Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Questions that will drive you barmy as a TEFL teacher

In the real world, what do you get when you ask a silly question? That’s right, a silly answer, a funny look, or even a slap round the chops. What about in class though? Have you got any pet hate questions that students ask you repeatedly, over and over again, which are pushing you to consider becoming a lollypop lady?

I don’t think I could ever be a lollypop lady: all that abuse from chavy English kids on a cold wet morning, the risk of getting run over by a mother driving her screaming kids to school while on her mobile phone, but mainly because they’d probably realise I was a bloke at the interview. 

I do have a few questions that chisel away at my knee cap and make me want to shout out certain expletives. But I am a professional, and professionals don’t swear in front of a class. I do imagine silly answers though, and sometimes I give one, depending on whether they’d understand me or not.

Here are the top ten questions, with a hypothetical answer underneath in brackets, which I don’t recommend you using, unless you think you can pull it off, nothing wrong with teaching a bit of irony in class, I suppose.

Photo by Marco Bellucci
1. “We do now?”
   (“Now? Yes, or you could come back on Saturday morning.”)

Why do students ask that? You spend about ten minutes on a grammar presentation, let’s say, showing the difference between past simple and present perfect. You do a couple of examples on the board, check key words and do some drilling. Then you hand out a sheet with some examples, or shout out the page number for them to turn to. There is still a good hour of class left, but someone always asks “We do now?” “Well, yes, that was the idea, unless you just wanted to sit and flick through this dictionary?”

I’m not sure if this has something connected to their school; do they never do grammar or vocabulary activities there? Do they spend the whole class speaking in English and then do all the writing at home? From what I’ve heard, I think not, so I just don’t get why they even ask the question.

2. “Pen or pencil?”
(“Whatever grabs your boat, mate.”)

This is another that bemuses me. I get it with the small kids, the ones who still are unsure what the actual difference is between a pen and pencil, or those who have a new pen and their mother told them to check before they used it, or those who have only just been allowed a pen at school. I remember those days, it was like a reward that we could actually use a pen. We were finally old enough to be trusted to use fountain pens and not get ink on out ties, but what did we do? Flick it at the teacher's white shirt. But I don’t get it in an English class, especially as it’s their book or notebook. To have a bit of fun with this one you can say no to both, and watch them glaze over.

3. “We copy the example?”
(“No, don’t bother, it’s not like it will take less than a second, and it won’t help you with the next activities at all.”)

Of course you copy the example. It always seems like such a struggle for them, doesn’t it? To copy an example. They are about to write ten sentences, so why will another one hurt? I guess it’s the easy way out. They are at school, writing, and writing, with both pen and pencil, for most of the day, so any less work is a god send. One day I said no to copying an example, there was literally a cheer round the class, just because they didn’t have to copy: I play tennis with my rabbit. I sometimes wonder whether they get together before class and decide who is going to ask the 'copy the example' question. Do they have a bet on it? And see who can save the class from the dreaded example sentence.

4. “Is for homework?”
(“Or you can just stay and do it here while everyone else leaves?”)

You would have thought that half way through the term, once the class have triggered onto your routine, the old traditional routine of setting homework at the end of class, that they would just assume it was for homework. So when you write homework on the board, with pages numbers, activities, and are standing at the front, with the activity book, going over the homework, then why do they ask? Is it a security thing, do they feel safe knowing that it’s definitely homework, or are they just testing us to see if we will change our minds at the last second? 

What I love doing sometimes is setting the homework at the start of the class, just after we corrected the previous homework. You should see their faces; they literally think it’s time to go home.

5. “In the notebook?”
(“No, today I want you all to write on your partner’s face.)

Yes, the notebook. You have the notebook on your table. I just said "notebook", no I didn’t say "no book", as much as it sounds the same, and we do most of these activities in our notebooks so yes, unless you have a folder of paper, or a receipt in your jacket pocket with lots of extra space at the end, please use your notebook.

Someone must have asked him a few times already.
Photo by Vox Efx
6.“What time is it?”
(“It’s time to stop asking me what the time is.”)

This gets on my nerves. Not only because it makes me think of the time, which slows down the day, but because it obviously means they are having a rubbish time. The only time I check my watch when I am enjoying myself, is while watching the footy. I rarely do while watching a film, unless it’s getting late and the ads are being particularly long. So when a students says “¿que hora es?” I don’t answer. If they do in English then I respond quickly, and using precise past and to functions to confuse them.

7. “How do you say laptop?”
(“Laptop, why, how do you say it?)

I quite like this question actually, but only because I have fun with it. When they confuse the two questions of “What is a laptop?” “Or, what is laptop in Spanish?” and instead they ask "How do you say laptop?" I just say it. This can go on for a while, usually until another student dives in and either says it in Spanish, or tells them to use the other question. By the end of term though, they've normally mastered the question.

8. “What does mean mean?”
(“Are you actually joking? Because if you’re not, then you really need to find a decent teacher.”)

Okay, this doesn’t happen a lot, but I reckon at least once a month, or term, someone will ask what mean means. I read once that it takes a while for students to process information, but that's just being silly. Surely most people would cotton on, especially after the activities we did in class explaining the meaning of mean. I dunno, sometimes I think there is a camera set up on us just to see how long it is before we blow.

9. “Can we play a game?”
(“Of course you can?” “Si?” “Sure, there’s about twenty minutes left of class, and when you get home you can play on your new Play Station 6 as much as you like.”)

It’s worse if they just say “game,” then I just don’t respond. I like games, I really do. I know they are useful for revising vocabulary, phonetics, and adding competition to the class can be motivating. But what I don’t like is the way it changes students, and me. Everyone suddenly becomes aggressive, a grass, or a snitch, try to fool the teacher and make him pay for making a mistake. Gang up on the Profe and catch him out at his own rules.

Yes, games are good, but it has to be controlled. Which is why I don’t just whip up a game at the end of class if I haven’t planned one, because nine times out of ten someone will leave the class soul destroyed and in tears (and it's usually me).

10. “Can we watch a film?”
(“I’m sure you could watch a film, but could is about ability, and as there is no film on here, then I’d have to say that you couldn’t watch a film.”)

Sure, films are great, I’ve learnt loads from Spanish TV. But I can’t just chuck on a film and let kids watch it. Not only would I lose my job if I did it every week, but if they are going to watch a film, how do I know if they were actually watching, and not just sitting at the back talking in Spanish, or doing a bit of free time doodling? So I can’t just put on a film, no. Let me prepare one for you with some questions, yes. But I'm guessing you didn't want to have to think while you watch the film.

So those are the top ten questions that get on my goat. Obviously, I’ve never used any of the actual answers as a response, and this blog was just a bit of fun, so don’t get your y-fronts in a squirm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

This month's top ESL blogs!

Thought I'd start the year off with one of my top ESL blogs. This is a compilation of the best blogs I've read this year.

Not a bad sky line: Kuwait City.
Photo by Cajie
Teaching in Kuwait City
Not a bad choice according to Alexis Fletcher on The Teacher Port Blog. Alexis gives a decent account of his experience teaching there, including the pros and cons and some advice for anyone who wants to teach English in Kuwait.

New FCE exam: Essay Writing
In case you didn't know, the FCE exam has changed and now part 1 of the writing is an essay. In other words your students will have to write an essay. Here's some useful worksheet material from Alex Case based on Writing Essays.

Top Articles read on Around the World 'L'
Massive fan of this blog, so I was intrigued to find out what the most popular posts were, and also how many reads they had. Check out Top Read's of the Year for some excellent travel based posts. 

Dip or DELTA?
There's a useful article on Oxford TEFL Blog, which looks at the differences between the Trinity Dip and the Cambridge DELTA. I did the DELTA, but I'll leave you decide.

Why teach TEFL?
If you're considering taking up TEFL then there's a decent post on the i-to-i tefl blog titled 6 reasons to teach abroad before you die. I'd like to add that if you're lucky you can gather a decent collections of pens and pencils that students leave on the floor, and now and then a new pencil case.

That's all for this month. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

10 New Year TEFL resolutions

Happy New Year to all TEFL teachers out there, even those cowboy ones who hate teaching and just use it as a means to travel. For my first blog this year, here are my New Year TEFL resolutions. Let’s see whether any apply to you. Take them with a pinch of salt, it's been a long Christmas.

Lovely dear.
Photo by gruntzooki

  1. I will make the most of my DELTA, and not forget that I busted my arse off for a year or so to become a better teacher.
  2. I will correct student’s pronunciation more, even if I understand them, and especially if I know that they will never pronounce like a native speaker.
  3. I will change students round in their chairs, and not let evil gangs develop in my classroom.
  4. I will blog more about tefl, and try to respond to comments within at least a week.
  5. I will not speak to students in a cockney, Geordie, or American accent in the hope they will improve their range of listening skills (or maybe I will actually).
  6. I will clean my board once a week. I don’t mean rub out the words, but actually clean it, so there isn't a strange blue mist constantly floating around.
  7. I will do more phonetics activities in class, especially considering the amount of time I spent teaching my students the sounds and symbols.
  8. I will play more games with my students, and be patient if it kicks off in the process. 
  9. I will not pretend that I didn’t hear my students swearing at each other instead of taking action.
  10. I will continue to remember that there are many worse jobs than teaching English, and enjoy my life at work.
What about you? Have you got any new resolutions? Have a good one.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Activities for Christmas 2014!

It's coming up to the end of term again, when TEFL teachers use mounds and mounds of paper to photocopy Christmas wordsearches. Here's a collection of useful websites, and some songs with phonetics by me, to help you get through that last week, so you have a bit of extra time for Christmas shopping online.

Happy Christmas
Photo by pacres
Christmas Lesson Plans
Check out these excellent Christmas based lesson plans on ESL Flow.

Christmas Worksheet
There are some fab Christmas worksheets here on Boggle's World ESL.

Stuff for Kids
Have a look at this massive range of activities for kids on ESL Kid Stuff.

Christmas Songs
For a super range of Christmas songs check out the compilation on Busy Teacher.

Here's a link to a blog I did back in 2012 with a load of Christmas related tasks.

Here's a Christmas song: Cold play - Christmas Lights, and an activity based on a Santa Movie.

Have a good one, see you next year!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

This month's top TEFL blogs!

Well, that was a crap month for getting time for blogging. November was manic, so apologies to my followers. Here's a list of top blogs for this month.

Not a bad place to TEFL
Photo by slack12
TEFL in South Africa
Always wish I'd made it to teach in Africa. But alas I got stuck in Seville. Craig managed to get out there and by the sounds of it is enjoying teaching naughty, but rewarding kids.

10 Best Websites
Huge fan useful website lists, especially if it cuts down on planning and gives me some new ideas. Check out these 10 websites for English Language Teachers on ELT Experiences.

Getting the best out of student's notebooks
This is one of those areas I've been battling with for the last, say, 12 years. How to get your student's notebooks organised and make the most out of them. The answers are here on Oxford TEFL with 10 ideas on how to use student's notebooks.

Using readers in class?
I am, the kids love it and they improve their vocabulary immensely. Lessons can get a bit dull though, so have a look at this post by Eva for a fun activity with readers in class.

English Teacher X review
By English Teacher X. If you've read any of his books then it's worth having a laugh with his review of Vodkaberg.

That's all for now, next week blog on Christmas Activities.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Novel Spain: Noisy Spain, Bewildered in Bilbao, Best Spain blogs, and more

Here's my monthly post of links to my other blog A Novel Spain.

Some great views in Bilbao!
Photo by Paolo Margari
Are Spanish people noisy?
I think so, and I have evidence to prove it. Check out this blog titled Is Spain the noisiest country on Earth? where there are several anecdotes about how I've suffered from noise here over the years.

Thinking of travelling to Bilbao?
Then have a look at the next post in my series In Search of a Better Spain on my travel section. The latest post is about what happened to me in Bilbao, which leads on to how I almost got arrested there.

Expat Parent
Here's an expat based blog about what I have learnt while being an expat parent. It's one of my monthly column posts I write for Expat Focus.

Best blogs about Spain and Expat life
These blogs are a compilation of the best blogs I've read about Spain and Expat life. The last two are about Tips, Flamenco, and Bilbao and Hong Kong and Housemates from Hell.

That's all for this month. Cheers.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Songs with Phonetics: Calvin Harris, Summer

My teenage students begged me to do Summer by Calvin Harris. Be warned though, the lyrics are a tad on the easy side. 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: Calvin Harris: Summer

Have fun!