Monday, 31 August 2015

The Start of a New Semester & Differentiated Instruction

A new semester is about to begin and after a long summer of work and play, I’m starting to think about new personal and professional goals. One issue that has been nagging me for some time has been improving differentiated instruction and teaching mixed level classrooms.
Most of my classes involve an emphasis on speaking and listening for university students but in class, I try to provide some practice in reading and writing as well. This can be a major challenge because I will often have students who vary to extreme degrees in all four skill sets. So what’s a teacher to do? How can one maximize student engagement when faced with such a diverse array of learners? The following are some ideas that I’ve come across while mulling over the challenge.


  • Mixed-level groups: Grouping students of different skill levels is something I’ve tried in modest fashion previously but it produces mixed results. Advanced students might get bored or frustrated. Students with low level English abilities might rely too much on their more advanced peers. Still, mixed-level groups is worth a try and can work very well.
  • Multiple Assessments: Assessing students and creating activities in a variety of skill sets is a crucial way to find where each student shines. A student might struggle with speaking but excel in writing. In that case, I’ll try to appoint them “secretary” for their team when playing a game. This can help a student’s self esteem and improve willingness to participate in all aspects of class.
  • Informal assessment: Assessments aren’t just for midterms and finals. It’s important to informally assess students throughout the semester. Make sure that you get to know your students well and keep track of their progress. I usually do this by making marks on my attendance sheet. Note their strengths, areas for improvement, what activities they like and the ones they dislike.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures: I use a lot of pictures with my presentations to help students understand vocabulary and directions. The key is to find engaging pictures relevant to the task or vocabulary at hand. Note that pictures are also a good way to spark conversations at the beginning of class. Asking students to describe and talk about an interesting picture gets students talking and engaged.
  • Native language: Small doses of L1 are helpful for vocabulary retention and perhaps giving complex directions for a task or game. Using L1 is a good way to quickly level the playing field between students who can easily retain vocabulary and those who need an extra nudge. But remember to use the native language in small, concentrated and practical doses.

Differentiated instruction is a challenge for language teachers and their students all over the world. It’s an issue that can make or break a classroom. This is by no means an exhaustive list for teachers but I hope that it can help you think about the challenges you face in your mixed level classrooms. Enjoy the new semester and good luck!

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Problem With Level Testing

From Teknobites
Many schools have started grouping students by levels and requiring them to take a level test first. While this seems to work pretty well at language schools it may backfire in schools and universities, especially when English is a required course.

Although you would think that people would try their best at level testing, some students deliberately choose the wrong answer so that they're put in a lower level. The idea behind this is that they can get an easy A. Some schools are starting to realise this and are using official tests, such as the Korean SATs, IELTS, or TOEFL, to group students. If your school does so level testing make sure to gauge students' levels the first few weeks of class and ask your director to move students out of your class if their level is too high.

NB: I'll be on vacation for July and August. New posts will be coming out in September.

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Thursday, 25 June 2015

How to Set Prices for Private Lessons

From VK
I previously wrote about how to get private students and how to teach private classes. I also wrote about the dangers of competing with other teachers on price. So how exactly do you decide how much to charge students? Here are some things to consider.

Level: Very high levels and very low levels of English often require a lot of prep and many teachers charge more because of this.

Student Age: Again, the money is in the opposite extreme. Very young kids and business people often pay more for private English classes.

Type of class: If it's general English you're going to be charging less than teachers who do exam prep or EAP for example. 

How often you meet per week: Some teachers give students discounts for multiple classes per week.

How long the classes are:  A teacher may charge 50 for an hour class and 90 for a two hour class.

Commuting time: I'm against charging more for students who live further away. You wouldn't ask your boss to pay you more because you have to travel further than your co-worker. If you don't want to travel too far simply don't accept the student.

If you're interested in earning more money by tutoring, here's a guide that will help you set up your tutoring business. 

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Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tips for Applying to Jobs Via Email

From Pop Sugar
Once you've got your CV and cover letter ready, it's time to shoot off an email, cross your fingers, and hope you get an interview. There are things you can do to better your chances to get an interview. Try these the next time you apply for jobs. Reddit also has some more tips.

Put all your docs into a PDF
There's nothing like having to attach 10+ docs to an email. It's not fun for you or the person getting the email. They have to download everything and it's easy to lose docs. Create one PDF and attach that to your email. Your cover letter, CV, and anything else they ask for should be in it. If you have a Mac it's pretty easy to do through Preview. If you have a PC you'll have to either buy software that allows you to create PDFs or try any one of the numerous websites out there that will do it for you. It looks much more professional to have a PDF doc and you don't have to worry about the other person not being able to open it or the formatting getting messed up.

Make a list of your documents you are attaching
I always, always list out exactly what docs are in the PDF that I attach. Having a list makes it easy for the person reading the email to make sure that you sent everything they asked for.

Limit the size of the attachments
Read the advert carefully. Many places won't accept files bigger than a certain size. Stay within that limit.

Follow directions
Again, read the advert carefully. Many times they will tell you to email one person if you have questions and email another if you want to apply. Don't email your app to the person you're supposed to email if you only have questions. Watch the deadline. Make sure to include all the docs. Be sure you fulfill the reqs, or almost fulfill them. Not following directions is a good way for your app to be deleted.

Put your info in the subject line
I always write my name, how many years of experience I have (either total or at that particular level, depending on the advert), my qualifications, and my visa status. It helps your email stand out and makes it easier to find if they need to.

Address the email to a specific person
Forget sir or madam or hiring committee. Find out who's hiring. Only use a generic greeting if the school you're applying to refuses to tell you who's in charge of hiring, which is always a possibility.

If you're not job searching you should still be networking. Check out how to write a networking email that gets results for more info.

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Monday, 15 June 2015

Advantages to Teaching English Online

From Teach English online
Many teachers look into teaching English online as a way to supplement their teaching salaries. I put together a comprehensive list of schools that need online English teachers as well as which ones I think are the best to work for. First you'll have to decide whether to work for a company or teach on your own. There are many advantages to teaching English online. The list below has been adapted from Dave's.
  • Extra money.
  • You get paid the same no matter where you live.
  • Many classes are 1-to-1 so you can customise your classes and get to know your students.
  • You can work with students from all over the world.
  • It's convenient. You don't have to commute and can work from anywhere.
  • There's little paperwork involved.
  • The future of learning is online.
  • If your visa won't allow you to work at another school, this is kind of a grey area to do so legally.
If it sounds like something you're interested, you should read how to teach English online.

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