Painlessly Teaching Writing in EFL

Teaching writing can be painful if not done correctly

Of the four skill areas emphasized when teaching English as a Foreign Language (speaking, listening, reading and writing), most teachers fear writing the most.

But—like the ‘bogeyman’ shadow in a child’s bedroom—teaching writing is really nothing scary at all.

After this post, writing might be your favorite subject!

It is true that teaching the skill of writing may require of your students a bit more effort, and you a bit more time and patience than the other skills.  However, that all pays off once you’ve got a handle on it—then, teaching writing may become your favorite skill area.


If you use a sensible method and some good materials, like the ones I link to below, your students will be thrilled by the steady progress they make.

Writing equals thinking

The thing is, writing takes a bit more thinking than most activities in listening, reading, or even speaking.  And often, students come to class believing they are good writers already—and they may be good writers, but are they good writers in English? You may find, to your dismay, that students proudly present you with writing assignments chock-a-block full of tortured prose, or even gibberish.

To get your students to an acceptable level, let’s say the level they need if they want to study or work abroad or if they need to use written English in their job, you’ll need to build up their skills without breaking down their level of confidence.

Begin at the beginning

By far the best tactic for teaching writing is to start at the beginning. As Maria in The Sound of Music said, that’s a very good place to start!  Go back and review the most basic skills. Sure, you may have a few students who roll their eyes at you and tell you, “Teeeaaaacher! We know how to do that!”  And they may know it, but you must check, because it’s difficult to build a castle on an uneven foundation. If you are in the situation where your students and you are at odds over what they know and how well they know it, make sure you don’t crush their enthusiasm for learning with your corrections. Tell them you think their writing skills are good—you just want to make them better.

Two well organized writing manuscripts show the way:

Sentence Writing and Intermediate Writing

I strongly urge you to download these two writing-related e-books that I link to in this blog post. These manuscripts are highly structured manuals for teaching writing well, and are organized so that students’ proficiency will build easily and naturally as you lead them through the steps outlined in the book.

Before you take them into class however, make sure you spend some time looking at how the books are organized. Take a minute to understand the whys—Why is this lesson first? Why is that lesson next? Understand how the blocks follow one-by-one to build a strong support for your students’ writing prowess.

Of course, you’re going to see plenty of grammar in the book focusing on writing sentences. Truly, if there’s one skill where grammar is critical—it’s in writing.

Also, notice that the books are designed to lead your students to writing success a bit more slowly than your average textbook may demand. Most textbooks I’ve worked with lead the students through their paces before the learners have had a chance to master the steps. It’s much more effective if the teachers can integrate what the students learned last week with what they will learn this week, even going back further in the sequence as necessary.

And that’s what my friend and I organized these two manuscripts as a methodical approaches to building your students’ confidence and skill in writing without going too fast, or missing out any of the important pieces of the puzzle.  I hope you enjoy them!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teaching writing is not a race. Don’t go too fast through the lessons—you won’t be doing your students any favors.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Look at these two writing textbooks and notice not only the particular exercises we recommend, but also the order in which we put those tasks.

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Elicit Success With Great Teaching Methodology

What method should I use to create a good learning environment in my classes?

When teachers learn methodology for teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL), they often encounter an alphabet soup of acronyms meant to help them remember the steps to good teaching.

Two of the most common methods used when teaching English overseas are PPP and ESA. PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, Production. ESA stands for Engage, Study, Activate.

Confused? Don’t be. Bear with me for a moment—don’t get lost in the soup of terms—and I’ll explain why and how either of these methods, or even your own unique method, can create a great environment for learning.

 Structure is key

The most important thing about method in EFL is that teachers should provide their students with a very structured feed of information—so that after this structured input, the students can walk out of class understanding how to use their new language points—and walk out with the experience of already having used that language in a place where it’s safe to make mistakes and have been successful using it.

Let me show you what I mean.

The ESA method (as presented by Jeremy Harmer) is, as I said before, Engage, Study and Activate.  So, using this method, the first thing a good teacher might do in their English class is begin to elicit some ideas from her students.

Eliciting information makes class fun – in many ways

Let’s say we were teaching a Business English class focused on how to politely manage complaints in the workplace.  We first might pose the idea of complaints, and then ask the students to volunteer up what are some of the most common complaints. What, in their experience, do people say when they want to complain? We’ll get the students to brainstorm ideas, which makes the class interesting, active and fun. This is the part that Jeremy Harmer— or any good teacher, in fact—is such an advocate of: student participation.

When you elicit ideas and language from your students, you are giving them a sense of ownership in your class. Now, they have a stake in what is going on: “I told my class about a problem in my life, and now they’re going to help me solve it.” Elicitation empowers students, invests them in their own learning and increases the motivation of the class as a whole.

This is great for the students—and it’s also great for the teacher. There’s nothing better, teaching-wise, than a group of motivated students who are ready—and excited—to learn the lesson you are teaching.

In our Business English class example, after eliciting the types of things people complain about in the workplace, we would then get them to narrow down into the structures and form the exact language people use when posing a complaint. “What do people complain about?” would be the first question. “What do they say?” could be the second.

At this point in the lesson, it may be useful to put up some of the target structures on the board. For this example, those structures might be “I don’t like…,” or “I have a problem with…” Or, “Can you help me?” This teaches the students to identify complaints right away so they can begin to compose an accurate and respectful response.

During this whole process we want to keep eliciting from the students—what language do they remember having heard before? What language structures do they use themselves? Fit that language that is brought up into the structures you have planned to teach. Then, after having given the students practice using the language in a structured manner, start to remove the constraints and let the students speak more freely.

Practice, of course, makes perfect

For example, when teaching the target language segment, we might tell the students to “listen and repeat,” and then teach them to respond to complaints by saying, “I’m sorry this has happened. Let me do XXX to help you. Let me do YYY to solve that problem.” The students listen and repeat this several times with different variations.

As we go through the lesson, we edge into the the Study and Activate section (or the Practice and Production section depending on which method you might prefer) By the end of the lesson, the students should be able—and eager—to use the language without you laying out the structure for them.

To review the basic idea of this methodology:

First, elicit from the students some ways they can see themselves using the target language for the day.

Then, supply some structure to the lesson and practice, practice, practice.

Finally, remove the structure and let the students explore the language point more freely. By the end of the class, they will be using the language in ways that are relevant to their daily life or life on the job (Business English, remember?).

So, is this method only good for adults, students who are mature enough to think about the ‘big picture’ of their daily life? No! This method also works for children.  Let’s say you want to teach a class of kids about the language of requests. Show them a toy. Now elicit from them, how would they ask for it?

For all learners, adults and children, if the language they learn in your class is crafted to be personally relevant, then it becomes much more motivating and interesting.

The bottom line is that these methods, ESA and PPP, and the simple technique of elicitation are all about creating an environment where students learn, where they want to learn, and where what they learn is useful to them.

Not only will your students be motivated to come to the next class, but you’re likely to have less problems disciplining your students, because they will want to learn what you are teaching, they will be actively involved in your class.

New teachers often worry that their lesson plans need to fit precisely within the boundaries of PPP or ESA, or follow step-by-step what Jeremy Harmer says, or even step-by-step by what I write on this website.  They shouldn’t worry, because teachers need the flexibility to be able to tweak their lessons to the needs of their particular batch of students. Pay attention to your students’ needs and address those in the classroom—even if you have to change your method. Don’t get stuck on just one style if it’s not working for your students.  But do get stuck on the ideas of elicitation and providing a structure that is slowly removed.

In a nutshell

The basic idea I think all teachers should really absorb from this is: Elicit language that is important to the students. Provide structure. Remove the structure. Let the students gradually speak more independently as you move through the lesson, so they can begin to use the language to address their personal situations and use English to make their lives better.

TED’s Tips™ #1: In the ESL classroom elicitation can equal motivation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Your students deserve to learn language that will help them in the real world.

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How to Teach EFL Reading

Tips for Teaching Reading in the EFL Classroom

Students who are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are usually taught reading skills differently than native speakers are taught.

Its Not Just Vocabulary

While learning new words is, of course, important for unlocking the meaning of texts, the reading skills of surveying, skimming, scanning, inference, predicting, and guessing are also crucial.

Research shows that you can help your students develop their reading comprehension by zeroing in on the following skill areas:

Vocabulary Root Words

In your students’ native language, words may not be formed using the same methods or concepts as we form words in English. So, when teaching vocabulary, introduce your students to the idea of “root” words, prefixes and suffixes. These concepts will allow your students to increase their vocabulary pool quickly and with minimal effort.

Prefixes and suffixes (together called ‘affixes’) help us make many different words from one base word. As native speakers we understand that, but many EFL students will not be able to decipher without help that contain is the root of both container and containment; or that desire is the base word for undesirable and desirability.

When students come across new vocabulary in your lessons, be sure to highlight these connections. Then, they can enlarge their vocabularies and improve their ability to predict new words’ meanings from already acquired base words.

Understanding roots and affixes means learning one new root word can help a student understand many more than just that one.

But, studying affixes is only one of many ways to teach vocabulary. For more tips, check out the links further below on this page.

Surveying, Scanning, Skimming

When we are in an academic setting it’s rare that we would carefully read an entire text line by line and word for word. It would be more natural for us to instead glance through the contents of the book– the chapters, headings, subheadings, sidebars, pictures, illustrations, words in italics and bold type—and form an idea of what is the most important information for our purpose. After that, then we would home in on the specific parts of the book which will be most useful to us.

In a nutshell, that is the purpose of the concepts of surveying, scanning and skimming. When a reader does this, she moves from the ‘big picture’ all the way down to the minutiae of details. And, EFL teachers need to be aware that their students may be lacking these important skills. Learning these basic reading skills should be part of your lesson plans, to give your students a more complete understanding of how to read in English. Again, check out the links below for more help on how to impart these skills to your own students.

Developing Students’ Sixth Sense–Guessing and Predicting from Context

Just looking at the table of contents of a book won’t help your students, though. In class you’ll need to lead them through how to derive word meaning from the context of the text, and also how to develop the ability to predict what action or information will be described in the following paragraphs. For more help with teaching these skills, take a look at the links listed below.

Super Resources for Teaching Reading:

Teaching Reading – Both the main file and the subsections are useful, so don’t just skim it!

Teaching Reading Skills – This is a PDF file you can download.

Skimming and Scanning

Scanning Exercise

Skimming, Scanning, and SQ3R

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Research tells us that about 10% of learners learn a language best through reading and writing rather than speaking.   Tune in and look for those students so you can help them learn in the way they learn best.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Having students read out loud in a class is not teaching reading skills.  It is mostly teaching verbal skills.  As students learn to read they should read without moving their lips or making verbalization, discourage it when you see it.  The average person can read 4-5 times faster than they can speak.  Thus reading out loud as an exercise can severely retard a person’s reading speed.

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Body Language in the EFL Classroom

Using Gestures, Modeling and Cueing

Giving directions on just how to do an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class activity can sometimes be more challenging than the target language in that activity. Your students are still learning and they may not understand the words or structures you are using to tell them what to do.

So how can you communicate directions to your students painlessly?  By using body language—specifically modeling, gestures and cueing.

Good EFL teachers can use their hands and facial expressions to communicate ideas that students can not yet express in English. Show your students what you want them to do by miming or acting out your own request. This is called ‘modeling.’  Or, use specific hand gestures to prompt behavior or more pared-down movements to cue the students to action.  All of these help the student understand your meaning without understanding every word you say.

The point of your English lesson is to teach them the target language of that day’s lesson plan. You don’t want to bog them down in a sea of incomprehensible directions with no clue how to do the next activity.

Teachers should always model the activity before asking students to engage in it; gesture with their hands to indicate when they want students to answer in chorus, listen or repeat (i.e. put your hands by your ears for ‘listen,’ draw your hand away from your mouth for ‘repeat’); and cue students by pointing to words on the marker board or places in the textbook.

However, this “talking” with your hands can be overdone. Only gesture and cue as much as needed. If you overdo it, students may become confused. Pay close attention to how the students are responding and use more or less body language accordingly.

Modeling, gesturing and cueing are all tools in the EFL teacher’s toolbox. They will help make your class run efficiently and effectively. One thing to remember, though, is that different cultures have different ‘rules’ regarding some hand movements. For example, in some cultures it’s insulting if you use just one finger to point, while in others it’s rude to gesture with your palm up.

However, these cultural quirks can be fun to learn, and if you approach each new culture you encounter with sensitivity your students will be glad to help you catch on to the polite way to do things.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If a student doesn’t know how to answer a question you’ve just asked and the correct response is already written up on the marker board, use the subtle cue of placing your hand on the board near the answer to draw attention to it. This isn’t cheating—you’re not giving them the answer, only helping them notice it.

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Fun and Games in the Classroom

Is it Education or Entertainment?  Some call it Edutainment.

What do you get when you make a monkey dance?

A cynical English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher might reply, “Edutainment.”

But combining “Education” and “Entertainment” together is not always a bad idea.  In many countries, ESL edutainment is much more prevalent than strict, serious ‘education.’

Of course, in some nations you will find schools to be super-oriented on old-school ‘education,’ focused on and memorizing lesson content. These schools will want to you to teach the students some skills. However, you may also find more relaxed schools which will hope that students learn some English while being amused by you, the ultra-entertaining English teacher.

Both environments can be fulfilling for the teacher. You just have to know how to prepare yourself if you are, in fact, expected to provide edutainment. A good idea is to prepare English-adaptable games and fun activities for classes. Students do learn a lot from games and activities, so you’re not doing them a disservice by playing around on class time.

However, it is possible to cross a line between teaching a fun, entertaining class and becoming the often-referred-to dancing monkey. If you take a job with a school that values the entertainment aspect above all else, then beware of burning out before your contract expires.

Assuming, though, that your school just wants to be on the right side of entertaining, it’s a good idea to seek out some games and activities. As for most things resource-related, the Internet is a super place to start. The “Games” pages at Dave’s ESL Cafe has more listings of games and activities than you could ever imagine using. If you weed through and select six or eight of these activities that you think will work with your students, you can later tweak them to different levels and topics to use in multiple classes, many times.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Search out some games that YOU find interesting (remember, you’ll spend time playing them too!) and think about how to chop and change them for multiple levels and many kinds of class objectives.

Make a list (or bag or box) of these games and materials with your other teaching stuff and bring them to every class. That way, you’ve got them ready to deploy should you have to substitute for another teacher. Plus, you’ll get happy feedback from your students—don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything ‘edutainment’ is BAD!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just play something. There should always be ‘a moral’ to the story—keep an educational goal in sight whatever game or activity you use in class. Students will quickly become bored if you play just for the sake of playing something.

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Banish Boring Boardwork

How to Organize your Class Board for Effective EFL Lessons

Good boardwork—what you write on the marker board during classtime—is a sign of a skilled English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher.

Pucker up and KISS the board—no, it’s not what you think. KISS is a good reminder for you to “Keep It Simple for Students.”

When you’re preparing your class, mentally go through your lesson and put all the things on the board that you plan to put on the board. In a perfect world, all of the information you put up will fit without having to erase anything. Furthermore, the board should look neat and tidy and, most importantly, easy to understand. Go to the back of the room and see it from the desks or chairs at the back. All of your students should be able to read it easily.

During this dry run, make sure you’ve got all of the important stuff on the board—target language, grammar structure and vocabulary. New words may look best off to one side.

While you’re doing this, you’ll likely find that you have to change a few things in your original plan. This is a great exercise to do, not only to help your boardwork, but also to meter the lesson’s flow.

It’s also important to consider each classroom if you teach the same lesson plan in different places. In many rooms, the bottom third of the board may be obstructed by student heads and not easily seen from the back of the class. Also, sometimes the angle of the board relative to the students makes the extreme left or right of the board hard to see from some seats.

Another problem factor might be too much light—glare from windows and overhead lighting can render some of the board unreadable from some angles. It’s a good idea to pull down curtains or blinds to save your students’ eyes.  If you take all these things into account, it means you’re safest using the top two-thirds of the board and the middle sixty percent.

When you’re doing your pre-class boardwork practice, don’t forget to check if you’re writing your words large enough and clearly enough to read easily. You might be surprised!

During classtime, don’t forget to ask the students before you erase anything on the board. You’ll see that the high-achievers in the class will want to write down your boardwork for their notes. It’s polite to ask them first, and if someone is taking notes you want to make sure they don’t rush and make a mistake!  These are likely your best students.  Don’t frustrate them.

The very best lesson plans will include examples of your planned boardwork, typically on the last page. It’s a big help if you plan your boardwork ahead of time.

TED’s Tips™ #1: While you’re not creating the next Mona Lisa, boardwork is a fine art that you should work on improving, along with the rest of your teaching skills.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just think about yourself—it helps your students when you present your lesson on the board clearly, visibly and in an easily understandable way.

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English Fun and Games

Games and Activities in the EFL Classroom

Games—they’re not just for young learners.  Playing games and jazzing up your lessons with intriguing activities are an essential part of the dynamic English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom.

Through playful situations, you, the teacher, create a no-stress situation where students can use the day’s target language. Best of all, most games require some repetition, so the students will use the language or structures over and over and build up good language habits.

When planning your EFL classes, you’ll most likely start with a “warm-up” or “icebreaker”—typically an activity that relaxes the students and settles them down ready for class. This warmer can often be a game—which immediately sets a fun tone for the rest of the classtime.

Later in the class, in the practice and production stages of the lesson, you’ll probably plan in some structured activities–and while this is the real meat of the lesson–who says these can’t be lighthearted and fun as well?

At the very end of class, time permitting, you may want to review structures or language with a short English-based game before the students go to break.

What you want is to let your class unwind a little, have a few laughs, then work harder in the middle before finishing on a fun, high note.

You’ll find that if you follow this basic process of beginning and ending with a playful, stress-reducing activity or game, the students will likely be more motivated for the next class session.

Any long-term EFL teacher will tell you that they keep a few fave games or activities up their sleeves, ready to go with limited prepwork. These will save your bacon any time you’re asked to substitute for another teacher and haven’t had time to prepare a proper lesson. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual in ESL to be asked to fill in at a moment’s notice.

If you want to build your own repertoire of games and fun activities to spice up your lessons, browse the Internet to find some ideas. A great place to start the search is at Dave’s ESL Cafe here:  ESL EFL Games

TED’s Tips™ #1: After browsing games at Dave’s ESL Cafe and some other sites, make a list of five or more games that you think you’ll have fun with. Don’t just write them down, however, also consider how you can use the games in different settings, with different age or skill levels, and adapted to different target language or topics.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Google (or Yahoo or whatever you do) the terms “ESL Games” and “EFL Games” and browse through the umpteen results to get some easy, multipurpose games. Luckily for you, there are tons of ESL game resources on-line.

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The Correct Way to Fix Student Errors in EFL

 Your mission – should you accept it – is to teach students studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) how to say things correctly.

But when they make a mistake, what’s a good English teacher to do?

The how and the when of correcting classroom errors is troublesome for most teachers. Correcting too much is bad, but so is correcting too little. What should be corrected? And when in the class should you do it?

The balance needs to be struck between giving students important constructive criticism and over-correcting them to the point they think twice (or maybe three times) before opening their mouths to participate in class.

Experts Say…

Studies have shown that you’ll improve your students’ English if you focus on these three kinds of mistakes in class:

1. High frequency errors

2. Stigmatizing errors

3. Errors that block meaning or confuse the listener

From my experience, I would offer another kind of mistake that should be caught in class:

4. Errors in using the lesson’s target language.

Great, so that’s what a teacher should be on the lookout for in class. But when should the student be told that they’ve made a mistake? And how can the teacher do it gently and efficiently?

These questions are harder to answer.  Evidence on this is inconclusive, but research seems to show that to effectively error-correct a teacher should:

1. When hearing a mistake, speak the corrected statement

2. Listen for mistakes and do a general review of them at the end of the activity segment

3. Encourage peer correction

4. Correct the student yourself (but use this less than the other three ways)

Fluency vs. Accuracy—Creating a Balance

EFL teachers need to watch their students carefully to juggle the importance of speaking quickly and smoothly (i.e. fluency) with the necessity of using correct grammar and syntax (i.e. accuracy.).

Usually teachers will observe a give-and-take between these two concepts. If a student strives too hard to be accurate, they will probably lose on fluency. On the other hand, if they prioritize speed of speech too much, they’ll end up babbling something that sounds like English—but follows no rules at all.

If teachers are on the alert to how, when and what student mistakes occur in the classroom, they can balance fluency and accuracy.  It’s not always easy, but here’s a rule of thumb to help:  In a speaking or a conversation class, focus on fluency. But in a writing class, you should focus on accuracy.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Think carefully about different ways you can correct student errors. This is such an important part of your lesson, you may think about putting it in your lesson plan.

TED’s Tips™ #2: When you correct student mistakes in class, think about the students’ skill level and educational history before you take action.

If the students’ experiences are in an environment where they have been often chastised or publicly shown their errors, then they will often be hesitant to speak and you as the teacher will need to focus on fluency. But if they come from a string of more liberal classrooms, then you might have to roll up your sleeves on accuracy.

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Keeping Students Keen on English

How to Motivate EFL Students

As any teacher will tell you, motivating students is one of the most important—and oftentimes  most difficult– parts of the job.

But to understand how to unlock student motivation, understand that students who know why they need to learn the language that is the target of the day’s lesson will want to learn it, and will learn it more easily. Communicating this ‘why’ is part of being an effective teacher.

Don’t just expect this motivation to appear out of the thin classroom air–to generate student desire to learn, instructors have quite a few methods available.

Plan Motivation into Your Lessons

First, show the context where the target language could be used. For example, the language might be ‘polite requests’ and the where might be ‘the post office.’ Do this at the start of the lesson.

Later, when drawing your visuals—a dialog or structure chart on the marker board, perhaps–elicit as much language as possible from the students. The more language that actually comes from the students, the more interesting it will be for them.

When you are executing the “Production” or “Activation” part of your lesson plan, encourage your students to use the target language to discuss their hobbies, emotions, and daily life. This will link the lesson to their personal lives and thus be more exciting, which will help foster their motivation. As you’ll realize at many a cocktail party—most people just love talking about themselves.

Keep it Real—Keep it Relevant

Relevance is another component in student motivation.

When you have adult students, you should plan the lesson to talk about grown-up issues. Children will blossom talking about kid things, and teenagers need to learn from classes that are relevant to their age group. Keeping your class demographic in mind will help you ratchet up their interest in the lesson.

Depending on your coursebook, you may need additional materials or tangential lesson plans to make this work. Unfortunately, one popular English book for young learners has lessons on purchasing automobiles and booking plane tickets—issues the students won’t have to worry about for years to come. A lesson on choosing toys at a toy shop or on the latest video game would prove much more motivating to kids.

The use of real-world items in lessons,(in TEFL jargon we call it ‘realia’) also promotes interest, and it’s often easy to do. If you have a lesson on your schedule about fruit, why not stop by the store and bring some actual fruit to class. In the same vein, if you’re teaching Business English, then using real-world documents from their office will help students realize English does have relevance and importance in their daily life.

You can read more about student motivation at the following links:

Motivation in the Classroom

The Failure of Extrinsic Motivation

Ideas for Motivating Students

When Students Do Not Feel Motivated for Literacy Learning: How a Responsive Classroom Culture Helps

TED’s Tips™ #1: Student motivation starts with you. Teachers are responsible for sparking and holding student motivation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: What really interests your students? Try to find the answer to this question and then build your lessons around those motivators.

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Where Should you Take your TEFL Training?

Take your teacher training in the country where you plan to teach

I’m often asked where is best to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training in-classroom course. A variation on this question is, ‘Is it better to take teaching training in your home country or in the country in which you plan to teach?’

Look for An Experienced Trainer

My recommendation would usually be for a TEFL school where your primary trainer is well-educated and has broad experience in more than one country and more than one or two school settings, and has been teaching EFL abroad for about 10-12 years.   But that is not always possible, but try to get near to it.

I think the level of experience of your trainer(s) is very important. When I was a teacher trainer (some years back) someone was hired right out of my class to organize and execute a TEFL Certification course for another company.  Lucky her, except…she had NO teaching experience AT ALL. Yikes! I won’t tell any more of this story, but it didn’t work out well, and it was not a unique situation.

Train Where You Want to Teach

My answer to the second question is to, yes, go abroad to the country where you want to work. Take your training there, or as close to that country as you can. Here’s why:

1. When you move to the new country to do the TEFL course you will also be adapting to the culture and learning how to get around. Then, when you start hunting for jobs, you’ll have an easier time than if you had just showed up cold.

2. Local TEFL Certification schools will be able to tell you who are the best and biggest employers, which schools to contact first for a job, and–just as importantly–which schools you should avoid.

3. When you do your teacher training, you’ll do some Observed Teaching Practice with real students. If you study for your certification in the same country where you will work, then these students will have the same grammar and pronunciation problems as the students you will be teaching at your first TEFL job.

Pronunciation Problems Differ from Place to Place

There are a few reasons why this is important.  Depending on their mother tongues, each country’s students will have different difficulties when they learn English grammar and pronunciation.  This isn’t a big deal, but even teachers with a lot of experience will need to spend some of their first classroom hours figuring out how to solve these problems when they begin working in a new country.

For a new EFL teacher, this will certainly take more time and effort. If you can get a handle on local grammar and pronunciation issues during your training, and if you have a good trainer, you’ll be a strikingly more effective teacher from the get-go.

Additionally, in some countries schools will want you to do a “demonstration lesson” as part of the hiring process. Of course this sample lesson will go much more smoothly for you if you have a leg up on what sorts of classroom problems you might face in that country and you’ve already taught (during your teaching practice) those types of students.

And, in countries where demonstration lessons are the norm, your TEFL Certification training course will give you the chance to design and polish that demo lesson, under the supervision of an experienced teacher-trainer.

Think about it, if you just walk off the plane and into a job interview that includes a demonstration lesson, how will you plan it if you don’t know what local students’ common problems are?

As if those weren’t enough reasons, if you do your course abroad, then during your TEFL Certification course you’ll be able to scour the job market and line up that perfect job for after you finish your training.

Lastly, if you go to the developing world to take your TEFL Certification course, you’ll save money. In many countries, TEFL Certification courses are much cheaper than in the West. Your room and board will cost less too.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Figure out what country you’d like to teach in and do your TEFL Certification course there.

TED’s Tips™ #2: During your TEFL course, prepare and polish a demonstration lesson so you have it ready when you start looking for jobs.  Just in case . . .

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Show off your Skills with a Demonstration Lesson

A No-Worries Guide to the EFL Demonstration Lesson

You’re a newly minted English teacher, and you’re looking for that first job. You get a call back, but—uh,oh—they want you to do a demonstration lesson when you come in for your interview.

Now, they said, “demo lesson,” but you’re thinking it’s more “demon lesson.”  Should you be scared? No, way.

While much feared by newbie teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), a “Demonstration Lesson” is a common part of the hiring process in some countries, and is an excellent opportunity for you to strut your teaching stuff.

At first glance, a demonstration lesson is an uncomfortable scenario. Sometimes the school trots out some fake “students” (usually other teachers or school office staff) to watch your lesson and, occasionally, ask you typical learner questions. But really, this is nothing to be feared. Don’t worry about it, just show off what you know.

Prepare for your demo lesson knowing that your prospective boss isn’t just looking at your academic qualifications. They also want someone who is personable and extroverted, who smiles, and who is able to make a decent lesson plan and motivate and lead students through their tasks.

Know Before You Go

If you’re scheduled to give a demonstration lesson, here are some questions you should ask:

1. For whom is the lesson is intended?

2. What is the students’ skill level?

3. What target language or topic should you teach?

4. How long will your lesson need to be?

After you get the answers to these questions (and they might even let you decide those answers) you need to make a clear lesson plan. Bring two copies of it (not forgetting to attach any handouts) with you to the demonstration lesson. One copy is for you, and one is for whoever will be observing your performance.

Execute your plan with care, making sure your board work is clean and readable. Carefully keep your teacher talk time in check.

You need to realize that, for some employers, being amiable and good at working with others is valued as highly when hiring as your ability to teach. So, during your demonstration lesson, emphasize those attributes as well as your classroom skills.

When you go in, dress appropriately (don’t forget to put on your biggest smile, too),and look confident. They may want you to teach the full lesson plan, but often your prospective boss will see you know what you’re doing and will have you stop after only a few activities.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

Don’t just wing it—practice your lesson over and over before the demonstration lesson. If you can, get an experienced teacher to observe you and give you some advice.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Do an In-country TEFL Course

If you take a teacher training course in the country in which you intend to work, you’ll have a great opportunity to develop and refine a “demo” lesson and get the input of your teacher trainer and course-mates.

Remember, be confident, wear your best smile, and you’ll be fine.

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Troublemakers in the EFL Classroom

What can you do about discipline in the EFL classroom?

Keep Calm and Collected in English Class

Discipline issues in EFL class are usually best avoided by having an active lesson plan that involves all of the students.

An engaged, busy student is not usually a trouble-making student.  But, as new teachers quickly come to realize, many students are not in the EFL classroom of their own volition.

Unfortunately, a lot of students take English classes simply because their school or university program demands it, their business or boss requires it, or their ambitious family placed them there. All of these factors can lead to discipline problems.

Whatever the problem, my advice is to always keep your cool. If at all possible, you should deal with a disciplinary problem BEFORE you get hot under the collar, and while you can still think calmly about how to solve it.

It’s easy to plan ahead for common problems like being tardy, whispering to friends in class, monkeying around with a cell phone when they’re supposed to be doing the reading assignment, and so on.

Be a Serious, But Calm Enforcer

You need to show your students that you are serious about your classroom rules. Do this by being consistent in enforcing your rules, and by not losing your cool when someone makes a mistake.

Misbehaving students who chat or otherwise distract the class often calm down if you just walk up to stand near their chair.  Sometimes even your most disruptive teenager can be settled down with a gentle hand placed on his or her shoulder. You needn’t rebuke them, they’ll understand your message.

It’s important to enforce the rules with a smile on your lips, so you aren’t punishing the rest of the class as well. And while adults usually don’t have the same disciplinary problems as teenagers and children, in some cultures they may.

Naughty Kids? Here’s What To Do

There’s an old rule that an activity for a child shouldn’t be more than twice their age minus two. So, a five-year-old student can probably handle an eight-minute (or less) game or activity. Any longer, and you’ll find them squirming in their seats.

When you see a student act out, they usually just want some attention. It’s helpful to look at some standard psychology and behavior modification techniques to think of how to get around these drama queens (and kings).

Now, you don’t want to give a student attention (what they want) for misbehaving (what you don’t want). Instead, it’s a better idea to make an example of a child near them, and reward that student for sitting still, completing their exercises, or whatever it is the trouble-causing kid is not doing. Hopefully, then the problem student will change his behavior, hoping for their share of some praise from you.

Some schools will have set disciplinary procedures they want their teachers to adhere to, so it’s important to find out what rules your boss thinks should be enforced and what he or she advises you do about classroom behavior issues.

Language training centers and schools are often privately-owned businesses. If this is your case, you need to be careful to deal with disciplinary problems in language and actions that won’t end up with your boss losing customers.

Ask your co-workers what school policy is for disciplinary action. It’s important to know if your school will “back you up” if there’s a student with a serious reoccurring discipline problem.  Know this before you press an issue, and lose.

Are You Helping Your Friend or Just Copying Her Answers?

In the West, cheating is a big academic no-no. A shameful thing for any student to admit. But not every culture sees it the same way. Sometimes, what might look to you, the teacher like cheating, will just be “helping my buddy” in another culture.  Almost an obligation in some cultures.  Take preventative actions like separating friends, spreading desks farther apart and even using two or more forms of the same test.

Of course, teachers shouldn’t let cheating carry on, but TEFL teachers shouldn’t stress about it either. Sometimes it is just a cultural issue, deal with it, but don’t take it personally.

At the end of the day, discipline in the EFL classroom isn’t different from any other kind of classroom. Plan to avoid it, keep your cool, and you’ll be golden.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t Get Angry

Having an angry teacher distracts students. And, it’s unprofessional. Practice the skill of disciplining with a straight face. Use a mirror and practice at home if you need to. And don’t forget to follow any discipline with a gentle smile when you turn to the rest of the class.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Stop. Think. Plan.

Before you correct a student’s behavior, you should stop and think about what you are going to do.  After you make this mental plan, you can be sure that you are not punishing the student from ire or annoyance. Often, students will do the same bad behavior again and again. If you see this, before the next class decide what you will do so you can look out for the behavior, catch it and correct it.

Do all this calmly and don’t neglect smiling at the other students—it’s not their fault.

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Business English might be your TEFL Ticket

As you have seen, much of the current material on this blog comes from the great questions you readers ask. Today we will discuss another one.

This one will be more in a Q and A style than most others.

The reader was interested in teaching ESP in possibly the Middle East.

Hi Richard (name changed to protect the innocent).

You wrote:  You mentioned that you had experience teaching for corporate companies.

Yes, probably more experience than most teachers.

When you taught, for example, Roche Pharmaceuticals (Taiwan), did you adapt the English course to suit the pharmaceutical industry e.g. English for special purposes?

Yes, absolutely. It was adapted based on a good Needs Analysis of what they felt they were having problems with. The changes were not based on a preconceived opinion about what I might have thought they needed.  (you can download a good Needs Analysis form at the bottom of this page: CLICK HERE)

Would you say today, that corporate companies want specialized courses to fit their industry, so if you did teach a petroleum company, would it be necessary to study courses in geology/petroleum engineering etc.

Yes, they expect a course that is focused on their business needs. No, it won’t be necessary to study their specialty, though it is important to understand and have an idea of what they do on the job, when and how they use and need English, and with which problems they need your help. You don’t have to show up as a know-it-all in their field, but a good needs analysis when you arrive is very important.

Also, which industry sector needs English instructors the most?

There is no specific place, but I would say that there is a need for English instructors almost everywhere in almost every industry. It has more to do with where, rather than what. Each country has their own needs. For example, if you are going to the Gulf States you will most likely teach in the petroleum and perhaps the hospitality industry, because that is their need. In Nepal the focus will probably be on tourism and hospitality as in Switzerland it might be on banking and hospitality.

These days many students study abroad, so their English is a higher level than students 30 years ago, so where would there be a niche market for English instructors in corporate firms?

It is the same answer as above. There is a global need and it’s not always where you might think it is. It is not just about foreigners communicating with English speakers. No, it goes further. English is the only common language between, for example, a Chinese exporter and the Brazilian who needs the product. Or a Japanese construction company working closely with local engineers installing a high speed train in Bulgaria.

And finally, what was the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The greatest reward was helping people to improve their career prospects.

TED’s Tips™ #1: It will be better to focus your ESP skills to an industry, in which you are familiar and preferably experienced in, rather than looking for a new industry and trying to adapt to it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Remember, businesses want to see a final product and the same goes for hiring a teacher in their company – they want to see results. They hire you to solve their communication problems and it is your job to get to the root of what your ESP students need. If you can’t give them results, you will quickly be out the door.  But, if you know the industry well, you will have the solutions they need.

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Build your own ESP for TEFL Success

Earn More – Enjoy it More

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss. It’s a topic that newbies and especially us older teachers should pay special attention to.

A few things might stand in your way to break into the TEFL world. If you don’t fit the stereotype of a young, beautiful or handsome, white native speaker you may find yourself at a disadvantage, but don’t forget about your skills.

How can you deal with this stereotypical discrimination against older teachers and make the disadvantage an advantage? Your answer lies in ESP – English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

You can draw special skills for ESP from your work history and experience. As you climb the ladder of age, your skills will climb too. If you are older, your skills will be more in-depth and you will have a greater variety of them.

Recently I met an older woman looking for a teaching job in a wonderful destination resort area.  As she was older, she was not likely to be picked by the local school system who liked young women to teach their young kids. Does she really want a local school job while her ESP skills are just waiting to be tested.  She had worked for and been trained by a major hotel chain.

If you compare teaching screaming kids in a hot classroom and teaching hotel receptionists in small groups in an air-conditioned corporate training room, which one do you want? Give me that hotel job! No doubt about it. So that is the future of this woman.

Her resume should focus on two things: Her hospitality training and experience plus her TEFL training and experience. It’s a match almost made in heaven, a good ESP marriage.

She can even take her job search further, beyond just hotels and resorts and apply for jobs at colleges and universities with hospitality training programs.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take another glance at your resume before heading for the TEFL world. Identify your ESP skills and exploit them. It’s to your advantage.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t forget about the colleges, universities, technical schools, specialized vocational secondary schools and all the rest who might teach and value and need your “special” skills.

Why ignore your ESP skills when it has countless advantages? It will open many doors for you, you will most likely teach people who share your interests and get a higher salary. Your ESP skills are a big bonus.

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Visiting an Embassy for your Visa Paperwork

I frequently get a question about what to take to the embassy when applying for a visa and the answer is always the same: Take everything!

Take your degree(s) and copies of it (if applicable). Take your TEFL certification and copies of it. Take your transcripts and copies of it. Take your passport and copies of the ID page. Take several professional passport photos (check the embassy’s website for specifics on size and background color). Take your resume/CV and copies of it. Take everything your future employer sent you and copies of all of that.

Did I mention that you should take copies?  Take a big folder with everything in it. Everything.  And a copy of everything.  Do you copy that?

What’s this mission about taking everything?

To some degree it actually has nothing to do with the job, but it is all about with the embassy and consulate workers.  Now . . . only my opinion, but they can often (not always) be very uncooperative and have an attitude of entitlement. If they can find a way to avoid doing and processing all your petty paperwork, they will find a way.

The way they go around avoiding your work is to ask what you have brought and what you can provide. Sometimes they will read a long list of things they want – things that are not always required – just to look for a reason to send you away and hoping that someone else will deal with you when you come back the next time.  Or maybe you will just go away forever.

You might even look into a face of disappointed embassy worker when you show up with literally everything because that means they have to process your paperwork. They might even make you feel like a trouble maker.

In all fairness – working in an embassy or consulate can be a difficult and unhappy job.  Embassy and consulate workers take the brunt of our frustration and can even be targets for terrorists and other political plays.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take everything and copies of everything. Take more photos than required.

TED’s Tips™ #2: It’s not personal – it is just one of those cultural games you will play while living abroad.

You can even get this kind of attitude from your own country’s embassy. You will still need to visit your own embassy from time to time for a variety of paperwork, passport renewals, notarized documents, etc.  Don’t assume your own country’s embassy will be more cooperative.  They can sometimes be even worse.

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