Teaching English abroad what you need to take with you

african kids at a school in uniform
31 Jul Shelley Vernon 5 Comments

Are you going abroad to teach English? How exciting! The chance to discover a new culture and enrich your life with new experiences and challenges.


You may be heading for a place where the classrooms have no doors, the windows have no glass panes and there is no heating or cooling. In winter it's freezing and in summer it's boiling hot. Students all possess a tatty book. There is a blackboard with some chalk. And that's it. You walk past the classrooms where students sit with no teacher, she didn't come in that day, and there is no replacement.


When you arrive, the school invite you to observe their experienced teachers, since they are concerned that you don't know what you are doing - especially if you are a student or a volunteer. The teacher hurls a sentence at the students, who respond by loudly repeating what the teacher has just said. The teacher says it again, louder. The class yells back, louder. And so it goes on, building in volume and intensity. Well, that's one way of teaching English, after all, repetition IS the mother of skill!


But you can do so much better, with a games book, some paper, pens and the chalk.


Firstly, a quick but important point, when you arrive research customs and body language to avoid committing some major social blunders. It might be taboo to touch the top of a child's head. Thumbs up might be rude, who knows? Find out!


Secondly, you might find the school discipline oppressive - don't knock it - it's a joy to teach an attentive class who have been taught to respect the teacher. Don't be too cool. Dress at the same level of smartness as the other teachers. If pupils stand up and greet you when you come in, continue that tradition. Insist on respect, even if you find it old-fashioned. You'll be able to teach instead of wasting time managing rowdy kids.


There's no printer? No probs! That'll save wasting paper with hundreds of worksheets. Have the students draw flashcards for you. You'll need those for these flashcard games. Use the board for a master worksheet, students copy it into their own books. Use games like Fill in Drill - no resources required!


You'll be a better teacher using language games than you would with a mountain of worksheets and a boring textbook. You just need good ideas. For example, when I was in Nepal I used forfeits like these in games:

- Name a Hindu God starting with M.

- Show us a typical Nepalese dance.

- Name the biggest mountain in Nepal in English (Everest).

- How high is your biggest mountain?

- Clap this rhythm three times...

-Name this in English...(point to a chair, an object in the classroom or picture).


Using movement, rhythm, general knowledge, interesting facts, dance, music, mime, drawing, competitive games, non-competitive games, teamwork, groups, pair work...and more...you'll be doing a LOT better than the local screaming match between the students and the teacher - and I'm not kidding because I've witnessed it!


If you want ready-made lessons, use these stories for primary school aged children, but you'll need to show the story pictures on your computer. Consider buying a solar panel to recharge because the electricity supply may be unreliable. Don't laugh! These days you can get ones that roll up and are super light.


Don't panic, you really can teach with one games book full of ideas, a blackboard and some hand-drawn picture flashcards. If you've already got this book and you are stuck, email me for the free lesson plans and I'll help you get started. The more you teach like that, the better you get at it. Teaching songs and stories is a bonus, also plays and skits. In Nepal, the teachers were in awe of me after the first lesson when I used my Ready Steady Go skit. (You can get that skit free on this blog page.)


Go for it, and enjoy being such an important part of the school. Train the other teachers while you are there!


Thanks alot
Shelley, I`ve been teaching English to my grandaughter of 2.5 years old, here in our hometown in Brazil. I´d like to use some of your materials. How shall I start ? Which ones shal I buy first. Looking forward your response, Vânia
Hello there Vania, Thanks for your message and interest. For your 2,5-year-old granddaughter I have a Teaching Toddlers book. It describes how to teach toddlers in a way that engages them completely. So I would recommend that first. And to go with it, you could get me first series of preschool stories. Since she will nearly be three, you'll soon be able to start playing more structured games with her. I will send you some links now to the email you provided with this post. If you don't receive my message - just reply to me here. Speak soon, Shelley
Thank you Shelley. I´m going to buy the book Teaching Toddlers and have a look at the blogs you suggested too. I´ll let you know how it is going on, as soon as possible! Thanks a bunch, Vânia
PS Vania, here are a couple of blogs to get you started: BLOG on teaching toddlers with link to book: https://www.teachingenglishgames.com/The-perfect-English-lesson-for-toddlers-and-why-it-failed BLOG with cute immersion technique: https://www.teachingenglishgames.com/introduce-English-only-classroom-to-preschool-children

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