ESL lesson: Alibi

group of young asian people are shouting

English Proficiency Level:

  • Intermediate to Upper Intermediate

By the end of this lesson the students will be able to:

  • Use “Wh” questions to “interrogate” their classmates
  • Ask and answer questions about the past


  • Student to student
  • groups of 3-5 work best, but may be more if the class size is large


  • 45-60 minutes


  • It’s impossible to be two places at once, so it might be a good idea to enlist the help of a teacher’s aide to coach the suspects, rather than alternating back and forth from inside and outside the classroom.


  • Four pieces of scrap paper for each group

This is one of my all-time favorite ESL activities; it encourages a ton of student-to-student interaction, and usually gets a lot of laughs from the students. It’s also versatile because you can grade it so it’s appropriate for different proficiency levels. I’ve done this activity with adults, teens, and even primary aged students.

When the lesson begins, I usually drill the class on simple past tense questions. You can start by modeling “Wh” questions in the present tense, (e.g., “When do you go to school?”, “What do you eat for breakfast?”), then elicit from them past tense forms of these questions.

After everyone has loosened up a bit and starts talking, you can set the stage for the “scene of the crime”. I usually like to tell the kids that someone stole my bicycle from the school parking lot, and the police saw three people running from the scene of the crime. You identify three students who will then go outside the class to make their “alibi”. The rest of the students are divided into three teams of “interrogators”.

While the three suspects are outside waiting, you coach the interrogators, and give them hints about what types of questions they should ask. Be sure to elicit past-tense questions from the students, and instruct them to write as many questions as possible.

Then, you can go outside to coach the suspects – they need to be sure their story holds water, so encourage them to agree on as many details as possible. Where were they last night? What time did they meet? If they went to a restaurant, where did they go? What did they eat? Who paid the bill?

Now, you bring in the suspects and let each of them sit with a group of interrogators for about ten minutes. Tell the interrogators to write the answers, because they will cross-reference them later. After the ten minutes is finished, have the suspects change to a different group to be asked the same line of questions. Repeat, so each suspect sits with each group of interrogators once. The class can get pretty animated once the kids’ stories start falling apart!

At the end of the class you can have a “trial” of sorts, and quiz the class about flaws in the suspects stories. Which details were the same? Which were different? You can even vote to see if they are released from custody or go to jail.

If anyone has done this lesson before, I’d love to hear how it went. And if you have any suggestions how to make it better, I’m interested to hear! Also, if you have an ESL lesson or activity you’d like to submit, please email me at:

How to Write a Resume for ESL Teaching Jobs

This is
This is a perfect example of an appropriate photograph!

The staff at ESL Suite puts their eyeballs on a lot of resumes. That doesn’t make us the experts – if you’re writing a CV with hopes of becoming a programmer, break into the film industry, or gain admission to medical school, you’ve come to the wrong place. What we can do is help you make a splash with the hiring manager at an ESL school in China.

English schools in China are looking for very specific information.  The reason for this is that  some of the details on the résumé are  necessary later when you’re applying for a Chinese working visa. For example, it’s much more difficult to get a Foreign Expert Certificate if you’re not a native English speaker from the US, UK, South Africa, Australia, Canada or New Zealand. That information is critical, thus it ought to be at the top of the page.  There are also specific age requirements, as well as the usual necessary information about your education and work history.

It’s probably helpful if I start by listing each item or section sequentially, or how it should ideally appear on the page from top to bottom:

Another Great Looking Photo!
Another Great Looking Photo

Candidate Profile:

  • Your full name
  • A recent, professional looking photo in the upper right-hand corner of the page.
  • Birth date or age
  • Citizenship
  • Native language
  • Marital status (optional)

The body:

  • Educational background including the name of the institution, discipline studied and completion date.
  • Relevant certifications – if this includes a CELTA or a TEFL/TESOL certificate, that’s great!
  • Relevant skills section (optional but a nice touch).
  • Work history which includes the company name, location, dates of employment and bullets listing your responsibilities or major achievements.
  • Other professional experience which might include internships, volunteer work, etc.
  • Links to published work.
  • “References available upon request.” (typed at the bottom of the page).

A footer, which includes:

  • Your name
  • Current address
  • Mobile telephone number
  • E-mail address
  • Skype profile name

And finally:

  • References – it’s a good idea to include both professional and character references.
  • Professional references are necessary – at least one must be your direct supervisor from your previous position.
  • Make sure the contact information is up to date.

Although much of this information is pretty boilerplate, there are a few major differences that are probably attributed to cultural norms in different regions. This is particularly true in the “Candidate Profile” section. Information such as your age and mother language aren’t often necessary when applying for jobs in the west, so some people might be put-off from including this on their CV.

Say “Cheese!” 

It’s common practice in China to include a recent photograph of yourself on a CV. A professional looking photo, set from the shoulders up with a plain background is typical.  This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised the types of photos I’ve seen – some border on absurd. A photo that doesn’t include a beer funnel in your mouth is probably best – think college yearbook photo, only more recent.


Regarding the  TEFL/TESOL certification; if you have one, that’s definitely a big “win”. If not, don’t fret – there are dozens of good choices,  and certification can even be completed online.  If you’ve started a course but haven’t completed it yet, simply listing the projected completion date will be enough to secure you an interview. It could even be a good talking point during the Skype interview – being able to discuss what you have learned so far, and asking a few well-crafted questions will probably go a long way towards securing the job.

If you were a hiring manager, would YOU hire you?
If you were a hiring manager, would YOU hire you?

… so, if you would, would you walk us through a typical day, for you?

Your work experience is also important. Teaching experience is not always necessary, but a few years of work in a field that has transferable skills is usually good enough. If you have any background working with children, that’s a plus. People who have held jobs which require planning, organization, customer service skills and/or creativity have potential to become good ESL teachers. If you don’t have any teaching experience or experience with children, try to find volunteer work. A local orphanage is a good idea, or you can coach a little-league sports team.

The final touches

The references you include should be reliable, chosen well (they should give you a glowing recommendation!), and their contact information should be current. If they can give you a signed recommendation letter on company letterhead, that’s even better. And don’t forget, it’s always a good idea to tell your references beforehand that you’re in the midst of a job search. It’s better if they’re prepared for calls from your potential employers.

Lastly, check your spelling! Believe it or not, I still see CV’s and cover letters that haven’t been spell-checked. Sending a résumé  riddled with typos is the best way to sabotage your job search before it even starts.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to attract an HR hiring manager’s attention and increase your chances of being contacted for a job. Recruiters ee dozens of resumes everyday, so it’s critical that you present yourself in the best light possible, and that your resume includes all the information relevant to the position!

Perhaps this list isn’t exhaustive – if you think I missed something, let me know and I’ll add it to the list! In the meantime, GOOD LUCK on your search for a rewarding teaching position in China!

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