolish! Your students want to have fun, and sometimes you need to show them they’re allowed to have fun while learning!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

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