ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher

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How To Work With SEND Students

For the past month, I have been supplementing my English teaching income by working as a Teaching Assistant within the mainstream education system in the UK, especially with those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Having spent this time developing an awareness of the issues surrounding SEND and the all encompassing yet broad stroke applied to any students having difficulty with learning in an educational setting, I thought it would be nice to share my experiences and strategies that I have incorporated to deal with SEND students, particularly for those English language teachers finding themselves having to supplement their earnings who have minimal experience within this area of employment.

Before continuing the reading of this post, I would highly recommend the following TED Talk to give you an idea about living with autism.

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Developing Academic Awareness: Lesson Plan

One of the biggest challenges which was discovered is ensuring that the awareness surrounding academic culture with international students is accessible and that students, regardless their nationality, understand of what is expected of them in an academic setting. This lesson is best suited for international students first on their journey with UK academia.

Activity 1

Place students into small groups to discuss for 5 minutes:

  • What do you think are the biggest differences between studying at university in your home country and in the UK?
  • What do you think are the similarities between studying at university in your home country and in the UK?
  • What do you do to develop cultural awareness in the UK?
  • What clubs or associations could you join in a UK university? Have you joined any yet?

Once students have discussed, elicit and board up their ideas and answers to share as a class. Try to find out more information about a student’s home country and their academic culture.

Activity 2

Move students back into a small group again and hand out the following worksheet attached below. Allow students to discuss in their small groups, before checking answers as a whole class (suggested answers are included on page 2 of the worksheet and much depend on each individual institute).

Activity 3

Get students to compare academic behaviour and culture with their home countries to the UK. Get students to consider the potential drawbacks of cultural misunderstanding while studying at their undergraduate or postgraduate courses. Here are some suggested questions below to prompt discussion.

  • What advice would you give other students studying in your home country to help them understand academic culture?
  • What do you think are the differences between tutorials, seminars, and lectures?
  • How could misunderstanding hinder your studies and progress?
  • What is the best way to integrate into UK academia?
  • What resources are available to help you with your academic studies at university and how do you find this?

Activity 4

Introduce students towards what services or support is available for their academic studies or study skills to help them understand what is expected while they study at their university.

How To Complete IELTS Task 1: Bar Charts

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 can be rather complicated for students but as we know, there are a variety of graphs or data that needs to be reported – one of which are bar charts. In this post, we shall look at the elements required for completing IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and reporting Bar Charts.

Despite a video tutorial being available to complement this post, I will also refer to the following bar chart below regarding Coffee Consumption Habits in Italy during 2019.


There is a recommended outline for writing IELTS Task 1 regardless the data, and this includes the following.

General Statement

I always recommend all my IELTS students to write a General Statement to guide the reader into the topic. If your data is to report on coffee consumption, it is best to write a brief sentence introducing the topic; i.e. ‘Coffee is now widely consumed by many people around the world.’

Introduction

In the introduction, you need to explain to the examiner what you will include in your written report; i.e. ‘In this brief report, I will look at how regularly coffee is consumed between males and females in Italy during 2019’.

Overview

Within the overview, it is recommended to write briefly about possible patterns or trends that you notice in the chart. For example, you could write ‘From the chart above, you may notice that the vast majority of male and females consumers of coffee purchase two or three times a day, while the least frequently are more than five times per day.’

Detailed Paragraph 1 and 2

This is where the candidate provides more information about the data and compares or contrasts information offered, so you could write ‘Despite those least frequently purchasing coffee for both male and female consumers, that being 5% and 6% respectively, there is minimal change for those that never purchase coffee with each being 8% and 9% respectively. Women typically consume more coffee compared to the male counterparts with those purchasing coffee either 2-3 times (53% to 48%) or more than five times per day (6% to 5%). However, most male consumers typically purchase coffee more than women once (18% to 17%) or 4-5 times per day. (21% to 15%).’

Final Points and Complete Writing

There are just a couple of points to remember. Try to write within the limit that is set. Normally, during the IELTS Task 1 Writing examination, candidates are expected to write no less than 150 words. It is important that you 150 words or more, but how much is too much? I would suggest that if you are writing more than 250 words, then it is too much. Here is the complete writing as suggested following the aforementioned structure below, with a total of 155 words.

Coffee is now widely consumed by many people around the world. In this brief report, I will look at how regularly coffee is consumed between males and females in Italy during 2019.

From the chart above, you may notice that the vast majority of male and females consumers of coffee purchase two or three times a day, while the least frequently are more than five times per day.

Despite those least frequently purchasing coffee for both male and female consumers, that being 5% and 6% respectively, there is minimal change for those that never purchase coffee with each being 8% and 9% respectively. Women typically consume more coffee compared to the male counterparts with those purchasing coffee either 2-3 times (53% to 48%) or more than five times per day (6% to 5%). However, most male consumers typically purchase coffee more than women once (18% to 17%) or 4-5 times per day. (21% to 15%).


As you can see above, there is a specific structure to IELTS writing regardless what you are reporting. Nevertheless, there is also a suggested video that demonstrates how I respond to a possible IELTS Academic Task 1 question related to bar charts below. This will offer a little more information regarding how to structure and include the aforementioned points into IELTS academic writing tasks.

I hope the post helps either students or those English teachers that wish to learn a little more about how best to prepare students for IELTS Academic Writing Task 1. If this did indeed help, don’t forget to let me know in the comments as this would be greatly appreciated.

Ask Lingua: Website Review

I hope you have had a good week with all your teaching. It has been a while since I have reviewed a website for teaching or potential learning opportunities for students. Funnily enough, I was asked to review one website which is aimed for language learners which is similar to the game that I used to play as a child called ‘Guess Who’. The website in question is Ask Lingua.

You are greeted on the first screen whether you wish to choose American English, British English, or Spanish. Some guidance is provided but I feel that a brief video on repeat detailing this information would be better. Nevertheless, if you have played ‘Guess Who’, then the main principle is intuitive.

You compete against the computer, with both you and the website selecting an individual character. During the game, you must ask controlled questions such as ‘Does the person have green eyes?’, ‘Does he/she have long hair?’ or ‘Does he/she wear a hat?’. The computer or yourself, answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and over a short while, characters are removed. The aim of the game is to decide which character the computer has chosen, and vice versa. The winner is to successfully determine who the chosen individual is.

I played the game twice: the first time I managed to win within five minutes, while the second time I lost. What I found beneficial for potential students is the fact that learners can reinforce question formation structure and asking questions: ‘Does he/she have …?’, ‘Is he/she …?’, etc. There are a variety of tasks to aid learners with question structure – similar to DuoLingo in a way: word ordering, typing, and multiple choice question selection.

Students are able to create question forms using a variety of tasks such as the word ordering activity above

The website is accessible on both laptop and mobile devices – I tried both. The game is fun and engaging, particularly with young learners, and it reinforces potential language focus: question formation and describing people. Personally, it would be a fun website to be used in the class with an interactive whiteboard, encouraging learners to compete against the computer. It would certainly be more interactive if learners were able to compete against each other with a person-to-person function. However, it is a great little application which you could get online learners to use as part of you lessons.

The overall score regarding this website is four out of five. It has great potential for both the physical and online classroom, but there are possibilities for it being made more interactive and connected in both virtual and physical classrooms. Nevertheless, one website to bookmark and use with students.

Overall Score: 4/5

Developing Materials for Online Lessons

Welcome to another daily blog post where I look at another aspect of online lessons, and today I am look at develop materials for remote purposes. In this post, I’ll be sharing personal thoughts that I have regarding the creation of materials more suitable for online lessons.

One of the biggest challenges faced by tutors moving from a physical classroom to a remote environment, or possibly newly certified English language teachers, is the development of materials for potential online lessons. Essentially, teaching material should be engaging, memorable, and accessible, which helps supplement the overall aims and strategies of the lesson.

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Feedback In An Online Teaching Environment

Today’s blog follows on eight hours of online lessons over the course of a day – probably one of the longest stretches of teaching remotely – so apologies for the lack of readability or stating the obvious. Anyhow, in this post, I thought that it would be best to focus on the aspects of feedback provision within an online environment, after previous posts on dealing with first lessons with private students and another with online activities to get students speaking.

When one is not within the constraints of a physical classroom, an English teacher may find the online distance further enhances the separation to provide feedback in a prompt and candid manner. Most students that book private lessons, explain that they have received little feedback from previous teachers, and the main reason for finding another tutor is due to this. Thus, it is crucial for all online private tutors to provide a level of feedback that is expected by students.

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Speaking Activities for Online Individual IELTS Students

Teaching individual students can be a challenge to be honest, especially when learners expect their teachers to contribute more during online lessons. After teaching privately to individual students, especially for those that are preparing for IELTS, I wanted to share some of my favourite speaking activities that I tend to incorporate during online lessons to get my students speaking and communicating more.

Activity 1: Wheel of Words

Wheel of Names can be used for various purposes; randomly nominating students or choosing conversation questions

Wheel of Words is a great tool which I tend to use for a variety of purposes – one of which is to randomise conversation questions. Essentially, you write in your conversation questions or copy and paste them into the text box on the right of the website.

I tend to share my screen when spinning the wheel, and once a question is chosen, confetti shoots up and the question is displayed fully. Students find this rather engaging and entertaining, then proceed to answer their question. The best thing about this is you can save questions in Word and then import them into Wheel of Words, or refer to the Internet TESL Journal website for inspiration on questions to ask on particular topics. Otherwise, you can choose a variety of common questions which may arise on certain topics within the IELTS exam and randomise the choice of them by using this website.

Activity 2: Tell Me Why / Give Three Reasons

A huge thanks to David Sweetham for sharing this activity with me on Twitter (refer to his Tweet below), but I have found this a joy to incorporate into most of my conversational lessons.

Based on the activity that was shared, you choose one card for student(s) to talk about for a few minutes. As David mentioned, you can attempt intentionally wacky topics or ideas to get students thinking outside the box. It takes minimal preparation – always a bonus for me based on my Dogme-esque approach – which can then be used effectively with online IELTS conversational lessons. Here are some example conversational prompts to give you an idea of how this task runs.

  • Give three reasons why everyone should learn another language.
  • Tell me why rabbits make better pets than hamsters.
  • Present three reasons in favour for national service.
  • Give three reasons outlining why social media is harmful.

As you can see, being as creative and wacky as possible is a bonus. Students are forced to reason or justify their thoughts. This will help students gain greater confidence with dealing those challenging questions in the IELTS exam.

Activity 3: Odd One Out

It is best to keep language either topic specific or to increase difficulty try to use random verbs, adjectives, adverbs or nouns

A popular speaking activity in the physical classroom is getting students to reason why a particular object or word is the odd one out compared to the others. There is not a correct answer, as long as the reason is valid. I used to incorporate this activity in lessons and students found this task engaging and motivating, often allowing learners to develop their fluency.

You can either provide each group of words one at a time, by using Wheel of Words or by some other tool, or all at once as a document. Whatever approach you decide, you can give your individual student a short while to prepare and then allow students a short time to explain their reasoning. This task is engaging and motivating, and can be adapted for groups of students if needed. It is also a suitable activity for those learners preparing for the IELTS examination.

Activity 4: Picture This

Using Google Images can help you source suitable pictures for this fourth activity

The final activity that I enjoy incorporating into my individual IELTS preparation online lessons is getting students to respond to pictures on similar topics. It is very quick to prepare a selection of images within PowerPoint, Word or Jamboard, and then share the screen to students asking them to talk between 2 to 3 minutes explaining the similarities or differences about the pictures.

It is a task which naturally focuses on the use of comparative forms but getting students to draw similarities will require a bit of practice and creativity, especially once you have sourced rather random images for the activity. Again, it is a task which lends itself well in preparing students for speaking in English, as well as developing their confidence in communicating and expressing ideas or opinions.


What are your favourite individual speaking activities to get your online learners developing their fluency? Have you tried any of the activities shared in this post? If so, how did learners respond to them? As ever, please share in the comments.

How to Teach First Lessons as an Online Private English Tutor

Teaching trial or demonstration lessons are part and parcel of teaching privately to students, in which teachers and students should meet to ensure both parties are happy to continue lessons with each achieving that much needed rapport in the initial of online. As such, online private English tutors need to make a good impression in that first hour. If not, the tutor will have a challenge to convert the learner into a paying student – this is the crux of the matter.

So what should private tutors do to make a valuable first impression and how best to achieve this? In this post, we will review this and I will share my tips and tricks for establishing a good relationship with potential students.

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Emojis in the English Classroom

Introduction

Last week, on the Twitter sphere, Tyson Seburn was polling to see how many tutors were using emojis with their general communication with students – either in email or via class pages (such as Canvas or Blackboard).

If you aren’t following Tyson on Twitter, why not?

This got me thinking about the pedagogical benefit of using emojis within a teaching context, and I had used emojis to teach basic vocabulary to beginner online students. For example, for learners who has very little to no English, this difficulty is alleviated with the use of images or pictures, and thus emojis are a quick and easy solution. If I wanted to ask students if they liked or dislike apples, I would use the following emojis to help express the question.

As you can see, for lower levels of learners, teachers have a quick and easy way to use emojis within an online environment. However, you don’t have to stop there with regards to using emojis with beginner students. You could use emojis in a more creative manner. I have created a free emoji worksheet for teachers to use with their face-to-face or online lessons. It is probably best suited for the general English classroom, possibly younger learners, with an emphasis on adjectives and general feelings (i.e. exhausted, well off, etc.).

Lesson Material for Teachers

A screenshot of the worksheet available for all.

The first task is for learners to match emojis to their corresponding adjectives – the first one is done. The next is for learners to guess the possible translation, before learners check with their translating tools.

There is a brief discussion for learners which could be used as a prompt to discuss the use of emojis within their context. Next, there is a story, with gaps and emojis to help, which students are to complete before sharing with their fellow students. The final part of this lesson is for students to retell the story without referring to the script. I hope you enjoy this lesson activity, and a huge thanks to Tyson for the Tweet which got me inspired to create a lesson using emojis. I may even use emojis with my EAP students!

If you wish to support this website or wish to help keep my spirits up, you can do so by buying me a coffee by donating here.

Six Months Later with Preply: Suggestions & Statistics

As some of you may know, during this precarious environment I have taken to teaching on Preply. For those that unaware, Preply is an online platform whereby it matches potential students with teachers. I have now been teaching freelance via Preply for over six months now and I thought it would be worthwhile to share possible suggestions for improving the platform as well as share my statistics (how many lessons I have delivered, overall rating, etc.). I believe this post (and the corresponding video) would benefit those that are attempting to find alternative English teaching platforms to find possible students, as well as supplement their income to make ends meet.

If you could Subscribe and Like the video, it would be great!

Suggestions for Preply

1. Student Learning History

The first suggestion that I have for this platform is for Preply to update is to offer tutors the chance to view potential student history. Whenever I have a new student start, it is difficult to find any information about the student other than the predicted level, the number of hours this student has booked, location they are based, as well as the language that they are studying. What I would prefer to know is how many teachers a student has had on the platform: am I their first teacher or have they had a number of tutors before on Preply? It would help all teachers be aware and prepare for trial classes (which is the first class where student and teacher meet) with their potential new students. This in itself could help aid me understanding why a student is moving from one tutor to another so that I would not make the same mistake as their previous teacher.

2. Confirmation of Lessons

The next suggestion which I hope Preply address or consider is the overall process on how lessons are confirmed. Without both the student and teacher confirming that they have been present for the lesson, Preply would not release payment for those classes unless automatic confirmation has been organised. There is the possibility (despite the risk being incredibly low) that a lesson could be challenged by the student and the tutor is not being remunerated.

What I would suggest Preply consider incorporating is to allow confirmation to be within the lesson, so that both the tutor and student are present allowing payment is delivered promptly with minimal risk of it being disrupted – much like a register. This is crucial with trial lessons, particularly as they are unpaid, and this could hold back future lessons or reduce the profile of the tutor for other students or being promoted for other committed students. I suppose both students and tutors do not wish to divert their time and energy into other managerial elements of being freelance with the platform such as confirming that a lesson has indeed been delivered and received successfully.

3. Offer a Donation Button

One aspect of teaching that I thoroughly enjoy is the ability to support learners achieve their English learning goals, whether it is allowing students to achieve a particular grade in an examination or improving their fluency. Occasionally, private students do share their achievements by rewarding their teacher with a coffee or something more personal. It would therefore make sense to make the opportunity for students to reward their teachers with a small donation.

This donation would motivate teachers, particularly in such a difficult time, that they are doing what they do best for their students. It would also make sense for students to reward their favourite tutors, with no commission taken by Preply. At the moment Preply take a percentage from a tutor’s rate for each individual lesson delivered depending on the number of lessons taught through the platform, and it would be rather cruel if Preply take a percentage of the donation from the student. Nevertheless, I know this donation tool could be quite popular amongst Preply tutors and offer a chance for students to reward their most valued teachers.

4. Update Teaching Material

Improving lesson material is one suggestion

Tutors using the Preply platform have varying degrees of experience of teaching online. Currently, Preply offer teaching material to support those teachers with less experience and need that aid, which is better than nothing. One of the biggest stresses facing teachers is delivering a quality lesson that students appreciate. Based on my experience, qualifications, and area of expertise (i.e. exam and academic preparation studies), I have to charge a rate which is commensurate. For less experienced teachers, I can understand their reliance on Preply material. Personally, I prepare all my lessons ahead of time and source material which would makes me feel more comfortable and confident. The material on Preply is varied with most in-class activities revolving round conversation prompts and most self-study activities including grammar, vocabulary, and reading tasks. I have dabbled with the Preply material once with a student and the lesson did not go as well as a lesson with self-prepared activities.

In order to improve current material would be to make it more adaptable for potential lessons. One aspect of online teaching and learning is the remoteness included with this. In order to reduce this, it would make sense for tutors within this platform be able to sharing material with each other – much like a physical staffroom. I would also like to see more suitable courses being developed, as currently there appears to be some sort of disjointness between all lessons as a whole. If teachers were able to upload and share PowerPoints, Word documents or other tasks within the platform, would help less experienced tutors prepare and deliver quality lessons to students

5. Update Trial Lesson Commission

The next area whereby Preply could improve is the aspect of trial lessons and the lack of remuneration. Currently, Preply take 100% the cost of the trial lesson from the student with nothing being paid to the tutor, regardless whether the trial lesson was successful with the student booking more hours or not. Therefore, at the moment, all Preply trial lessons are unpaid and it can cause some resentment among language teachers, as I have witnessed on the various Preply Facebook Groups.

In theory, a new tutor attempting to find their feet and become established on this platform could find themselves having to deliver a variety of trial lessons (all unpaid), with minimal paid bookings. It would be suggested that Preply review this by supporting those successful first lessons by rewarding teachers with say 50% of the cost of the lesson. Remember students are paying the cost of the lesson regardless, but this does not go toward the teacher. I know I am motivated when a new student joins, but I would be pleased to be rewarded and acknowledged by Preply with this updated trial lesson commission rate.

6. Offer Group Lessons

All my lessons revolve around individual lessons, with each student paying $30 per 60 minutes of class. This can be quite a lot of money for some students, but one way to make lessons more accessible would be to offer group lessons for a discounted rate. Imagine that I am able to market a group rate at $6 for six students, I would still earn more than my individual rate. Some students who are unable to afford the individual rate would still get a chance to have lessons at a more affordable rate. This is the final suggestion that I would recommend Preply to consider incorporating group lessons for particular courses, such as exam preparation or speaking lessons.

Preply Statistics

In this part of the post, I will be sharing my personal Preply statistics so that it helps you inform of the potential to discover more private students or to make a living through other aspects of freelance teaching.

As you can see in the first part of my statistics, I have had over 20,000 views on my Preply profile, with my current hourly rate being $30. With those 20,000 views, I have had a conversion rate of 0.22% with 45 students booking trial lessons with me. The current profile score (which is calculated by your profile picture, description, etc.) is at 100%, with my profile position being 120, but this position continues to change every day. In terms of new students, I have converted just over 62% of those 45 trials into regular lessons. The average number of hours booked by students is 5.7 hours.

In relation to the earnings, I have managed to earn around $3,400 in over the six months that I have been using the Preply platform. If you divide the number of tutoring hours by my net earnings, it does not equate to my hourly rate (actually . This is due to the trial lessons being included as well as my initial rate being $20 per hour. I increased this rate in increments of $5 in the past few months, finally agreeing the $30 hourly rate. In the following months, I am reported to have earned:

  • April 2021: $26.80
  • May 2021: $393.20
  • June 2021: $452.70
  • July 2021: $206.25
  • August 2021: $262.50
  • September 2021: $455.63
  • October 2021: $495.00
  • November 2021: $793.35
  • December 2021 to date: $380.25
The current commission rates applied by Preply if you tutor online via their platform

Remember, that earnings include both unpaid trial lessons as well as those that students have attended before Preply take their commission from your earnings. What may appear to be quite a good month so far ($380.25) is far below what I have earned due to trial lessons being booked and Preply taking 22% out of my hourly rate as commission.

Final Reflections About Preply

Preply is a good platform which enables students to find suitable tutors, but as can be witnessed above, the opportunity to improve earnings takes a while until you are an established tutor. Once you have established yourself as a professional teacher, you will start to find your earnings increase but it takes time. It is important to find alternative sources of income, particularly in this rather precarious environment so it is best to juggle your online teaching with private students, other teacher and student platforms as you may find yourself struggling to make a liveable salary.

There are some great benefits of teaching with Preply (you are capable of deciding on the best rate to charge potential students, gaining online teaching experience, seeing students develop, etc.) and this is not to be disregarded, but the overall ‘gig economy’ and precarious nature of language education causes much stress for those involved. As a self-employed tutor (whether it is with Preply or elsewhere) offers no security in terms of earnings, pension contributions, etc. and you are liable for all your income tax. Essentially, a third of your earnings could be liable for tax if you earn above the taxable threshold (which I think is around £12,000 in the UK), but I doubt this would be achievable in the near future based on my earnings with Preply.

Anyhow, I do hope you enjoyed this post and if you recommend that I try other online teaching platforms, then it would be great to hear your suggestions in the comments.

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