Monday, 2 May 2016

The time has come for a better blog...

After nearly five years writing Teaching English as a Foreign Land on, I've decided it's time to move onto and become a more professional blogger. Not that I haven't enjoyed using to publish my material, but it's time to move onto better things.

Time for a change...
Photo by Hannah Sheffield
What does this mean for you?

  • A better blog with a new name (soon to be revealed).
  • More professional presentation.
  • Easier to follow.
  • More consistent posting (every Monday and Friday).

What will I be blogging about?

Some of the usual...
  • Songs with phonetics.
  • Top ESL posts.
  • How to articles.
Some new ideas...
  • ESL journal: a two weekly journal about what happens in my classes to include content about what has worked, what hasn't, knew ideas, funny anecdotes, and best spontaneous ideas.
  • Updated Resources: including ESL games, lesson plans, activities, specific grammar points and resources on specific skills.
  • More focussed articles on every level, including tons of stuff on B1/B2.
  • My own lesson plans, games, ideas, tips, and advice.
  • The odd rant/humour/satire post.
  • Whatever else pops up.
When can you expect the move?

As soon as I've got some content on the new site, and figured how to migrate from blogger to wordpress.

What do you need to do?

Not much, just sit tight and wait for my next post explaining how you can follow me in the future.


Monday, 25 April 2016

One Long Monday: Diary Entry one- "How many cities in New York?"

The other night while on the way home from work I was chatting to some mates about how long I’d been working for the same centre: 

 I suppose it could get confusing from there.
Photo by Oscar Hevia
"Almost ten years," I sighed, and it's been a long decade.

“How does it feel?”

“Like a long day that merges together, a long Monday.”

“Yeah, where Christmas is like a break between classes.”

“Easter is a coffee break.”

“Summer is when no students turn up for your last class because a local fair is on.”

Teaching can be tedious, where each day rolls on from the next and each week lasts a month's worth of days. 

It can be confusing too. Sometimes I see students out and about and I’m not sure whether they are in my class this year, or last, or whether I taught their brother, sister, or granny.

So, you have to be pretty motivated to stick out being a TEFL teacher for as long as I have. Of course, you have the odd day when you’ve had enough and just want to stay at home, especially knowing that your kids are waking up from their siesta and are asking for you. 

Luckily, I do love my job (notice the use of ‘do’ there to convince myself), obviously I’d much rather be a best-selling author, but even when I become one (dreaming) I'm sure I'll miss being in the classroom.

One reason why I've become more motivated to write about teaching English again (apart from the fact that I've spent the last 6 months finishing the first draft novel), is because I've realised I still have a lot to say about life as a TEFL teacher. Plus the fact that even though I haven't been posting properly this website has still been getting over 10,000 page views a month.

So the idea of One Long Monday is a long, continuous diary entry about life as an ESL teacher. I’ll include thoughts and feelings in the classroom, how certain classes went, how I developed ideas in class, what worked, what didn’t, and hopefully fit in a few funny quotes from my students.   

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Free TEFL Travel Book Promotion!

It's been a long time since a) I had time to write a blog, b) I gave away my travel literature book for free, and c) Spurs won the league, but at least two of those things are going to happen today (and maybe all three in the next 2 months).

So here it is, another book promotion to top up my sales figures and hopefully inspire some new TEFL teachers to get out there and travel and teach round the world.

For the book promo on Amazon click here.

To read about my book and why I wrote it click here.

And to see Spurs win the league, well, you'll just have to hope Leicester slip up for that one.

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...