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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Teacher, I don’t understand.” How to communicate with your ESL teacher

A lesson I did on polite ways to communicate with
your ESL teacher

“Teacher, I have a question.”

As an ESL student, it can feel uncomfortable to talk to your teacher. There are many reasons you may feel this way.

You may be shy
The teacher may be strict or unapproachable
You don’t want to feel embarrassed
You don’t know how to ask a question

This is common. The good news is, you CAN overcome these feelings and communicate with your teacher.

Step 1: Always say, “Excuse me” before asking a question. Saying excuse me is polite (respectful) and will get the teacher’s attention.
In some instances, you can raise your hand to ask the teacher a question.
NEVER yell or say, “Hey!” or “Hey you!” to your teacher. This is impolite (not respectful).

Step 2: Wait for the teacher to acknowledge you. When the teacher looks at you, says, “Yes,” or points to you, this is your chance to ask a question.
Sometimes, the teacher may say, “Does anyone have any questions?” If so, raise your hand and ask your question.

Polite ways to ask a question
Excuse me, I have a question
Excuse me teacher, may I ask a question?
Excuse me ______ (teacher’s name), _____________? (Your question)

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”

You will feel this way as an ESL student. You will NOT understand everything you are learning. However, many students do not like to say, “I don’t understand” in fear of feeling or looking “stupid.” In some cultures, telling a teacher you don’t understand is not good. Because of this, many students sit quietly never telling the teacher what they don’t understand.

Here are some ways to help you say, “I don’t understand,” without feeling uncomfortable:
Excuse me teacher, can you say that again?
Excuse me teacher, can you repeat that please?
Teacher, I am not sure what you mean. Can you explain again please?
I’m not sure, can you go over that again?

These are nice ways to let the teacher know you don’t understand or need him/her to repeat something again.

***REMEMBER*** It is OKAY to say, "I don't understand." 

NEVER say, “I am stupid teacher” or “I have a stupid question.” This is a mistake many students make. I always tell my students, “You are NOT stupid. Please don’t say that about yourself.”

As teachers, it’s important to REMIND our students that they are LEARNING and are NOT expected to know everything. If so, they wouldn’t need to take English classes J

My advice
I encourage you to talk to your teacher. Always be polite and your teacher will help you. Sometimes if the teacher doesn’t help you, your classmates will.

Never feel embarrassed, always ask questions. Your question may be the same question your classmate has, but is too shy to ask. This is all part of the learning process. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Job Interview for the ESL Teacher

Always be confident when
going on a job interview :)
So you want to teach English as a Second Language? You want to be an ESL teacher. You find a job ad for an ESL teacher position at a local agency. You meet the qualifications and submit your resume. You are contacted for a job interview.

Are you ready?

Job interviews can be uncomfortable for most people. You have to express your interest in the job position, state your work experience, skills, and educational background, and make a good impression for the employer. For ESL interviews, the same requirement applies with one exception, you have to show your teaching skills before being considered for a teaching position.

Are you nervous yet? Don’t be J

There are some dos and don’ts in how to approach a job interview (in general), but particularly for an ESL job interview.

First things first: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Always prepare the night before your interview. Iron your interview clothes (business suit or dress), make at least 2 copies of your resume, pack your bag (ladies, you know this is especially true for us!), and get rest. Another way to prepare for your interview is to review the location of the interview, and write it down along with the employer’s name and contact information. If you are running late or get lost, you want to be able to contact the employer and let him/her know the situation.

NOTE: It is UNPROFESSIONAL to arrive to an interview late. If that happens due to unforeseen circumstances and you informed the employer, there is a chance he/she may still see you that day. Without prior notice, it looks irresponsible on your part.

Why do I need to make extra copies of my resume?
Employers are busy people and often times may not make a copy of your resume. In some interviews, you may be interviewed by more than one person so being prepared is a plus!

The Interview
You arrived to your interview. You may feel nervous. You may even feel excited. Either way, you want to walk in with a confident demeanor.

·         Arrive to the interview at least 15 minutes before your scheduled interview
·         Turn off ALL electronic devices (cell phones, Mp3 players, etc.) BEFORE entering the place of your interview
·         Check your appearance before entering the interview (Example: look in a mirror and check your makeup (Ladies), hair, or tie (Men) to make sure nothing is out of place
·         Take a deep breath
·         Always greet the first person you see at the interview. This can be the security staff, the person at the front desk, or the employer himself
·         Extend your hand to shake the employer’s hand (In some cultures, the gesture may vary. Always show respect no matter what)
·         Address the employer by “sir” or “ma’am” or by their last name (Mr. So and So/ Mrs. So and So) unless otherwise specified
·         Smile
·         Give eye contact, sit comfortably, and speak clearly
·         Be respectful

·         Do NOT arrive to the interview late
·         Do NOT turn off your cell phone or electronic devices in the presence of the employer
·         Do NOT ignore the security staff or person at the front desk
·         NEVER say “Hey, what’s up, or Yeah, I’m here to see…” ALWAYS greet with a “Good morning/good afternoon, Hello”
·         Dress in casual attire (t-shirt, jeans, party dress)
·         Chew gum
·         Don’t address the employer appropriately
·         Fidget, look around, talk too fast or interrupt the employer while he/she is talking
·         Be rude

TIP: Always remain respectful to the employer. Some employers are not professional and may not show you the same courtesy. Never become disrespectful to an employer.

TIP 2: It is wrong for inappropriate questions to be asked on any job interview such as your age, marital status, and family, religious or political views. If an employer ask you such questions, politely ask them not to do that. If he/she continues and you feel uncomfortable, stop the interview and leave.
Remember: A job interview is about the JOB and not the personal background or lifestyle of the individual.

How is an ESL job interview different from a general job interview?
Both types of interviews are similar, but for ESL interviews the focus is on previous teaching experience, teaching style, ways of implementing a lesson, time management, classroom management, student assessment and testing, and the interest of the job position.

New ESL teachers: If you are a new ESL teacher and don’t have a lot of teaching experience, you can express your interest in teaching, any volunteer or internship experience that showcases your leadership skills, tutoring, or work experiences that highlight your ability to help others.

The Demo Lesson
Employers will ask potential ESL teachers to do a demo lesson. Rarely, they will not ask for a demo lesson, it depends on the agency. Some agencies will want to see evidence of your teaching qualifications in the form of certifications, degrees, or licensing.

A demo lesson is a short lesson presented to an employer that shows how you implement a lesson, how you engage students/gain their interest, how you explain a certain concept, and your overall teaching style. It’s also an opportunity to show your personality and/or creativity.

·      Employers will either give you specific instruction on what kind of lesson they want you to do, OR give you the option to create one on your own
·         Employer will let you know the English level the lesson should focus on
·         There’s a specific amount of time the lesson must be done (example: 10, 15, or 20 minutes)
·         The lesson will be presented in front of the employer (the person interviewing you along with other staff members) or an actual class
·         The demo lesson is usually scheduled, but sometimes it can be impromptu.

TIP: Always ask questions if you are not sure how to do the demo lesson. Questions can include the type of materials that can be used (textbook, props, handouts), will a whiteboard and markers be available for use, and the age group of the students. This is important in how you prepare for your lesson.

Interview skills takes practice, but with these tips and believing in yourself you CAN pass the interview and become an ESL teacher. Good luck! J

Check out my video of me "acting out" an ESL interview on my YouTube channel 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultural Awareness for ESL Teachers and Students_Why this is important

Cultural awareness is to be aware and identify various cultures, as well as, to gain an understanding of those cultures. It’s the ability to be respectful of our differences. Cultural awareness is important inside and out of the ESL classroom. As a teacher you will meet students from different countries. As a student, your teacher and classmates may be a different culture from you. Being aware of our differences will not only foster an open environment for everyone to be themselves, but to encourage us to learn from each other.

For more about how to be culturally aware, watch my latest video from my ESL video series on my YouTube channel.

Ways we can learn from each other
·         Having open discussion about our cultures
·         Gain understanding from our differences. This includes our race, ethnicity, and nationality, religious or political views.
·         Encourage each other to be comfortable sharing an aspect of our culture. For example, a particular way of dress, body gestures, or ways of expression
·         Promote awareness and respect of our differences
·         Being aware of what to talk and not talk about. For example, religious beliefs and political views
·         Encourage to speak English while sharing our differences
·         Discourage negative or hateful speech against our differences


Be careful when discussing religion and politics. I have been asked whether these topics should be included in an open discussion or a specific lesson. I have mixed reviews. Religion and politics are very controversial topics. The nature of these topics will present varying opinions. In some cultures, it is FORBIDDEN to discuss these topics.

My advice for both teachers and students: Try not to get into deep discussion about a specific religion or political view. You don’t want to offend anyone. As the teacher, you can manage this by making it into a lesson. Remember to keep the lesson broad and not too specific. For example: You may do a conversation practice where two students are asking about where they are from. One student may say, “I am from Yemen and I am Muslim.” The other student may say, “I am Christian.” Depending on the level of the class, you want to keep this simple and not ask why someone is part of that religion. This can be tricky, because students may be curious or tempted to ask specific questions. If you don’t want to chance that from happening, you can mention that in some cultures people act or dress a certain way to represent their religion and/or culture.  

This advice applies to students who may be curious to ask their classmates about their religion or political views. Be careful not to offend anyone by pushing your views, disagreeing or arguing with a classmate about what they believe and feel. Politics can easily turn into an argument, because every country has their own leadership, rules, and standards. Personally, I try to avoid discussing politics or religion in my class.

Me with my students at cultural event in NYC
Picture blurred to protect students' identities
YouTube channelCultural awareness is a broad topic. It can be incorporated in lessons, but it should be thought out and well executed. Here are some suggestion in how to incorporate cultural awareness in your lessons:

Lower level classes

·         Start with simple dialogue practice with various scenarios with the focus OR mention about culture
·         Expand on those dialogues as students start to progress in their language skills and grammar
·         Use lots of visuals; pictures are very helpful
·         Have students do a project where they can show where they are from. For example, a family tree, a brief essay about where they are from; an international snack day where students bring snacks from their countries
·         Field trips- students visit museums, cultural events, or places that promote culture and language

Intermediate to advanced classes

·         Same ideas for lower level classes EXCEPT the level of work will be more detailed. For example, students can role play a scenario based on a cultural issue.

NOTE: I did a lesson on prejudice and discrimination with a level 4, 5 and 6 class. I had students act out a scenario that discriminated against a group of people. Since the nature of the lesson was sensitive, the scenario focused on discriminating against a group of students who wore glasses. The students were aware this was a lesson and encouraged not to act this out in real life.

·         Assign students to write about an experience where they felt different from someone and read it in class
·         Create a storybook of students’ writings on a specific topic such as, importance of accepting each other, learning about a new culture, why prejudice is wrong (ß I actually assigned to several of my classes)
·         Field trips with or without the teacher: students can be assigned to do an independent project where they visit a cultural event and write about it

NOTE: You DO NOT have to include cultural awareness in your lessons. These are just some examples. Your class will be different and as the teacher you can decide how you want to implement this topic in your lessons.

Remember, it is OKAY that we are different from one another. Yet, with understanding and a willingness to learn, our different cultures can be a great learning experience for both teachers and students.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Staying Encouraged While Learning English

So you just started your new ESL class. Maybe this is your first time taking English classes. Maybe not. Either way, every ESL class will be a new experience, and the way you feel each time will be different. Learning English can be a difficult or fun experience depending on many factors: the teacher, the classmates, the location of the ESL class (if the location of the class is not comfortable this will affect your learning ability), and YOU. These factors can hinder you from feeling confident in learning English. It can also make you feel discouraged. Here are some ways to stay encouraged while learning English.

Be open to the learning process
There is not just one way to learn English. Each person learns a new language differently and at their own pace. This is okay J Take your time and go with the flow. There are good and bad things in the learning process. Be patient. You will become more comfortable as time permits. Remember, you are learning a NEW language, and that takes time and hard work.

Note: With positive reinforcement and guidance from the teacher (and sometimes from classmates), students can learn effectively and won’t give up when things become difficult.

It’s very important as the ESL student to communicate with both your classmates and teacher. Whether you’re working on a class assignment, have a question or problem, talking to your classmates or teacher can be beneficial.

Talk to your classmates: Talking with your classmates when you’re feeling upset or not understanding the lesson can be a good way to not feel alone. Many students feel the same way as you, but may be too shy to say how they feel. Talking to them about your frustrations will not only help you feel better, but relate to classmates who feel the same way as you do.

Talk to your teacher: Many students don’t feel comfortable talking to their teacher. It’s normal. You want to let your teacher know about your concerns. For example, you feel the teacher is going (or talking) too fast, you don’t understand the lesson, have questions about a class assignment or homework, etc. Remember to be honest and respectful.

Tip: Teachers were once students too so they can relate to how you feel. When teachers know how their students are feeling, they can adjust the lessons accordingly.

Working with your classmates
You will be working with your classmates whether it’s through pair work or group activities. That is part of the learning process. Working with your classmates is a great way to meet new people, learn about different cultures, languages, and ideas, and share common interests. It’s also a way to help each other in understanding concepts like grammar, reading or writing activities, and conversation practice.

While getting to know your classmates, be careful to not become too personal. Sharing is a nice way to learn about someone, but sharing personal information is risky. Be mindful of what you share with your classmates or teacher.

Examples of personal information
·         Relationships
·         Where you live (address)
·         Your social security number, bank information
·         Politics (unless it’s part of a lesson, do not discuss your political views)
·         Religion (unless it’s mentioned in a lesson, do not discuss your religious views or encourage your classmates to join your religion)
·         Sexuality

Note: There are some ESL lessons I have done where the topic of politics and religion came up. It was in a formalized manner and students DID NOT discuss their personal views on the subject but rather on the lesson. For example: discrimination at the workplace

Tip: You want to be careful NOT to offend or disrespect anyone by discussing these topics. In many cultures such topics are NOT allowed.

Dealing with frustration
You will feel frustrated while learning English. This is natural and affects all ESL students as well as teachers. Coping with frustration will help you to keep trying and not to give up.

·         Remember your purpose for learning English. This reminder will motivate you to continue learning English despite how you feel
·         Pace yourself/Take your time
·         Breathe
·         Ask for help (classmates and your teacher)
·         It is OKAY to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning
·         Try your best
·         Don’t give up

Note: Teachers make mistakes too J

My advice to ESL students
Learning a new language is not easy but it’s possible. Be proud of yourself. Many people cannot do what you’re doing. You are only human. You will not understand everything, you will make mistakes, and you will feel frustrated. You will NOT learn English in a day. Remember your purpose for taking English classes and pace yourself. Don’t give up…you WILL get there. TRY YOUR BEST J

For more tips, check out my latest video here

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lesson Planning

It’s time to lesson plan. This doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. With the right attitude and resources available to you, creating a lesson can be fun and a chance to be creative!

Remember: Always plan before class. Keep the lesson simple yet effective making sure you’re covering the material.

Depending on the textbook (s) you’re using, most times it will provide an outline of a lesson for each unit and/or topic. With most textbooks, there’s a teacher edition which gives lesson plans and activities you can use in your class. However, if there is no textbook, the way you plan will be solely up to you. Here are some tips to help you through this process.

Always have a warm-up activity. This activity can be a get-to-know exercise between students, a dialogue practice, or a game. The purpose of the warm-up activity is to get students talking.

Preview Similar to a warm-up activity, you may introduce a new topic with an in-class activity or a simple question and answer exercise. For example, the topic is jobs. You ask your students, “Who wants to find a job?” Depending on how they respond to you, you can do a follow-up question like, “What kind of job are you looking for?”

TIP: Write your questions on the board (do so one at a time) and write students’ responses. Sometimes based on students’ responses, it can create a conversation between classmates or encourage the shy students to participate.

TIP 2: Draw a bubble map by writing the topic in the center bubble and students’ ideas in the surrounding bubbles.

Courtesy of

The lesson If you are using a textbook, there may be a vocabulary list of words that the unit will cover, or an activity. Go over this with your students. However, if there is no textbook available, you can choose what activity you want to do. I usually like to introduce a few vocabulary words by writing them on the board, have the students repeat them after me, and use them in a sentence.

Afterwards, I may create a dialogue practice where students can use these new words. The dialogue will focus on the topic. Here’s an example.

Topic: Jobs

New vocabulary word: retail

A. Hi Mary, I want to find a job.
B. Really? What kind of job are you looking for?
A. I’m looking for a retail job.
B. Okay.

This is a very basic dialogue and you can add to it as students are practicing and learning new vocabulary.

Pairing/group work You want to encourage your students to work together. Peer learning is effective, because it allows students to help each other. Some students may feel more comfortable asking their classmate a question than asking the teacher. This is also helpful when you have multi-level classes where some students are more advanced than others. You can pair the advanced student with a lower level students to assist in classroom activities.

Repetition Repeating is important to help reinforce student learning. For lower level classes, you will be repeating a lot to help students in learning the alphabet, sounding out words, and basic sentence structures. For advanced classes, you may not have to repeat as much, but it’s still necessary. For grammar, repetition and review is crucial since there are many rules to grammar.

Review Always review with your students. You can do this at the end of class or at the beginning of the next class. Reviewing grammar points, vocabulary, and concepts is important in helping students remember. Another way to review is by assigning homework or warm-up exercises from the previous lesson.

Time Timing is everything! You only have a set amount of time to complete your lesson. However, this may not always be possible. Each student has their own learning pace. Depending on the lesson, you may not be able to cover everything. This is okay. You can continue where you left off in the next class, but don’t forget to REVIEW what students learned. You want to keep a steady pace with lessons.

Student feedback Student feedback is important and necessary for the ESL teacher. You want to make sure you’re not only completing lessons, but allowing students to share how they feel about the lesson, the learning process, and even your teaching style.
Whether the feedback is positive (yay J) or negative (uh-oh L) this helps you to make adjustments. It also encourages students to feel comfortable sharing their feelings to you as their teacher. If students aren’t happy, they won’t do well and may even drop out of the class. You want to encourage them to try their best, let them know you are there to help them, and how they’re feeling is normal.

Remember, it’s about student learning. You are their guide in the learning process. 
Happy planning!

For ways to implement your lesson, check out my latest video from my ESL series on my YouTube channel 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

First Day of ESL Class: What to Expect for Teachers and Students

It’s the first day of your first ESL class. Maybe you’re an experienced teacher or this is your first time teaching. Maybe you’re a new student or a returning one. Whichever category you fall under, the first day still remains a nervous, exciting, or curious experience. Depending on the ESL program, how the first day is conducted will vary. Sometimes the location will play a role in how you, the teacher or student will respond.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say the ESL classroom is inside a public school. The school houses elementary school aged children. The room is filled with posters of the alphabet, numbers, and students’ work. There’s a large attendance poster of students’ names in Ms. so and so’s class. There is another poster of students’ names with stickers of gold stars next to them. The gold stars represent students’ accomplishments for the week. The chalkboard is messy, half of it is erased while the other is filled with written notes. There are broken pieces of chalk on the floor. The desks are small but big enough for an adult to sit in. The desk is attached to the chair. Each desk/chair are arranged in rows. There are a few loose leaf papers on the floor. The teacher’s desk is in front of the classroom. On it are books, paper, and pencils scattered around. There is no chalk available. 

You, the ESL Student

You find a desk and sit down. You watch your classmates do the same. You look around the room. Everything is written in English. Everything looks like something meant for children. You don’t know how to feel about this. As everyone is seated, the teacher is putting his or her things onto the teacher’s desk. She is taking out a binder, a notebook, and a textbook. There’s a folder too. She looks up at the class and smiles. You notice her pick up the broken pieces of chalk from the floor, and holds them in hand as she erases the board.

You, the ESL Teacher

As you are erasing the board, you feel nervous and anticipate starting your new class. You aren't sure what you’re going to say, but you know you have to say something. You write, “Good morning” and “My name is…” on the board. Underneath that you write, “What is your name?” You take a deep breath and turn around. You notice there are 25 students, all seated and looking at you. You smile and say, “Good morning. My name is…”

Introductions: ESL Teacher

It is very important to introduce yourself. Here are some things you should and should NOT do:

·         Smile J
·         State your name slowly and clearly. You want to make sure the students can understand how you pronounce your name. You may do this several times as you practice getting to know your students (this also depends on the English level of the class)
·         Welcome your students (Example: “Welcome to Level 2 class”).
·         Give eye contact
·         Talk a little about yourself. For lower level classes, you want to keep this brief and use visuals (example: pictures) to talk about yourself. For intermediate or advanced classes, you may not have to use visuals but keep it brief.
·         What to talk about? Where you’re from? (I am from the United States); your education background (example: I went to college and have a degree in English); Where you live (I live in_____ (city) or (state). NEVER give your address!); your favorite color etc.
·         Discuss classroom rules and/or curriculum (if there is one)

Tip: Distribute assigned textbooks if applicable. If there are no textbooks, have handouts available to start your first lesson.

Should NOT
·         Look mean or uninterested
·         Talk fast or too low
·         Don’t welcome your students
·         Never give eye contact
·         Tell your life story/share personal details; students don’t want to hear too many details about your life

**Depending on your ESL program, you may want to check student attendance to make sure everyone is present. Instruct them to raise their hand or say, “here,” when their name is called. Model this for lower level classes. If there is no attendance sheet provided, have students write their name on a blank sheet of paper.

Tip: What I like to do is say, “Welcome __________, nice to meet you” after the student responds.
After this, you can do a “Get to know your students” activity.

Introductions: ESL Student

·         Smile and take a deep breath
·         Be open to the process. Try your best.
·         Listen to the teacher’s instructions
·         Participate in the class activities

Should NOT
·         Be rude or show bad behavior
·         Unwillingness to try
·         Don’t listen to teacher’s instruction
·         Don’t follow the classroom rules

Teacher models introduction activity with a student:
A.   Hi, what is your name?
B.   My name is ____, and you?
A.   My name is ____. Nice to meet you.
B.   Nice to meet you too.

Teacher may write this on the board for students to read as they practice, OR teacher may give handout with this question for students to practice with each other.
This can work for all English levels.

For advanced classes, teacher may give handout of 3 questions:
(You can choose what questions you want students to ask or include more than 3, it’s up to the teacher)

What is your name?
Where are you from?
What is your favorite color?

Students will ask their partner, OR walk around the classroom, ask their classmates these questions, and write down the answers. When done, students will share something about their classmate. Example: “This is Mary. She is from China. Her favorite color is red.”

Model- to show/demonstrate an activity for students

My advice

For both the ESL teacher and student, the first day of class is always a new, challenging, or nervous experience. Remember it’s just the FIRST day. Mistakes or unexpected things may happen, but if you remain calm and go with the flow, your first day can be a success. Remember to smile. It not only helps break the ice, but prevents you from feeling anxious. For the teacher, smiling helps students to feel welcome. After all, it is the universal language.

Good luck! J

For more ideas and tips, check out my latest YouTube video