Tag Archives: Teaching English as a foreign language

12 Ways to Move From Powerless to Powerful

As I read this I realized that I am trying to do the things that good leaders do while feeling completely powerless…..   So I’m going to really work harder on numbers 3 and 4 especially.


And realize that those things the weak people are doing are not in my control.  It’s a good read from one of my favorite bloggers and something I really needed to read this morning.


Thanks Dan for yet another great post.

12 Ways to Move From Powerless to Powerful.


^^^  Yeah click there to read it  ^^^ up there  ^^^


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An Ode to Dan and Kenny

I had hoped this day would come, but I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure while I was in the midst of my TEFL program.

This week has proven to me once and for all that the training I got at TEFL Worldwide Prague is invaluable. How, you ask?

I got sick.

Last Thursday I began to feel it. By Saturday it was worthy of another trip to the doctor, and by Monday morning my voice was completely gone. Not even a whisper.

I had to teach a room full 4-6 year olds with no voice. No easy feat anywhere, but especially tricky in Asian countries where teachers speaking unusually loud is the general rule of thumb. There I sat with 19 children waiting for me to teach them their conversation, phonics, and reading lessons…. in a language they are still learning and need to hear on a regular basis.

I don’t know sign language well enough to be considered good at it. I know a few things I’ve known for a long time. But it is something I have used in almost all of my teaching experiences. It just makes life easier for me and more fun for kids. When we review the alphabet, I sign it. I teach a few songs I know and I a few signs I know: boy, girl, wait, applause, good, happy, thank you, rain, sun, cry, lunch, mommy, daddy, listen, etc.

Though there was only one session in which the TEFL course went over teaching children, there were many other lessons in which the ability to teach these children, with no voice, was able to happen.

1: Plan

I had my plan for the week already prepared so it was fairly simple to figure out what I needed to do this week, and what I could get away with holding off until next week.

2: Have extra prepared – always

I have been working them hard for the last week and a half on the books to get them ahead. We are putting together and rehearsing this week for their big Christmas production next week.

We have also been using a Gingerbread man theme for all of our extra activities, so along with their workbook pages; I had a few worksheets and fun pages for them as time consumers if needed. This made me feel prepared and more able to think on my feet in this mini-crisis. If nothing else, they have easy activities they can do all day and be perfectly fine.

3: Talk less, teach more, 3.5: Use gestures

Man did I ever use these strategies this week!! I still don’t have my full voice back yet. It’s better, but I sound like a 65 year old lifelong smoker.

I saw how well these strategies work when teaching adults during my TEFL course, but this is also where I struggled the most. I’ve been working with young ones most of my life. If I talk less, they do less of what I need them to do and more complete chaos ensues.

Case in point: During one of my less than fully successful TEFL lessons, I saw the (adult) students start veering off in a direction different than my plan called for. They were talking, but their talk wasn’t what I envisioned for the lesson. In the child world, the one I am most acquainted with, if they start talking on a different path you will never get them back.

If you go off course with little ones they turn into giggly, deer-in-the-headlights monsters with an even less-than-usual attention span and no ability to reason. They need consistent structure and simple, constant reminders. EX: As every student files into the library you repeat the same phrase: Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Put the books in the tray, Gigi are your books in the tray? Put the books in the tray. Every time we go to library we put the books in the tray. Put the books in the tray.

My TEFL students were beginning level, ultra elementary English learners. My mind (already overwhelmed) went into autopilot when they began veering off track. I stopped the activity and reset the instructions trying to get them back on track. WRONG answer for that group. Elementary level language learner does NOT equal elementary level reasoning skills. They could EASILY have gone exactly where they needed to go and learned so much had I just let them. Instead, I ended up talking even more and getting flustered. They were talking even less and the whole main point of the lesson was sideswiped by my inability to talk less and let learning happen.

As I sat there looking at these tiny Taiwanese children who had just said,


at the top of their tiny lungs, fully expecting the normal response, I quite literally said to myself,

“It’s time to find out if they can learn more if I talk less”.

4. Elicit the word

I knew they needed to repeat the morning conversations. Well, they learned them in sign language that morning. I wrote GOOD on the board. Without saying a word, I just pointed to each letter and then drew an imaginary line underneath the whole word. Then I signed GOOD, looked at them and repeated that routine until one of them started saying the letter sounds and the word at the right times.

Thank goodness for the smart kids!!

Then, they were all saying /g/ /Ʊ/ /d/ and /gƱd/ together and signing it. I did the same thing with MORNING sans the individual sounds. They knew what the word was going to be and so knew to say MORNING right away.

Then I signed for them to say the greeting again, “GOOD MORNING TEACHER MARI” and I answered them by first pointing to the words on the board and then signing GOOD MORNING CLASS. I didn’t review CLASS and was happily surprised when one of my students asked,

“Does that (makes sign) mean PLUTO or CLASS”? (I love their little minds.)

Fair question because my part of the normal conversation is GOOD MORNING PLUTO CLASS.

We did the rest of the morning conversations with me pointing to the phrase strips on the board and having them say the response phrase without my prompting them vocally. Guess what? They can totally do it!

I also knew I needed to review phonics sounds. I wrote ‘o’ on the board and cupped my ear and looked at them. One said the name ‘o’, so I crossed my hands, pointed to myself and put my hand back around my ear and pointed to the board.

BAM, they got it (to not say the name) and said the short sound. Then I wrote ‘t’ next to the ‘o’ to form ‘ot’ and cupped my hand around my ear again.

Bam, they go that. Then I wrote a list of ‘ot’s and had the students say ‘ot’ each time. Next, I added a letter in front of an ‘ot’ one at a time (‘d’ to form ‘dot’, ‘l’ ‘lot’, ‘n’ ‘not’etc.) and had them say each new word. Then, I pointed to each word several times up and down the list I had created and had them say the words. Finally, I erased the beginning sound of each word one at a time and had them say ‘ot’ each time.

5: Concept Check, 3.5: Use gestures

When I got to ‘hot’, I mimed being cold and then put up my hands like I was asking a question and then pointed to hot.

“NO!! You are cold”!

So I pointed to hot and fanned myself while looking fairly pathetically at them and put my hands back up in question stance.

YES! Hot, you are hot”!

For ‘lot’ I held up 2 fingers and then used the question stance. They looked puzzled (which I was planning on) and so I held up both my hands wiggled my fingers and held up one of my feet and wiggled my toes, then pointed to the word again and went into question stance. I did both gestures again and got an army of giggles and “NO”‘s when I held up 2 fingers and a complete explosion of laughter and “YES”‘s when I held up and wiggled every digit not necessary to remain upright.

6: Give the paper last

I needed an in-house refresher on that one and got it this week. It is IMPOSSIBLE
to get young children to listen to instructions when A) you can’t speak B) you give them the paper first.


I am not joking. I have so sincerely learned this lesson now.

In my mind I thought, “I cannot explain how to do this without a voice. I will show it to them and then work each section with them”.

I was on crack and that worksheet went straight into the trash can because no way is a parent going to lay eyes on it.

I have since found that showing them the paper, doing an example on the board, having them repeat the example on the board, and then giving them the paper is in fact the tried and true way to do it.

End of story. Do not give them the paper until the very last second.

Though much of what I learned in TEFL Worldwide Prague cannot be applied to teaching children, much can! Much more than I thought.

I wonder if they realize how much?

Thanks Kenny Thanks Dan, you really made my life a lot easier this week!!



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Going forward requires a look back

I am now part of the Blog Expat community.  I decided to go back and look at some of my past blogs to see what the whole world may read rather than just my family and friends.  I found some funny stuff, some favorite posts, and did some reminiscing.

The first sentence in my first blog post clearly demonstrates how little I knew about what I was beginning.

Jan ’09  This is the beginning, as of today I am fully monolingual, by the end of the year I will be bilingual.

I’ve learned so much and so little since then!   I am NOT bilingual in anything.  I haven’t even gotten to a point of knowing enough of the Spanish, Czech, or Mandarin that I have needed to use, to actually communicate a thought with anyone.   I can repeat phrases, but I am afraid that if I say “Ni how ma?” to someone here, they will expect me to know more and start trying to have a conversation in which I will be able to answer with only the other phrases I know, “I’m full”, or “I’m hungry”.

I have a long way to go.

Or there’s this little tidbit

24Jan’09   It’s getting easier.  So there I am, listening to “Exercises on minimal stress contrast” or something, when I pick up my son from school.  -Now, here I should mention that my CD player is permanently stuck in random mode.  For the life of me I cannot listen to any CD from track 1 to track 2 to track 3 and so on.  I get track 7, then track 43, then track 2, then track 14.  This is *slightly* frustrating.   Enter my son, the CD is saying pronunciation drills in complete sentences.  (these are the drills I especially get stuck on because I haven’t learned all the tracks up to this point, at this point we’re on like track 42 and I just finished my third round of track 6 because random sometimes mean repeat)

Remember that I do not have any written words, I’m in my car, I don’t know  these words yet, and I hear,(I don’t know how to put the accents in, sorry) “Donde esta la Embajada Americana, ahi a la izquierda, perdon come dice usted, deme la pluma”  Right now I can write what I was hearing then because I have the book in front of me and I can look it up, but I didn’t then and each sentence rolled together like one long word.

I need to give tremendous kudos to the instruction I received at TEFL Worldwide Prague.  With the actual grammar I learned during this class, (not what I thought was grammar before this class), I have had a much easier time understanding how to begin learning Mandarin while I am here in Taiwan.  I am not sure if I’ll take actual classes, but I have been able to learn more Mandarin in my almost 2 weeks here, than I learned of Czech in my month in Prague.  I honestly wish I could go take the class again.  I would be able to concentrate more completely on the how.  And, I miss the beauty of that city.  Taiwan has it’s own beauty, but Prague’s beauty is unmatchable.

I will always like my Are Mommies Super Heroes? post.  Try to hear the words in your mind as you read it….

27May’11  No Spanish for 2 weeks now, but it has been nice to have sporadic Spanish conversations with David and Thane at home.  Granted they are the kind of conversations that the average 2-year-old Puerto Rican would feel was childish, but still… we are trying to use it and that counts.   The other day my phone battery died and I said, “ahhh mi celular es muerto” ( which I’m not sure is exactly correct), and David says, “like battery dead or like no es bueno?”  to which I replied, “umm, either way, no es bueno….  but, just the battery”.

Of course some of my very favorite favorite posts are those dedicated to teaching Les Miserables to my 8th grade ESL class during my last semester of student teaching.

14Apr’12      22Apr’12       01May’12        24May’12         10Jun’12

And then a few others:

24Aug’12  Is an incomplete list of the many things I’ve been taught by friends.

19Sept’12  My life as an expat is beginning

01Nov’12  Day two of being in Taiwan.

Let me know what your favorites are 🙂


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Unlearning and Birthday loveliness

Birthday Adventures

Last week I tried to book myself a hotel for my birthday night.  I learned seven good lessons.

One: Try to have someone that speaks the language help, it will save some frustrating hours.

Two: Don’t ever agree to pay up front without the full agreement understood first.

Three: Don’t ever mix up your Korunas with your Euros.  $1400 CZK= ~$75.  1400 Euros =~$1780.  Significant difference.

Four:  Birthdays are wonderful when spent in a new country, with new friends, new foods, good beer, great atmosphere.  A hotel room is not necessary.

Five: Nobody gets off free for their birthday.  Apparently, the one lesson in which I actually had a student leave and then come back and tell me they really enjoyed class, was the most unsuccessful of the lot according to my instructor.  Never take a good day for granted.

Six: A birthday cake muffin is pretty damn special when it’s brought in at the beginning of class with candles and everything!  Having a group of new friends sing Happy Birthday can make me cry. Thank you Christine, for starting my day out fantastically.

Seven: Andell Restaurant is my favorite.  Thanks to Katie, Daniel, Rachel, Liz, and Aidan for ending the evening with me there.

All in all my 40th birthday a resounding success.

Je to hotové – It is finished

The last day was yesterday.  What a crazy, ambitious, ridiculous, learning curve that was.  Cheryl said I survived just as we all do.  I suppose.  I would rather have done better than mere survival, but I can say I successfully survived.  How do I feel about my TEFL license?  Damn I earned that.  I had to work hard to stay on top of it.
My belief is that I will be able to better understand what I was just taught as time goes on.  It will be an accumulative understanding.  Was I the best student? No.  Was I the worst student? Not even, but I could have done better.

Notes on unlearning – an education rant

Why as Education students are we taught semester after semester of theory without being given practical knowledge of how to use all that theory.  Sure, I can write a paper about all the ways and reasons that having a student-centered classroom is the way to go, but seriously, we are NOT taught how to do it.  I have no capacity to explain just how much practical, actual, student-centered learning I just witnessed.

I have had to figure out (phrasal verb) how on earth to unlearn everything I’ve learned about how I thought I was supposed to run a classroom.  I did a damn good job before, but now I know even better ways.  Group work, pair work, these terms have hugely different meanings to me than they did just 2 months ago, yet, completely the same.  I now have an actual example of how to do what we talked about should be done.

Tip 2.5 for future TEFL students:  Read the “suggested readings”.  You WILL need to know the stuff and it is not easy to learn what you are teaching the day before you have to teach it, week after week.  Sure, you’ll get by without having read them, but it will be exponentially more difficult.  Get to know your grammar so that you can focus on the teaching method in class.  I was rarely able to focus on absorbing how the teacher taught us (which is why we’re here, to learn how) because I was too busy trying to learn all the grammar.  I would rather have been able to focus on the how more.

Side (pity party) Note for ALL students, not just TEFL students:  If there is a College survival/ note taking class offered at your campus, Take It.  I wish I had any ability to take notes that I could get actual information from.  I bought my recording pen because I have no idea how to take notes really.  Although I did start a timeline style that worked pretty well for notating how the instruction was taking place…

My pen ran out of memory and I was screwed from that point on.  Another gal (my TEFL Hermione) had these amazing notes that she color coded and wrote perfectly and beautifully as class was happening.  That shit comes from being taught how.  Take The Classwhatever it’s called – It is worth it.

Side side note, the Echo Smartpen from Livescribe has saved my educational life on many occasions.  It is worth every penny.


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Week 3, Day 3

It was inconceivable for me to have foreseen how this was all going to go down.  I had envisioned going to class during the day and sightseeing at night.  The only sight seeing I’ve done was the first few days before class started.  There’s no more time.  When they say intense and challenging, they are not joking around.  This week I had to turn in lesson plans, start writing up my One-to-One paper, I’m still looking for a job, and still fighting off the migraine that put me down last week.

Suggestion number 1 for anyone looking to take this course:  Arrive about 5 days before the class starts.  Go get the sight seeing done beforehand so that The City is not calling out to you with all of its unseen beauty.

Prague is amazingly beautiful.  Even the poorer parts have amazing architecture, rolling green hills, and flowers everywhere.  If I hadn’t had those few days before all this began, I’d be even more distracted than I am right now.  Go see Prague first, get in there and be part of it.

Walk, see, eat, do, live Prague before beginning the process of learning grammar, writing lesson plans, and trying to find a job/ place to live/ work out resume details, etc.


Family stuff is tricky.  Throw it into the mix of being in a new country by myself, not knowing the language, not having a phone for communicating basic needs, no clothes dryer or shower, not sleeping, not having a job yet, having to learn what I’m about to teach as I learn how to teach it at the same time, and you have a mixture for hopeless distractability.  I am the epitome of distractable; and, consequently, a complete nuisance in class.

I am seriously making this much harder on myself than it really is.

Yes, me, super student, is sitting with the class goofs at the back table and pulling my fair share of ridiculousness.  I’m honestly astounded at what a frustrating student I must be right now to my instructors.  I’m not sure I’d like to have me in class.  I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t contain the inner goofball.  I will certainly have a better perspective for future dingbat students and their antics.   It is a release from the amazing amount of knowledge that I have to learn right now coupled with the many outside influences I am dealing with.

Now, you might ask, is the school really that hard??

I would have to answer that it’s a split decision.   It’s a tough course, but it is made more difficult by the fact that as native English speakers we are not taught the grammar of our language.  If I did have a better working knowledge of English grammar (not writing skills, actual grammar) this would not be nearly as difficult as I am finding it.

WAAIT A MINUTE – YOU are a Language Arts teacher, an ENGLISH teacher.  Of course you taught grammar.

What we teach as English Grammar is NOT all that we should be.  Truly, how many of you out there, who are not TEFL teachers, know what Past Perfect Continuous even means?  The trick is though, that if we did, learning another language wouldn’t be so difficult.  Teaching writing wouldn’t be so difficult.

Tip 2 for anyone wanting to take this course?  Study up on actual grammar.  Where you put a comma will not even be discussed.  It is a real course, it is not light, but it will be made much easier if you already know the grammar you will be learning how to teach.

I’m off to bed folks.


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