Stressing Out about Pronunciation

Okay . . . not that kind of stress

Say What?– Part Two of Pronunciation in EFL

First, let’s quickly recap Pronunciation Part One and then we’ll move on to all the good stuff in Part Two.

So, in the last post we talked about some critical things– “linking,” “reduction,” and how to use a good respelling system. To truly help your students with their pronunciation, you’ll need to grasp these ideas. I’d also like to remind you that if you didn’t have time to read the linked downloadable documents at the end of the last post, you should make time to do it soon.

Today, in Part Two, we’re going to round out the idea of teaching how people really sound when they speak English.

Stressing Out–Words and Sentences Need Some Stress

Different languages not only have different alphabets, grammar and accents, but they also lay different stress patterns on spoken sentences.  Your students may be able to nail tricky things like the past tense and the “th” sound, but can they stress their sentences like a native speaker?

In English, when we say a polysyllabic word—two syllables or more—we always stress one syllable above the others. This is so natural to us that it’s hard for some people to hear this stress unless they practice listening for it. If you aren’t sure how to identify stress in spoken English, perk your ears up for tone, length of time, and loudness.

Here are some examples:

Banana – to native speakers of English, this fruit sounds like buh NAEH nuh

Say it aloud and listen carefully—the second syllable is slightly higher in tone, lasts longer, and is pronounced as slightly louder.

But, if you’re teaching Thai students, for example, it’s more natural for them to say: buh naeh NUH

This is another reason that respelling words is important to help your students learn how to properly pronounce and stress words. You can rewrite the stressed syllable in capital letters.

Now, not only words but sentences have stress patterns that students will need to learn and when you use a respelling system it will help your class decipher these patterns as well.

Words that the language deems not as important often reduce in time, loudness and tone. While other words are more critical to meaning and therefore have more more stress-they are louder, longer, and have a higher tone.

But how do we know which words are important or not? The English language seldom has any rules that are ALWAYS true, but here is a rule of thumb to help you teach stress: Important words, or “Content Words”, are nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The rest of the sentence will be made up of less important words, or “Function Words.” These consist of pronouns, helping verbs, conjunctions, and prepositions.

To illustrate: “My name is Bob,” when written showing sentence stress: my NAME is BOB. The words “Name” and “Bob” are the most critical parts of the communication.

However, a word of caution. It’s possible to overdo word and sentence stress in the classroom.    Always remember that you need to speak naturally when teaching your students stress. Keep in mind you want your students to speak naturally too—and overstressing words and sentences can sound as bad as stressing them incorrectly.

Here’s an analogy that may help you organize your thinking about sentence stress: When you’re having a phone conversation on a mobile or cell phone, sometimes bad connections break off some of the words. But you don’t need to hear every word of the conversation—you can glean the meaning of the sentences by picking up the important words—precisely the words that are stressed in a sentence.

Teaching students how to stress individual words and groups of words takes time and practice. Again, though, this practice is worthwhile and your students will be much better English speakers because of it. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. Trying it out and working with it will develop your skills and your students’ skills and get you further down the road of being a great teacher.

To learn more, check out some of these great resources:

Word Stress – an excellent resource page at English Club.

Sentence Stress  yep, our friends at English Club again . . .

Kent University Phonetics Resource Page – this website is sometimes offline, if it doesn’t work, try it again later.

The British Council Pronunciation Page – many excellent articles on different pronunciation topics.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t stop reading now—check out the links above and familiarize yourself with sentence and word stress

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice makes perfect, so put all these ideas together, practice and then work with your students to TRULY help them improve their spoken English skills.


Demo Your Way to a Great Job

Tips for Acing Demonstration Lessons

Don’t forget to smile during that demo lesson.

Multiple choice question:

To get a job teaching English as a Foreign Language you will need to: a) do an interview b) submit references c) do a demonstration lesson d) possibly all of the above.

Did you pick d? (Hint: you should have!)

While interviews and references are normal parts of any hiring process, demonstration lessons are particular to the EFL industry in some countries where people apply locally for their teaching jobs – rather than applying from abroad. This happens more in popular destinations like Thailand, Spain or just about any tropical island! Demos (as they are known) are more and more popular with schools because bosses want to know not just what you’re like talking to them, but what you’ll be like in front of a room full of students.

Unfortunately, because they’re just a demo and not a real class, these lessons can feel awkward and artificial. Your “students” might be school office staff or other teachers who are pretending to be language learners only for the duration of your class. They might be instructed to give you a hard time, just to see how you’ll cope with it. You might get lucky and have “real” students, but perhaps those students are jaded because they’ve already seen four or five demos today.

Demonstration Lessons are a Great Opportunity

For the nervous applicant, demonstrations can seem like a serious roadblock to the glamorous life of an EFL teacher.  But, there’s no need for you to be nervous and no need for you to look at a demo lesson as anything other than a golden opportunity.

The demonstration lesson is a great chance for you to confidently share your skills as a teacher.  And the key to being confident is being prepared.

Be Prepared

When you find out you need to do a lesson at the interview, ask some questions to help you prepare for the demo.


  • Who will you be teaching?
  • What age group is the material intended for? Children? Businessmen? College students?
  • What skill level will they be?
  • What target language should be included?
  • How long should the lesson be?

Armed with these answers, then you can prepare an exciting, interesting, engaging lesson.  Make it fun. Don’t let the fact that it’s part of a job interview drag you down and make the class serious to the point of depressing. When you’re in the lesson, make sure the students are involved and having fun—that reflects well on you.

Smile! You’re an English Teacher

Most schools want to know, first off, if you are going to be friendly with your students. They want friendly teachers. Believe it or not, there are some people who want to teach English who aren’t friendly and this will come out in the demonstration lesson. So, show that you’re good fun, that you can interact with the students and engage them in your lessons.

Is There a Method to your Madness?

Secondly, the school will be checking to see if you use any particular teaching methodology. Are you using PPP or ESA?  They want to know if you are (and they hope you are!) an organized teacher who has reasoning behind the lesson plan.

When you go to give the demo lesson, bring two or more hard copies of the lesson plan so you can give a sheet to the evaluators who will be watching you. On your lesson plan, don’t forget to include sketches of your boardwork and any handouts that you’re planning on using.

When you teach the class, be confident and follow your lesson plan. Practice at home or with friends beforehand to make sure that you’re polished when you go in. That’s not to say that there won’t be any glitches when you do the plan—expect the unexpected and don’t let one minor foible ruin your whole presentation.

Prepare for a Surprise Demo Lesson

Also, even if you are going to interviews that don’t say they want demonstration lessons up front, come prepared in case they ask you on the spot. Some schools will tell you at the interview that you should prepare something in the next 10 or 15 minutes, and expect you to have a flash of brilliance.  My advice is to have a few lessons planned up in advance, and carry the plans and materials with you to any job interview you do. That way, you’ll be ready and confident if they ask you to demonstrate on the spot.  And, of course, just like it never rains when you carry an umbrella, it seems like once you’ve prepared a demo then you won’t have to do one. But if you do, you’re golden.

Here’s a great video by an academic director who does some real hiring based on demo lessons. Follow her advice!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Prepare your demonstration lessons in advance with a full lesson plan, including board work and handouts. Practice before the interview, and bring extra copies of everything so you can give them to evaluators.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be friendly and be methodical in your teaching. These are the characteristics for which most employers will be looking.






How to Prepare a Demonstration Teaching Video

Lights, Camera…TEACH!

A question I hear a lot from new teachers of English who want to go abroad is, “How do I find a job?”

The answer, of course, is the same for English teaching as it is for many other professions nowadays—you look for job listings on the Internet and through a network of contacts that you build up. But, there’s a larger dimension to this question that I’d like to address in this post. And that is, how do you get your first job as a teacher when your potential employer doesn’t know anything about you?”

We had a recent post on writing your TEFL resume, which gives some helpful tips on how to prepare a knockout summary of the skills, qualifications and abilities that will make you a good teacher. A good cover letter and a decent resume should be able to garner you some interest from schools or training centers in your target country. Letters of recommendation, and a clear, attractive photo of yourself in business attire are all good ideas to send out as well. But, in the last few years, there’s another tool that new teachers can use to show that they’d be a good choice when filling a vacancy: video.

Making a short demonstration video of your teaching and uploading it to the Internet where potential employers can take a look at it is a smart move for any jobseeker in TEFL. When you apply for a job, or when you reach the interview stage, you can send a link of your video to your contact at the school or training center. They’ll be able to see your confidence, hear your voice and experience your delivery style.

A good demo video is much like a good demo lesson, but shorter and sweeter. You want it to be polished and interesting and you want it to show your professionalism with a hint of personality. A video that’s five minutes or less is ideal—it can be tempting to show an entire lesson in your video, but it’s not necessary and will take up a lot of the viewer’s time.

Be careful!  I can’t tell you how many HORRIBLE videos people have proudly sent.  Remember this video is about your TEACHING skills and what you have to offer a potential employer.  It is not about what you don’t like about your current situation. Keep this 100% positive.

Plan Your Lesson

Just because it’s going to be short, though, doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan it. You should plan every minute of the video, and storyboarding it, like feature film production teams do, isn’t a bad idea either.

Because it’s a demonstration, you can choose any topic you want to teach. However, I’d advise keeping it familiar and focused. Teach target language you’re familiar with and don’t wander too far in your explanations.

Think carefully about the activities you want to showcase in the lesson. Pick something that has visual appeal as well as educational value, as it will make a more lasting impression in this format. Remember to carefully consider the “whys” as well as the “whats.” If an employer does watch your video, they may ask you about it in the interview, and you’ll look silly if you can’t tell them exactly why you chose each segment of the mock lesson and how it would benefit your erstwhile students.

Practice Your Lesson

Before you switch on your camera to start recording, you’d better rehearse your sample lesson a few times in front of a mirror or a trusted friend. Take note of your facial expressions, and your teacher talk time. Of course, unless you can rope in some pals to pretend to be students, the video is going to be mostly “teacher talk time” segments of a lesson. However, don’t take this as an excuse to blather on. Keep your teacher talk concise and focused, as you would in a real classroom environment.

Do a Tech Run-Through

Next, do a few trial shoots with your camera setup. Is your video quality good enough, or will you need to borrow a better camera? Does the microphone pick up everything you’re saying, or will you need to find a quieter place to film? Is there enough light to illuminate your face? Is your camera outputting the video in a format you’ll be able to upload to YouTube, your blog or another service? Have you charged the battery and cleaned off the memory card?

Shoot Yourself (With a Camera, of Course!)

Have a tripod (or a friend with steady hands) film your lesson. While filming, be sure to make eye contact with the camera as you would if it were a student. Smile, be confident, and be aware of your hand gestures or nervous movements like adjusting your clothes and hair needlessly. It’s fine if you need to retake a few segments or the whole thing. Expect every minute of video footage to take much longer than 60 seconds to produce, so schedule enough time for it.

Shine and Polish

Once you’ve shot each segment of your video and are satisfied with how you look and sound in each, you’ll want to edit out any extra bits that weren’t quite so polished, and stitch the pieces together. If you’ve never used film editing software before, there are plenty of intro guides and how-to pages about it, and it shouldn’t take you long to figure out the basics of cutting and stitching, which is all you really need to do. Adding an introduction slide, as well as slides that focus on or explain your teaching points are good too. Don’t forget an ending slide or clip that thanks the viewer for watching your video and mentions how to get in contact with you.

Ted’s Tips No. 1:  Keep your demonstration video under five minutes. This should give enough time for a feel of how you teach, without taking up a lot of your potential employers’ time. If you can only expect a hiring manager to look at your resume for about 30 seconds, then in terms of selecting candidates to hire, five minutes is an eternity.

Ted’s Tips No. 2: Don’t be nervous. Get familiar with your lesson plan and practice it until it feels natural. Then, shoot the video.  If you have to be nervous, remember that excited is a good synonym for nervous and be excited about what you are teaching.





Teaching English in Resorts and Hotels around the World

Do you have Skills in Food and Beverage or Hospitality Settings?

This area of ESP is becoming more and more popular, so this is a good opportunity to address how to find those niche jobs. A lot of newbie TEFL teachers are former restaurant and or hospitality workers.

They are much more qualified to teach in this area than the other teachers unfamiliar with the ‘service mind’ and those with no with experience in the hospitality service industry.

I taught and coordinated teacher training for a year in a resort hotel.  I had no previous “hands-on” experience in the industry but luckily the GM took personal interest in the training of his employees. He even joined in on a few classes and when we got off track he would steer us back. Previously I had also done some teaching at a hospitality training college – so I wasn’t a total newbie to the ‘service mind’.

The question I get most is “How do I get a job in a hotel or resort?”

You won’t see these jobs advertised on job boards often, because:

Most resorts do not bother advertising their English Teacher positions. The reason? They will get swamped with applicants from overseas, everyone eager, but no one willing to show up for an interview. Or backpackers will knock on their door, usually not serious about the job and just looking for a quick money fix as they are passing through.

Fact: LeMeridien Resort on Phuket Island in Thailand advertised a position some years ago. They got over 60 applicants and less than twenty were willing to go to Phuket for the interview. In the end only three showed up!

That is a quote from a page I wrote for the Hotel TEFL English eBook page over at TEFLeBooks.com

So, I bet you are wondering how to find such a job if they are usually not advertised?

Take your resume and go to any five star hotel or resort and apply directly. If you can’t get into contact with the HR manager, leave your resume at the front desk in a nice envelop addressed to the General Manager. If the GM gives it to the HR manager, it is in the right hands and the HR will follow up.

Focus on five star hotels and resorts, some four star international chains might hire too because they know the importance of the use of good English and customer satisfaction. If it’s below four star, let it go – those places generally don’t care or will hire someone with English skills rather than training them.

When you are applying for a five star job, you need to look ‘five star’ – be dressed and groomed at their level. No facial hair, no visible tattoos or piercings. Men should be dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and a tie even when you are in a sweaty hot tropical environment. While you may not have to be all suited on the job, it is important to make a good impression with your first contact.

Be sure to approach the initial contact pleasantly and with confidence. After all, you will be teaching their staff how to greet and deal with people in English, how to be tactful and use English in situations where guests (they are guests, not customers) may be unhappy due to a problem caused by the hotel/resort.

The best reference around for this type of ESP is the HOTEL TEFL eBook, just as mentioned above.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Be professional – with your attitude and your clothes – it is critical for these type jobs. If you dress and approach your contact casually, you absolutely won’t get that job.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teaching in a Hotel or Resort can be one of the best teaching jobs overseas and in some of the best locations in the world – they are worth researching and seeking out.





Staying Healthy While Living Abroad

Don’t Become “The English (Teacher) Patient”

The best advice for staying healthy is the same no matter where you’re living: Eat right, sleep well, and get enough exercise.

However, when we’re thrown out of our natural element by going to live abroad, at first it might be tricky to maintain your rhythms in the new culture. For example, you may be used to eating dinner around 6 or 7 p.m., but your new job has you teaching an English class at that time, so instead you opt for fast food on your way home. Or, you usually go on long walks or hikes at home, but now you’re working in a city that seems all concrete at first glance, so, instead of breaking a sweat outside you break open a beer and get to know your coworkers. You may be used to sleeping regular hours, but your new class and social schedule has you up late some nights and up early other mornings.

All of this is to be expected, and so you’ll need to take a mental step back from the excitement of moving to your new place and ask yourself the best way to a healthy lifestyle that incorporates all of the fun newness you’re encountering abroad.

Water, Water, Everywhere…

In addition to the eat, sleep, exercise trifecta, you’ve probably heard this gem of advice before: Don’t drink the water.

That might be true when you’re simply traveling overseas, as your body won’t be used to the bacteria and other things that are in the water.  In many places overseas, even the locals don’t drink the water that comes out of the tap, preferring instead to buy bottles of water (like the five-gallon kind found in many offices) and drink that at home.  It is often much cheaper overseas than in Western countries.

Another point on H2O: if you’re moving somewhere with a drier or warmer climate than you’re used to, you’ll need to make a special effort to drink more water than you are used to so that you don’t get dehydrated. Many new teachers also find that talking to students during the course of your workday will strain the vocal cords if they don’t drink enough fluids.

To Eat or Not to Eat (the Street Food)

Another facet of expat living often blamed for tummy troubles or other illnesses is street food. However, eating street food is one of the many joys of being an ESL teacher abroad. The thing is, you have to be smart about what you eat, when you eat it, and where you eat it. If you see meats or seafood that have been sitting for a long time in the hot sun and have flies on it—you might not want to risk eating that. But, if you see a well-kept street stall frequented by locals, you’ll probably be fine with the food there. It’s best to only take street food that has been prepared in front of you—like Thailand’s banana pancakes or China’s yang rou chuan (barbecued mutton sticks). If you take a meat dish, make sure that the meat has been on ice before it’s prepared. Observe how well the seller is keeping surfaces clean, and how he or she protects food from hands and hair.  Generally speaking if a vendor is doing a brisk business with the locals, the food is probably okay.  He doesn’t want his customers to get sick!  If they do, he has no business the next day.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. If you do find yourself feeling ill abroad, don’t think back to this blog post and say, “well Ted said it was OK to eat street food.” There’s always a small risk, and if you find yourself getting ill, then you had better make sure that you get the proper, appropriate treatment for your symptoms.  Don’t leave your judgment at home, take it with you.

Ted’s Tips No. 1:  Don’t let yourself let a fear of being ill get in the way of enjoying yourself abroad. Wherever you live on Earth, there’s a chance you’ll get sick at some time.

Ted’s Tips No. 2:  When you do get sick, you’ll need professional assistance. Make sure you check out the options for medical care available to you before you need it, to save time when you’re not feeling your best.  Everyone gets sick at one time or another.  It is best to know your options BEFORE you need them.





Ten Jobs That Have Transferable Skills

What Do You Know?

Many teachers of English as a Second Language transition into teaching from a totally different line of work. Before I began teaching, I was a social worker. I know other people who were business people, stock brokers, marketing agents, scuba divers, military personnel and who held a whole range of other jobs before they decided to live the good life abroad as an English teacher. There’s no one right way to prepare for being an English teacher, and, in fact, having skills from another job or field can add a lot of depth to your lessons.

Here are 10 jobs that have transferable skills to English teaching. Can you think of any more? Let me know what and why in the comments!


As a parent, you learn a lot about teaching, perhaps without even realizing it. You know about organizing groups of people who depend on you; you have experience with convincing people to do something that they might not see the need for; you are used to occupying a position of respect. Also, you know that feeling of achievement when one of your charges does well.

Childcare professional

Like a parent, you’ve learned a lot about patience, compassion, solving arguments, and the value of occasional silence. If you’ve dealt with young children, you also have an idea what it’s like to communicate with someone who might understand you perfectly, but has a hard time making himself or herself understood verbally—just like an ESL student.

 Retail clerk

 Service is your goal, and you know how to put on a bright face and communicate with people in a positive manner. You understand the importance of being well groomed and prompt, and about making your students or customers feel valued and appreciated. You also have experience explaining complicated products or services to customers, which directly correlates to being able to answer students’ questions.


You are familiar with important of details and orderliness, both of which help when teaching difficult concepts to students and when designing lesson plans. Teachers who can lead lessons in business English are sought after in many markets, and with an accountancy background and some understanding of general business concepts, you’ll be a natural choice for those jobs. Plus, if you can explain tax laws, you can probably explain anything.

Bar staff

You know how to draw people out and get them talking to you. You know the value of patience and when to be firm but polite with a customer who is talking a bit too much. Many people who have worked in the hospitality industry find that they enjoy teaching English because they get the pleasure of working with the public without the hassle of late hours and tipsy customers. The biggest skill, however, is that of being able to work well with a variety of people.

Call center employee

Communication is key, and you know just how easily misunderstandings can occur in verbal English. Having a pleasant, well modulated voice and being able to follow a script (or lesson plan) will work for you in ESL as well. You’ll also be able to give great examples to the students of polite, professional English as it’s used in the real world.


You can take charge and make important decisions quickly and without regrets. You’re also used to putting your patients’ needs before your own, just as you’ll do with students in the ESL classroom. Having a background in health care will also help you if you decide to teach English for specific purposes. Many foreign medical students and medical professionals need help with their English language skills.


You’re good at drawing people out of their shells, and helping them realize the best in themselves. You’ve developed a demeanor that people who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed (traits you’ll recognize in some English students who expect results too quickly) feel comfortable with. In addition, you’re good at remembering details from what people have told you and analyzing those points—just as you’ll need to do when you assess someone’s language ability and help them set and achieve their goals.


You know how to put the best face on things and put people who are uncertain at ease. You also have an eye for creating a pleasant atmosphere, for example one suitable for learning. Realtors also need a certain professional confidence to do well at their jobs—similar to the teaching persona you’ll want to have in the classroom.

Personal assistant

Super-organized and on the ball, you’ll do well at leading large classes or designing curricula to help students achieve their long-term goals without much stress. You also know the importance of notes and clean reports, and are ready to help as much as you can and to expect the unexpected in your working life.

Ted’s Tips No. 1:  There’s no one career path or educational background that creates the best English teacher. No matter what your background, if you have a passion for teaching and the desire to improve, you’ll be a great teacher.

Ted’s Tips No. 2:  Patience and organization are key character traits of a good ESL teacher, but don’t worry if you’re not the most patient or organized person—these skills can be learned!

Using the Internet to Create Awesome Lessons

Teachers of English as a Foreign Language are always looking at ways they can perk up their lesson plans.

Even the very best textbooks can get stale now and then, for the teacher even if not for the students, and a good way to inject pizzazz in your class is to bring in something new.

Realia is a great way to do this, as is multimedia. But if you’re like most teachers, the very first place you’re going to look for new class material is online.

Just like daytime TV, Internet teaching materials can be great inspiration, or they can be a way to convince yourself to be lazy.

There are two kinds of things from the Internet that you can use in your classes:

1. Materials that have been created expressly for the teaching of English and have been posted to be used for that purpose.

2. Everything else.

Purpose-made materials

Using the first kind of material can be an excellent choice. There are dozens, if not hundreds of sites where you can get tip-top quality materials with ready-made activities, answer keys and printable worksheets to hand out to your students. Many of these sites are free, some are paid, and others let you use a few things for free while keeping back premium materials for paying users.

The problem with using this free material is that it’s often difficult to be consistent when issuing it to your students.  There is a tendency among us mere mortals to take the easy way out, and teachers who are pressed for time (or who just left it too late) often just print out something—anything—from a website and try to make it work. Well, it doesn’t work. Not that way.

 What do your students need?

The best, most responsible, way to use the Internet to plan your lessons is to start by thinking about your students. What do they need to learn? What target language or skills do you want them to focus on? Evaluate your goals for the length of the course and take a look at the materials you already have. What is it that your school-supplied textbook doesn’t offer?

It could be that your existing materials don’t have enough listening activities to get all of your students up to par. In that case, go to the Internet and search for listening activities appropriate to the level of your students. Or, maybe it’s simply that your textbook and materials are a little drab and you find your students’ attention wandering. The Internet is chock-a-block with images, diagrams and other visual materials you can print out. Just be aware of copyright infringement—it’s OK to print a single image to show your class, but you’re in an ethical and legal gray area if you decide to bind it in a booklet to distribute to a larger group. Don’t republish someone else’s work as your own.

Adapting other Internet content to the classroom

So what about the second kind of materials—the “Everything Else” category?  This is actually the most beneficial resource for your students, because it represents English as it’s used in the “real world.”  However, the problem is accessibility. You want to make sure you prepare your students well before you task them with reading real news articles and blog posts or get them to participate in chatrooms, watch videos, or interpret infographics in your class. A student who is not confident in his or her listening skills will flounder if they’re made to, without preparation, watch a several-minute YouTube video of native speakers talking.

To ready your students for the use of this real material, do the following:

•  Break the materials into bite-sized chunks. Even if the original is large, you don’t have to do all of it for your students to get the gist.

•  Create focus questions for your students to answer while they are reading, viewing or listening.

•  Take the students’ level into consideration when you shape the material. Don’t assume all levels can use one news article, unless you have prepared it differently for each level.

•  Don’t rush these activities. If you’re going to schedule it into your lesson plan, give it the same amount of time you would give a similar activity from your class textbook. The students will need at least that much time, maybe more, to work with unfamiliar materials.

Ted’s Tips #1: Don’t be lazy. Just because you found a lesson online doesn’t mean you can print it out and give it to your students after a quick glance and without additional preparation on your part. Think about the students’ goals, consider the level of the material carefully and adapt it before you use it.

Ted’s Tips #2: Real world information does have a place in the classroom, but it will take more preparation on your part to get it ready for the students. Don’t be afraid of this, but don’t shirk your responsibility either. Sitting the class in front of a couple of music videos with no other preparation on your part doesn’t make you a “cool” teacher, it makes you a lazy teacher.  And you students will know this too.








Six Secrets of Successful Team Teaching

This post fits in the Things they forgot to teach you at your TEFL training school category of TEFL.

When new teachers of English as a foreign language imagine their first job posting, they may picture themselves teaching in all kinds of scenarios: Large university classes, one-to-one coaching sessions, and small groups. But they might not imagine that they’d have a partner teacher.

Many jobs that require native English teachers abroad (particularly in China, often in Thailand and Japan) are actually recruiting you to be the second half of a teaching team made up of a local teacher partnered with a native speaker.

When a team teaching situation is good, it creates a supportive, interesting environment for your students where they have not only one but two language experts to guide them to better English.

But, when the situation is not handled well, it creates a too-many-cooks situation that impacts the students negatively.

Here are my six tips for turning your team teaching experience into an educational powerhouse that will benefit your students, and your own career:

1. Communicate with your teammate. This is a simple step, but the easiest step to foul up. Your partner teacher may be extremely busy due to a larger class-load than yours or additional responsibilities within the school. The partner may be insecure about his or her English abilities or be worried that the students will like you more because you’re new and exotic. The partner may assume you already know what to do, when in fact you’re hoping they will train you. There could be a whole stewing pot of school office politics that you don’t know about when you start your new job. Because of all of these factors, I recommend that you, as the newcomer, be available and persistent about talking to your team teacher. If you can nail down nothing else, you especially need to be clear about how to divide classroom duties, such as homework assignments and discipline issues.

2. Cooperate with your teammate. If they ask you to take on additional responsibilities in the classes that you share or to help them in other ways, be receptive to their requests. Your students will notice if there is a strained relationship between the two of you and it can worsen the classroom dynamic. If your co-teacher asks you to do something that you absolutely will not do, try to negotiate and take cultural differences into account when you deny their request.

3. Plan Ahead. If lesson planning is important when you’re the sole teacher, it’s even more vital when you’re part of a team. The students will notice if you have not planned out how the two teachers will share responsibilities. Find time to sit down with your teammate and plan. Look ahead to special cases—holidays, testing periods—when you know that one or the other of you will need to shoulder more responsibility so that surprise duties don’t get thrust upon you unexpectedly.

4. Respect your teammate. Don’t change a pre-agreed plan at the spur of the moment. Don’t contradict him or her in front of students. Don’t forget that, even though they may not be a native speaker of English, they’ve probably earned all kinds of degrees and qualifications in their home country—ones that you haven’t. Don’t forget that you may be making more money, as a native speaker, for doing essentially the same job that they do.  Remember also that they were there before  you and will likely be there long after you have left.

5. Have a “Buddy” Mentality. If your partner can’t do something, it’s up to you to pick up the slack and keep up a friendly relationship. Create a dynamic where they will help you out as well when needed. Try not to let ego or cultural differences get in the way—you’re a team, you’re buddies, and you’ve got each other’s back.

6. Put the Students First. At the end of the day, the school or institution you work for hired you to educate students, not to get involved in a complicated dance of responsibilities with your team teacher. If all else fails, remember that you are there to serve the students. Rethink your problems with an eye to helping the students. What can you do, personally, to help the students achieve their goals of speaking better English, and how can you do that as part of the team?

Ted’s Tips #1: Put the students first. Your job is to help the students learn English. Do that above all else.

Ted’s Tips #2: Smile. Be warm and open to discussion with your team teacher. Working with a native speaker may be a nerve-wracking experience for him or her, and you should do your best to put them at ease and build a positive relationship.




Volunteer to Teach EFL/ESL in your Home Country

Give Back to go Forward.

On the fence about whether or not you dare teach English abroad? Or, maybe, you’re saving up money to make sure you have a nest egg you can hatch later when you’re overseas.

If, for whatever reason, you feel the desire to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) but can’t go abroad to do it right now, I’d like to offer you a great alternative for the meantime that will help you earn your chops as a teacher, become more confident in the classroom and do some good in your community. I recommend that you try volunteer teaching.

No matter what English-speaking country you call home, I can guarantee you there are opportunities for you to help people who have a genuine need to improve their English skills. They would be grateful of your services, even if only for a few hours per month.

Find a Place to Volunteer Near You

Each city will be different, of course, but here are some ideas of where to look for opportunities to volunteer:

  • Your local library.
  • Your local church or place of worship.
  • A neighborhood school.
  • A Youth Council or other community center for disadvantaged young people.
  • The student exchange office of your local university.
  • Any local support service for incoming immigrants, refugees and other new arrivals to your community.

If you really don’t have the face time to give to a volunteer position, there are also communities online which can benefit from your services as a teacher. Consider going to some sites set up for homework help, or tutoring, and make a promise to yourself to answer a few of the queries on there every day or week.

Now, spending your spare time tutoring children or helping immigrants is a lofty goal in itself. However, you will also benefit from this activity, beyond the feeling of having done something to help others. By putting yourself in environments where you’re around people who don’t speak English as a native language, you’ll be able to get a better feel for what it might be like in your target country abroad. By helping students acquire survival English, you’ll learn some common learner errors and develop some tricks to help get your message across to them. By assisting someone puzzle over the intricacies of English grammar and punctuation in a volunteer setting, you’ll be preparing yourself for explaining the same information to classes of students overseas.

If you’re at a point when you know you want to go overseas, and haven’t done a TEFL course yet, then you might consider volunteer teaching while studying for your TEFL Certification online with (my own) TEFL Bootcamp.  In fact, even if you’re not interested in doing a full-blown in-classroom TEFL course  yet, but know that you’d like to try out teaching by volunteering, looking through the plentiful free resources at TEFLBootcamp.com will help you serve your new students all the better.

TED’s Tips™ #1: English teaching can start at home. Don’t overlook the many opportunities in your community to tutor someone in English or to teach to small groups.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you’re doing an online TEFL certification program, volunteer teaching can be a great way to put what you have learned into practice.


Make Substitute EFL Teaching Fun and Easy

[Guest written by our friend, Beth Verde]374

It’s a classic scene from a 1980s coming-of-age movie: a confused and anxious substitute teacher bombarded with a hail of spitballs, paper airplanes and a raft of abuse from the class he or she is supposed to instruct.

Well, put away your shoulder pads and tweed jackets, substitute teaching in an English as a Foreign Language classroom is no reason for anxiety (or tetanus shots—spitballs? Ewww…)

Teachers of English abroad most often find themselves in a substitute situation if they have to fill in for a colleague who is late, sick, ill, or otherwise occupied.  Usually, the students welcome a new face in the classroom now and again as it gives them a fresh chance to listen to a new accent being spoken and an opportunity to find out more about your culture, which may be quite different from both their native culture and that of the teacher you are replacing for the day.

Don’t Worry About Students. Worry About Preparation.

So, don’t worry about the students you’ll be teaching. They’ll be pleased, and you’re likely to even have fun. But, what you might have to worry about though, is preparation. Typically, substitutes are given little (or no) warning before going into class, and therefore no chance to prepare a stunning (or even mediocre) lesson plan. Notice, I only said you’re “likely to have fun.”  Walking into a class completely unprepared is not fun at all.

Now, ideally, your absent colleague has planned his or her own lesson so beautifully and completely that you can just take a copy of it and sail into the lesson using that plan. Unfortunately, though, you’re often set adrift without a rudder, so to speak.

If you’re working at a school or training center where substitutions seem to happen a lot (and this can be seasonal, like during flu season) it’s a good idea to have a few backup, boilerplate lesson plans handy in your desk or other teaching materials. Then, you can whip these plans out in a jiffy whenever you need to stand in for someone. If your institution covers many different levels of English, then it’s wise to have pre-planned activities for each of those levels that you can substitute within the same plan.

Plan a One-Off Lesson You Can Adjust to Any Level

For example, let’s say you’re teaching teenagers at a high school. You’ve got three levels of English at your school, and you may be called on to substitute for any of these levels at any time.  Draft out a lesson plan on a topic—let’s say ‘pop music’. Your plan structure can be the same for any level you teach, but you’re gong to need three different modifications of the lesson plan’s activities so that you don’t overwhelm some groups of students and under-inspire others.

The lower group might do well in an activity talking about their favorite stars, and listening to part of a pop song and saying if they like it or don’t like it and why.

Meanwhile, the middle group might try a role play where they meet a pop star and then tell their friends about it, and then listen to a song (you can use the same song with all three groups) and do a gap fill for the lyrics.

The higher group may try discussing the importance of music in culture and then translating and interpreting the song’s lyrics.

You can structure the lesson the same way for all of them, so if you’re using PPP methodology, your presentation can be the same, then have slightly different practice materials available for the groups, which you then wind up with level-appropriate production activities.

Keep a “Bag of Tricks”

It’s also a good idea to have five or six go-to activities that you can adjust on the fly to any classroom or level. Having a  “bag of tricks” is useful for your regularly scheduled classes, but doubly important in a substitute class where you’re not familiar with the students and how quickly they will eat through your lesson plan.

Preparation really is the secret to stress-free teaching. You can do anything, and do it well, as long as you’ve put a little planning into it.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t stress out about doing a substitute class. Students love it when they get to meet a new foreign teacher.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Always keep an eye out for interesting and quick activities that you can pull into your repertoire to fill any extra time in a substitute lesson. Examples include teaching the class to say a tongue twister, showing and discussing a short YouTube clip, or organizing a quick treasure hunt.




How to Make the Most of Your TEFL Course

You’re taking a TEFL certification course because you want to be in front of a group of students, leading them to better English, right? So, it may seem strange, especially for those of us who have been out of school a long time, when we assume the role of the student, and not the teacher.

If you hang out in online forums about teaching English abroad (like I do) you’ll have encountered plenty of TEFL Certification nay-sayers who claim that your certification course is only worth the paper the certificate is printed on. Or, worse, people who claim you should go abroad and start teaching without any preparation.

Pay Attention, You’ll Be Surprised What You Learn

But, if you’re smart (and I know you are), instead of listening to these unhappy online pundits and dismissing your course as a mere formality, look at what you can do to make the most out of your TEFL certification course.  For one thing, if you’ve already paid the money for the course, why wouldn’t you take full advantage of what you’ve purchased? Also, think of this time in the classroom as a way to build empathy for your future students. You’ll soon be in front of the classroom, but don’t forget what it’s like to sit at the pupils’ desks too. Even if you’re taking an online course like our TEFLBootcamp, you’ll learn a lot from being a virtual student if you pay attention. And, not least, by absorbing all the information from your TEFL course, you’ll learn tips and tricks that will save you time and earn you more money later in your career.

Still not convinced? Consider the following:

1. You need to learn from experience. If you haven’t got any experience (that would be why you’re taking the TEFL course, right?), then the next best thing is to surround yourself with experienced people. TEFL trainers and other certification course staff are a goldmine of information. Spend the time you have on your TEFL course mining that knowledge and forging some battle armor for your later work as a teacher.  Even if you’re taking an online TEFL course, you should have lots of opportunities to contact your trainer and ask all the teaching-related questions you can think of.

2. Even if you think you’ve got this—maybe you don’t. Plenty of English teachers start out thinking they’ll be able to whiz into classrooms and knock out lessons with the ease of a professional, right off the bat. Sure, English teaching isn’t usually rocket science (though you may end up teaching some rocket scientists!) but there’s a reason that educators worldwide have put time and effort into developing certain methodologies and techniques to help second-language acquisition. Keep your ears open and your eyes focused on all the information you learn. You may be surprised how much you’ll take away from your course and put to use in your own classroom.

3. Most reputable TEFL certification programs offer some kind of job assistance for their graduates. For example, over at TEFLBootcamp.com, we offer the Secrets of Success ebook along with every course as well as two other ebooks, How to Land a Job Teaching English Abroad and How to Teach English Overseas- a ten-week plan to a new life abroad.  You can sign up for those ebooks FREE here:  http://teflbootcamp.com/resources-contact/efl-tefl-resources/free-ebooks-from-tefl-boot-camp/  —  see, you are already ahead of the game!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pay attention in class. You’ve paid for it, so get your money’s worth. Plus, it’s good karma—maybe later, your students will pay attention to you too.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Go through your TEFL Certification course with an eye on how you can parlay your experience and connections into a job later.



Educator or Entertainer?

In some countries, teachers of English as a Foreign Language are expected to be half EDUcators and half enterTAINERS—or edutainers.  The is the intersection of education and fun

“Edutainment” is the term the industry has coined to explain the situation when your employer and your students are looking for games and laughter to go along with the English taught in the classroom.

Edutainment is a Cultural Thing

Now, if you’ve got a posting in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to fit many games into your lesson planning. In fact, too much frivolity in the classroom will be frowned on by your boss and dismissed as silliness by your students.

But if you’re in Asia, for example Thailand or Korea, you’ll find that your funny bone is in demand, especially if you have a job teaching kids.  The entertainment portion of these lessons could be as much as fifty percent of your allotted classroom time (especially in Thailand – even for older students), so it’s something you need to think about carefully in order to do well.

Is Edutainment a Bad Idea?

You may hear some teachers who have edutainment-heavy jobs complaining that they are nothing but “dancing bears” or “comic relief.”  And yes, if you are teaching at a school that expects you to provide a degree of edutainment, then, yes, students will probably laugh at you as well as with you. But, the big picture is that edutainment makes English less scary. If you laugh in your class, then the whole concept of learning becomes less frustrating, worrying and stressful. Less stress is usually a good idea for everyone.

But, there is a spectrum to edutainment and you need to figure out where you as a teacher, are willing to fit in it.  Are you able to go all-out as an entertainer in the classroom or are you naturally a little more reserved?

For myself, I’ve always loved theater and viewing entertainment. But I’m not usually excited about leaping on stage myself as an entertainer in the classroom. I do, however, like it when my students enjoy themselves and play games—as long as the activities we’re doing are fun AND educational. I always tie the lesson’s target language into the games we play.

How to Know How Much Edutainment is Expected?

When you interview for a new job, defining the boss’ expectations for entertainment in class is important.  Ask your prospective managers what strategies the school encourages to promote student motivation. Do they expect the teachers to dance and sing? (No, I’m not joking!) Do they expect students to have fun and laugh it up? Or do they swing toward emphasizing education over entertainment?

Asking these questions straight up will help you know up front if your personal teaching style will be a match with what the school expects.

Find Games and Activities Online

If you haven’t taught using classroom games before, there are plenty of online resources to help you, for example DavesESLCafe.com. On that site, there’s a huge Idea Cookbook where you can browse through plenty of teacher-submitted games to find ones that will fit your needs. I find it helpful to look at any new games I find with an eye to adapting them to fit my particular job or batch of students.

Experienced teachers usually have a go-to list of six or eight games they know by heart and can whip out as soon as the situation warrants it in class. This is especially a good thing if you’re meeting a new group of students and your lesson plan has fallen through or if your students finish earlier than expected and you have a spare five minutes before the official ending time of the class.

Adults Like Games Too

Edutainment can also be used in adult classes, especially if you need an ice-breaker to get the students to loosen up a little.  Even if the culture of the country or institution where you’re working is more focused on education rather than entertainment, there are often times when it helps to throw in a light-hearted game or activity to counterbalance the rest of the heavy material. You don’t have to be frown-faced and serious all the time, but do be sure connect the game with the day’s language lesson.

In addition, games are a good reinforcement activity for the end of a class session. If you can adapt a fun activity so that the students practice that day’s target language and play a game at the same time, everyone will leave the class feeling like they had a good time and learned something.

Likewise, a game at the beginning of class can be a great review that leaves students with a smile on their faces for the rest of the lesson, no matter how hard you get them to work later.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find out before you take a job how much ‘edutainment’ will be expected and decide if you’re capable of adapting to it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Games can be a good ice-breaker at the beginning of class or a way to end with a laugh.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  My secret to success?  A language-focused game at the beginning of class and another game using the target language of today’s lesson at the end of class can make you a very popular teacher.  What happens is that students enter the room happy, expecting an enjoyable time and they leave the room smiling having just finished a wonderful lesson.  In between the two games (let’s call them “fun activities”), you can work the students very hard and they won’t mind at all.

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Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Its better to deal with things in a positive manner

Most new teachers fear the whole subject of discipline and avoid talking about it, but it’s an important subject for English teachers to discuss.

How do you elegantly control difficult or disruptive students before they leak their behavior onto their classmates? How do you grab the attention of hyperactive learners who are doing everything except listening to you? How do you quiet the chatter at the back or forestall the note-passers (who are never as sneaky as you thought you were, back when you were in school)? In short, how do you make sure that your students get the most out of your class?

Be Proactive by Planning an Engaging Lesson

It’s important to be proactive about discipline. The first step any teacher can take to lessen disciplinary problems in class is to plan an active, engaging lesson in which all students will participate. If everyone is taking part in the class, your problem students won’t have time to be disruptive.

If you’re not sure your lessons are engaging enough, now’s a good time to review our blogs and podcasts about TEFL methodology – and elicitation in particular. When we elicit ideas from students, we’re giving them a stake in the lesson and a reason to be engaged in the class.

Of course, the world isn’t perfect. It’s impossible to engage all of your students all of the time, especially if you have a few learners who are in your class because someone else (a parent, a boss, a school adviser) told them they HAD to be there, and don’t really WANT to be there.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The number one thing to remember in discipline is, even if your class isn’t going how you want it to, don’t lose your cool.  Stay calm, stay rational, and don’t act in anger.  If you’ve got a student who has been acting up in previous classes, make a plan for dealing with his or her common problems before your next class. Go in with an action plan and nip bad behavior in the bud.

A good way to change behavior patterns is to mix up the geography of the class—move a student who causes distractions to sit closer to you instead of with his or her buddies.

 Lay Down the Law

Clear rules from Day One of your classes make it easy for students to stay in the clear of discipline issues; if your class rules are fuzzy, you may find students who you think are acting up are unaware that they’re doing anything wrong.

Rules of Thumb for Discipline

Here are some tips for discipline:

  • Explain the rules clearly in the beginning of your relationship with your students.
  • Be serious about the rules you set
  • Enforce your rules consistently. Why have a rule if you are not going to enforce it.
  • When you do enforce a rule, be firm but also smile. Don’t act in anger.
  • Practice “turning on” your smile at home in the mirror so that you can switch back to Happy Teacher Mode with the rest of your students after using Discipline Mode with a problem student—don’t make the whole class suffer for the sins of one learner.

Be a Calming Influence

Mild discipline problems, like scattered chatter in a class, can often be stopped if you simply station yourself next to the problem student.  Stand beside them, walk over to them, show them you’re not afraid of them.  Do this in a calm and friendly, non-aggressive way, of course.

If that still doesn’t do the trick, a light hand on a student’s shoulder—will gently and in a friendly way emphasize that you are paying closer attention to them and they will intuit that you want them to stop doing whatever disruptive action they have been doing.

Teaching Younger Students

As you might guess, discipline for children’s classes can be more difficult than discipline for older learners. One reason children act out is because they’ve lost focus. They lose focus when class activities are beyond their normal attention spans. Children have much shorter attention spans than adults—in fact, here’s a good rule to remember:  Children’s activities should be no longer than double their age minus two.  So, let’s consider a four-year-old child. Double the kid’s age would be eight, then take away two to make six.  If you’re planning a class for four-year-olds, it would be wise to limit all your activities to six minutes or less.

Other teachers cut the math out of the equation and just use the kid’s age as a good rule for the length of an activity. So, if you’re being conservative, that same class of four-year-olds would only have four-minute-long activities.  This is possibly an even better guideline/

Different groups of students may be able to handle more or less minutes per activity, but it’s a general truth that once you lose the kids’ attention you can bet a behavior problem will crop up toute de suite  on the heels of their boredom.

Mind Games

The thing is, kids who are acting out typically just want the teacher’s attention and they don’t care if it’s positive or negative attention. So, some kids are just as happy pushing your buttons as they are chatting to you.  They just crave some of your time.

This is important to remember, because when a teacher gives a child attention after he or she has done something against the rules, the teacher is rewarding that bad behavior.  Here’s a way to make this work for you in the classroom:

Envision the following—a group class in the six-to-ten age range. Little Johnny paid attention for eight minutes, but there are still a couple of minutes left before the rest of the class finishes their activity. Johnny stands up, strikes a kung fu pose, and begins acting out a scene from his favorite cartoon. Pow! Bang! Pop!

Meanwhile, little Lulu, sitting next to Johnny, is still busily at work in the activity.  Instead of focusing attention on Johnny, you (the teacher) might go up to Lulu and praise her for doing what you asked her to do. This is positive reinforcement of your class rules, gives a boost to Lulu, and shows Johnny what he is doing wrong without rewarding his behavior.  Johnny is likely to stop his shadow boxing and go back to the task at hand, hoping to be praised in turn. And, if he does wise up and play by the rules, don’t hesitate to give him positive reinforcement—pat him on the back, give him a smile and thank him for doing a good job.

Get Disciplinary Guidelines from Your Employer

Appropriate discipline varies from school to school and culture to culture. When you start a new job, it’s extremely important to find out what procedures your boss recommends for discipline. You may find that public schools are more open to discipline and that private schools or language training centers may be less willing to have students (ahem, their customers) disciplined—by kicking them out of class for bad behavior, for example. Also, after you ask your boss about the official disciplinary policies, also ask your new co-workers what they do in practice. Unfortunately, reality and the paperwork may be different and you need to know that before you make a big deal out of something that the school won’t back you up on.

Are they Cheating or Just “Helping A Friend?”

A small digression to the topic of cheating. I’ve never personally worked at a school where cheating was officially allowed. But I’ve worked at lots of schools that didn’t do much to stop it. There are important cultural differences here.  The line between just plain flagrant cheating and ‘helping out a pal’ is not clearly defined. In fact, if you catch too many cheaters and bring them to discipline, your school may turn on you and ask, “Why are so many students cheating in your class?”  “Why are YOU having so many problems?” So, my advice is, don’t focus on catching cheaters, focus on preventing cheating.

Making a difficult environment to cheat includes really preparing the students for what they need to know for the exam.  If they know the material, they won’t feel the need to peek at a neighbor’s paper.  Spread out the chairs during test time.  Put seats back-to-back. Or, test the students over two days, half at a time with different questions. During the exam period, walk around the class  quietly and look for cheat sheets. If you catch a student using one, don’t make a big deal right there, but confiscate the answer sheet so they have to do the rest of the test on their own.

 TED’s Tips™ #1:  Your responsibility, for cheating and really all other discipline-related issues, is prevention.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Prevent disciplinary problems by having an active, engaging class with activities of an age-appropriate length

TED’s Tips™ #3: Prevent cheating by teaching the students the material they need to pass the exams; and by being vigilant during testing periods.

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What’s your Business Background?

Use your Real-Life Skills to Teach English for Specific Purposes

After a long day at work, you might find your class full of sleepy and tired students. You’ll need to energize them.

Once you’ve been around the block a time or two teaching English as a Foreign Language, you’ll probably want to branch out into ESP.

No, I don’t mean you should hire yourself out as a psychic.  In our industry, ESP stands for “English for Specific (or Special) Purposes” and encompasses teaching English for business people, hospitality, airline staff and for other “specific purposes.”

The reason most seasoned EFL teachers lean toward business English or other ESP classes is that these teaching jobs usually pay more than conversation lessons and they’re often more enjoyable.

Past Jobs Might Help You Teach ESP

So, I can imagine you thinking right now, but what do I know about marketing or machinery or whatever else my students will want to talk about in ESL class?

Don’t panic.

All of us have some kind of employment history, and most English teachers have some experience outside the realm of TEFL. Even if you just reference that lonely summer you spent in school as a convenience store clerk, you have a background in business. Or, let’s say you moonlighted as a waiter or barmaid—that’s the hospitality industry.

Every field has a niche vocabulary: specific stresses, tactics for dealing with customers, and unique products.  If you had some work experience in retail, for example, you’d know more about the language of cash registers and refunds than might another English teacher. These things can give you a edge when you’re looking for work giving courses in ESP.

And, if your work history prior to teaching English is extensive, then perhaps you might even apply to a business school.  I have a background in business and as a result I taught, for example,  business courses to English teachers and at business colleges. My foot in the door was my skills as an ESL instructor; my edge was my business experience.

Business English is More Than Just Vocabulary

Now, teachers who don’t have any business experience and teachers who have been English teachers since their first day after university may believe that all you have to do to teach a business class is change up the vocabulary some and then—hey presto!—you have a business English class.

Sorry folks. It’s not as easy as changing the sentence, “I have a phone, a book and a pencil in my bag” to “I have a calculator, a report and a USB drive in my briefcase.” Vocabulary alone does not a business class make.

When you teach ESP, you usually focus on teaching functional things. A functional lesson is one that has a specific target and some clearly defined language. For example:

•             describing the products your students sell

•             asking and answering questions about those products

•             dealing with complaints about your students’ products

A ESP class wouldn’t have a lesson solely devoted to a grammar topic like the past perfect, or to an irrelevant topic like hobbies and families. (Unless, I guess, you’re teaching English to hobby shop owners or kindergarten teachers!)

Your ESP classes will be about the specific product, process, service and business related to your students’ aims and needs.

To teach business English, you need a focused idea. Businesses don’t waste money on English lessons.  They’re careful to hire English teachers who have a specific idea about the kind of language and functions their employees need.

There are many countries and even international companies where workers must pass different levels of English tests to be promoted. This makes for highly motivated students who have very clear ideas of what they need when they are sitting in your class. This student motivation is another way business English classes are different from general English courses. You may also find that your students come to class before or after work—or fit it in on their lunches—and are therefore tired. You may be sleepy too, if you have to teach 6 a.m. classes like I did for a while.

ESP pays better

If the thought of working weird hours seems like a deal-breaker to you, let me assure you that often  teachers often earn 50 to 100 percent more for ESP classes than for general English lessons. Now, doesn’t that sound worthwhile?

Another perk of teaching ESP, besides the pay, is that your students are likely to be better, more motivated learners. You’re almost always going to be teaching adults in this situation too, so if you prefer teaching mature students, then that’s another reason to look at ESP over general English.

Analyze the Students’ Needs

Now, before you teach any kind of ESP to students, it’s important to do a needs analysis.

Go to your client (usually this will be your students’ supervisor or an HR manager) and ask them to tell you very clearly what they want the students to be able to do in English when they finish the course. Examples of this kind of goal might be:

•             Describing products

•             Selling products

•             Helping customers with common complaints

•             Giving presentations about the products

When I was working in Taiwan, I once taught at a bank training telephone customer support staff. They had to help clients who would call the bank when they had trouble with their credit cards. As you can guess, the students had some very specific needs as to what vocabulary and language functions they needed to master for their job and keep their customers happy.

Another time, I taught at a pharmaceutical company where my students needed English skills to help them communicate with their bosses in a different country. The company language was English, so my students needed to polish their email writing and reading skills, master understanding and compiling reports in English, as well as general communication skills.  So, you can see how important it is to get a strong sense of exactly what a business—and, therefore, each student—wants and needs before you step into the classroom.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Do a needs analysis before you start teaching any ESP classes. Your client and your students will thank you later.  Ask for specific details about the language they students use on the job every day and where they seem to be having difficulty or in what areas they wish to improve.   If possible as more than one person.  The person hiring you might even have a different idea about what the students need – than the students.  Then you need to balance both, not always an easy task.

TED’s Tips™ #2: You can pick up an excellent needs analysis form for Business English over at TEFL Boot Camp HERE.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Even if you don’t have a formal background in business, you still might be an effective business English teacher. Look at your prior job history and figure out what niche markets you might be able to successfully teach.  This niches can often be much more fun and interesting than general English.

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Lesson Up! How to Plan an Effective Lesson for TEFL

Fitting it all together

Teaching job? Check. Class schedule? Check. Lesson Plan? Uh oh…

If you find yourself ticking off items in the checklist above and groaning when you get to “lesson plan,” read on and relax. Lesson planning is an important part of being a good teacher, but it doesn’t have to be worrisome.

Today I’m writing about the big picture of lesson planning—the what, why and how.

The Why

Let’s start by looking at why you want to have a lesson plan. First of all, let’s say your colleague falls desperately ill after a poorly judged meal of street food. Your boss, in a panic, asks you to go to fill in for your co-worker as a substitute and class is in fifteen minutes. If your fellow teacher was diligent enough to prepare a legible lesson plan, then you can read that plan and be ready to teach his class in five minutes or less.  You might also write a lesson plan for a class you teach, so you don’t forget all the details.

The What

Now for the what . . . What do you need to have in it? Everything someone else needs to be able to go and teach your class and everything you might need to remember if you wrote the lesson more than a few days ago.

A solid lesson plan will include these points:
• board work sketches
• handouts for the students
• what the students will work on in their textbook
• your elicitation questions for the beginning of the class (that alone is worth thinking through and writing down)
• the steps you will go through in your lesson

Also, a lesson plan should include the structures of what you want the students to learn and how you plan for them to learn them.

Even if you are never ill and never asked to substitute for someone, having a lesson plan will help you make sure you include all of the right points in your lesson and don’t skip any important steps or exercises.

Lesson plans can be used no matter your methodology. You could use PPP or ESA or a hybrid of both (or more!), but in your lesson plan you need to be clear on your target language for the day.

The How

How you write up that target would depend, then, on methodology.

Using PPP, you’d make sure you outline the “presentation” part of the lesson. And in ESA, you’d highlight the elicitation for the “engage” portion.

After presenting or engaging, usually, the next step would then be putting some structure (what the grammar or important parts of the lesson look like) to the language point for the day’s class. Show this structure in your lesson plan.

For the practice portion of the lesson, identify very clearly what kind of practice the students will be doing and how you will begin to remove the structures shown in the middle of the lesson so they can learn to work with it on their own.

Include details of the activities you will have the students take part in for each section of the lesson.

Then, for the final bit, you need to show in the lesson plan how the students will practice the language point and use it in a personal way. Show in the plan how you will foster the students’ motivation to learn.

Ask yourself

It’s good to ask yourself these questions while you prepare the plan:

• What language will we present?
• How will we present it?
• How will we practice (PPP) or study (ESA) in the middle part of the lesson?
• And how will we gradually remove the structures?
• What are the details?

Don’t forget to include your wrap-up activity at the end of the lesson plan. It’s nice to have a game or fun activity at the end that serves a dual purpose of reinforcing what was learned in class and enticing smiles from students as they walk out the door.

The real point of the lesson plan is to know what steps you’ll take as you proceed through your lesson.  Simple enough? You know it is!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Lesson plans should be very detailed. Always have the goal that another teacher could look at your lesson plan and use it as effectively as you would if they were teaching the class.  That helps you too if you, in the midst of a busy week, forget some of the details of your lesson (happens all the time!).

TED’s Tips™ #2: Lesson plans are useful no matter which methodology you use. The important thing is to include all the steps you’ll need to teach a good lesson.




The Correct Way to Right a Wrong

 Correcting Student Errors in the ESL Classroom

Righting a “wrong” is not always easy.

 To err is human, to correct…
…is the teacher’s job.


Well, yes, but when and how should teachers of English as a Foreign Language correct their students’ mistakes? This is a major issue that plays out in classrooms every day, worldwide.

Learners battle away at the intricacies of English, trying to communicate in our language. When they, inevitably, err, if teachers issue corrections too forcefully or too frequently, students can lose confidence and motivation. However, if we don’t correct them, and let errors go, then these mistakes may become ingrained and hurt their future communication.

Four Ways to Correct Students Gently

So, how can we, as teachers, make sure that error correction happens, but in a way that students are still motivated? How can we be supportive while still pointing out flaws in their speaking or writing?

1. Repeat with corrections. One good way is to, when you hear a student make a mistake, repeat what the student has said but without the error. The student will hear you say it correctly, and will often repeat it again after you. Research shows this is an effective way to gently show students the path to self-correction.

2. Review at the end of class. A second way is to keep track of the errors made during a time period and then review those errors and provide corrections before going on to a new activity or at the end of the lesson. This works especially well in a big class, if you’re strapped for time, or if you notice a lot of students making the same mistake. Another reason this is a good method is that it addresses the problem with the class as a whole so the individual who made the mistake will remain anonymous.

3. Have students correct each other. Peer correction is another good item in the teacher’s toolbox. Pair work and small group work can be fun, but sometimes you’ll have an alpha student with more exuberance than grammar skills who gives bad advice to their less assertive partner. So, if you do use this, don’t forget to monitor what’s being said in the small groups.

4. Individually. The method that should probably be used most sparingly is personal correction. Yes, it’s more direct, but being singled out in front of the class will make some students uncomfortable.  If you can do this quietly during group or pair work, that’s much better.

Fluency vs. Accuracy

English teachers always need to balance the twin goals of fluency and accuracy when they judge when and how to correct a student. There are students who are so afraid of being inaccurate that they hardly speak at all—that’s a fail in the fluency department. Or, the students who toss all grammar out the window and rattle on—score that a loss for Team Accuracy. Culture also has a role here—students who come from school systems that are very strict—to the point of physical discipline for making mistakes—will understandably be worried about their accuracy.

So, how to walk this particular tightrope?

Watch your students. Pay attention.

The 4:1 Rule

When I was in college, I worked in an institution with mentally ill people, some of whom had serious behavioral problems. We had a rule of thumb: four positive interactions for every negative interaction.  And even though teaching ESL is obviously a very different field, I think that that is still a good rule. For every five times that you interact with students in the class—for every negative one create four more positive ones.

Part of your role is to be as positive and encouraging as possible— to try to build up your students’ self-esteem. Otherwise, students may feel that their language abilities are inadequate or feel that they make more mistakes than they actually do. You need to encourage them to communicate.  So that’s why in a conversation class that’s geared toward verbal skills, teachers will often put fluency above accuracy and ignore student mistakes that don’t interfere with the actual message.

Three Mistakes You Should Always Correct

However, there are three times where I believe you absolutely must correct, even if your goal is fluency over accuracy.

1. Communication failure. The first is if the mistake the student makes interferes with the listener understanding what was said. When communication breaks down and nothing ends up being communicated then of course you need to fix that.

2. Bad/inappropriate language.  Sometimes students will have picked up language that can, unbeknownst to them, create some problems, hurt feelings or even strain relatinships. For example, using swear words or words that could be construed as racist or sexist.  You absolutely must let students know when they use this language, as they may not be aware of the full meaning of the words or phrases and how using that language might affect their relationship with a listener.

3. Habitual mistakes. And last, but not least, high frequency errors. Listen for mistakes that are particular to that individual. If you can help a student correct an error that they habitually make, then you’ll be able to help their overall accuracy, not just their accuracy for that particular conversation or activity.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pay attention to your students to find out what correction methods will work best for that particular group. Age, culture and level of English will all play a part in how receptive they are to constructive criticism.

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