Post-CELTA professional development: the 5 keys to avoiding a bad first year as a teacher

Welcome back to the fourth installment of my series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. I’ll continue where I left off in the first three posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, and how to approach lesson planning. Today, I’m moving on to the subject of job finding; I’ll specifically look at how to make sure your first teaching experience isn’t a bad one.

At the start of my career, to be totally honest, I got lucky. Basically, I received two job offers within hours of having finished the CELTA course. So, it was a tossup between two very different jobs. The first position was in a university preparatory program; the salary was good, but it meant I would get have to get up at 6:00 AM every morning. The second job was with a language school; the hours were more flexible and better suited my habit for lying in in the morning. Also, it seemed quite relaxed and teaching looked like it occurred in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

So, which did I choose? Let’s just say, I was lucky to choose the former and reject the latter. I subsequently worked with people who had worked in said language school; their horror stories made me realize just how fortunate I had been. With this in mind, in today’s post I’m going to try to give you the benefit of my experience in how to spot the telltale signs of an employer you don’t want to work for.

Take time to make sure you have found the right job to begin your career with!

Take time to make sure you have found the right job to begin your career with!

1. Do your research

Back when I got my first job, there was no such thing as social media. There was, however, the Internet and someone had taken the time to set up as a website describing the conditions at the language school I nearly worked at (sadly, the website no longer exists). The quick bit of research I did proved invaluable. Back in the early years of the 21st century we saw the emergence of web sites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe (warning: approach with extreme caution!) and it became possible to discuss potential employers with other teachers.

Nowadays, it’s much easier to find out about language schools and the like, and I can’t overstate the value of doing so. My advice would be to start doing this even before you’ve contacted the employer to set up an interview. If you then have a successful interview and are offered a job, inform your potential employee that you’re going to ask around to get more information. Try not to sound threatening when you do this, rather do so in a way that suggests you want to work for this person and that knowing more about the school will benefit both parties. If this meets with anger or resistance, I’d say that’s a sign that there’s something wrong, or that you’ll find out something that they don’t want you to know.

2. A job offered too quickly is a very bad thing

OK, let’s face it, you’ve just passed the CELTA and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Honestly, what kind of employer wouldn’t want you on their team? Now seems like a very good time to congratulate you on all of your hard work: the CELTA was one of the toughest months of my life, so I really do appreciate how hard you’ve worked in finishing this course successfully. Nevertheless, be wary of any job offer that is made too quickly.

At the end of any interview, think to yourself, ‘Would I employ me based on the interview I have just had?’ Sadly, a major criterion for employing you may be your passport, rather than your potential to be a good teacher. Other overly important criteria might be your western sounding name and even the color of your skin. Scenarios such as ‘I see you’ve just finish a CELTA, can you teach a class starting an hour from now?’ ought to be avoided at all costs. A basic rule of thumb is this: if you got the job much too easily, it almost certainly isn’t worth having.

3. The bigger the organization, the better the job

OK, this is an extreme generalization, but one still worth considering when looking for your first job. This comes down to the economic principle of supply and demand. The fact is, there are hundreds of millions of people wanting to learn English around the world, and a lot of really dodgy business people who have caught on to this fact. The quickest way to make a lot of money is just stick someone who looks the part in front of a group of eager learners, regardless of their ability to teach. Sadly, this tends to be the case more often in than not in the smaller, independent language schools where it’s easiest to land your first job.

A general rule of thumb here, therefore, is to avoid such schools and go for bigger chains when starting out. Such jobs will be harder to get, but if you are accepted then the chances are that the job will be worth having and will be much more rewarding.

4. Check your contract rigorously

The first contracts I was asked to sign were only written in Turkish. What’s more, the law of the land stated that any contract written in English would not be upheld in a Turkish Court of law and was therefore not worth the paper it was printed on! Nevertheless, I took the time to have the details explained to me by someone I trusted. As with the other points and making today, I can’t stress the importance of this enough.

If you notice anything that seems unreasonable, take the time to discuss this with your potential employer. Also, beware of signing anything that is extremely vague, as such vagueness can and will be exploited. The most common problems you’ll face and which you should look out for are the number of hours you will be expected to teach and the times you’ll be expected to teach them. If in doubt, ask for clarification and don’t sign until you get it.

5. If possible, work with a recruiter

Working with a recruiter is not always the best option, and there are downsides to finding a job in this way, but they will offer something of a safety net when you’re starting out. An important point to remember is that a recruiter is also working for a business that has a reputation to consider. If they deal with unscrupulous schools, this will inevitably come back to bite them at a later date. Another point to think about is that in many situations there is a probation period for new teachers, which basically means that the recruiter doesn’t get paid until a few months after the teacher has started work. If things go bad, that recruiter loses out.

My advice would definitely be to consider finding a job through a recruiter at the start of your career. If you get a job in this way, do what you can to cultivate this relationship. As I said, it doesn’t look good for them if they set you up with a terrible job, but they can also help you find an alternative place of employment if things go wrong for other reasons.

Do you have anything to add?

These are the five basic steps I suggest you all take when looking for your first job. If anyone out there has any other advice or disagrees with what I’ve said, please leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the post.

Learn to create professional lesson plans with OnTESOL’s 250-hour TESOL Diploma. This online program is recognized by TESL Canada upon completion of a separate 20-hour Practicum.

Posted in Opinion, The life of an english teacher, Theory | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: approaches to lesson planning

This is the third in a new series of posts for the start of 2015 in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers. In my first post, I looked at how time will place a lot of constraints on you as a teacher and offered some advice on making the most of what time you do have. In my second post, I looked at what’s in store for you as a newly qualified teacher in terms of professional development and what you can do to make the most of what will be available to you. Today I’m moving on to lesson planning!

I’m teaching what is best (!) described as ‘Level 3 Book 1  Unit 1 Input 1’ from my school’s coursebook of choice next time I’m in class, so like all good teachers I’m taking a look at what that will entail beforehand by thumbing through the various pages that make up this parcel of learning. My teacher’s copy has seen a bit of action and, I’m happy to say, is heavily annotated with several layers of teacher’s notes (some mine, some belonging to a previous owner). This makes me happy for a couple of reasons.

  • Firstly, I’m glad to find that other people adopt this as their primary method of planning for class.
  • Secondly, these notes always make for fascinating reading, as you get to see the various ways that other teachers have approached coursebook tasks in their planning.

Lesson planning is vital, no matter how many years you’ve been in the job. As your career develops, you may find that the way you approach planning changes, but you won’t find many good teachers who don’t plan in advance in some way or another.

In my early days as a teacher I was a big planner, making huge, detailed plans of everything that could happen in the classroom. I’ve relaxed my approach significantly since those early days, but I still go into every lesson knowing what I want to achieve and where it will take the learners.

In today’s post, I’ll begin with a couple of fairly standard ways of planning your lesson. If you’re just starting out as a teacher, I recommend following these styles for a bit. In the second part of the post, I’ll offer some alternatives for when you start to feel a bit more comfortable and confident. I’ll round off with a kind of checklist that will help keep you on the right track.

PART ONE: Two standard formats for planning a lesson

For those of you who’re still coming to terms with planning, or who have slackened off a little more than they would have liked, here are a couple of ways to approach lesson preparation.

A) A six-point format to planning


  • What is the concept, skill or the subject matter of the lesson? What is the main focus around which you’re building the lesson?

Prior knowledge

  • What do students need to have done before they can learn what you’re presenting in this lesson?


  • Can you clearly describe what the learners are going to do during the lesson?

Materials and equipment

  • What do you need for the lesson, in terms of handouts, different coloured pens, projector, etc?


  • How do you plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson?

Self assessment

  • How did you do? What might you have done better? What will you do next?

If approaching planning like this seems too abstract, and it well might, alternatively you could tackle it in a more linear way.

B) An eight-point format to planning


  • Start with a short activity to help learners focus on the main purpose of the lesson.


  • This is the objective of the lesson. Why on Earth are you actually doing all this?


  • What vocabulary, skills or concepts do the learners need to be able to do the lesson?

Show ‘em

  • Demonstrate what the final product will be, what will the learners have by the end?

Follow me

  • Guide your learners through the stages necessary to complete activity in question.

Check understanding

  • How are you going to confirm that the learners are clear about what you and they are trying to achieve during the stages of the lesson?

Independent practice

  • Will the learners actually get a chance to practice whatever it is themselves?


  • How are you going to wrap things up? How can you reflect on what has been learned?


Perfect aspect

‘Perfect aspect’ by @sandymillin from #ELTPics

PART TWO: Alternatives

There may be many good reasons for not writing a standard ‘aims plus procedure’ plan. Planning is essentially a thinking skill, i.e. imagining the lesson before it happens – and anything that helps you think more clearly and effectively can be useful. Remember, a plan is not a route-map of what must happen in class, it should serve merely as your informed setting-up of certain possibilities within a lesson. Here are a few ideas for alternative plans:

OK, the two strategies I suggested above are what I would call the traditional styles to lesson planning… and they’re probably the kind of plans you made during your initial training course. However, as you progress through your teaching career, you’ll probably find that there are many good reasons to move away from such formal patterns of planning. We should always remember, even in the early days of our teaching career, that lesson planning is essentially a thinking skill; in other words, it’s the physical embodiment of your ‘map’ from the beginning to the end of what will happen in your class. It isn’t something that you have to stick to, its just something that frames possibilities of what can occur. A lesson plan should always be viewed as something that lets you think more clearly and effectively, not as something that you absolutely have to stick two at all costs. With this in mind I’m now going to suggest a few alternative methods all of sketching out what you can do with the class.

Number 1: the flow chart approach

Some people find that writing out parts of a lesson in the ways I suggest earler it simply doesn’t work for them and that they need a more visual representation of the way a lesson can develop. If you are one of these people, perhaps drawing a flow chart will serve you better. Why not try writing out your procedure in sketch boxes rather than in a traditional linear ‘from the top to bottom’ fashion? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using this system if it works for you! This approach enables you to show a variety of different possible activities and routes through a lesson by drawing arrows between different boxes that represent different options at each stage. I highly recommend trying this out; it might not work for you, but for some people this will really prove to be an efficient and effective way of adding flexibility to the way they design lessons.

Number 2: close your eyes and visualize the lesson

Another approach I’d like you to try when you have more experience and are feeling more confident is to not write down your lesson plan at all. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t review the material you’re going to teach, or that you shouldn’t actually plan a lesson, but rather than writing it down in the ways I suggested above, close your eyes and imagine your way through the lesson. For each stage of your lesson, think about the different possibilities and the different ways that the lesson could then go. What different activities could you do at this point, or what kind of action might your learners initiate that would make you deviate from the plan that you had?

Number 3: look at the critical learning moments

What are the main things you hope your learners are going to get from this class? Are they going to learn new vocabulary, for example? Decide what you think the critical learning moment is in this activity, i.e. what is the one thing that will have the biggest impact on their success while doing this activity? For instance, will it be using a dictionary, or using the words in a sentence? Keep these questions in mind and focus most of your planning around the kind of challenges your learners will see that these points. Ask yourself which instructions, explanations, and feedback you’re going to give during these critical learning moments.

Number 4: plan for spontaneity

This approach can be summarized as ‘planning for skills work’ and ‘not planning for grammar and vocabulary’! I’d recommend trying this style once you feel confident that you understand grammar and have experience of presenting new vocabulary in a variety of ways. Often learners will appreciate a structured approach to reading and listening lessons, but will also enjoy a slightly more ‘off the cuff’ approach to grammar and lexis. Naturally, you can still present grammar and vocab in a structured way, but learners may like it when you display an ability to deal with language as and when it comes up.

Number 5: involve your learners in planning

This is an approach that works well when you have a good relationship with a class, especially with adult learners or other groups that seem to particularly want to have some control of their learning. Allow a certain amount of time during the course of a week (or a course, or any suitable period of time) to negotiate and plan with learners. Try to go beyond asking simple questions such as ‘What will we do this week?’ and take the time to look through the course materials and make some genuine decisions together. You’ll probably find that a lot of learners will love the fact that you’re including them in decision-making.

Number 6: the unplugged approach

This is definitely not a style of planning that I would recommend to a new teacher when they’re just starting out, but at some point you may feel brave enough to adopt the ‘unplugged approach’ and use fewer materials in your classes, perhaps even not use a course book at all and go with the flow! This doesn’t mean going into a lesson completely unprepared, rather think of this as going into class and responding directly to the needs of your learners on that particular day. A lot of teachers are surprised when they first try this out as they come out of the lesson feeling that they have taught particularly well. This is probably because they have had to listen and respond to the learners far more than they usually what. Learn more about unplugged teaching in this post.

PART THREE: Mistakes I still make (and the questions I ask to stop them happening)

Even after many years of teaching I find it very healthy to consider all of the steps in part one when planning. There are a few things I still need to remind myself of on a regular basis.


  • Is my objective clear? Come on Adam, what’s the point? What will they do… and why? You can read more about writing clear objectives in this post.

Prior knowledge

  • Have I checked that they have the skills or knowledge that they need to perform what I’ll be asking of them?

Materials and resources

  • Does that handout that I’ve photocopied really fit the lesson? Does the quick fix photocopy really suit the lesson? You can read my thoughts on preparing worksheets in this post.


  • Am I explaining the activities clearly or am I just adding to the confusion? Are the instructions in the book way above the language level of the learners?

I have a clear way of keeping track of what I do as well as being able to retain my reflections for later referral, by creating a course lesson plan book. If you’d like a copy of my easy to use documents, you can download them by clicking here and here. I put in my lesson plan book the following:

1. Class timetable
2. Extra paper for notes
3. Calendar
4. Student list
5. Homework log
6. Weekly lesson plan (X16 or X8 for 16- or 8-week courses)
7. Vocabulary lists for each unit
8. Teaching program for each unit

If you have any advice you’d like to share or any interesting anecdotes, I’d be delighted if you’d add a comment below.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals

If you had to choose the hardest aspect of English grammar, what would it be?

There are plenty of reasonable answers to this question – prepositions, phrasal verbs, passive voice – but the various conditional sentences should make anybody’s list. Indeed, it’s hard enough to teach the specific language that’s used in each conditional form (something will happen, something would happen, something would have happened), not to mention the differences between the four entirely different conditional constructions!

Simply throwing conditional sentences at your students can be overwhelming to them, and can lead to a frustrating and unproductive lesson (trust me – speaking from experience here!). If you or your students are afraid of the conditional, fear no more: fortunately, English musicians are unfazed by its grammatical complexities. Try starting your lesson on conditionals with these four songs – one for each conditional form. It’s a win-win situation: it’ll sneakily ease your students into learning about the conditional, and it’s a great way to introduce them to some new English-language music.

1. Zero Conditional: Rain by The Beatles

The Beatles are one of my favorite bands for teaching English, as they sing slowly and clearly, and produce catchy melodies that students will remember (and regardless – they’re The Beatles!). The song Rain, in particular, is great for teaching the zero conditional, which describes general truths and scientific facts.

(Note: if you’re wondering what they sing in the last line of the song, it’s simply “If the rain comes they run and hide their heads” played in reverse.)

The grammar point: The zero conditional is formed with the following equation: If + simple present, simple present

“If water freezes, it turns to ice.”

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

Lyrics to analyze:

  • If the rain comes / they run and hide their heads
  • When the sun shines / they slip into the shade

2. First Conditional: If You Don’t Know Me By Now by Simply Red

An emblematic song of the 80s, the bluesy tune of If You Don’t Know Me By Now is catchy and memorable. And it has a conditional form in its very title, so it should be clear why it’s ideal for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that are likely to happen. It’s also good for teaching some idiomatic expressions of time, such as “by now” and “never ever”.

The grammar point: The first conditional is formed with the following equation: If + simple present, will + base verb. (Note that the future tense can also be expressed by using going to.)

“If it rains, I won’t go to the beach.”

“If the train doesn’t arrive on time, we’re going to miss our flight.”

Lyrics to analyze:

  • If you don’t know me by now / You will never ever know me

Continue reading

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, The student perspective | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: what teacher education awaits you in the first five years?

This is the second in a new series of posts for the start of 2015 in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers. In my first post, I looked at how time will place a lot of constraints on you as a teacher and offered some advice on making the most of what time you do have. In today’s post, I’ll look at what’s in store for you as a newly qualified teacher in terms of professional development and what you can do to make the most of what will be available to you.

Let me start by telling you about the start of my career…

As a native speaker with little to no grasp of how English worked, I struggled valiantly through my four-week certificate course and then, inexplicably, landed a job on my final day of the course. Who said this was going to be difficult job? Seriously, though, my first interview was a success mainly because the main interviewer had a good feeling about me and partly because I somehow managed to answer a question about the use of the present perfect. I’d landed a job in a fairly prestigious university in Istanbul. My career had begun!

My first task was to ‘come back next week, ready for your induction.’ The following week was a nice gentle introduction to the job, full of great training sessions by some of my new colleagues. This was exciting and I felt like part of the team. At the end of the week I was handed a set of course books and told to spend the following couple of weeks getting myself ready for classes.

Get ready I did, in a manner. I studied the book, trying to get an idea of what tasks were about and figure out the grammar rules of my native tongue from those fairly unhelpful little boxes you get on the pages of the book, next to the question, ‘What is the man in the picture doing?’ I attended pre-semester parties and drank as ‘too much’ as everyone else. I went to meetings where things were discussed that didn’t make much sense to me. Then, on the Friday before classes on Monday, the book I’d been trying to make sense of was taken from me and a different one given in its place. Time to start getting ready again with new book!

And so on to class…

Things could have been worse in that first semester, I suppose. I got a lot of good ideas by listening to people in meetings, great support from some colleagues (though definitely not all, I should add). The photocopier became my best friend, although I doubt my learners in those early classes would agree! I hit the books hard! I got myself a copy of the same grammar books the kids were using for self study and I got two dictionaries to look at how words were exemplified and what they were telling the reader about vocabulary. These tactics weren’t quick fixes, but they were effective: I doubt I’d still be teaching if I hadn’t put in so much ground work early on.

13 months into my new career I was observed for the first time. 18 months after first setting foot into class as a teacher I attended an ELT conference: this was an important step, I can tell you. Along the way there were in-service training sessions, lots of reading and then the DELTA in my fourth year as a teacher. Now, a decade on from that, I look back on these times fondly, but with words of semi-caution for those of you embarking on a career as an English teacher: if you want to develop your career, a lot of what happens will be down to you.

Let’s now move to the centerpiece of today’s post and look at where your teacher education is going to come from in the first five years of your career, While doing so, please look back at my description of my first few years and see how it was for me in my early days.

If you like the infographic, there are a range of download and share options here. Please feel free to use it as you wish.

We’ll now use the rest of today’s post looking at the how. I’ll give you a few quick tips of how to get the most out of the opportunities available to you. Because this post is already starting to spiral out of control (nearly 3000 words if you make it to the end), I’m going to concentrate on what I term ‘The big three’…

1 The DIY approach

If you want to become a good teacher, a lot of it is going to be entirely down to you. Fortunately, there are a great many experts in our profession who have written books on this. To help you along the way, here are nine titles I strongly recommend that you read, either before your certificate course or in the first year of teaching. Let me start the DIY section of the post with the nine books I particularly recommend you read:

1. The one book you absolutely need to get started:

How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer

This is the one: if you do no other reading before embarking on your certificate course, make sure you read this. This book is simply the complete manual of teaching English as a foreign language.

If you’re a native English speaker who’s worried about coming to terms with the grammar of the language this book will be a life saver, as it takes a practical approach, concentrating on examples of teaching and teaching practice rather than on detailed analysis of learning theory. Don’t start your teaching career without this!

2. The other book you absolutely need to get started:

...and learn teaching I did!

…and learn teaching I did!

Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener

This is the other one! Together with Jeremy Harmer’s book, Learning Teaching is the essential guide for your first years as a language teacher and will remain an invaluable resource for your continuing career.

Again, the really practical approach makes it a perfect introduction to teaching English as a foreign or second language.

3. The book to stop you panicking about not knowing English grammar:

Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott

Let’s face it… we need to talk about grammar! If, like me, you’re a native speaker, the chances are you know next to nothing about the mechanics of your native tongue. The beauty of Grammar for English Language Teachers is that it is designed to help trainee teachers develop their knowledge of English grammar systems.

It encourages teachers to appreciate factors that affect grammatical choices, as well as evaluating the kinds of ‘rules of thumb‘ that you’ll see presented to learners in course materials. The consolidation exercises provide an opportunity for you to test these rules against real language use and to evaluate classroom and reference materials. If you’re stressed by the prospect of having to teach grammar, but this book!

4. The go-to-guide for all things Grammar

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

One thing I can guarantee you is that you will be asked questions about grammar that you can’t immediately answer… a state of being that will probably continue for many years! That’s where Practical English Usage comes to the rescue!

This classic reference guide succinctly – and comprehensively – addresses all of the problem points in the English language as encountered by learners and us as teachers. It gives information and advice that is practical, clear, reliable, and easy to find. Don’t leave home without it.

* For more advice on teaching grammar, check out my list of favorite grammar books.

5. The reference guide to teacher training courses

A Course in English Language Teaching by Penny Ur

What do you need to know about language teaching and what will you encounter on a four-week certificate course? If you want a text that will act as an easy to read and easy going book reference guide discussing the various methods of teaching English, this is the book for you.

While this is ideal for your initial teacher training, it will remain a useful reference for when you become a fully-fledged teacher. The book combines theory and practice, with each unit containing tasks that encourage reflection and discussion, plus action tasks such as classroom observation and practice.

6. The orientation to the four-week training course

The CELTA Course Trainee Book by Scott Thornbury and Peter Watkins

While the purpose of this post is primarily to list the books you should be reading after undertaking your four-week certificate course, I hope the message is also coming through that you should get cracking in advance and not wait until you’ve started teaching!

The course itself may probably represent the most difficult month of your life, so reading this title – which wasn’t available when I did my course, unfortunately – will enable you to orient yourself in advance and know exactly what to expect when you get started. A word of caution: reading this won’t enable you to take the course easily; you’ll still have a huge mountain to climb. Nevertheless, this is an extremely useful primer.

7. The comprehensive introduction to how to teach listening

Teaching Listening Comprehension by Penny Ur

Listening isn’t something you’ll necessarily have given much thought in your non-language teacher phase of life… so be prepared for a bit of a shock when you have to teach listening in the classroom.

Luckily, the wonderful Penny Ur is here to help us with this fantastic text in which she defines the characteristics of real-life listening, analyses the problems encountered by language learners, and discusses the considerations involved in planning successful classroom listening practice. The book also contains loads of example tasks to give you plenty of ideas about how to deal with listening in class.

8. The comprehensive introduction to how to teach reading

Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehension Exercises by Francoise Grellet

Reading isn’t something… aagghh, just see the above paragraph and replace the word ‘listening’ with ‘reading’! Developing Reading Skills is the kind of book that you’ll want to keep close at hand whenever you’re planning a reading lesson.

This is a comprehensive reference handbook offers a wide range of sample reading comprehension exercises which will enable you to incorporate meaningful reading into your lessons. I was using this book years after my certificate course when I did the DELTA and still refer to it on a fairly regular basis.

9. The ‘slow burner’

Discover English by Rod Bolitho

Get your thinking caps on and be ready to be in this for the long haul. This is one of the first books I bought in the run up to doing the CELTA course, although it took a while for its usefulness to sink in.

Not the immediate go-to-guide that you’ll get with most of the titles I’ve mentioned here, Discover English operates as a language-awareness workbook which highlights and explores selected areas of grammar and vocabulary. The exercises are designed to confront myths and preconceived ideas, and to explore common areas of difficulty, while commentaries offer support to all users, especially English teachers. Think of this as a course for you to take to learn about the language: trust me; you’ll almost certainly need it!

Other great sources of DIY development

Here’s a couple of great suggestions from Susannah (many thanks for these, copied from the comments):

Something I’ve found really helpful in my development is to access free short online study courses. I’ve just completed one called “Understanding Language and Teaching” run by the British Council/Uni of Southampton via the website and I’m currently doing one called “Teaching Adult Learners” via The courses are free and are a great way of interacting with other teachers around the world.

2 Your course book

It’s incredible just how big a part the course book will play in your development as a teacher. The basic message is this: Keep asking questions of your prescribed course materials so that you learn all you can from them!

The ever excellent Lizzie Pinard (I strongly recommend her blog BTW) has saved me a job and come up with a great list of points:

‘Instead of dismissing your course book out of hand and assuming that you know better (hey, you might – but not necessarily!), take a closer look at the pages you are due to teach next. Consider the aims it is trying to fulfill and the sequence of activities it is using to do this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this sequence of tasks?
  • How does each activity bring the learners a step closer to meeting that aim?
  • What theories of language, teaching and learning does it embody?

(You could look in the Teachers Resource Book, if you have access to it, to explore this further. However, remember: publishers’ claims and actual content may not necessarily be equivalent…)

Now consider your learners and context:

  • What are their specific needs and learning styles? What is their/your context?
  • What are your joint long-term goals?
  • What do you know and believe regarding theories of language, teaching, learning and acquisition?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this sequence meet my learners’ needs and match their learning styles? Is it suited to their context?
  • Is this sequence in tune with what I believe about language, teaching, learning and acquisition?
  • How can I adapt this sequence and exploit these activities to best help my learners, bearing in mind these specific needs/learning styles/contextual issues and my pedagogical beliefs? How can I exploit this sequence fully?
  • Do I need to add (expand or extend), delete (subtract or abridge), simplify, reorder or replace anything? If I make these changes, how it will affect the sequence and learning goals of the material?

Read more of Lizzie’s ideas on the importance of course books here.

3 Induction course

Although this will appear to make up an incredibly brief part of your time as a teacher, this will form a disproportionately large part of your early teacher education. Take this opportunity to not only pick up tips on what to do in class, but to also the culture of the teaching environment. The following five areas of teacher development are things you can directly work on in your first few weeks. Remember: learn as much from outside your induction sessions as you do when in them!

Get to know the staff and identify key people

You will make first contact with the people who will make your life easier or make your life hell. These are the people to go to for assistance: the secretary who takes calls and knows where supplies like printer paper and white board markers are; the tea man, who seems to know everything before everyone else and has the key to everything, literally; your colleagues who always are there with advice and assistance, as well as those who won’t offer any help.

Get to know these people quickly and offer your own assistance as and when possible to establish good relationships.

Identify important places and resources

Never underestimate the value of knowing your way around. It’s important to get out, talk to people, and learn the layout of the school, if for no other reason than learners may be asking you for this information. You should know where cafeterias, the library or learning resource centers are. Doing so will help you grow in confidence and feel like you belong!

Learn about organizational culture

Each workplace has its own norms, rules, and expectations. Learning about the culture of your new school because understanding a workplace’s culture may bis almost as important as having the skills to do the job.

Look around and ask yourself questions: How important is it to be on time? What do most people wear to work? What is the email etiquette of the school? How long do people take for lunch? What kind of things are celebrated here and how? Are employee birthdays, for example, celebrated by everyone? Is there an annual school party? Finding the answer to questions like this will help you understand the expectations for behavior at this school.

Get to know your learners

When semester or courses start and learners start attending classes, begin immediately memorizing their names. You should learn not only learner names, however, but also something about each learner as an individual, such as a career goal, a hobby, an interesting personal story. Knowing something about each learner helps in getting to know him or her and, incidentally, remembering those pesky names!

Establish ‘your’ class routine

As part of these critical first weeks, you should also establish a class routine that works for you and your learners, which helps a class run more smoothly. What can help you is to establish procedures for entering late, for turning in late work, where papers and books are located, and what learners should do with personal items such as electronic equipment during class, for instance. Set up routines for explaining what will be covered in each class day and what materials will be needed.

Other forms of professional development

As I’ve spent so much time discussing the big three, I’d love it if you could come up with some advice for exploiting other avenues of professional development in the early years of an ELT career. Please leave suggestions in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the post!

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Life outside the classroom, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Post-CELTA professional development: working within time constraints

This is the first in a new series of posts for the start of 2015 in which I’ll offer simple solutions to the most common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In your new career as a teacher, a key skill you’ll need to acquire – or enhance, or even develop – is proficiency in time management. One thing that teachers need to do is maintain some kind of balance between the long-term goals of the particular course, the immediate educational needs of the learners and the large amount of bureaucracy and paperwork that comes with being a teacher. Between grading exams, writing lesson plans, as well as actually teaching, you’ll often feel like it’s impossible to fit everything into the amount of time available.

Coming off the back of your initial teacher training course, you probably have bags of enthusiasm and may also have plenty of ideas for amazing, engaging activities to wow your learners with, but you must make sure you have sufficient time to do everything you need to do. With this in mind, I’m going to split the rest of today’s post into two sections: managing time inside and outside the classroom.

1) Inside the classroom

How much time do you have to teach?


Set a time limit and aim for an ‘average finishing time’ on tasks. ‘Students14′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

Let’s start with the most obvious of questions: Do you have an hour and a half with your learners… or only 40 minutes? How much time you have for each lesson is your number one priority. With a time limit in mind, then think about your objective, i.e. what you hope your learners will have achieved by the end of the class.

What I find helps me is to plan activities that will directly enable your learners to achieve this end goal, whilst trying to keep within a time limit for each. If you’re planning a drilling session, for example, you might not want to take more than five minutes for it. Here are a couple of things that see me right most of the time!

Adam’s advice

  • Always give your class a time limit for an activity and an indication of how much time has passed (‘start time’, ‘half way point and ‘1 minute to go’, for instance).
  • Aim for an ‘average finishing time’. In other words, don’t end as soon as the quickest learner has finished, nor wait until that last straggler has ambled their way to the end. If about half to two-thirds of the class have completed the task, you can start to wrap things up.
  • Don’t spend too long on warmers at the start of class.
  • Have short review activities ready if you find yourself with five minutes to spare at the end of a lesson (recapping recently learned vocabulary is always a winner).

Despite this advice, it’s nevertheless important to be flexible. If your activity is resulting in very productive output, you might want to give them a few more minutes to wrap it up instead of ending it abruptly.

Can you make it homework?


Ask yourself: could they do this for homework? ‘Students8′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

I’ve written often on the subject of homework on this blog and, depending on which articles you’ve read, you might see me as either a lover or hater of work outside of class!

The truth is, I’m a big fan of negotiated tasks that supplement and enhance what has been achieved in class, and someone who loathes busy work that is assigned for the sake of it. Obviously, I suggest you follow a similar mantra!

Adam’s advice

  • Both teachers and learners may find that assignments that require repetitive practice is better suited for the home environment. Although in-class practice undoubtedly helps when framing and structuring new language, repetitive practice during class may not be the best use of time. Assignments that simply ask learners to fill in the gaps – a grammar gap fill, for example – for practice unnecessarily consume valuable class time.
  • Look at what you have planned and what other materials are available to you and ask the following questions:
    • Can they do this on their own?
    • Does this build on what we did in class?
    • Does it provide meaningful practice?

2 Outside the classroom

Organize your day according to priorities

You won’t have time to do everything you want as a teacher, so you must start with setting priorities and organizing your day around the most important tasks. Naturally, most days will revolve around getting ready and actually being in class, but it’s the other things you need to keep an eye on.

Setting priorities can help keep you on track throughout the day, even when the unexpected happens and the workload can seem overwhelming (just to let you know, this type of situation is the norm!).

Adam’s advice

Effective prioritizing is about arranging your workload around both the importance of the tasks as well the resulting impact of the completed tasks. Teachers must be able to assess whether projects can be put on hold if the outcomes are not as ‘impactful’ as others. Here are some general rules of thumb:

  • If you assign homework, you probably have at most a week to grade it and return it. Any longer and the task will be deemed to have been pointless, or your effectiveness as a teacher may start to be questioned. Consider using class time to go through the answers: this is a justifiable use of time if the task was meaningful on the first place.
  • If you give some form of assessment, learners will expect to know the results within minutes of it having finished. This is even more important than homework, so definitely plan ahead in terms of having enough time to grade exams and the like.
  • Don’t over-elaborate with designing your own materials when you’re starting out. It will be tempting to go all out for that inspiring lesson the learners will never forget, but if you can, stick with the course book as much as possible (with occasional excursions permitted of course).
  • Even though I’ve suggested following course materials as much as you can, priorities are not as black and white as “putting the grammar point on page 51 first and getting to fancy group projects if time allows.” This kind of thinking can often lead to burnout, for both teachers and learners. Within certain contexts, a freer creative activity can be more stimulating and productive than grammar-based lesson plans.

Please join me again in the coming weeks for more advice on how to survive the post-CELTA teaching world.

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Posted in Life inside the classroom, Life outside the classroom, Teaching ideas | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Day 12 of my Grammarly Christmas: my 10 golden tips for teaching grammar

And so we reach the end of my ‘12 Grammarly Days of Christmas.’ To bring you up to speed if you haven’t been frequenting the blog recently, every day for twelve days I’ve been posting an infographic highlighting the rules that govern the ways we use a certain grammatical point, along with ideas to help those of us who get confused by said grammar point, and maybe even a few activities thrown in for good measure. Today is the final day of my Christmas marathon which means I’m rounding things up with a top ten of the things I regularly do when teaching grammar. After fifteen years of teaching, these are the strategies I still use on a regular basis!

As ever, this post is aimed at newly qualified teachers; nevertheless, please take a look regardless of how experienced you are!

1. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult the experts

I’d say that at least once a week over the past fifteen years I’ve consulted a grammar book. A good grammar reference book is an indispensable friend; my advice is to try and find one that’s packed with clear explanations and good examples.

We all encounter questions about grammar that we can’t immediately answer… so don’t worry about it! Personally, I find that learners love it when you hold your hands up and say you need to go away, check up and come back later with an explanation. What’s more, I often find that the grammar books tend to highlight those strange exceptions to the rule, and justify oddities of the language in ways I wouldn’t have discovered on my own.

2. Give lots of examples

Trust me, I know how it is: you think you’ve come up with the perfect example that will instantly enable your learners to grasp that tricky grammar point. Your learners will tell you soon enough, though, through their facial expressions, body language, (lack of) responses and levels of distraction, when they’re completely bemused by what they see! If one example doesn’t work, give another. If two don’t work…

You’ve been speaking this language a lot longer than they have, so give as many exmaples as necessary. As you proceed through your own examples, make sure to be fully aware of their reactions. Nevertheless, only provide as many examples as necessary before turning over responsibility to your learners, or else they will get bored and you’ll soon know it!

3. Divide and Conquer

Before you reach for a grammar textbook, narrow down your grammar point to exactly what it is you’re going to teach and take a really close look at it. No one teaches ‘the present perfect’ in one go: think about all that it entails and what you can realistically cover in the time you have available! Are you teaching how to express life experience, duration of time from past to present, or whether something has been done yet? This is too much to teach in one go, so narrow down and focus!

Ask yourself the following questions when teaching specific grammar:

How does it work? What constituent parts does it have? What kind of conjugations can you see? What forms are the verbs in? How are the different elements ordered? Trace out the structure, learning it yourself, from the very basics, how it is formed and the functions with which it is used.

4. Use Timelines

A timeless, classic approach is to draw a straight line across part of the board, with ‘NOW’ written somewhere on it then other points in time then also added. Never underestimate the value of a good time line!

When presenting a tense, especially a continuous or perfect form, mark the actions and events on the line and illustrate the connections between them. Your learners’ understanding of tenses can be transformed with this simple tool. Nevertheless, my advice would be to use this approach in conjunction with others, as some people’s brains simply don’t work in this way.

5. Test the rules to see if they break

Composing your own examples is a terrific way to make intimate contact with the grammar point. Spend the time to write out the different scenarios in which this grammar point might come up in real life. Doing so will help you to prove the rules that you encounter in the book you’re working with.

Ask yourself the following questions when looking at ‘rules’:

Do the rules always apply? When you change something about the structure, why does it sound wrong? Which aspects of it are your learners likely to find difficult?

Using the structure yourself is a particularly good strategy, as it directly puts you in your learners’ shoes, especially if you’re using the same course book material that they’ll shortly be working with in a coming lesson.

6. Ask, instead of telling

Of course this depends a lot on which level you’re working with, but you’ll probably find that a lot of the time your learners will actually have seen your target structure before. This is often due to the cyclical nature of course books, which spend the first few units of a new level reviewing what was covered in an earlier book.

In cases when learners might be fluent with the grammar point, treat your study of the grammar point as a brief review. Try to elicit the structure, even before introducing it. If the learners can walk you through the different elements, order, conjugations and exceptions, so much the better.

Adam blog award win BCTE7. Use cartoons and simple drawings

If you’ve ever visited my other blog, EAP Infographics, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of using a picture in the place of a thousand words (I’ve even won an award for this)! Simple line drawings help enormously, and I encourage newer teachers to include basic drawing in their teacher development plans.

Pictures can replace the verbs along a timeline, requiring learners to remember both the verb and its conjugation. They can express the strength of modal verbs, or express countability in nouns, the direction of action in presentation of the passive / active grammar point, and so on. Don’t worry about being the next Picasso, but do invest time in developing rudimentary drawing skills. Either that, or use online tools such as bitstrips (again, something I often use on EAP Infographics).

8. Use direction arrows

Direction arrows may seem like something too simple to be worth bothering with but they have a multitude of practical uses. They can be used to connect the words of the sentence, or indicate discussion patterns of cartoon characters who are playing out the events of the sentence in a picture.

Trust me on this one; the fastest way to teach the passive form can be to use directional arrows to explain the action of the verb, i.e. who is doing and who is receiving the action. Never underestimate the power of a quick arrow!

9. Indicate strength and degree on a continuum

A vertical line with the lexical group hanging off in descending order of strength can quickly show the relationships between the group’s members. Modal verbs are a good example of this:

• Must
• Need to Should
• Can / May
• Ought to

Adverbs of frequency are another classic grammar point that can be dealt with in this way. Coloring the words in different colors or shades (from red down to blue) also gets this point across well.

10. Keep it real and relevant

This is the last point in my least, but perhaps the most important of all! Include your learners, your city, famous people and other relevant elements of culture in your examples. This helps to engage the learners and plays down the boring aspects of grammar.

Remember this: when we really get down to it, everyone’s favorite subject is themselves!

Posted in Teaching ideas, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Day 11 of my Grammarly Christmas: the present perfect tense

A very warm welcome back to my ‘12 Grammarly Days of Christmas.’ To bring you up to speed if you haven’t been frequenting the blog recently, every day for twelve days I’m posting an infographic highlighting the rules that govern the ways we use a certain grammatical point, along with ideas to help those of us who get confused by said grammar point, and maybe even a few activities thrown in for good measure. Today is now the eleventh day of my Christmas marathon which means I’m well and truly on the downward slope and can see light at the end of the tunnel!

Let’s continue with another old classic, the present perfect tense…

The present perfect tense, or aspect if you prefer, is one of the most common areas of grammar that strikes fear in the heart of newbie English teachers, is used in teacher interviews to see how much grammar you know and is all too frequently used by teachers as a gauge of a learner’s ability in English. If this sounds like you then don’t worry… we’ve all been there (I chanced upon an acceptable answer to a present perfect tense question in my first ever teacher interview and have never looked back since).

Now we get to the point where you skip ahead if you’re familiar with the form, this next part is for native speakers who don’t know English grammar!

What is the present perfect tense and how do I teach it? Read on if you’ve just finished your CELTA…

The present perfect, formed with the auxiliary have or has and a past participle, is usually used to talk about the past when it has some lasting relationship with the present. It indicates, therefore, a connection between something that happened in the past and a present time, often referring to an action in the past which has a result now, e.g:

  • I’ve hurt my finger.
  • They’ve forgotten to bring their books to class.
  • Your sister has arrived.

We often use the present perfect to give ‘new’ information, reporting events that have occurred just before the present time, e.g:

  • There’s been a serious accident on the highway.
  • I’ve won an award.
  • Cameron has got a new job.

The present perfect is therefore common with time markers such as just and already:

  • Your friends have just arrived.
  • Julius has already got a new job.

The present perfect can be used to refer to past events which repeatedly occur up to and including the present time, and may occur again in the future:

  • I’ve been skiing several times.
  • We’ve often eaten in this restaurant.
  • He’s an artist who has influenced many young painters.

The present perfect is often used with stative verb senses and adverbials of duration to refer to a state that began in the past, continues up to the present, and will perhaps continue into the future:

  • They’ve lived in Berlin for ten years.
  • I’ve always liked Hakan.
  • He’s owned the house since his mother died.

Situations or events described by the present perfect do not always continue until the time of speaking, nor have they necessarily always happened immediately before the time of speaking, but they usually imply some connection or relevance to the present time:

  • I’ve finished with the computer now, you can use it if you like.
  • Have you locked all the doors and windows?
  • Both our children have had the measles.

The present perfect and time expressions

The present perfect is often used with time expressions which indicate a period of time that continues from the past until now:

  • I’ve made a lot of new friends in the last few years.
  • We haven’t had dinner together for a long time.
  • Have you had anything to eat since lunch?

However, unlike the simple past tense, the present perfect cannot be used with adverbials that indicate a specific point in time in the past. Compare these two examples:

I cut my finger yesterday.
* NOT I’ve cut my finger yesterday.

Paula got a new job last week.
* NOT Paula has got a new job last week.

We can however use the present perfect with time expressions which include the present time such as today, this morning/ year/ month, etc., to talk about events or states that may not be finished at the time of speaking:

  • I’ve answered the phone six times this afternoon.
  • Have you seen Andy today?
  • John has been really unwell this semester

However, if we think of this morning/ week, etc., as a past, completed time period, then we must use the past simple. Compare these two examples:

  • I’ve answered the phone six times this afternoon. (and I may well answer it again, the afternoon is not over)
  • I answered the phone six times this afternoon. (a completed period, the afternoon is over)

The present perfect can be used with time clauses introduced by after, when, until, as soon as, once, by the time, and expressions like the minute/ the moment, etc., to refer to future events:

  • He’ll call you as soon as he’s got the results.
  • We won’t know the details until we’ve talked to Jack.
  • She’ll be twenty-five by the time she has finished her degree.
  • I’ll let you know the minute I’ve heard something.

Still confused? Here’s an infographic that clears things up…

As promised, here are a couple of simple and easily applicable teaching ideas…

1 Why not do it?

Using the present perfect to “talk about an action that happened in the past but that has relevance now” is tricky, but can be practiced through a variety of drills.

Here is an example of how you can do this. Write the following on the board:

  • Because I’ve seen it a hundred times!
  • Because I’ve already read it!
  • Because I’ve finished my homework!
  • Because I’ve never met him!

Tell the learners they need to respond to one of your prompts with an expression from the board. Choose individual learners and ask questions which will elicit answers.

  • Why don’t you want to see Interstellar?
  • Why don’t you have your book today?
  • Why are you sitting there doing nothing?
  • Why don’t you ask him out?

You can make your own prompts and answers like this, or you can just make the questions and challenge the students to come up with their own (perhaps more creative) answers beginning with the sentence stem:

  • Because I’ve …
  • Because I haven’t..

2 Multiple experiences

Begin this exercise with questions that will lead students to provide answers in the present perfect tense.

Teacher: “Have you ever played football?”
Learner: “No, I haven’t.”

Then put the class into pairs and get them to ask each other yes/no questions.Provide cards with sample questions such as: “Have you ever broken a bone?” or “Have you ever been late for work?” Encourage learners to interview each other with their questions so the exercise will be more meaningful.

Have you ever… questionnaires are good for personalizing the tense in a restricted practice format. Another good idea is to group the questions around a particular theme. Here are some examples:

Health experiences

  1. Have you ever broken your leg?
  2. Have you ever spent a night in hospital?
  3. Have you ever had an operation or some kind of medical treatment?

School experiences

  1. Have you ever copied homework from someone else?
  2. Have you ever cheated on an exam?
  3. Have you ever lied to a teacher?
  4. Have you ever played truant?

Cinema experiences

  1. Have you left the cinema before the movie ended?
  2. Have you cried in a cinema?
  3. Have you ever met a movie star?

Computer experiences

  1. Have you ever had a computer virus?
  2. Have you ever used an Internet chat?
  3. Have you ever participated in a webinar?

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Day 10 of my Grammarly Christmas: an activity for teaching there is/are

Welcome once again to my ‘12 Grammarly Days of Christmas.’ For twelve days in the month of December I’m posting either an infographic highlighting the rules that govern the ways we use a certain grammatical point, ideas to help those of us who get confused by said grammar point, and sometimes maybe even a few activities thrown in for good measure. Today is now day ten of my Christmas marathon which means I’m moving slowly but surely towards the end of my blogging marathon!

Today’s post focuses on a great tool for teaching there is/there are…

Being an expat English language teacher, it shouldn’t be too surprising that I’m something of a traveler and a geography nut. I love the natural world and exploring all it has to offer, especially when I get the chance to use this theme in the classroom. I find that nature and the environment is always a popular topic with the teenage learners who I share my classroom with, so I’m really pleased today to be able to share a great app that will enable you to have fun looking at the world and play a motivating game with tool that can also be exploited for language teaching.


The BBC Travel website’s ‘Geoguessr is a game that gives your learners the chance to prove how well they know the world. Using it is fairly easy and it won’t take very long to set it up in class. Basically, you’re presented with five environments and have to guess where in the world each is. You start by moving around using your mouse, similar to how you would on Google maps. Once you think you’ve worked out where you are, you click on the map in the lower right hand corner to place your marker. If you think you’re sure of the location, click the ‘make a guess’ button to find out how close you were. You are awarded points based on how close or far away your guess is for each of the five environments.


Screenshot from the Geoguessr app

How can we exploit this app for language teaching?

This games is instantly addictive and can be utilized either as a whole class activity (individuals take it in turns to contribute their thoughts), or as a team competition between two or more groups (there is an option to set a time limit or challenge a friend to make it more appealing as a game).

This format readily lends itself to many language items, especially those we regularly encounter at lower levels:

There is… / There are

Discussion of the location will obviously revolve around what there is and isn’t visible in the environment.

Modals of deduction

Also, there will undoubtedly be a lot of ‘It might be America’ and ‘It could be Brazil’ comments during the discussion

Vocabulary for describing the natural world

As the images are generated at random and are different each time you play, it’s difficult to think ahead for all of the vocabulary you’ll need. Nevertheless, you should probably consider a list of pre-teachable vocabulary so that learners are able to hit the ground running. As far as less obvious words such as ‘arid’ ‘arable’ are concerned, make one of the conditions of the activity be that you will help out when learners can’t come up with the word. There are some great free materials for this here.

Meta-language for using apps like this

I’d be surprised if your learners hadn’t encountered an app that requires them to move around an environment in the way that ‘Geoguessr’ does, so why not use this as an opportunity to teach language such as ‘zoom in / out’ and ‘toggle left / right / up / down’?

What do you think?

If you use this in class, please let me know how it goes!

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Posted in Teaching ideas, The life of an english teacher | Tagged | 2 Comments

Day 9 of my Grammarly Christmas: fun and motivating grammar activities for beginner classes

Welcome back to my ‘12 Grammarly Days of Christmas.’ For twelve days in the month of December I’m posting either an infographic highlighting the rules that govern the ways we use a certain grammatical point, ideas to help those of us who get confused by said grammar point, and sometimes maybe even a few activities thrown in for good measure. Today is now the ninth day of my Christmas marathon which means I’m moving slowly but surely towards the end of my blogging marathon!

Grammar exercises are a fundamental ingredient of many language lessons, but can become a bit of a drag for both us and our learners if we’re not careful. However, grammar need not necessarily become a dry and tedious affair. If we can make grammar exercises as learner-focused and interactive as possible, we can keep them interesting, enjoyable and, most importantly, effective. In today’s Grammarly Christmas offering, I present four classic, low-preparation activities that work particularly well with beginner classes.

1. A classic tic-tac-toe game

The format is simple and therefore easily recognizable to every learner… a surefire winner!

  • On your whiteboard or blackboard draw a tic-tac-toe grid. In the spaces where you would normally put a cross or a zero, write language you wish to practice. For example, you may write, “going to,” “sleeps,” “behind, ” “makes,” “does,” and “can.”
  • Split the class into two teams. Ask one team to pick any word from the tic-tac-toe grid and to tell you a sentence of five words or more containing that word. For instance, “He is going to go to the bank later.”
  • Set a time limit of approximately fifteen seconds for each turn. If the team manages to form a grammatically correct sentence, erase the word and replace it with a cross or a zero. If the sentence is not grammatically correct, leave the word in the grid.
  • It’s now the other team’s turn to select a word and attempt to form a grammatically correct sentence. Continue until one team has a line of three zeros or crosses.
Dice & cup

‘Dice & cup’ from @aClilToClimb at ELTPics

2. Verb Tennis

A simple activity that you can decide to do on the spot, as it requires little to no preparation. All you need to know are the basic rules of tennis!

  • Divide the class into two teams and give each team some time to think of approximately ten verbs.
  • One team starts, or serves, by saying a verb, the other team must return this service by saying the past tense of this verb and the first team must now say the past participle of the same verb. Then prompt the other team to start, or serve.
  • Keep score as you would in a tennis match, so if one team gets a past tense or past participle incorrect then the score becomes 15-love to the other team, then 30-love and so on.

3. The Never Ending Sentence

Again, an activity that you can use whenever you have a few minutes of class time to spare, or when you need to spice things up with a bit of action.

  • Divide the class into groups of three or four and write the words “I like” on the blackboard or whiteboard.
  • Ask one group to add one word to this sentence that will continue it in a grammatically correct way, for example, “to,” and write this on the board. Ask the next group to add another word to this sentence that will again continue it in a grammatically correct way, for example, “go.”
  • Continue like this, with each group adding a word to the sentence. When one group cannot think of a word in approximately ten seconds or adds a grammatically incorrect word then they are out and the exercise continues without them.
  • Continue until only one group remains.

4. Present Continuous Charades

Another activity that comes from a universally known format that you can use whenever time allows or boredom necessitates. Only a little preparation is required for this one.

  • Split the class into groups of three or four and supply each group with your pre-prepared slips of paper, faced down, on which you have written prompts. For instance, you might write, “walking upstairs,” “singing a song,” “drinking hot coffee,” or “making an omelet.”
  • Each member of the group takes it in turn to choose a slip of paper and act out the prompt. The other group members attempt to guess correctly what the first learner is miming and produce a grammatically correct structure in the present continuous: for example, “You are walking upstairs.”
  • Learners may keep score if they wish, or just play for fun. Walk around the class as the learners work and give help where necessary.

Summing up

Although I’ve suggested these activities are great for beginner learners, we might use them with any class. Nevertheless, with lower levels we should keep language as simple as possible when explaining an exercise and make use of stronger learners to help demonstrate.

Join me again soon for day 10 of my festive Grammarly Christmas!

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Day 8 of my Grammarly Christmas: demonstrative adjectives and pronouns

A very warm welcome back to my ‘12 Grammarly Days of Christmas.’ To bring you up to speed if you haven’t been frequenting the blog recently, every day for twelve days I’m posting an infographic highlighting the rules that govern the ways we use a certain grammatical point, along with ideas to help those of us who get confused by said grammar point, and maybe even a few activities thrown in for good measure. Today is now the eighth day of my Christmas marathon which means I’m well and truly on the downward slope and can see light at the end of the tunnel!

Let’s continue with another old classic, demonstratives…

This, That, These, Those are called demonstratives and they are used to show the relative distance between the speaker and the noun. It seems simple, but these words can cause a lot of bother to language learners.

Now we get to the point where you skip ahead if you’re familiar with the form, this next part is for native speakers who don’t know English grammar!

What are adverbs of frequency and how do I teach them? Read on if you’ve just finished your CELTA…

Let’s get started with demonstrative pronouns

We use this (singular) and these (plural) to refer to something that is here / near.


  • This is my banana. (singular)
  • These are our dogs. (plural)

We use that (singular) and those (plural) to refer to something that is there / far.


  • That is our pet monkey. (singular)
  • Those are my juggling balls. (plural)

Note that the auxiliary verb changes (i.e. singular / plural) depending on the pronoun that you use.

You can also use Demonstrative Pronouns by themselves:

  • Did you do that?
  • I’d like to buy these?
  • Which of those would you like?

Let’s now look at demonstrative adjectives

You can also use demonstratives before a noun. These are called demonstrative adjectives.

The Demonstrative Adjective needs to agree (be the same form) as the noun.

Examples of demonstrative adjectives:

  • This party is boring. (singular)
  • That city is busy. (singular)
  • These chocolates are delicious. (plural)
  • Those flowers are beautiful. (plural)

Let’s try and summarize…

What’s the difference between demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns?

Demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns use the same words, so at first it’s hard to notice any difference. The easiest way to know that difference is that demonstrative adjectives are always before a noun while demonstrative pronouns are before a verb or by themselves.

  • This book is old. (Demonstrative Adjective + Noun)
  • This is new. (Demonstrative Pronoun + Verb)
  • Did you like that? (Demonstrative Pronoun by itself)

Everything else is the same. For example, both demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns use the word THIS (singular) to talk about something that is close to you and the plural of THIS is THESE.

Still confused? Here’s an infographic that clears things up…

As promised, here are some simple and easily applicable teaching ideas…

1 Identifying demonstrative adjectives

Let’s start with some classic board work…

Get your learners to look at the examples: “This gift is nice” and “These gifts are nice.”

Explain that “this” and “these” describe the subjects, “gift” and “gifts.” “This” and “these” place the gifts close to and in the physical presence of the speaker.

Read out further examples like this: “I like that gift” and “I like those gifts.”

Ask learners if they notice any differences, i.e. that “gift” and “gifts” are objects in these sentences and “that” and “those” place a physical distance between the speaker and the gift or gifts.

Now ask your learners to try and identify the object of the preposition in the following sentence: “I want one of those gifts.”

Discuss the sentence so that they notice that the descriptive adjective “those” describes the preposition object “gifts” while placing the gifts at a distance from the speaker.

2 Identifying demonstrative pronouns

Let’s continue with some more board work…

Get your learners to evaluate sentences with “this,” “that,” “these” or “those” to identify the subject and object of the sentence.

Here’s a simple example: “This is my bag.”

Ask questions about whose bag it is. Discuss the sentence so that they notice that “this” is a subject that refers to the object, “bag.” Subject-object references are the easiest ways to recognize the meaning of a demonstrative pronoun.

Look at this next example, which doesn’t have the subject-object reference:

“The dog does not like this.”

Ask learners to speculate what “this” means. Get them to notice that “dog” is the subject and “this” is the object but they are not the same.

Make note that in the example, “The dog does not like this,” the demonstrative pronoun “this” is taking the place of something that the dog does not like. Ask learners what this could possibly be!

Now, use an example like this, “These are so much fun,” in which “These” refers to more than one thing. Get learners to look for a group of things in other examples to learn the relationship.

3 What are they talking about?

In this fun activity you ask learners to simply work on the context of parts of dialogue they imagine they’ve “overheard”. Here are some examples of “overheard” conversations with an element of mystery about them:

A: Did you hear that?
B: Yes, I did. Doesn’t sound like good news.

A: Excuse me, but what are those?
B: Sorry, sir. I had to bring them.

A: Look at this!
B: Yes, very nice dear.

A: Here you are.
B: Thanks, but I didn’t want these.

Get learners to speculate in groups about what was being discussed.

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