I feel slightly naughty posting this but I might never be Number 1 in any chart again.
Thanks to all of you who have bought a copy. And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?
I feel slightly naughty posting this but I might never be Number 1 in any chart again.
Thanks to all of you who have bought a copy. And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?
A former trainee asked me which TEFL books she should buy to improve her teaching. Naturally, I admonished her for not having bought my best-selling ebook A Short Guide to TEFL (shameless plug) but she promised me that she would and I dutifully went home and inspected my bookcase.
Over the years, I’ve amassed about 150 TEFL books. Before you think I’m some sort of TEFL geek – that is if you don’t already – I must tell you that I had to buy about 30 books to do my DELTA Diploma and another 30 for my MA. The other point in my defence is that a week after beginning my MA, I walked past a charity shop in my home town and saw a table bending under the weight of a mountain of old TEFL tomes dating back to the 80s and 90s, a time when some of you weren’t even twinkles. Anyway, I bought the lot for about £5 and about 25% were really informative and the others were gainfully employed to prop up table legs, to help me reach a can of baked beans on the top shelf, or as a sleeping aid.
So, in today’s post, I’d like to tell you about my 5 favourite TEFL books.
At number 5, we have Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings. As you may have guessed from previous posts, the whole Dogme / Unplugged approach really interests me and this book explains the methodology and has a collection of lesson ideas and activities for teaching who want to live in the moment in the classroom.
Number 4 is Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener. This is a guide for new teachers but old hands will learn lots too. There’s some easy-to-digest methodology and a plethora of teaching ideas and and activities. This book really helps the reflective teacher who wants to develop their skills.
My 3rd favourite TEFL book is written by our old friend Scott Thornbury, appearing for the second time on the list. An A-Z of ELT is perfect for those teachers who are bamboozled by all the jargon in TEFL teaching. The book consists of short entries for key topics and terms in ELT, just the thing to help you remember the difference between inductive or deductive learning or which order the different stages in the PPP model come in.
At number 2, I finally, after much soul searching, decided to plump for 700 Classroom Activities by David Seymour and Maria Popova. I love this book because it gives you ideas for lessons based around grammar items or vocabulary topics. So, if you’re stumped and can’t think of an activity to get your students using the Past Continuous, you’ll find ideas in this book. Great for those days when you have to plan your class in five minutes.
So, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Wait for drum roll. I’m opening the envelope and about to announce the winner.
And, without further ado, my favourite TEFL book is:
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. This book is – to quote the blurb on the back – the indispensable reference book on language problems in English for teachers and higher -level learners. Before buying this book, I used to wake up in a cold sweat because I had to teach the Past Perfect Continuous or indirect speech to a group of grammar obsessed Advanced level students. This book always saved my bacon. It’s easy to navigate and the grammar explanations are practical and pedagogically sound. Of all the books mentioned, this one helped me develop the confidence to teach some fairly complex linguistic items.
So, what about you? What books would you recommend for aspiring or practising TEFL teachers? Are you looking for a type of book but don’t know how to find it? Let me know.
I was recently invited by Liverpudlian artist and writer Derek Dohren to participate in ‘The Next Big Thing’, a set of chain posts from bloggers to bloggers around the world.
Derek, a former TEFL trainee of mine, has recently published The Cats of River Darro a witty account about the trials and tribulations of living in Granada. It’s a great read and I’d definitely recommend it to any TEFLers out there.
So, thanks to Derek for passing the baton to me. I’ve got a steaming mug of black coffee in front of me and am ready for whatever is thrown at me.
What is the working title of your book?
Talking in a funny lingo – The Insider’s Guide to TEFL or 50 things you should know about TEFL
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Many people dream of upping sticks and heading off to foreign climes. One way to make a living and get to know members of the local community is to become an English teacher. And if you do it well, it’s good for the soul and you make a positive impact on people’s lives.
However, there is not a lot of regulation in the TEFL industry, especially here in Spain. This means that there is a good deal of misinformation (inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally) and disinformation (inaccurate information that is spread intentionally) and far too many charlatans, swindlers, shysters, con artists, confidence tricksters and snake oil salesman around!
I’ve spent 15 years working in TEFL and have spent time, effort and a substantial amount of cash getting professional qualifications. A TEFL course is quite an investment so I’d like to think that people can read my book and be able to make an informed decision about whether it’s for them or not and what they should do during and after the course.
What genre does your book fall under?
I suppose it would fall under the ‘How to’ genre. I’ve tried to include lots of anecdotes and interactive tasks to make it more accessible to the general reader. It’s not a dry, academic text!
What other books would you compare this work to within your genre?
I’m a fan of writers such as Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink. I may not agree with everything they write but their casually informative prose style makes reading their work a pleasure. I’m certainly not in their league though!
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha ha! I consulted a few close friends on this one about who could play me in the dramatic re-enactments of some of the classroom experiences I refer to in the book. I bought a beer for the chap who suggested a younger Al Pacino but poured a beer over the head of the wag who suggested Ronnie Corbett (bespectacled, diminutive British comedian).
Of course, I’ll need someone to do a narrative voice-over. Morgan Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen or Clint Eastwood. Someone with gravitas. Or Brian Blessed, he’d be fantastic and keep viewers awake for sure.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
50 things you should know about TEFL but were too afraid to ask in case the person you asked happens to be an insufferable egomaniac.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve been collecting questions for a couple of years but the actual writing only took about a month. Unfortunately, I’m not very detailed-oriented so proofreading and editing feels like pulling teeth. Anybody fancy doing it for me in exchange for a few beers?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Positive inspirations would include many of the trainees I’ve taught over the years. To see somebody undergo a remarkable transformation from a trembling, gibbering pupa in front of a group of students into a calm, cool and collected educational butterfly in a month is a wonderful thing.
Then there are those TEFL charlatans I mentioned earlier with their negative inspiration. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up a language school or teaching training centre and convince people to part with their hard-earned cash and I would love to see these opportunists go the way of the dodo!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, I’m currently writing an additional part about TEFL teaching here in Spain. It will include lots of useful tips about working in this marvellous, if frustrating, country, and links to online resources and lots of other goodies.
Phew, time for another coffee. Next week, we’ll be crossing the Atlantic and hearing from a couple of young American writers.
Kellie Joyce and Brittani Mann have been best friends since they were kids in the United States. In the summer of 2012 with college freshly them, they moved to Granada, Spain to spend a year teaching English and learning about a new culture, and maybe even picking up the language along the way. Sometime while they were looking for work as teachers, they managed to hatch fledgling careers in writing, a life-long passion. Both have novels being published in January.
My next 3 posts are part of a set. Read individually, this one and the next may appear unrelated to TEFL teaching. The final post should make things clearer.
Let’s start with a quote:
Words mean more than what is set out on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.
June 11 1988
The concert to celebrate the 70th birthday of imprisoned South African Nelson Mandela was in full swing. 70,ooo people were inside Wembley Stadium in North London and hundreds of millions were watching on TVs all over the world.
The next act to go on stage was Stevie Wonder, the legend of American soul music. The crowd were expectant; Stevie had started his career around the same time as The Beatles and was one of the most enduring stars of the rock era. His music had changed in the 80s though – and not for the better many would say – too synthesised, too much technology.
Minutes before he was due to go on stage, Stevie realised that the hard disc containing all the pre-recorded music for his set was missing. Bursting into tears, he told the organisers that he couldn’t play.
An up-and-coming singer songwriter was pushed on stage before she had time to refuse. It must have seemed as if half the world was watching her, one lone black woman with a guitar. She strummed her first chord and started to sing……
Tracey Chapman became a huge star in that very moment. her debut album sold 10 million copies worldwide and it is said that her performance inspired the whole “unplugged” movement.
What does all this have to do with TEFL? Read the next blog to find out.
It was Friday, I had to cover a class at the last minute but had nothing prepared. I walked into class with a coursebook under my arm and asked the students which unit they were on.
A collective groan filled the room. I though for a few seconds, hoping inspiration would strike.
“OK, close the books.
A few tentative smiles appeared on faces.
I circled the class; dividing the students into Student A and Student B.
“Ok, student A, you are me, the Director of Studies at a language school. Student B, you are students.”
“Student As, your student won’t buy the coursebook. Convince them to buy it.
Student Bs, you don’t want to buy the course book. Explain why you don’t want to buy it.
Directors, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you should buy it. Students, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you shouldn’t.”
5 minutes later all of the students were lost in their roles. The classroom was filled with lively chatter and laughter. One voice broke through the general din.
Kaori was a quiet Japanese lady in her early 40s. Polite to a fault, she wasn’t a fluent speaker. She was far too concerned not to offend and to use correct grammar at all times, this meant her conversation was generally stilted. This time though, she was in the zone improvising as a student determined not to buy the book.
I hate coursebooks but almost all English teachers use them, Why? Because it is easy work for them. But they are so boring. You must to read about Madonna. Why do I want to read about Madonna? Or listen to two stupid English people who have too much money and go around the world in a yacht. What does that have to do with my life? Then, we have to talk about these people with a partner. Why? I don’t know them. I don’t like them. I want to talk about me and my life in Japan or my life in London. It’s crazy. I want to speak English for my work and to communicate with people from other countries. The books make learning English boring and useless.
By this point, all the other students had stopped talking. They were staring open-mouthed listening to the quietest student in the class ranting about her hatred for coursebooks. When she finished, a few of them applauded!
For the remainder of the lesson, we drew up a list of benefits and disadvantages of using coursebooks in class from the student’s perspective and the latter column was substantially longer than the former. We ended the class with an open discussion about coursebooks.
The students identified the following key points:
It turns out that the teacher I was covering for was the kind of teacher who walked into class, asked the students to turn to p47, do the exercises and then he would check the answers before moving onto the next exercise in the book.
As we say in English, teaching from the coursebook way is money for old rope – an easy way of making money. I’m not bashing teachers who use coursebooks – there are good economic and pedagogical reasons why they are a useful resource in the language classroom. But that is all they are, one of the many resources we can use to create stimulating lessons in the classroom but we need to adapt them to meet our learners’ needs.
Think about how to use them effectively to maximise classroom learning opportunities.
Your students are the best resource in class, not the coursebooks.
Let me know what you think. Is there ever a case for systematically following coursebooks in class? How do your students react when you move away from the coursebook?
You sit back, take a deep breath and relax. The person sitting opposite you has asked all of their questions and you have acquitted yourself pretty well. Your interview for a TEFL job has been a success.
Your interviewer thinks you are motivated, enthusiastic, creative, professional, responsible, dedicated. You give yourself a mental pat on the back and have the urge to make that ironic, self-congratulatory gesture when you close your palm, breath on the top digits of your fingers and rub them on your chest .
The interviewer turns to you again, peers over the top of their glasses and smiles:
So, is there anything you’d like to ask me?
You think for a moment, an image of a cold beer pops into your mind. In a few minutes, you could be sitting in the sun feeling proud about your performance in the interview, how you didn’t bat an eyelid when confronted with the question about the best way to teach the Past Continuous. All you have to do is say: “No questions actually, I think we’ve covered everything”. Hearing these words, the interviewer will shake your hand and offer you work, starting on Monday.
WARNING – NOT ALL LANGUAGE ACADEMIES HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART AND YOUR ELATION AT BEING OFFERED WORK WILL SOON TURN INTO DISGRUNTLEMENT UNLESS YOU CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING:
What, if any, type of contract are you being offered?
How much and how often will you get paid? Gross? Net? Holiday pay? Sickness? Cancellation by students?
Where and when are the classes taking place? At the academy? On-site? At student’s homes? Will you get travel costs?
Do the students have a coursebook? If not, are there materials available at the school? Are you expected to create your own lessons?
Is there a photocopier at the academy? Reference materials? Board markers? Internet access?
How many students are in each class? Have they been level-tested? Age?
Does the school provide teacher training? Observations? Teaching mentors?
If you feel that the interviewer is being evasive, think twice before accepting a position at the academy. There are some unscrupulous employers in the TEFL industry and asking simple questions like the ones above should help you make an informed choice about whether you want to accept the job or not.
All you need for these fun speaking games are some dice. I recommend you buy a few sets and carry them around with you all the time.
Dice are a great resource for TEFL teachers because they are portable and suitable for adults and kids
What I love about dice is that the options are endless, only limited by your imagination and creative ability. Let’s look at a few ways to use them.
Tip: Make the games competitive by having different scoring systems. Two I like are:
The Dice Bomb: If students complete task or use language correctly, they roll the dice to determine how many points they’ll receive. Get the other team to choose a bomb number, e.g. 3. If the first team roll 4, they’ll get 4 points; if they roll the bomb number (3), they lose all their points.
Dice Gambling: Teams or students can choose to get 3 points for correct answers. However, they can gamble and roll the dice again and this new number will give them their points.
Finally, use dice to nominate students to answer questions or do certain tasks. This random element keeps them engaged and on their toes.
Let me know if you have any other dice games to use with your English students.
Why write things on the board for the students to write in their notebooks when you can dictate them to the students?
Dictation gives your students a clear model of pronunciation and allows them to practise their listening and writing skills.
Here’s an example:
Imagine you have a few topic questions you want your students to discuss.
You could write them on the board yourself or let them read the questions on the handout or in the coursebook, but if I were you, I would……
The teacher’s words are in italics. Note the use of imperatives to instruct the learners.
“Close your books”
“Write down what I say”
“When the hell… are you bunch of fools… actually going to learn English?”
“I’ll repeat. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”
(Pause while they write down what they have just heard)
“Now, discuss what you have written with your partner. Don’t show what you have written.
(Make exaggerated gesture hiding your notebook from your partner).
(Let them discuss what they have written, spelling out words out to each other if necessary)
“OK, one more time. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”
(Let them make any final changes)
You have 2 options here:
“Paco (there is one in every class here in Spain) Tell me what I said.”
“Paco, write the question on the board.”
“Everybody, is Paco correct?”
(If Paco is correct, proceed to the next step. If he isn’t, see if the other students can produce the correct sentence)
“Everybody, repeat after me. When the hell are you bunch of fools actually going to learn English?”
(Students repeat in a choral drill)
Paco, say the sentence. Juan, your turn, Carmen, Patricia. (Ask each student or several students to do individual drilling)
Now, in your pairs, discuss the question. You have 5 minutes.
Now, you might feel a bit uncomfortable dictating at first – and I wouldn’t recommend trying it out with the question used in the example above – but, in my opinion, it’s a very student-centred teaching strategy which allows you to identify and deal with any grammar, lexical or pronunciation issues.
Try being a benevolent dictator for a while. Do it sitting down, standing up, walking around the room (although I would draw the line at goose stepping like a Nazi).
Let me know how it goes.
A little context – “Try before you buy”
Before becoming a TEFL teacher training, I worked at a London language schools for a few years as an ADoS (assistant Director of Studies) and later as a DoS (go on, have a guess what that means!). One of my duties was to observe the teachers and give them some feedback on their performance, praise them and point out a few areas which could be improved. I used to insist on observing potential teachers before hiring them – before you scream: “exploitation, it’s just a scam for getting teachers to give classes for free!” – they got paid for their troubles. Not a bad strategy because you’d be amazed at how many bad teachers can ace interviews and how many good ones can’t. Anyway, the reason I’m giving you this back story is to tell you that I’ve watched hundreds of teachers give classes.
Now, whether that makes me an expert on what constitutes a good class is open to debate. I do know, however, what is generally considered bad practice in the TEFL world.
THE FIRST DEADLY SIN: Too much unnecessary, irrelevant and self-obsessed TTT
Appearances can be deceiving
I interviewed a jolly chap for a job once. He seemed bright, knowledgeable, affable and listened carefully before responding to my questions. I liked him immediately. He agreed to give a demonstration class the following day and I explicitly mentioned that I wanted to see a student-centred class in which the students provided most of the speaking output. He nodded vigorously and returned the next day with a beautifully written student-centred lesson plan.
Pride comes before a fall
As I sat back to watch him teach a group of multi-national Intermediate learners, I glowed with a sense of inner pride at my unfailing instinct to spot great teachers. The jolly chap introduced himself in a jolly manner and asked each of the learners their names and nationality. So far, so good: the students instantly relaxed with him and he provided some pithy and humorous comments as each student spoke in turn. Then, it began……..
Squeal like a pig
He told them that he was (briefly) going to talk about himself. I expected a few lines about where he was from, his hobbies, his favourite food. Well, that’s what he did at first and then he started to talk about his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s awful taste in clothes, his even worse taste in music. There was more to come. His boyfriend’s countless infidelities, his disgusting habits, his poor hygiene.
As he continued, he spoke faster and faster, his voice rising and rising until it reached a pig -like squeal. When it reached that upper limit, he would sit back on his chair, catch his breath for a moment, and then continue with another anecdote about how his boyfriend picked his nose while watching TV, how flatulent he was, his inadequacies in bed.
That car crash moment
At this point I should have stopped him but there was some nightmarish quality to this situation that kept me rooted to my chair. The students sat there, eyes wide open, watching this whirling dervish as his squeals became more anguished, his gestures more grotesquely flamboyant, his eyes bulging like boiled eggs, his vocabulary more colloquial and obscure. One tiny Japanese lady looked as if she was about to throw up, so dizzy was she at watching him perform his crazed pirouettes around the room, knocking over chairs and tables, swiping poor students with his flailing limbs.
And then he stopped, remembered I was in the room and announced:
“Well, I was going to teach you the rules about when to use the present perfect but it appears we have run out of time. Anyway, my little darlings, I’ve really enjoyed teaching you all and hope to see you soon. Here’s an exercise you can do for homework. Oh, if any of you would like private classes, here’s my email address.”
Before he could write his details on the board, I informed him and the students that individual lessons could be arranged through the school and ushered him out of the classroom. I remember picking up his jacket and bag before marching him downstairs to the main entrance to the school.
A little self awareness goes a long way
At the door, he blithely shook my hand and gave me what he considered to be a million-dollar smile:
“So, I assume you liked the class. When would you like me to start? Monday at 9?”
He squealed like a pig again as I pushed him out the door.
The moral of this story is: ‘let the students do the talking. They need the practice.’
So, you’ve been accepted onto a TEFL course. How are you feeling?
TEFL courses are tough. We try to squeeze 5 weeks worth of input into a 4-week time period. Not our fault as it’s just the way the market has evolved. What can help is doing a bit of preparation before the course starts.
Here are 5 things you should do to prepare for a TEFL course:
In at number 5, read a book or two, some articles even, about TEFL. You’ll experience what it’s all about on your course but a little background reading won’t hurt. Remember that “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.” The Jeremy Harmer book shown above is a great primer and includes a DVD with real-life scenes from a classroom. A cheaper and shorter alternative is from the Teach Yourself stable of guides.
Jeremy Harmer. How to Teach English. Pearson Longman.
David Riddell. Teach Yourself: Teach English as a Foreign Language.
At number 4, find out what a phonemic chart is and familiarise yourself with some of the sounds and symbols in the English language. Why not go to the BBC British Council Teach English website and play around with it:
Straight on to number 3. Brush up on your grammar. Learn what a verb is, a noun, an adjective, a dangling subjunctive participle relative pronoun clause (don’t worry, I made the last one up). You don’t need to become an expert but knowing the basics will mean that you’ll hit the ground running when you start the course.
Michael Swan. Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press.
Martin Parrott. Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.
Heading down the home straight now.
At number 2, ask the TEFL centre if you can come in and observe a class. If that fails, see if there are any English schools / academies close by and ask if they’ll let you sit in on a class. The most important thing is that you see a teacher and their class in action. The DVD accompanying the Harmer book will help too. You should watch demonstration classes on your course before you teach but the more exposure to the TEFL environment the better.
Finally, at number 1 with a bullet is….have a beer / red wine / coffee / tipple of your choice with some friends before the course. Let your hair down and relax. The course is intensive and you’ll probably have to do assignments and teaching preparation at weekends so partying during the course may knock you off your stride. Besides, once you start the course, you will alienate close friends and family with your endless references to eliciting, correction strategies and, most egregious of all, your constant correction and reformulation of their grammar!!
So, if you are embarking upon a TEFL course sometime soon. Do some preparation and you’ll have time and energy to enjoy it. Good luck.