6 Tips from a First Time TEFL Teacher

I started teaching English as a second language in Hanoi a few months ago. In that short time, there’s been many epiphanies and many disasters. Some things work a treat in one class and then crash and burn in another. However, I have found a few magical things that work in every class. Here’s some of my favourite teaching resources so far…

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FYI, I work in a language centre, teaching ages 2-12, so my tips are best for young students.

1. Attempt to speak the native language

I personally think that trying to speak a little bit of Vietnamese (or whatever the native language of your students is) has tonnes of advantages! Firstly, the kids usually find this hilarious because you can guarantee that you’re saying the word completely wrong. Secondly, the students will feel less embarrassed to try to pronounce words in English (since you’re already the worst in the class). Thirdly, your students will enjoy teaching you something once in a while. And finally, this can help build up a better relationship with your students and a more comfortable learning environment.

2. Use flashcards

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There are mixed feelings about flashcards amongst teachers. Some think they don’t actually teach the students the real meaning of the words, others think they are a god-send. Personally, I’m with the latter. Using something colourful and visual makes it much easier for the kids to remember the words. You can also use them for games which gives you a good idea about who understands and who is struggling.

Here’s one of my favourite games to play with flashcards:

– The ‘running’ game.
Lay 4-6 flash cards on the floor in the room and ask about 6 kids to stand in the middle. Shout out the words and get the kids to run to each word. After a few goes, the last kid who gets to the word is ‘out’. Play until there’s only one kid left and give them a star on the board for winning.

The are tonnes more games online though, just search ‘TEFL games’ and you’ll be overwhelmed with choice.

3. Get sticky balls

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These things are my best friends, they can be used for so many games! You can loop some string around them and play ‘flashcard fishing’ or write some words on the board and play ‘bulls eye’. Find your local ‘teacher street’ (yes, there will be one) and pick up a few of these bad boys, along with an over-sized, squashy dice and some magnetic letters – they are great!

4. Ask for team names

A few genuine team names I've had in my classes.
A few genuine team names I’ve had in my classes.

When I’m doing a short writing task (or as my students would say ‘a boring task’) I try my best to make it as fun as possible. I’ve tried all sorts of techniques but the most successful seems to be just making activities as competitive as possible.

I ask each team/pair to come up with their own team name. This usually gives the groups more of an incentive to win. I also give a time limit to finish the task, and regularly shout ‘2 minutes left – aaaahh!’

5. Bring stickers and prizes to lessons

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Every lesson, I either split the class into two teams or, if it’s a smaller class, I put each of their names on the board. Each team or individual gets a star for winning games, answering questions or spelling words. At the end of the lesson, they either get stickers for each of their points, or the student with the most points gets a small prize.

Prizes can be as simple as little jelly sweets (my personal favourite). I recommend having edible prizes, that way, if the students are being naughty, you can begin to eat the prizes. The kids are likely to freak out and get in line pronto!

6. Your mood is contagious

Do whatever you can to get in a good mood before your class. I always thought I was pretty good at hiding my feeling but children seem to be the most perceptive mood-guessers ever! If you come to your lesson in a bad mood then you can guarantee it rubs off on your students.

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2 thoughts on “6 Tips from a First Time TEFL Teacher

    1. Hi! The school usually provides stickers and things like that, I usually just get some sweets to hand out as prizes once in a while.
      I usually ask the teaching assistant in the class if it’s ok to hand out sweets beforehand. I won’t give them out if they’ve been naughty in the previous lesson, or one of the kids can’t have the sweets, etc.

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