Monday, 26 October 2015

Songs with phonetics: Ed Sheeran, Thinking out loud

My teenage students begged me to do Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran. Be warned though, the video is a bit raunchy. Below is an activity for your students once they know the phonetic alphabet. If you haven't taught your students phonetics yet, then have a look at ways to teach phonetics.

There are a couple ways you can do this lesson.

1- Students listen to the song first and try to fill the gaps. Then put the words in the correct columns and listen again.
2- Students look at the missing words first and put them in the correct columns. Then listen to the song and complete the gaps.

I've prepared the song with numbered gaps, an activity to put the words in the correct column, plus the full lyrics and answers. I plan to get my students to learn the chorus and sing it a few times. Everything is on this word document:Ed Sheeran: Thinking out loud

Have fun!

Monday, 5 October 2015

TEFL Tips: Friend or foe?

This is a post for all those TEFL teachers out there worried about being too friendly, or not friendly enough, with their students. Bearing in mind this is coming from someone who married one of his ex-students, I may not be the best person to listen to, but I reckon I’ve got the perfect balance now in my classes.

Over the years I’ve tried various tactics: being over friendly and wanting students to like me, rather than teach them English, or being super strict and either scaring students so they have either begged their parents not to come to class or spent far too long before opening up in class.

Now I think I’ve found the happy medium where I have a laugh with my students, but they get the work done and respect me. Here are a few tips on how to get that balance.

Harsh, but fair.
Photo by Chris Pirillo
1-      Go in hard

It might be a tad late for this term (would you believe we were chatting about Xmas already in the staffroom the other day) but those first two or three weeks are vital for setting up your goal posts, making the rules clear, and showing them how far they can, or can’t, push you. The stricter you are to begin with, the less likely they are to take advantage of you, especially if you are a new teacher.

This year I kicked off my classes with a rant about Spanish, where I explained that each time they spoke Spanish I would put a line on the board, 5 lines is double homework, 10 lines is copy a text. This was even before I did the register or introduced myself. It seems to have worked, even though some classes have had double homework, and also a couple are a tad on the quiet side.

I also set homework from the first day, and explain that each time they don’t do it they get a red card, 3 red cards before Xmas then I phone their parents. So far so good, but one girl is on 2 already. I’m also strict on their time keeping, being ready when I walk in, making sure they thank me at the end of the class, sweeping the floor before they leave, that sort of thing.

I find it’s the 2nd and 3rd week when I have to get tough with behaviour, remind them of Spanish, and tell them the story about Mr Sirichild (a strict teacher I worked with in Thailand who used a hard wooden ruler for his punishment). Just keep on and by the 2nd month you should have them under control and be able to ease up a bit, which brings me on to my next point.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

What makes a perfect English language learner? Part 2

Following on from part 1 of what makes a perfect English language learner, here are a few more points.

If she can do it, anyone can.
Photo by Kat

Perfect students are always happy, even when they can’t master the verb to be. I know speaking in another language can change people’s personalities, I certainly come across as quite serious when I speak in Spanish, or at least I did, but there’s no reason why you can’t smile now and then while learning. 

It might not actually help you remember those tricky double phrasal verb definitions, or aid you in understanding the 4th conditional, but it will make the whole learning process more enjoyable, especially for the teacher. A happy class is not a miserable class.

Focus on the verb ‘to be.’

A perfect student means perfect grammar. But we all know perfect grammar is hard to master, so to make your lives easier I’d recommend focussing on the verb ‘to be,’ particularly the third person ‘s.’ This won’t guarantee fluency, or ensure you’ll be able to have a decent conversation with a native speaker, nor will it necessarily mean achieving a B1 or B2 level of English. But you will get on the good side of your teacher, and when your parents test you to check whether you ‘know English’ by reciting the verb ‘to be’ chart then you’ll impress.

Think in English

The best language learners think in the new language. When I first started to learn Spanish, in an adult course after university, I used to recite vocabulary in my head on the way home. I may have looked like a fool muttering to myself in Spanish as I strolled past old ladies watering their flowers, but it helped.

Just think about it, how much time do you actually think during the day? We are constantly talking to ourselves, planning our day, worrying about things, preparing conversation with people, so why can’t you train your brain to do that in English?

That’s what I did when I first came to Sevilla, I thought a lot, effectively spoke to myself, in Spanish. Before I met up with my girlfriend, now wife, I’d prepare questions I wanted to ask her in my mind in Spanish, I still do. You can even record yourself and then play it back and listen to how awful you sound (only teasing).

Saturday, 12 September 2015

What makes a perfect English language learner?

This is for TEFL teachers, and also any English learners who might be browsing the web for inspiring articles on how to avoid ending up on the TEFL student blacklist. We’ve all come into contact with English language learners over the years, but which ones have really stood out, made you smile, motivated you to make a career out of English teaching, or merely kept quiet and done their work?

There are many types of English learners: those who you grow fond of and wink at when you see them actually using the latest vocabulary in a class activity, those who you wonder how they would survive if you dumped them in the middle of Leicester Square with nothing but an empty oyster card, and those who you think might be better off in Australia, not to learn English, but get lost in the outback somewhere.

So what is the perfect English learner? I’m sure you all have your own expectations, whether high or low, but here are mine.

Pen or pencil, profe?
Don't care, just do the work.
Photo by Enokson
Pen or Pencil Syndrome

A perfect English student will always have either, but preferably both, a pen or pencil (sharpened would be lovely). There are three types of students who could potentially annoy the hell out of their teacher with regards to the pen or pencil syndrome.

First are the ones who forget them. I just don’t get how kids and adults can repeatedly forget their pen or pencil. It’s like if I turned up for work without my whiteboard.

“Oh sorry guys, I left my whiteboard at my grandmother’s house while I was showing her how to use the interactive pen, so we’ll have to huddle round my notebook.”

I guess it’s mainly the parents’ fault. But then again some kids could lie to their parents if they really wanted to piss them, and us, off.

“Pepe, have you got a pencil today?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Where is it then? I can’t see it in your folder or pencil case.”

“It’s right here, Mama,” says Pepe, holding up his middle finger.

Second are the ones who continuously drop them on the floor. Granted, the tables at my school are a tad on the tiny side, especially for adults, or gym enthusiastic adolescents, but is it really that difficult to keep their writing device near to their book?

Third ones, and the worst, are those who can’t decide which one to use. It drives me mad when students continuously ask me.

“Pen or pencil, Profe?”

“The blue one.”

“No have blue one.”

“Which is your favourite?”

“Pen, pen, pen.”

“Then use the pen.”

“But no is my book, and father say no use pen.”

“Then there’s your answer.”

“So, no pen?”

“No, no pen.”

“But Javi use pen…”

Sound familiar? So, to all those who want to be a perfect student, bring both a pen and pencil, glue them to your hand, and be bold enough to decide which one to use.

Avid listeners

While listening to Eminem rapping, or jotting down the vocabulary from Sex in the City are unlikely to help too much in a B2 exam, listening to music, series, and films in English will improve any students level. It’s not just about listening though. You have to be keen to try to guess the meaning of words you don’t know, try to identify accents, and keep a record of anything new you learn.

Most people are capable of listening, but the perfect students are the ones who listen and take on board what the teacher says, especially when we say things like ‘this might be in the exam,’ or ‘revise your vocabulary otherwise you’ll forget it,’ and ‘to avoid embarrassing situations pronounce beach with a long vowel sound.’

It’s those students who listen to the teacher when helping with pron, or giving tips for improving skills or simple instructions about page numbers and whether to use a pen or pencil, and telling dull anecdotes (and laughing at the useless jokes), who will go a long way in life, and may actually learn some English on the way.

Make an effort

The best learners are those who come to class, sit next to their mates and chat about their school day, don’t listen to the teacher, stare at members at the opposite sex, plan their evenings play station activities in their notebook, question everything the teacher says, argue about their marks, ask what we are doing, or what page we are on, try to check their mobile at every chance, see a new word and ignore it, don’t ask the teacher for help, not pay attention, write their homework on their hand, don’t do it, and forget about English until the next class. If you really want to be a perfect English learner, then do all of the above.

Part 2 on it's way shortly...

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Summer off!

This is where I'll be hiding...
So don't try follow me.
Photo by A Guy Taking Pictures
I'm taking the summer off Teaching English in a Foreign Land to focus on my novel. There comes a time in every wannabe novelist's life when they realise that unless they buckle down and get on with it, and put distrations to one side, then the novel will always be an unpublished novel. And with two kids to look after now time is precious, so blogging has to take a hit.

This doesn't mean you can't buy my book though. I know, shameless self advertising but that's the whole point of this blog.

I'll be back in September though hopefully. I'll still be posting from Intrepid Den, so keep reading. Have a great summer, see you again when term starts....

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

DELTA a waste of time, blossoming students, and living well as a TEFL teacher

Here’s part 2 of last week’s blog.
How many of your students
make it into a flower?
Photo by l'Ours
5)      Only one or two students really blossom

Why is that? How is it possible that you teach the 3rd conditional, or some tricky ‘turn’ phrasal verbs, but only one or two students will actually remember, and be able to produce it, in the next class? I guess I’ve known this for a while, but it’s only really this year that I’ve taken on board the fact that no matter how hard we try to improve our students English, only a couple will really absorb the language we throw at them. 

What I noticed this year is that it’s always the ones who are avid note takers. You know, the ones who are always asking what everything means, who copy everything you write on the board, who are the ones who use those turn phrasal verbs in their next writing assignment. 

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was avid note takers, not just for the sake of copying, but because they actually want to learn the word, or maybe be an English teacher one day, go and live in an English speaking country and be able to sing at karaoke without everyone taking the piss out of their accent.

6)      Doing a DELTA was a waste of time

There, I’ve said it. After all those blogs I wrote about DELTA, saying how marvellous and life changing it was blah blah blah, now I’ve gone and done a 360 and decided it was all a load of tosh. Why oh why did I give up a year of my life, my writing, my hair, and torment myself with the pressure of doing a DELTA?

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly. Of course it wasn’t a waste of time and I’m a much better teacher, at least in the eyes of Cambridge, but there was a load of crap on that course, wasn’t there?

I mean, really, what was the point in memorising so much terminology for that exam? I spent a good thirty minutes a day memorising words like catenation, onset, and morphology. Who in their right mind would ever use these words while teaching? It’s insane.

It’s funny but one of the main areas I had to improve on my DELTA was drilling. I still drill in class, don’t get me wrong, but not to the extent it was necessary to get a decent mark in Module 2. That brings me on to all the time we needed to prepare one hour of teaching. The reading, preparing, practising that we had to do was so unrealistic to the real world that it all seems a bit silly. I mean who has a spare 10 hours a week to plan for one class? And don’t even get me started on Module 3. Planning a course for a bunch of imaginary students I’ll never teach…please.

Saying that, if you want a career in TEFL and do want to improve the way your teach, then the DELTA is worth it, just be prepared for jumping through the Cambridge hoops to get there.

7)      Teaching phonetics is useless unless you go over it often

I made the same mistake again this year. I’ve done it two years running now. At the start of term I get all excited about phonetics and firmly believe that it’s a great tool for improving student’s pronunciation. Or at least showing them visually where they are going wrong. I spent about two weeks with several of my classes going over the chart in detail, doing activities, and drilling. For a few weeks I used phonetics actively in class, did a few songs, and there seemed to be progress. However, as always, exams and syllabus got in the way and pronunciation got pushed to one side in January. Stupidly I never got back into it again this year. The other week I did a few games to try to remind students of the sounds, but it was useless, half of them had forgotten.

So there’s your lesson. Don’t even bother with phonetics unless you are going to do it regularly. I hope I remember next term.
Hard work never killed anyone...not in TEFL anyway.
Photo by kylesteed

8)   You can live comfortably and support a family as a TEFL teacher in Spain, or at least in Sevilla.

After all those years of worrying whether I’d be able to survive while having kids as a TEFL teacher I can now safely say that I can. It’s hard work, and I have to do extra business classes early in the morning, which means long days, falling asleep on the metro in the afternoon, and getting home knackered a couple of nights a week, but it’s all worth it. Luckily I am a B1 and B2 oral examiner too, which definitely helps get that extra cash over the year to pay for the extras.

We still live quite simply at the moment, we rarely go out in the evenings or travel much, but that’s mainly because we two little monsters to look after, but we get by and enjoy life. Hopefully when my wife goes back to work we’ll be able to afford a few luxuries too, maybe get a car and have a couple of decent holidays a year.

So if you’re wondering about whether you can afford to teach English and have children, then the answer is yes, you can, but you have to work your arse off.

So what have you learnt this year? Enlighten me.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

FCE keeps me sane, Spanglish is real, troublesome students…

Sometimes you get to a point as a TEFL teacher and wonder if you know it all. I mean, how difficult is it to teach kids how to put an ‘s’ at the end of a verb, or help them pronounce like, like ‘like’, and not like ‘lick.’ 

After twelve years of teaching I’ve built up a fair amount of knowledge, techniques, and have found my ‘style’ of doing classes, but if I really think about it, I’ve still learnt a lot this year. No one likes a know-it-all anyway, especially me.

Here are eight things I’ve learnt this year as a TEFL teacher, spilt over two blogs.

What's round the corner?
Photo by Epcott Legacy
1)     Troublesome classes are always round the corner

After dealing with three rather demanding, competitive and extremely rude teenage girls a couple of years back, I thought I’d had my worst possible class ever. There was some serious tension in the class between them, me, and the two poor lads who were objected to nasty abuse for a good nine months. In the end, after seven months of battling, and loads of patience (and a bollocking from me and the director) I whipped them into shape and they started to behave like civilised human beings. One has now become a charming young lady, the other two left, thanks god. I was adamant that I couldn’t possibly get a worse class and would never have to endure such a horrific group of adolescents. I was wrong, or I thought I was for at least three months.

Last September I was dished out another tricky, devious, and complicated class. This time the problem was some  lads. For about two months I had nothing but attitude, boisterous showing off, and mini wars. At times they were funny, but it was their immaturity that really got to me. I had endless talks with the class about their way in class, and lack of work done. In the end, after a disastrous lesson where only three people had done their homework, I lost it. 

The next class I had them sat in rows and made a speech about how there were six students who were causing problems, wasting their time, their parent’s money and their colleague’s education. I made them present to the rest of the class about why they were at the academy, how they were going to change their attitude and what their parents would say if they found out about their behaviour. After a few tears, it worked. Since then they’ve become one of my favourite classes, we get on really well now, and their marks have improved. But it just goes to show, no matter how long you've been in an academy and have worked up a decent reputation, you can still get those tricky classes.