Chile, one month in.

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The view from my flat (with the Andes in the distance!)

It’s 1am and I can’t sleep for the thoughts swirling round my head, so I thought I’d try to write them down.

  • I’ve been in Chile for just over a month now –  and what an amazing, overwhelming, exhausting month it’s been. In this time, I’ve met up with old friends, made some new ones, found a flat to live in (and bought furniture and moved in)…and, of course, started my new job (as well as teaching, I’m now training to be a CELTA tutor, designing a TKT methodology course and helping to design an in-house coursebook – all of which are interesting but challenging in their own right).
  • One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself in the past month is that I really need to be more patient – patient with others, patient with the never-ending bureaucracy that comes with moving to another country, but most of all, patient with myself whilst I settle into my new life here. Arriving in Santiago a month ago felt, in some strange way like coming home. I lived here in my early 20s and have a really strong emotional connection to the city. I was incredibly excited to be here for the first couple of weeks, only to then be floored by a intense bout of homesickness (which was made worse by how guilty I felt about it – “I’ve lived here before, I shouldn’t be feeling like this”). I’m starting to feel much better, but am still not sure how I’ll cope with being away from home for 2 whole years.
  • To me, learning a language has always been about communication (ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to travel the world and be able to talk to people in their language). It’s only recently that I’ve started to realise how closely language and power are connected – and how much being able to speak Spanish fluently affects my day-to-day life. I feel so much more confident and independent than I did when I lived in Poland (and didn’t speak Polish well).
  • Teaching in a different context has given me the chance to re-evaluate my beliefs about teaching. I feel very strongly that, as a language teacher, I don’t just teach a subject, I teach people – complex, beautiful human beings. And my job is, as far as possible (given the constraints of the classroom situation) to help my students learn in the best way for them (which often involves try to boost their confidence first). One of my students paid me the loveliest compliment the other day: “Emma, I feel that you know that we are all different in this class and you plan the class thinking about this”….well, I try, at least!
  • Even (especially?!) after Delta, I’m scared of observations – of having all the work put into a lesson weighed up, analysed and spat out into a grade out of 100 (yes, that really happens here).  Of not meeting people’s expectations (even if they’re only my own).  But I also think, in some ways, that it’s good that I feel like this – as a large part of teacher training involves observing people and giving feedback, I need to know and remember what being on the other end of the process is like.
  • I’m still trying to figure out what professional development means for me right now. In some ways, I’m quite involved in other people’s professional development (apart from training to be a CELTA tutor, I’ve also been designing methodology courses), which perhaps makes it all the stranger that I don’t quite know what to focus on next myself. The process of moving here and getting used to my new job has been so all-consuming that I’m not feeling as energetic or motivated as I’d like to at the moment; nor do I really know what’s possible (in times of time, money, resources). I miss having geeky teaching conversations…
  • That said, training to be a CELTA tutor is great – I’m learning so much and really enjoying working with the trainees. It’s also pushing me to improve my own teaching, which can only be a good thing (practising what I preach, eh). The most difficult thing for me at the moment is trying to guide the trainees rather than telling them too much – hopefully this is a skill that I can develop quickly! And I’ll soon be delivering my first input session (exciting!).

    I realise that some of this is quite personal, but I’ve decided to post it anyway – I reckon it’ll be useful to remember how I felt at this point. Buenas noches! 

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Desert Island Discs, the ELT version

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Photo from ELT Pics by worldteacher. (Used under a Creative Commons licence)

Packing your entire life into two suitcases and a rucksack ready to move continents isn’t a particularly easy task, especially when your approach to books and clothes is pretty much the opposite of Marie Kondo’s (although I’d very much like to get rid of some of the work clothes I’ve just bought as they really don’t “spark joy” in me…).

This reminded me of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs, where celebrities have to choose eight tracks, a book and a luxury item to take to a desert island. What, I wondered, would the ELT version of this be? So I asked the following question on Twitter and got loads of replies (thanks everyone, there are so many books I want to read now!).

So, here are the books I actually ended up packing. As my new job involves both teaching in a private language school and teacher training, I tried to pick resources that would be both interesting for me and potentially useful for my future trainees.

  • Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (by Tricia Hedge). I found this to be a really useful overview of different theoretical and methodological issues when I was doing Delta.
  • Teaching English Grammar: What to Teach and How to Teach it (by Jim Scrivener). This book was known as “the magic grammar book” in a previous job and, looking at it, it’s easy to see why. It covers a wide range of grammar points and provides example situational presentations, information about meaning (including possible CCQs) and form, and examples of common student errors.
  • Another one by Scrivener: Classroom Management Techniques. So many ideas in one book!
  • Teaching Unplugged (by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury). I really want to experiment more with Dogme…I don’t think I’ve quite “got” it yet. I don’t normally have problems with noticing and clarifying emergent language but then don’t always know where to go from there.
  • About Language (by Scott Thornbury). For those tricky grammar questions.
  • From Rules to Reasons (by Danny Norrington-Davies). I read bits of this last year and enjoyed trying out some of the ideas. Hopefully, now I’m finished with Delta, I’ll have more time and mental space to keep experimenting.
  • ELT Playbook 1 (by Sandy Millin). It’s always exciting to buy a book by someone you know (Sandy was my DoS at IH Bydgoszcz). And the reflection tasks will be useful for my teaching and also for teacher training.
  • Listening in the Language Classroom (by John Field). Is it cheating if it’s on Kindle?! I read this book right in the middle of Delta Module 2 and want to try some of the ideas for developing bottom-up listening skills with my new classes in Chile.

And one object:

  • Rory’s Story Cubes. Great for creative activities and so much fun!

 

What are your Desert Island ELT Books? 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Talk about mental health in ELT

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From Time to Change

Today (Thursday 7th February) is Time to Talk Day in the UK, a day designed to challenge mental health stigma by encouraging people to talk about mental health. This has encouraged me to try and write about mental health in ELT, which is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time now, prompted in part by my own experiences. You see, I’ve experienced mental health problems myself, just as a quarter of UK adults do every year. In my case, depression and anxiety, which I first suffered from as a teenager and have experienced on and off since then (although I’ve been doing a lot better for the past couple of years or so). Fortunately, experiencing mental health problems hasn’t stopped me from teaching and I feel really lucky to have found a career that I love (if anything, I think that teaching has had a positive effect on my mental wellbeing). That said, I think the ELT industry could do a whole lot more to promote good mental health.

It seems to me that a lot of the current discourse around teacher mental health focusses on self-care and what individual teachers can do to boost their mental well-being. Self-care (being pro-active about taking care of your health and well-being) is undoubtedly important for everyone, not just people who have experienced mental health problems. I think that, as teachers, we sometimes focus so strongly on helping our students and meeting their needs that we don’t prioritize our own well-being. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, are we really helping our students/colleagues? Or, as Sarah Mercer puts it in her IATEFL 2017 plenary (which I would definitely recommend watching), psychologically wise teachers look after themselves. If you need ideas/inspiration for things you can do to improve your mental well-being as a teacher, the Best Ticher blog has an A-Z of Self Care for Teachers that I found really helpful.

However, I feel strongly that an approach to teacher mental health and well-being which focusses on mental health as an individual responsibility is not enough. After all, no teacher is an island. Instead, in their day to day lives, teachers interact with many other people: colleagues, students, parents, and have the opportunity to influence and be influenced by them, both positively and negatively. Or, put another way, even the best self-care is likely to be ineffective if a teacher’s working conditions are poor. I believe that creating an environment where teacher mental health and well-being are valued has positive effects on both teachers and students.

So, what would a “mental-health friendly” working environment look like? Here are some of my ideas (I’ve focussed on private language schools, as that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, but I think that most of these ideas are transferrable to other ELT contexts).

In a mental-health friendly language school

  • Basic working conditions are good. Teachers are paid fairly and on time, and are rewarded financially for their qualifications and experience. Teachers are employed legally and have proper contracts, unless they themselves would prefer more flexible arrangements (zero-hours contracts have been linked to poor mental health). They are allowed to take sick leave and get paid sick pay. Timetables are arranged as fairly as possible.
    (I can’t believe I need to spell this out IN 2019, but ELT seems to be notorious for poor working conditions. Personally, whilst I’ve mostly been treated well, I have experienced not being paid on time in one job, and not being able to take all the sick leave my doctor recommended for a physical illness in another, both of which had a  negative effect on my mental health). 
  • Managers are aware of what they can do to promote mental well-being amongst all their staff and how to support teachers experiencing mental illness. Teachers are encouraged to disclose mental health problems if they want to and know how to access support if they want to.
    (The bold is because I don’t think that teachers should have to disclose information about their mental health unless they feel able to do so. In my professional life, there  have been times where I felt comfortable disclosing information about my mental health – and benefitted from doing so – and other times where I felt that it was better not to say anything. Managers who want to read more about how to support staff with mental health problems, as well as about mental health in ELT in general would do well to read Phil Longwell’s blog. )
  • Managers are aware of workplace factors which may have a negative effect on teacher well-being and try to mitigate these where possible. When introducing new policies, they consider the effects that these have on teacher mental health.
  • The first couple of years of teaching, especially, can be stressful. Schools should try and help make the transition from initial teacher training courses to on-the-job teaching as easy as possible, for instance by setting up mentoring schemes and showing teachers different strategies for organising their time and how to reduce time spent planning.
  • Moving abroad to teach is a big undertaking. Schools should think about what they can do to make this as easy as possible for teachers e.g. providing help with obtaining visas, providing initial accommodation, providing language lessons.
    (The schools I worked at in Poland did this really well: teachers were met at the airport and taken to their accommodation, where a pack of essential food items was provided to get us through the first 24 hours. We were taken on a tour of the town and we had free Polish lessons once a week). 
  • Teachers know how they can get support if they’re going through a rough patch with their mental health. For instance, they have someone to talk to if they want to and know how to access healthcare.
    (If you’re worried about a colleague, this advice from Time to Change might be useful). 

 

I’m sure there are many more things schools could do to promote teacher well-being. Feel free to comment with more ideas 🙂 

New year, new language? Language learning resolutions for 2019.

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Cheers, Duolingo… This was a while ago, hope I’ve improved a bit since then! 

Since it’s the start of a new year, I thought I’d write about my language learning goals for 2019, in the hope that this will help me become clearer about what I want to achieve (and also help me stick to it!).

I realised recently that, despite having a languages degree and reaching C2 level in Spanish, my language learning strategies aren’t particularly well developed. I’ve always been lucky enough to “pick up” vocabulary quite quickly, especially when I was living in Chile (but also when I was studying at university and spending a lot of time reading  complex literary texts in Spanish). This means that I don’t really have strategies for learning vocabulary (apart from the classic “read, cover, write, check” strategy that I remember from primary school spelling tests). So, I’m also hoping to experiment with different language learning strategies and use what I learn from this to help my students.

I’m going to focus on two languages, Spanish and Polish.

Spanish

Where I am now.

Having studied Spanish at university and lived in Chile for 2 years, I’d say I’m probably at C2 level. I’ve never taken any formal proficiency tests (apart from university language exams) but essentially, everything I would normally do in English, I can also do in Spanish, including reading academic texts and writing academic articles – a couple of articles that I wrote with some Chilean friends have been published. Even now I’m not living in a Spanish-speaking country, I still use Spanish on a regular basis to keep in touch with friends and read news articles in Spanish.

What I want to achieve.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left for me to achieve. The prospect of living and working in Chile again has given me a new set of goals:

  • I want to improve my general vocabulary. Overall, I think my receptive vocabulary is pretty good, but I could sometimes push myself to use more sophisticated vocabulary when speaking and writing.
  • Although I’ll mostly be working in English, there’s also the possibility of being involved in a couple of Spanish-language projects. So I want to be able to discuss teaching methodology comfortably in Spanish, with both specialists and non-specialists. This would also be useful outside of work: my best friend in Chile is a Spanish-language teacher in a Chilean state school, and we often talk about teaching.
  • I want to be able to write formal emails more comfortably. This is something I’ve never actually been taught to do – at school and university, we were only ever taught to write essays and summaries. At the moment, I often get my Spanish-speaking friends to proof-read important emails I have to send (and they normally tell me that the email’s fine) but I’d like to be confident enough not to need this.
  • I want to start reading for pleasure in Spanish again. I don’t often read novels in Spanish (analyzing Spanish texts to death at university took all of the joy out of reading in Spanish for me) but it’ll be much easier for me to get hold of books in Spanish than in English once I move to Chile.

What I’m going to do

I’d like to have some lessons, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible – as I’ve got very specific goals, I’d want to have 1-2-1 lessons, rather than group classes, which are probably out of my price range. So, this is what I’m going to do:

  • Extensive reading: this will hopefully help me both get more comfortable with reading for pleasure in Spanish AND acquire some more vocab. I want to read 5 books in Spanish in 2019. 
  • Intensive reading: I’ve recently started reading newspaper articles in Spanish in a more focussed way, really trying to notice the language used and stealing useful chunks of language. I want to read at least 2 articles a week and record useful language in a notebook. 
  • Formal emails: I’m going to look at formal emails I’ve received and keep a list of useful expressions for formal emails.

I would also like to read more methodology books in Spanish, but I haven’t found any I like yet – of course, the majority of ELT methodology books are in English. I’ve been looking into ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) resources, but with no luck so far. I’d be grateful for any recommendations…

Polish

Where I am now.

After living for 3 years in Poland, my Polish is probably somewhere around  high elementary level. I went to a Polish class once a week during my first year but then life got in the way and I didn’t go to classes regularly after that. I managed to have some decent conversations with the school driver, Mr Zbyszek, on the way to my company classes – on a good day, we could spend almost all of the 40 minute journey talking about our families, holidays we’d had/ were planning to have, and life in England/Poland, with a little help from Google Translate occasionally. But I’m also very aware that my grammar is shaky and there are big gaps in my vocabulary. One of my biggest regrets about my time in Poland is not learning more Polish – if I could go back in time, I’d add 15 mins of studying Polish a day to my routine.

What I want to achieve.

  • I want to improve my general level of Polish for when I visit Poland in the future.
  • I want to be able to communicate better with my Polish friends – all of my close Polish friends speak English, but some of them occasionally message me in Polish, and I’d like to be able to reply more easily.

What I’m going to do.

  • I’m going to learn 5 new words a day on Memrise. I’ve just started doing this, and the course I’m using is mostly revision at the moment, but should have some new vocabulary in the later part of the course. So far, I’m on a 5-day streak…
  • By the end of 2019, I will have read a book in Polish. My book of choice is “Mały Książę” (otherwise known as “Le Petit Prince”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). I picked it up about 3 years ago in my local convenience store in Poland but it took me a while to get round to reading it. I tried a bit last year, but I could only understand about 10% of it without a dictionary (and I don’t want to look up every single word in the dictionary!). So this might be one for later on in the year…

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What are your language learning goals for 2019? 

 

December reflection challenge

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A reflection from 2018 😉 (A garden in Granada, Spain).

When I saw this reflection challenge on the That is Evil blog (great name!), I couldn’t resist taking part.

Apart from the ones which describe activities, I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet.

So….here goes!

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

It’s got to be the “I’m an expert” activity that my friend Charlie showed me. It’s prep-free and really gets students talking. I’ve done it with several different classes and it’s always gone down well.

It goes something like this:
1) Students write their name and the sentence “I’m an expert in __________________” at the top of a piece of paper. E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food. 
(Some of my students were very modest and didn’t think they were experts in anything, so we said that they could write “I’m interested in ______________” instead).

2) Students leave their paper on their desk and walk round the room, writing questions for other students. It’s really important that everyone writes their name next to their question (I’ve learned from experience to demo and ICQ this stage…).
E.g. Emma. I’m an expert in vegetarian food.
What’s your favourite dish? (Charlie).
If you could only eat one vegetable for a month, what would that vegetable be? (Katie).

Monitor and help students with vocab / question form. Ideally, allow enough time for everyone to write a question for everyone else in class.

3) Students mingle, finding the people who’ve written questions for them and answering them. Monitor and note down language to upgrade as necessary. This stage always takes a lot longer than I expect because the students are generally very into their conversations.

4) Do feedback on content (students share the interesting/surprising things they’ve learned from their classmates) and language.

I did this activity with my intermediate group in an unassessed lesson during Delta Module 2 and we had a great time – it took up a whole hour, and we ended up talking about a huge variety of topics (the NBA, how to design a race car, the role of religion in Cuban society, typical Spanish and English food, and Brexit).

Day 2: most memorable story from 2018

It’s only vaguely teaching-related: being in a house fire the day before the Delta Module 1 exam and having to move flats immediately because we couldn’t stay there. I was pretty shaken up, but my friends and colleagues couldn’t have been kinder. And Delta seemed so unimportant after that…

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

Teach the students, not the plan.

Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

Working on my YL teaching and noticing improvements. And presenting at an online conference for the first time (IH TOC 10)

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Studying abroad in Chile and experiencing a very different university culture (the stray dogs, the Friday parties, the tear gas). I’m still in touch with a lot of the friends I made then.

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

My adults’ end-of-year test coincided with the Poland-Senegal match during the World Cup. As they obviously couldn’t use their phones during the test, they persuaded me to keep a scoreboard, and their reactions every time a goal was scored was hilarious.

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You mean you don’t have a special column on your board for the football scores?!

Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018

Ready for First was good for FCE writing and Use of English. Apart from that….pass. I’m not a great fan of coursebooks in general.

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

I tried to focus a lot more on learner autonomy and resources for self-study with all my groups. It worked best with my intermediate adults, as I did the same challenge with my Polish.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Scrap paper (I’ve been trying to use fewer materials, and scrap paper is so versatile).

Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018

Pass (I’m terrible at remembering jokes). Have this vaguely ELT-related meme instead.

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Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

It’s really hard to choose just one student… almost all of my students made me proud. But if I have to choose: realizing how much more confident a particular in-company student was and how hard she’d worked.

Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018

I can’t pick just one….

Lesson Plans Digger and Tubequizard.

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

My mum (a former secondary school history teacher). She still lives in the town she taught in, where I grew up, and regularly bumps into her old students, who always seem pleased to see her. I hope some of my students remember me as fondly in the future. She taught me that teaching is all about the people.

Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job

Seeing my “difficult” YL class get excited about making story books in English, and working really well together.

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

I left my comfort zone a lot (doing Delta, and teaching some challenging classes). It was a bit stressful.

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher

I know that there’s still so much more for me to learn.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

“Be the change you want to see”.

Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher

The pay?  (Joke).

I love languages and working with people. And I really wanted to go back to Chile.

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

Quizlet 🙂 (one of my students described it as “better than Facebook”).

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

I wrote a whole blog post about the things I wish I’d known as a new teacher 🙂

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

Listening in the Language Classroom, by John Field (over one weekend, in the middle of Delta Module 2…).

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

Lack of work-life balance (I studied for Delta Module 1 and 3 while working full time).

Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand

I am a “real teacher”, not just a backpacker. I’m qualified and I care about my job.

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Videoing myself teach. I hated doing it, but it really helped me pinpoint things I could improve on. I suppose I’d do it again…

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

Getting a Distinction for Delta Module 1 (I have terrible exam-related anxiety, so this was a REALLY BIG DEAL).

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

I want to have a better work-life balance. No to taking work home!

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

I feel so much more confident than I did before.

Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-Teacher

I wish I could magically help my students believe in themselves more.

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

I want to spend more time reviewing and recycling vocab with my classes (I always run out of time!).

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

My first lesson in 2019 probably won’t be until March….some GTKY activities, I suppose.

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

The things I worried about most in 2018 didn’t happen/weren’t that bad after all… and I feel happy right now.

 

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A moment of absolute calmness (celebrating my birthday by going hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile, with a good friend).

2018 was quite an intense year but, overall, a good one. I lived in 3 countries (Poland, Spain, and the UK) and finally managed to go back to Chile and visit my Chilean friends. I met some amazing people, who I hope to keep in touch with. I feel that I’ve developed a lot as a teacher and I’m really excited to start my new job in Chile in March

Like a seal on thin ice…

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Photo from ELT Pics by dudeneyge

I love my career. I love working with my students. I love seeing them making progress and becoming more confident at communicating in English. I love the opportunities I’ve had to travel and see parts of the world that I never imagined I’d visit, let alone live in (and yes, I’m very much aware that being a white native speaker with a British passport means that it’s much easier for me to find jobs abroad than for many other people. Which really sucks: qualifications + experience > a teacher’s L1 or nationality). I really love my career…except when I don’t!

You see, over the past few months, I’ve come to realise just how much of my professional life is dominated by uncertainty and the resultant anxiety. Just to give a few examples:

  • I’ve just been offered a fantastic job….but will I get a visa? Will I be able to get all the documents I need in time?
  • What will happen when the UK leaves the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in the EU? How difficult will it be for me to get a job in ELT in the UK if EU student numbers fall post-Brexit? What will happen to my friends who are currently working in the EU?
  • My first job in ELT was as a language assistant at a Chilean university (which I’m deliberately not going to name). I never knew when I was going to be paid (I started work in September, and didn’t get my first pay cheque until the end of November….and that was not an isolated incident) and, unfortunately, complaining about these conditions led me to being treated with some hostility. So I often worried about when I’d be paid, if I’d be able to pay my rent…and what would happen if I complained again.
  • When I worked at a language school in the UK, the number of hours I worked varied wildly from week to week, dependent on student enrolment, which led to financial uncertainty on my part. Luckily, I was living with my parents at the time – I certainly couldn’t have afforded to rent my own place.
  • When I’m working at summer schools in the UK, there’s always the constant worry of what will happen when student numbers drop: will my contract get cut at short notice? This is especially bad when you’re relying on your income from summer school to supplement your wages from your year-round job…

I can do very little about some of these situations: anxiety surrounding getting a visa is part and parcel of living and working abroad. And there’s not much that I, personally, can do about Brexit (A People’s Vote, please….). But it seems to me that a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling is caused by poor working conditions in the ELT industry. I’m quite an anxious person generally and I’ve spent years working on strategies to minimise/deal with my anxiety and, overall, I’m doing much better. And this leads me to say: if I’m still feeling anxious, ELT, it’s not me, it’s you.

I realise that schools are businesses and they need to make money to survive. I don’t necessarily think that most school owners are rolling in money. But, having worked in a great school in Poland for the last two years, where I was treated well (paid on time, a guaranteed salary even when students cancelled at the last minute, sick pay), I know that it is possible to treat your teachers fairly and still run a successful business. The problem is: how to improve working conditions in the EFL industry? I can turn down a job if the pay and conditions aren’t what I want…but I know that eventually, that job will be filled (possibly by someone fresh off CELTA) and so school owners won’t see the need to improve conditions. I know that there’s been some discussion in Ireland recently about the need for legislation to address the precarious working conditions in the ELT sector there, and I really hope that this brings about results.

I love my career – it challenges me and opens my eyes on a daily basis. But still so much more needs to be done. But how?

Ultimately, I know that this is a distinctly unfestive blog post, with more questions than answers,  but I would have welcomed reading something like this before I started out on my TEFL journey. Here’s to a better 2019!

The title of this post comes from an expression that one of my Delta coursemates used to describe how anxious we felt at times on the course. I’ve stolen it because it’s quite an apt description of my feelings right now. 

My favourite Christmas activities

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Wrocław Christmas market….well worth a visit 🙂 

It’s almost Christmas! ‘Tis the season to…plan your Christmas lessons (at least if you’re an English teacher). I won’t be teaching any Christmas lessons this year 😦 , as I’m currently on an extended post-Delta break/job-hunting, but I thought I’d write about my favourite activities anyway, in case they’re useful for other people and to help me remember them for next year.

1. Christmas speaking lesson 

This lesson works particularly well with FCE/CAE exam classes because it follows the format of the FCE/CAE speaking exam (some colleagues and I at IH Bydgoszcz originally planned this together as a lesson for our FCE classes, thanks Charlie, Rose, and Shannon). I think it’s quite a fun speaking lesson anyway and have also used it with other adult classes.

  1. Before the lesson, write a list of Christmas-themed characters, one character for each student in your class / if you split your class into smaller groups, one character for each student in a particular group. For my mostly teenage FCE students, we had characters such as Santa Claus, a Wise Man, the Grinch, an elf, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Scrooge etc. but obviously choose characters that your students will know and that are appropriate for your context.
    You’ll also need to find some pictures showing Christmas artwork/showing people celebrating Christmas (Christmas cards are good for this) and, if possible, print them out and stick them around your classroom for step 4.
  2. At the start of the lesson, give each student a character and tell them that they are that character for the rest of the lesson. I found that giving students a couple of minutes to think about the following questions individually really helped them get into character:

– What do you already know about your character?
– What do they normally do at Christmas?
– Do they like Christmas? Why / why not?

3. Then set the scene. It’s Christmas Eve and all the characters are at a Christmas party together. Give them a time limit and ask them to mingle and get to know as many of the other characters as possible. Monitor and make notes for delayed feedback (at the end of the lesson, so as not to break the mood).
This activity is designed to practise FCE Speaking Part 1. My students didn’t have any problems coming up with appropriate getting-to-know you questions, but if you think your students might find this more difficult, you could always give them some of these questions to ask.

4. Tell students that they are now the judges of a Christmas art competition, held at an art gallery. Give the students some time to walk around the room, comparing and contrasting the pictures (similar to FCE Part 2 speaking), before putting them into smaller groups and asking them to decide on a winner. They should still be “in character”.

5. Then tell students that their characters are going to spend Christmas Day together. Give them a couple of minutes to think of as many ways of celebrating Christmas as they can (e.g. spending time with family, having a barbecue, going to church, going skiing). Monitor and board 5/6 of the best ideas. Use these ideas to create an FCE Part 3 speaking task:
a) in pairs, students have 2 minutes to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of the ideas and talk about which characters they think would enjoy each suggestion.
b) They then have 1 minute to decide on the best way of celebrating Christmas for them.
Then take a class vote to decide on the winner.

6. Time for the final speaking activity of the lesson. Tell the students that it’s the evening of Christmas Day and their celebrations are almost over. They’re sitting round a fire in small groups (or round a swimming pool, or some sort of scenario that fits with the way they chose to celebrate Christmas in step 5) and they start to reflect on their Christmas celebrations.
Give out the following questions (or make up your own ones) and give the students some time to discuss them in small groups, still in character:

-Did you enjoy these Christmas celebrations?
– What does Christmas mean for you?
-How do you normally celebrate Christmas?
– Do you think Christmas has become too commercialised?
This is similar to an FCE part 4 speaking task.

7. If you’ve been monitoring throughout the lesson, you should now have lots of things to focus on in delayed language feedback.

 

2. Christmas film review 

With my FCE class, I introduced review-writing to them just before Christmas, so it seemed like the perfect chance for them to write reviews about Christmas films. This made the process of writing a film review much more engaging, as they had a purpose for writing (helping me choose which films to watch over the Christmas holidays!) I adapted the materials from the FCE coursebook I was using at the time, but if I taught this lesson again, I’d probably create my own materials.

 

3. “Oh, you really shouldn’t have…”

I came up with this series of activities when one of the students in my adult intermediate class said that she was going to spend Christmas with her English in-laws and was worried about “being polite enough”. I really didn’t think that she needed to worry too much about that, but dealing well with potentially awkward situations is definitely a useful skill to have. The role-playing element of these activities also worked well with a teen class, who had some very funny dialogues 🙂

  1. Lead-in. Students discuss the following questions with their partner:
    – What presents are you hoping to get for Christmas this year?
    – What would be the worst Christmas present for you? If someone gave you it this year, what would you do? What would you say?
    Do some quick whole-class feedback on content (and language, if necessary).
  2. Role-play: give students a minute to think of a terrible gift for their partner. Then role-play a Christmas gift-giving scenario (for extra drama, vary the character of the person who’s giving the present e.g. best friend, elderly aunt etc.). Monitor and note language to upgrade.
  3. Depending on how your students did in step 2, you’ll probably want to teach some functional language for thanking people/responding to being thanked. Here are some examples, but choose phrases that are appropriate to the needs/level of your group:
    Thank you, it’s lovely.
    – Thanks, it’s really useful. 

    It’s lovely, where did you get it? 
    – You really shouldn’t have! (make sure your students know that this one can come across as ironic/sarcastic).
    Drill these phrases, focussing on intonation and sentence stress (in my experience, Polish speakers tend to have a narrower pitch range than English speakers, which can make them come across as unintentionally rude).
  4. Students repeat the task from step 2 with a different partner, trying to use the new language that you’ve introduced.
  5. Time for Secret Santa! Students write their names on a piece of paper and you collect them in and redistributes them, making sure that no-one has their own name. Students then think of a present for their person and write the details on a piece of paper (decide if you want students to write the name of the giver or not… in traditional Secret Santa, it’s, well, a secret 😉 ). Something like:
    I’m giving _____________ a ____________ because ____________________.
    (Here, you can choose if you want the students to write nice presents or intentionally bad presents….I think a lot depends on the class dynamic).
  6. Collect the pieces of paper in and put them into a hat. Then pick them out one at a time, and read them out. The person who gets a present has to say thank you appropriately.

 

Happy Christmas!

What are your favourite Christmas activities?