I never believed in Santa Clause. The story was illogical. Even if reindeer did fly, how could one man single-handedly land on the rooftop of every child’s house across the world in one night, squeeze down their chimneys, and leave presents for the good ones? Even with the time lag from China to the United States, it was impossible. I was a pretty smart kid and learning was something I enjoyed since I could understand anything with consciousness. I do not remember exactly what it was I studied in those first years but I know I did not think much of my teachers.
They were just sort of there. 
The Fat Man with Christmas presents wasn’t real, but Ms. Marin Was!
When I entered first grade, I could read a lot and write a bit by then. My teacher Ms. Marin helped me tell my first story by writing it in a book. She would doodle little clever cats and stars on my homework and give me A-pluses and tell me how talented I was. She was always so fun and interesting to listen to. She would draw us weird animals that lived in the desert or under the sea. She would tell us these animals could live without water for weeks or that some would go into a frenzy if they smelled even a drop of blood. A fat man with Christmas presents may not have been real, but Ms. Marin sure as heck was. Her words. Her enthusiasm. Her inner-fire. Her curiosity for the world around her. Weird interesting stuff that she loved and I loved because her. Her love of learning became my love of learning. From the many teachers I would have all the way throughout graduate school, Ms. Marin’s gift was the greatest of all.
Mediocre teachers to follow but a new second-hand piano
The years went by and all of my teachers were just like my other teachers. Just. There. Nothing good. Nothing bad. Mediocre at best. I cannot even remember their names now as I try to remember them. The years went on and my love of learning continued. By the time I was 10-years-old I had convinced my mother to let me take up the piano. I fell in love with the rainbows I heard on my dad's classical vinyl collection. I played them again and again, like a bad habit. Each time, I felt things. Things I can only describe as fireworks exploding in my chest. My mom and dad even saved their money to buy me a second-hand piano from the Salvation Army. They said it was my birthday present for the next few years. I agreed.
Smashing my little dreams of learning 
My mother took me to Mrs. Hansen’s house. She was the town’s only piano teacher. Anyone who was learning to play the piano went to Mrs. Hansen. Her home had marble floors and glass chandlers hanging high off her low ceilings. In the middle of her living room sat the most gorgeous piano. I was so excited to play. To learn everything I could. Scales. Octaves. Half and full notes. Sharps and flats. To practice until I was perfect. I walked into Mrs. Hansen’s house wanting to dazzle the world with my fingers and then the most horrible thing happened, I hated it. Mrs. Hansen would yell at me for making constant mistakes. She told me I was lazy and that I was not working hard enough. For playing the wrong key by accident. Her eyes would glare at me and all the hopes I had on the inside shriveled up. She had no idea she was breaking the bones of all of my dreams. She would smash my little fingers as hard as she could to make me understand what it was she wanted me to do.
I gave up wanting to learn
I remember dreading going to her house. Even at home while I practiced pressing those 88 keys every day, I would feel her behind me yelling at me making me feel small. Her anger, disappointment, and cruelty overpowered the passion Beethoven and Chopin’s piano sonatas once stirred in my blood. I started to skip my lessons with Mrs. Hansen on purpose. Eventually, I gave up on ever learning to play completely. To this day, I still look at the black or brown varnish on these lavish instruments and the 10-year-old inside of me still feels the sting of heartache, of failure, of defeat.
I am the teacher. And I know exactly what that means. I teach English as a second language. And I get to be Ms. Partida. I have learned there is a spectrum of students with different aptitudes and retention abilities. The process of learning a second language to me is like the process of learning music. It is complex. There is no true way to know exactly HOW to teach. Certifications and college degrees do not cover the dynamic things that happen moment to moment in any classroom on any given day. We do not learn how to inspire or even how we might accidentally blow a child's fire out. Becoming a great teacher is a learning process. I learn from my mistakes. And above all I have learned the most from one dynamic woman that burned like the sun as well as from a poor emotionally equipped piano teacher. I have learned the utmost importance of patience, of a smile, of a kind word of support. Mrs. Hansen taught me what to never be and Ms. Marin taught me the beauty of living outside the classroom box. From her I have learned to be creative in class as much as possible.
Inspiration is the greatest gift teachers can give
I believe that inspiration is the greatest gift any educator can give to any of their students. So they know anything worth attaining does not come overnight. Mastery of any subject takes great practice. Discipline. Attention. When one loves the process of learning, we give those things gladly. The hours go by and we have not even noticed, because learning anything from deep-sea exploration to speaking another language can be so much fun!
Teaching English with Drive and Passion
I choose to be a teacher every day. My mind is present in the class. I never forget that my students are aware of my actions towards them; just how clearly I saw Ms. Marin and Mrs. Hansen or even Santa Clause at the early age of five. Students feel the carelessness or the genuineness. We teach; not only our designated subjects, but also how to be in the world. If you are driven with passion and sincerity, they will feel it. You will move the mountains of their imaginations and stir their potential like a chef in a fancy French kitchen.
Teaching life-long learning
The greatest trait for all exceptional teachers, in my opinion, is the practice of life-long learning. I slip and fall out of difficult yoga poses until I can hold them. I myself grapple with Mandarin and Russian. I write stories I have to edit again and again. I read books on subjects I know nothing about in order to keep the mental cobwebs away. These academic strifes in my adult years keep me understanding of those in their youthful school years.
They learn from me, and I learn to be a better teacher from them. It is a mutually beneficial relationship for everybody. I hope someday each and every student of mine remembers me the way I remember Ms. Marin instead of how I feel every time I look at a piano.
The subject of an excellent Penny Ur book, Teaching Listening Comprehension, listening is the most commonly used communication skill, yet the least explicitly taught in many classrooms.  Listening is a skill often taken for granted and overlooked by teachers, so I hope that this article (and part book review) will help you and your students reach those learning goals a little easier.

What is Listening Comprehension?
Before we start, it is important to know what listening comprehension is. Listening comprehension is everything from speech perception and word recognition (think baby sounds and first words), up to inferring implied meaning and intention (think compliments with sarcastic tones).  But this level of comprehension takes years to develop, and can be very difficult to teach.

Listening Activities Should Reflect Real Life Listening (RLL)
To make listening tasks meaningful, they need to reflect real life listening (unless you are specifically preparing students for listening test).  To make your listening activities reflect real life listening (RLL), we must consider the characteristics of RLL.
Firstly, we almost always have a purpose for listening, whether learning something in a lecture, or finding out gossip, there a purpose.  And this gives us an expectation of what we will hear, like a saucy story about your best friend’s partner’s granny, or an answer to a question you just asked.  
Once we get our expected response, we always respond.  It can be an obvious physical or verbal response like clapping or asking a follow up questions, or not so obvious such as an emotional response.

Visual and Environmental Clues in Listening
A characteristic of real life listening that really helps us are visual and environmental clues.  When facing the person we are listening to, we can often tell a lot about what they are saying from their body language or facial expressions.  Our surroundings always help us to add context to help our listening comprehension.
Finally, in RLL, it’s important to consider how English is heard as opposed to seen.  Colloquialisms, pace, pitch, tone, formality and so on, all change how individual words may be heard.  Spoken prose can be vastly different from written prose.

Common Listening Problems in ESL Students
Now that we’ve considered RLL, let’s look at some common problems faced by students learning a second language.
To start, simply hearing the sounds is difficult.  Hearing a sound like 'th' in (thing), which doesn’t exist in several languages, forces the listener to attribute it to the closest known sound they have; in Chinese this is /s/, in French, it’s /z/. Homophones and homonyms (saw – bear/bare) are more obvious obstacles, and then there’s intonation and stress.  My favorite example to use is, “Did you steal my red scarf?”.  If you change the stress to a different word it can change the question entirely.  

Listening to Every Word is Often Unneccessary
Redundancy and noise are also difficult problems that learners have to overcome. Redundancy is when a speaker uses too many words.  In native listeners, we are quite good at tuning out until we hear what we need to, kind of like scanning texts, the rest of the information is redundant.  The same thing happens in listening, but for second language learners, all languages included, there is an innate desire to understand every word that is heard, which can be very difficult, and often unnecessary.  This is why instruction giving is so important to plan.

Colloquial Speech in Listening is an Additional Problem in ESL Listening
Noise is when a word isn’t heard, either due to a background noise, the listener not knowing a word, or too many words being said too fast.  You may have just been teaching the sentence “I don’t know.  Where do you think he could be?”, but it may sound more like “I dunno.  Wej’thinkeeknbee?” when said in a colloquial manner.
Colloquial language is another problem and something all teachers should be acutely aware of.  Usually colloquial language is unplanned, jerky and spontaneous, delivered at a tremendous speed and varies in tone, pitch and speed.  Not to mention that we regularly leave letters out (comfortable, vegetable), or even whole words (where you going? What you doing?).  Being aware of this will help you and your students and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Listener Fatigue and Accents
Listener fatigue and accents can also cause problems, however the latter is an important element of learning English and more exposure to different accents, but not too often, will help students in the long run.

Teacher Tips for Planning Effective TEFL Listening Activities
Remembering what you have already read, here are some tips for planning an effective listening activity.
1. Focus listening around a task:  this helps to make sure students have a purpose to listen.  It could be a TPR response, ticking a box, following directions, but be careful not to make it too writing intensive.
2. On-going learner response:  as we learned earlier all listening requires a response.  On-going responses in the classroom work much better than a few questions at the end, which could make it a memory test and not a comprehension exercise.
3. Motivation and success:  One of the biggest factors in motivation is success. Make sure the task is challenging but not too difficult.  Once a student succeeds they will be motivated to go again.  Provide opportunities for students to complete written answers, or listen a second or third time if it will help successful completion.
4. Simplicity:  Be wary when using additional environmental or visual clue that you don’t stimulate too many senses at once.
5. Feedback:  Give it immediately or as soon as possible.  Students will quickly forget what they heard if you give feedback a day later.
6. Visual materials:  invaluable in setting the context and will likely provide heightened motivation and interest.  You can also throw in some acting or miming instead of the usual audio recording.  
If you would like to learn more you should definitely pick up Penny Ur’s Teaching Listening Comprehension and for even more classroom ideas, try out Simple Listening Activities by Jill Hadfield.

by Grant Fraser

Grant Fraser

Grant is from Scotland and has been living and working in Suzhou, China since 2011 teaching English to young learners. He is keen to share his experiences and ideas with other teachers throughout China and the rest of the world. If you would like to contact Grant please click here
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 12:12

ESL: Teaching Reading to Young Learners

Reading is 'dreaming with your eyes open'. Teaching reading to young learners activates their imagination and enables children to master intonation and word stress from a young age. Reading also passively teaches punctuation and grammar. These skills are very important in achieving near-native English skills.
Using Technology to Teach Reading

I teach reading to young learners aged 7-9 in my English corners. As a modern teacher, I use my iPad and free online fairy tale books from my (Chinese) App Store. I have found a variety of free interactive books from TabTale.
Before we start reading, we play a ball game to review what we read during the previous English Corner. This allows them to physically warm up (it's winter), and to get ready for an hour of English only. I do not have an assistant teacher in these reading English corner sessions, so a good warm-up activity is essential.
Interactive Fairytales: Repeated Listening

Once our heart rate is up and our lungs are filled with good laughs, it’s time to listen to a fairy tale. The fairy tales are interactive and during the first listening they enjoy moving the characters and copying their voices. (I encourage them to go crazy – I believe children learn best when they don’t feel boxed in)

The first listening is for them to make out what the story is about and for them to settle down from a hyped-up warmer. The second listening is often calmer, as they know which characters move and they are aware of what is going on. During this session they listen more intently to the words in the interactive story and the sounds of the reader.

New Words in the Story
Inevitably there are new words they learn with each fairy tale; we play an interactive counting game to practice the new words e.g. 1 Witch, 2 Huntsmen, 1 Huntsman, 2 witches.  an apple, 2 oranges. etc…
Our third and final listening/reading is easy on the ear for them because they know the full story and understand all the new words. I read to them and ensure I stress each syllable and repeat each word and ask them to repeat after me as I read along. This helps the young learners greatly with pronunciation and correct word stress. 

Get the Students Reading Themselves
We then activate “read to myself”. I pick my strongest student to read the first page while the others listen, fairy tales from TabTale are often 15 – 20 pages long. Because each page is interactive, the reader has exclusive “rights” to the iPad. We each take turns reading. I encourage silly eyes and faces while they are reading. This allows me to see which student understands the story and which one doesn’t; a handy tip for teachers teaching reading to young learners! 

Teaching Reading: Difficulties in Pronunciation

Difficulties in word pronunciation come up while reading and I encourage them to correct each other. I only step in when none of my students know how to say the word. Fairy tales usually have simple language but occasionally words such as “conscientious” pop up and I step in, but aside from that, I encourage the kids to help each other read.

Doing Puzzles After the Relay Reading
After relay reading, that is, the students assisting each other to read and teaching reading in repeated steps, we do a jigsaw puzzle of the characters from the fairy tale. Each student relays the part of the story the puzzle refers to. There are a few good jigsaw puzzle programs you can use to make your own jigsaw puzzles online.

Read Once More a Little Faster
After the puzzle, we read once again, this time at a slightly faster pace than before. They enjoy it because they try to reader faster, louder and better than I do. After our third reading, we do a colouring activity in which each student gets to color in their favourite book character and say why they like that character.

The Final 10 Minutes of the Reading Class
By now I have about 10 minutes to the end of the reading class and I ask a volunteer to read. I usually have a child who is ready to show off their reading skills. They read and everyone reads and repeats after them. Then, each student has a sentence each and we read the book from start to finish. 

Same format, different story
The beauty of using the same format for different fairy tales (it’s important to always have a different fairy tale for each session), is they become accustomed to what is expected of them and have fun whilst reading in the class. The first week can be chaotic, as most Chinese students are not used to reading a long fairy tale all at once and mastering it in an hour. I have found that after three weeks of using the same format but different fairy tales, you will start to notice just how much better your students read than when they started. Teaching reading to Young Learners is a wonderful way to improve a broad range of laguage skills and I would encourage all teachers to incorporate reading into their classes.

by Rene Elliott
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone was the first film in the epic Harry Potter Series. In the first first, Harry discovers he is a wizard and goes off to The Hogwart's School of Magic. At Hogwart's School, each new pupil goes through a greeting ceremony, The Sorting Hat Ceremony, where new students are sorted into houses. The Hogwart's students stay in their houses for the six years they are at Hogwart's. 

Want to teach this movie class to help classroom management and need the DVD? Click here

Kids love the Harry Potter films and you can use Harry Potter and The Sorerer's Stone in your own Young Learner ESL classes to help you with classroom management. By having your kids divided into houses, you can award points for winning language games, doing good work in class, raising hands, speaking English and helping others. Similarly, you can take away points for naughty behaviour, not listening, being boisterous, shouting too much, whatever. A student is far less inclined to behaving badly if he knows he'll lose points for a collective team.

Download the movie lesson plan for a more detailed look into how you can use Harry Potter to help your classroom management with children and how to get a really good vibe and routine in your English classes.

Written by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
As an English as a second language instructor I have run across some, of what I like to call, questionable material. Some of the material I’ve seen in books makes me cringe and shake my head in wonder at who developed the content. This is not just in China, but in every country where I’ve had the pleasure to teach. Often times teachers are not allowed to change the material, which in some cases means the teacher needs to know how to break down the content and bridge it so that when taught the material makes sense to the students. Such a task is easier said than done. 

Not having to stick rigidly to curriculum: A big difference
Currently I teach oral English at a small college in Henan Provence. The material provided is more of a guideline than a necessity, which is a first for me. All of my prior jobs required me to use the material already use for the curriculum; but at my current post that is not necessary. Thus, bridging the material is so much easier because I can cherry pick important information and use it instead of use every little bit of information in the books’ chapters. 

Learning about your students
One of my favorite parts of bridging is learning about the students. When I take the time to learn about the students in my classrooms, then not only can I take the information in the books and bridge it to real life, I can also incorporate the student’s personalities into the lesson. We had a chapter called Escape in my sophomore oral English class. The word is rather ambiguous, but the chapter discussed traveling; or a way of escaping reality. 

Sparking quality spontaneous and unplanned debates
Now, as an English teacher, traveling is a good topic, but it is so overdone, in my opinion, I decided to change it up a little. In an earlier class I had mentioned that I wanted to travel to the rings of Saturn, which had sparked a debate on where people could go if we did not have human limitations. That was a fun lesson! The students enjoyed it and parts of what we talked about were brought up again during the midterm when the students had to speak to me on any topic for five minutes. 
Escape is a huge idea, so I ran with the thought that the students could spend a few minutes thinking about where they would escape to, real or make believe, if there were no human limitations. I, of course, told them of where I would find my escape, just to show them that imagination was more than useful in storytelling. In the end, the students were able to take the lesson and run with it into all sorts of fun. One student said he would run away to his own private island, which prompted another student to ask the question about the island government; was it similar to China’s or did he choose a different form. Another student said she wanted to escape to a boat that could travel around the world. 

What is Bridging?
'Bridging' is a term in English language learning wherein the instructor attempts to take material and help the students see it for how it is beneficial in the real world. Or in the case of what I did, helped the students think outside the box and open up their imaginations, using real world applications. Each student used their prior knowledge to tell a story, in their own words. To speak English a student must have the ability to form ideas in their heads, especially if that individual wants to have a conversation with another English speaker. A good conversation is not going to revolve around the time or how to find something. A student needs to know how to tell fun, personal facts about themselves; storytelling. 

Capturing your audience
The more a student practices storytelling, the more the conversation will flow. I have seen it personally in my own second language ability, which sadly is pretty low, but nonetheless the ability to tell the story is still present. Even with limited vocabulary, a student can still tell a story that will capture the attention of the audience, which in the end will motivate the student to practice English all the more. 

by Melissa Smith

Monday, 25 January 2016 02:44

Making a good TEFL Lesson Plan

Making TEFL lesson plans is a key job and will take up much of the working week for any ESL teacher. Having an effective lesson plan will make both your life easier as a TEFL teacher and will dramatic effects on your students learning...
Things to Consider Before You Start Planning
When making a TEFL lesson plan, think about the end first. What is your aim? What would you like your students to learn from this lesson? What is the age and ability level of the students will you be teaching? How will this affect the type of activities you will use in the lesson?
Making a Key Vocab and Materials List
Write out a list of the key vocabulary you want to teach during your English class. Refer to this list from time to time to think when you will introduce the vocab and how. Also create a materials list and add to this as you write your plan so that you understand precisely what you are going to need at different stages of your lesson. This could include the numbers of photocopies you'll need, any page numbers from text books, coloured markers, sticky tape, etc. Make a note of any supplemntary material you use, which website you found it on or out of which supplemntary activity book.
Setting the Context for Your TEFL Class
Think about how you will introduce the lesson. Don't just walk into the classroom and say "Right, today we're going to learn about the weather. Open your books to page 45, John start reading!" Your students will be completely confused and unsure what is going on. Introduce the topic slowly and carefully. Make sure that they are comfortable and aware of what is going on before you get going. Don't rush it.
Practice Stages
Decide exactly how you will teach and get the students to practice the content of your lesson. Will you use reading, do pair-work, group-work or a mingling activity? Often it is best to use a combination of these ideas, varying teaching techniques. Make learning fun, engaging and different for your TEFL classes. Don't be afraid to try new things! Once you have decided how you will teach the content of your lesson, write out little notes on your plan which will guide your teaching process.
Stage Timing in Your TEFL Lesson Plan
Once you have determined just how students will practice the skills that you taught, write out step-by-step instructions in your lesson plan including the time each stage should take. This will help your timings in the lesson. A mistake many TEFL teachers make is to stop things up that are working really well just because the time you allocated for that activity when planning is up. If the students are really talking well and clearly enjoying the activity, then definitely run with it a little longer. Your TEFL lesson plan should be flexible; not rigid. If you run out of time, you can always set things for homework or use activities in the next class as part of your review. Don't get too flustered.
Setting Homework
Try to make some time in your TEFL lesson plan to quickly review what has been covered in that class. Set some review work to be done at home which will require your students to recall what was done in class. This will help them to reinforce and recycle the content of your class. This will be invaluable in them getting the most from your classes.

by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen has been an English teacher since 2002 and has taught Chinese, French, Italian, Austrian, Korean and Spanish students, both in the UK and China. He runs two successful TEFL blogs in China and is a well-known voice in the China TEFL industry. Stuart is the founder and owner of www.rayenglish.com
Monday, 25 January 2016 02:14

ESL: What Young Learners Need

Young ESL Learners are young children who are just venturing out into the world and learning new things everyday. Coming to a language school might be a little frightening for some younger ones, so it is important that you create an environment in the classroom which is fun and relaxed.
Although Younger Learner students are often learning very basic words and sentences, you can (and should) plan some really creative and fun things for the children to do in class to get them using the language and interacting with one another and you.
Young Learners always love movement, music, things to sing along to and active games in class. They will follow your lead, so it is important that you personally break down the barriers as an adult and sing and dance along in class with them! Make sure that you are giving lots of encouragement and reward good behavior at every turn. A little star sticker on the back of the hand can do wonders for a child's self-confidence and self-belief. Create a safe, fun and stress-free classroom and remember to involve everyone, especially the naturally shy ones.
Young Learner Behavior
Young Learners have short attention spans and are easily distracted in class, so be sure to make your exercises and classroom activities fun and short. Even the best thought-out activities lasting 25 minutes are probably doomed to failure because childrens' brains just are not designed to stay focused that long. Make sure that you stay active, with energetic expressions to keep the kids focused on you and the activity in hand.

Create a Good Routine for Your Young Learner Classes
Get your students used to how to behave in your classes. Teach them early on to raise their hands before asking questions and not to talk over you. It is worth spending time getting this right in the first few lessons, as a well-organized, happy group of children will learn far more language over the time spent with you than if kids are allowed speak over you and generally be a bit too noisy. Children will naturally look to teachers and adults for guidance on how to behave, so set your stall out early and get a well-behaved atmosphere going quickly.
Organizing the class into three of four teams or 'houses' works well, as you can award points for good behavior or take points away for lapses. The young children love this kind of competition and it will be harder for children to misbehave if they feel that the whole team may lose points. In general, your teaching will be far more productive, as will their learning, if you create good class rules and have a good routine.
What Should You Focus On in Young Learner Classes?
The main focus on your ESL lessons should be communication and laying a good foundation for maintaining an interest in English. Students should practice pronunciation of the words, as getting this right early will have huge benefits to their language skills throughout their life. Young Learners should also learn material such as the alphabet, numbers, colours, fruits, animals and so on. There are some great ESL flashcards out there, so make sure you use these in class. Many children are very visual learners, so these flashcards will help, in addition to all the fun games you can play with them.
Introduce new vocabulary slowly and choose simple sentences that the children can practice with each other and where they can replace key vocabulary with new material. This will help the students to retain the vocabulary, as well as getting the sentences right. Make sure that part of your class reviews what was learnt in the class before. This will help the students to retain and recall language. Give out praise often.
Little Tips for Young Learner Classes
There are a couple of extra things you can do to make your little ones really succeed. Chinese parents expect homework to be set and the kids are used to it, even from a very young age. Although you may feel that this is wrong, it is the cultural norm here, so please get used to it and don't feel bad in any way. Use the homework you set to reinforce what you have taught in that day's class. It will help each child to retain what you have taught and you'll get good results and children feeling good about themselves when they remember the words. Make the homework fun and not too hard. Encourage students to do their best and not to worry about making mistakes. Check the homework at the same time in the every class. Create a routine and stick to it.

Quality Language Games and Play for Children
Create language games and activities that are fun and interesting. Help students to interact well with each other by doing pair-work, group work and team games; mix things up. Try to review material often and add new material slowly with lots of repetition. You will see marvelous results! The most important thing I can say is to make sure you have fun in each class. Use flashcards and puppets which talk to each other! Put a big smile on your face and keep it there. Make the children feel special and they'll soon be rushing in for your classes. Make your classes the highlight of their week!
By Stuart Allen


Stuart Allen has been an English teacher since 2002 and has taught Chinese, French, Italian, Austrian, Korean and Spanish students, both in the UK and China. He runs two successful TEFL blogs in China and is a well-known voice in the China TEFL industry. Stuart is the founder and owner of www.rayenglish.com
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Published in Articles about China
“Sarah, what song are we going to listen to next week?” One of the students excitedly asked me after I finished my weekly music class. “You’ll have to wait and see,” I replied with a mischievous grin and walked away, leaving my student hanging on a cliff.  I don’t usually tell my students what song we’ll be listening to next, but rather tell them to expect the unexpected.
I’ve taught my music mystery class for more than two years and I can honestly say that it never gets boring or old, because you’re highly unlikely to ever run out of material. With music there is so much you can do. Listening to an English song in the classroom isn’t only a great opportunity for students to practice their listening skills, but also gives them the chance to talk about the meaning of the lyrics, learn new words and grammar structures.
While I seldom focus on the grammar in my music class, I do insist that students point out ‘mistakes’ in the song lyrics and tell me how they should be said. This helps them to differentiate between slang and Standard English.
A gap fill exercise is a wonderful way for the students to listen to the lyrics carefully and complete the lyrics on their own, but if you do that in every class students will get bored. Instead, engage the students with a competition: You simply pick a song; then you choose about twenty words from the lyrics. Add about five words that sound similar to some of the chosen words but are not in the song, then print it all out and stick the individual words on the wall or board in the class. Don’t tell the students about the wrong words, just ask them to listen carefully and grab the words they hear. For every wrong word they chose, they must give up one of their right words. It’s a wonderful competition to get the students out of their seats and actively involve them in the class.
Alternatively you can cut up the song lyrics, put the students into groups and ask them to put the lyrics into the right order while listening. For these competitions I tend to get a small prize, e.g. chocolates, to motivate the students. The idea of a piece of chocolate at the end of the class really gets them going.
What else can you do using music in the classroom? Well, I have taught students about different music styles and their development. We have for example looked at Jazz music and how it developed. We listened to early Jazz songs and compared them with modern Jazz songs, trying to work out the difference. We even learned about the Andean Condor!

Around Christmas we sang Christmas carols and on St. Patrick’s Day we danced like crazy leprechauns. With big ESL classes I’ve played musical chairs, just to get the students up and moving for a few minutes after a long day of class after class, which is common practice in English training centres in China.
Sometimes we just sing the song; karaoke is still a firm favourite among Chinese students. We’ve analysed music videos and even made our own. With music, your options are endless, you can do so much and all it takes is a song. You can teach them about rhetorical questions, and if you dare, even chose a Chinese song and ask the students to translate it into English. I’ve done this activity quite a few times using music in the classroom and the students have always had a blast. This activity does take a little more preparation since you either need to pre-translate the song first yourself or get somebody to do it for you. 
If you aren’t using music in your classroom, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for a fun-filled class, students of all ages will enjoy. It’s a win-win for everyone involved and if you’re teaching a lot of classes during the day, a few minutes of rest for your vocal cords, while the students listen to complete an exercise, will feel wonderful. If you play an instrument, e.g. guitar, bring it along to the class and play a song for the students, then ask them to sing with you!

by Serlina Sarah Heintze
Serlina Sarah Heintze 

I’m originally from Germany but spent most of my twenties in Ireland, working for a well-known multi-national corporation. After getting my ESL  qualifications, I left the Emerald Isle and I have been teaching English at an English training centre in Wuhan, Hubei for the last two and a half years. I’m a bit of a fitness junkie so when I’m not teaching, I can usually be found in the gym. I’m also a bit of a foodie, so trying out new restaurants with my Chinese friends has become somewhat of a hobby. I also blog at sellyslittleworld.com
Sunday, 24 January 2016 12:06

Different Ways of Pairing Up ESL Students

Pair work is very important in a TEFL classroom. My TEFL course tutors highlighted this very clearly and I experienced it first hand in my own classes. The advantages of pairing students?
The Advantages of Pairing Up ESL Students
- Increase student talking time (each and every student gets a chance to give their opinion, contribute with their ideas)
- Students get to know each other and feel more comfortable in class
- Shy students grow more confident
- Variety of language problems/difficulties arise simply because there are so many students using the language
- Opportunity for teacher to monitor and check students’ understanding and progress
Of course, there are activities which lend themselves to individual or group work, but I’m sure that you tell your students ‘Now, in pairs do this and that.’ more than twice in each lesson. And surely you’ve found the need to ask your students to pair up with a different partner either to avoid uncomfortable pairs or simply to renew the class vibes. How do you go about this? Allocating pairs by naming students is one way, but here are some fun ideas on how to do this (thanks to my TEFL tutors and other fellow teachers):

Different Ways to Pair Up Your ESL Students
1. The traditional ’1, 2, 3, 4′: if you’ve got a biggish number of students in class, allocate a number to each one (up to 4). Then divide your class into 4 sections and have students sit in these according to their number. Then set the pairs.
2. ‘Change chairs if …’: Tell students to follow your instructions. Finish the sentence with something random, e.g. ‘Change chairs if you saw the football match last night.’ If students have, then they have to sit in a different seat. Continue with more ‘Change chairs if …’ sentences until most of the students have changed places – students move more than once if necessary. You can make it fun by saying silly things or challenging students, e.g. ‘Change chairs if you are reaaaaaally looking forward to our text tomorrow.’ or ‘Change chairs if you think English is a piece of cake.’ For lower-level classes, keep it simple, e.g. ‘Change chairs if you are wearing something blue.’ or ‘if you like chocolate’. You can also use this trick to check target language. If, for instance, you’re teaching the irregular verbs you could say ‘Change chairs if you agree that 'taught' is the past simple of teach.’
3. Target language: Write and cut up pieces of paper with language you’ve been teaching, e.g. infinitive and past simple irregular verbs, countries – nationalities, verb – noun formation, synonyms, opposites, phrasal verbs and their meanings. For instance, look after / take care of something or someone, take after / have the same behaviour or taste as someone. Hand out the pieces of paper and ask students to find the student with the ‘connecting’ piece of paper. New pairs are formed and language is revised/checked.
4. Strings: Get some pieces of string (1 for every two students), a metre or so long. Hold them all together and ask students to grab the end of one string. When you let go, students will be in new pairs.
5. Students’ names: Write students names on pieces of paper (you could laminate these and use them when checking exercises to name students or for other games) and just pair them up. Or you could have students pick names.
There should be a limit to changing pairs especially when you’ve got big classes, as it can take some time for students to pick up all their things and settle down again. Generally though the above ideas can make a nice mini-break out of it and students appreciate that! Happy pairing!
Written by Katie Foufouti
Katie Foufouti Katie Foufouti is a highly experienced ESL teacher and  ELT  materials editor currently working in Spain.

 Her list of clients include Macmillan Education,  Cambridge  University Press and Signature Manuscripts.
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