New Teacher Tips: A Letter to Younger Me

Dear Elena,

I know how worried you are this August because you are a university graduate now and in just a few days you will set off on a long journey into ELT. I also remember how you cried when your mum insisted on your becoming a teacher and you wanted to major in interior design. Well, if it makes you feel better, I’ll tell you a secret: you will love your job! There are a few more things you should know about teaching before you meet your first students in September.

New Teacher Tips

1.  Don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

You might hear something of this sort from seasoned teachers: “Don’t smile at your students for a few months. Get them to respect you first.” I’m not sure about the respect part but you sure will not inspire one single soul in your class if you follow this advice. Follow your instincts, be yourself, smile and laugh with your kids; make yourself available to your students during the breaks; talk to them; listen to them; be kind and show that you care; be supportive but don’t spoon-feed; guide them but don’t overprotect, and you will see how inspirational and rewarding 40 minutes with a bunch of noisy, egoistic, moody teenagers can be!

2. Don’t try to be their friend… because you are not. But you are very welcome to become their favorite teacher, a good mentor, a coach, a role-model or even all of these.

3. Remember to be careful about what you say or do.

What seems insignificant to you may make a huge difference (good or bad) to someone in your class.

4. Be organized and consistent.

Yes, I know it is hard to be an adult among high school teens when you are just 22 but consistency in your expectations and self-discipline will help avoid double standards when you handle various classroom management issues. You will also find out that setting rules and sticking to them makes students’ life easier, too. Strange as it may sound, first they try to break every single rule but then – grow to appreciate the framework in your lessons.

5. Challenge them, challenge yourself.

Don’t be afraid to demand high, to stretch your learners to the maximum of their potential, to raise your expectations. It’s not easy to do when you are a fresh graduate, but don’t just turn pages in the coursebook religiously following lesson plans in the Teacher’s Book. It feels safer but thinking “outside the book” will develop you professionally. It will set you and your learners free and unlock the potential that you cannot yet imagine.

There is so much I would like to tell you but, then, wouldn’t I deprive you of the joy of discovery, adventure and the excitement of the unknown? So, plunge in!





Face2Face ELT Conferences: Where Magic Happens

Who needs to commute to a conference site when there is a computer screen, a comfy couch and an opportunity for an occasional run to the kitchen for a cup of coffee?  

Charles Dickens answered this question years ago: “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.”

office-conference_call-screen-wipe-cleaner-dusting-ebon114l (1)Indeed, we need to be brave agents of change for our students’ sake. We need to be true believers that we can make a difference in our students’ lives. To remain true and brave we need inspiration.

In my view, inspiration comes from the energy accumulated and transmitted among the conference participants. Face-to-face conferences are a powerful source of motivation for teachers. The sense of shared inspiration and excitement cannot be live-streamed.

I believe that face-to-face events will also remain popular because they offer opportunities for interaction during the workshops and talks as well as for networking on coffee breaks. Physical presence at an event is a chance to meet inspirational leaders and speakers, to chat with them and ask questions after their presentations.

If you ask me, magic is what teachers do everyday to change their teaching and students’ learning for better. In its turn, great ELT events have a similar transformational impact. These miraculous processes of teaching, learning and information exchange have an inevitable human touch to them and cannot be sent in an attachment, downloaded or life-streamed.


TELT       outliers-in-elt



10 Things You Can Do to Promote Reading Among Your Students

1. Don’t underestimate your learners.

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Often teachers think that low level students will not be interested in reading. My students are young adults in a university prep program. That means they expect to be taught for a test, they want to be taught for a test, they have an extremely intensive program and I have to cover what’s in the syllabus from A to Z religiously. The good news is they did join in reading together with me regardless all factors mentioned above.

2. Pre-teach essential reading strategies before you ask them to read without dictionaries for pleasure.

Before I even start with my, what I call Reading Time, I make sure learners know how to guess meaning of words from the context and can handle references (anaphoric and cataphoric). I don’t teach these in a separate lesson but rather point various techniques out as we work with texts in a coursebook. Most coursebooks have skills pages and all necessary tips but it’s important to highlight reading strategies over and over again so  that students know they can handle a text without dictionaries and feel confident that reading won’t be a painful business.

3. Tell students about The Rule of Five Fingers.

Teach your students how to choose a book in English. Sure, all readers are marked B1, C2 and so on but how helpful is it to an average student? The Rule of Five Fingers means the following:

– open a book on a random page and begin reading;

– every time you come across a word you don’t know bend in a finger.

Once you have all five in a fist, you can put this book aside – it’s above your level. If there are less than 5 unknown words on the page, this book is for you.

4. Lead by example.

Nothing will encourage your learners to engage more than a teacher reading together with them. Reading is a habit and skill that is not God given. It should be cultivated and modeled.

5. Be consistent.

This point is strongly related to the previous idea of reading as a cultivated skill. They say everything we do for 21 days becomes a habit. I scheduled reading time for each of my classes and let students know when I’d bring readers to class. I am very careful to stick to this promise no matter what the situation is (unless school is cancelled, of course). Sometimes we are on a tight schedule. Even if so, just 10 minutes in the beginning of a lesson would do. You can always catch up with the program. What’s important – you were consistent and brought your learners 1 day closer to getting into a reading habit.

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6. Pick a day when you have most of your lessons with the same class.

Students will appreciate a change in routine and won’t ask you a question like “Will it be on the exam?” when you invite them to read in the fourth consecutive lesson with you.  For the same reason, I also find that scheduling Reading Times in the second half of the week makes more sense.

7. Identify optimal reading time for your students.

I’d love to see them read for as longs as 45 minutes but we should remember that what’s pleasure for us is still an effort for them. I started with 15 minutes but now we can go on reading for about half an hour.

8. Familiarize yourself with the books you choose for your students.

Selling the idea is a part of the reading business. On a day when I could spare 15 minutes, I brought the books and told students about them. I pointed out which ones I personally liked, which ones I didn’t read but heard were good. I let students look at them and decide which ones they would like to start with.

9. Offer a variety of genres.

Since I am teaching an average mixed ability pre-intermediate group, I figured it’d be good to bring in as many different genres as I could find in my personal and school library. I also picked readers from elementary level to intermediate to offer students freedom to challenge themselves with a book of their choice.

I included:

Graphic novels (American Born Chinese, Romeo and Juliet);

Authentic children books, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid;

Young adult novels (A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

The Road Ahead (By Bill Gates), graded reader

Readers with non-fiction texts;

Short stories and many other graded and authentic texts.

10. Break school rules.

No matter how horrible it might seem to my admins if they found out, I do let and even encourage students to bring coffee, tea and snacks to class before we begin reading. This creates a cozy environment. I want my students to be as comfortable as possible while reading: it is a kind of positive reinforcement.

Do you think I have missed something important? Please feel free to add more tips in comments. 

If I had a day like this, I’d look through all my conference notes about using technology in the classroom to see what I like and brainstorm a few possible lesson plans with these tools

Are We All Gifted & Talented?

I believe we are regardless of what research and PhD holders might claim. I think we just need to discover our talents. Some are lucky to have found what they are good at, others spend their whole lives unable to achieve their full potential.

I work in a school for gifted and talented youth and have a mentor student who (for a long time) I considered exceptionally out of place in our instutution until… until I saw her with paper and crayons! She might be a future Monet or Picasso or even better.

There is a thin line between giftedness (high potential) as opposed to talent (high performance). The essential question is: should we consider achievement, potential or both?

Dr. Stephen Gessner, who delivered a 5 day seminar at our school, believes that gifted programs are no summer camps and they should be academically rigorous in the first place and have minimum emphasis on extracurricular activities. On the contrary, I think that such programs should incorporate both as only  when a child’s emotional and social needs are addressed does he perform best as  “educational needs are not always academic”.

Interestingly, high achievers such as presidents, athlets,  CEOs, and famous artists (Study by Bloom) did not find themselves in these positions just because they scored high on standardized tests but rather because of the following blend:

Social skills
EQ = emotional IQ
Task commitment
SES = social economic situation
Application of knowledge
Failure first

and most importantly all successful people experienced the power of mentors: parents, teachers, relatives  between the age 6 to

The above mentioned list of factors suggests that a holistic approach in education is crucial. On a larger scale, nowadays we segment knowledge to such an extent that we produce  very narrow specialists for the job market. It doesn’t work this way if we intend to bring up and/or educate happy and successful individuals, exceptionally talented and gifted, or not.

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Lesson Plans & Activities

Lesson Plans & Activities: Teaching ESL Through Literature Projects

The Tale of Two Teachers and Three Rs

I noticed that good speaker at conferences are very often not the ones who give detailed account of their greatest lessons  but those who can speak metaphorically, tell stories. When you have a room with 2000 people, it is hard to offer something that would be relevant to all of these people’s teaching contexts. Then, the true inspiration for a talk may be found in an ad on a bus, in a picture taken at a family dinner, in our hobbies.

So, let me tell you a story that reminded me of what we (teachers) perhaps should not do.

When I was six, I set my sights on becoming a horse-riding instructor  (I guess I didn’t go far from that and became a teacher  anyway).  Naturally, my mom said it was a ridiculous idea and forbade it.  It took me a long time to become an equestrian because horse-riding is a rather expensive hobby. I had to graduate, get a job, start making money, get a better job, make more money but finally I’m doing what I love most at least twice a week after school.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have become a good riding instructor. But this is not the point.

Recently my riding instructor asked to help her with essay writing. She is not a native speaker but as an EU citizen has been exposed to English and is fluent. 

We sat down with a piece of paper and scribbled the following accompanying it with oral commentary:

  1. Intro (from general to specific, narrow  down your topic, then thesis statement )
  2. Body 1
  3. Body2
  4. Body3
  5. Conclusion (restate intro, use a quote, summarize)

The girl sat silent for a while and then said, “Now I can see why you sometimes stare at me blankly when I give you instructions like ‘oh, just make sure the horse is on the bit, on the right leg, has enough impulsion in the hind legs, approach calmly and simply jump a ONE METER fence!’ ”


Because it is so easy for her, she assumed that I should be able to understand (and do!) all these right away and all at the same time.

However, it was not only a moment of revelation for my instructor but for me, too. I grew so used to working with high school students who had seen/practiced/heard of an essay structure before I get to teach them, that instead of starting from scratch in my explanations, I actually tried to revise something that my instructor was not even familiar with. Because she was an adult, and a fluent English speaker, I assumed that what I had to teach was much simpler than what she makes me do on a horse. So, she should have understood it? Or not?

The moral: native speakers or not, we should remember, recall and reflect on our learning experiences. These memories will keep us connected with our students, will help us understand how their minds work and why some seemingly obvious things may cause a lot frustration for them.

Hello world!

Finally, it happened! I’ve set up a blog.

I’ve always been lazy with pen and paper. That we now have keyboard, doesn’t change this fact.  I am not a prolific or enthusiastic writer. I’m more in to here and now, face-to-face conversations, eye contact and body language. What’s changed? Well, I have done and thought of a number of things that will be forgotten if not organized somehow. Most of them are for and about teaching (for everything else there is  Facebook). So, blogging appears inevitable now.

I will be slowly adding content: hopefully soon, hopefully worth your attention.


Novice blogger Elena

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