Six suggestions for teachers on getting through the economic crisis

Breaking the bank from morguefile.comTimes are tough. With all the talk of crisis, recession, depression and so on teachers may find themselves short of regular hours. Salaries may be frozen, or groups at the school where you work may be closed due to lack of students. Here are six suggestions on surviving the crisis with the skills you have already. They aren’t “get rich” schemes I’m afraid, but they may be of some help.  

1. Get some private students. Start putting the word out that you’re looking for private students. Make posters and leave them in sports centres, bakeries, on community notice boards, near schools etc. Make these snappy, not just “Teacher offering English classes”. Think more along these lines: “In these hard times, make yourself more employable – improve your language skills”. If you have existing privates, offer them a discount if they bring a friend or find you another client.

2. Get some premium private students. By this I mean private students with more money. Get yourself some smart-looking business cards and make appointments with businesses in the area. Better yet, make a brochure outlining different courses you could give (e.g. English for receptionists/Executive 1 to 1 classes). Depending on the size of the business you’ll need to contact the human resources person. Be persistent and look the part when approaching these people (i.e. dress smart). The other avenue is to find out where the private schools are and offer to do an extra curricular English course for their students. You may need to get your working papers in order and become properly self-employed. Charge premium prices too – you will be taken more seriously if you do. 

3. Offer your services as a translator. For this you obviously need to know another language, but there is often some extra money to be made doing translations. Warning: this can become mind-numbingly boring work, depending on what you have to translate. A colleague of mine translated a technical manual on refrigerator doors and almost threw himself off a roof in the process.

4. Offer your services as a proof reader. Lots of people need to have their English proofread, and with all your experience correcting students’ writing you are in an excellent position to do this more professionally. Again, make up a card or brochure stating your services and leave it at businesses, local government tourist offices, shops and universities (I once had a profitable little side venture proofreading university students’ abstracts for publication in English journals)

5. Write materials. Get in touch with local offices of ELT publishers and ask to speak to a commissioning editor. It’s easier sometimes to find these people at conferences actually. Tell them you’d be interested in writing materials and offer to do a sample. Be persistent but realistic: few get published and very few get rich off it. But every little bit helps. I’ve written more about how to get into writing here by the way.  

6. Get right out of teaching. The cold, hard truth is teachers don’t make that much money. You already know this. For some, language teaching is a stop on the way to something else. Problem is, that “something else” might be a little less easy to find in these troubled times. However, you’re in touch with a lot of people (your adoring students!) and you’ve got contacts – even more so if you’ve been teaching in businesses. There’s no harm in putting out feelers if you’re getting fed up with teaching. 

Right, these are my six suggestions for extra cash. Does anyone else know of good wheezes for teachers to make an extra buck (or euro or whatever)?

Published in: | on January 2nd, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Six books to look out for in 2009

booksbyphotodaisyHere I’m talking about books connected to language teaching, NOT the new (non Harry Potter) J.K.Rowling book or anything like that. But here are six recently published or soon to-be  published books in the field of ELT that are worth keeping your eyes peeled for in 2009. You’ll be hearing more from these people, some of whom are quite established in the field of language teacher books and others who are new up-and-comers.

1. Images by Jamie Keddie and Working with Images by Ben Goldstein . Right, I know I said six but since these books are on the same topic I’m squeezing them in together. Both look very promising, as current technology enables us as teachers to find and use images unlike ever before. And both books come with images too  to use with the suggested activities (in the CUP book, a CDROM packed full of images), making them a very attractive package. Ben Goldstein is a well known author in several countries for his coursebook series Framework (Richmond Publishing). Jamie Keddie is a newcomer to the book scene but has already established a name for himself on the net – he is behind the award-nominated site Look out for both these guys at a conference near you, their talks are bound to be interesting! These books will be out in the spring of 2009.

2. How to Teach Listening by JJ Wilson Pearson Longman. JJ Wilson is another relative newcomer to the ELT book scene, but has made a splash with this book which won a Highly Commended award from the English Speaking Union. It’s the latest addition to the popular How To… series and also comes with a CD with extra material. I have never seen Wilson at a conference but will jump at the chance to see him speak… he is apparently one of the best. This book came out in 2008 I think but still makes it onto this list because it’s new and notable.

3. Drama and Improvisation, by Ken Wilson. One could hardly say that Ken Wilson is a newcomer to the world of ELT writing; I dunno how many books he’s written but it’s a lot. However, this is (I believe) the first handbook for teachers by Ken. I personally love drama activities and improv stuff. Ken Wilson was one of the founders of the English Theatre Company and toured the world doing sketches and plays for students for years. His workshops always have an interesting drama-like activity in them and they are hugely fun and inspiring. Safe to say that Ken is an authority on this,  and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book which came out late 2008.

4. Teaching Unplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury Delta Publishing. Books by Scott Thornbury are a bit like seasons of your favourite television show (in my case, Lost or Dexter currently). There’s one every year and it’s always good. This book promises to make waves. It’s about Dogme ELT, the “movement” Thornbury and co-writer Luke Meddings founded almost nine years ago. Many people have interpreted Dogme ELT as an “anti-” movement: anti-material, anti-coursebook, anti-technology. In this book the authors put their money where their mouth is and set forth what “teaching unplugged” IS as opposed to what it isn’t. Agree or disagree, you can’t ignore it. This book is part of a new series from small publisher Delta, who have done good stuff in the past – ahem, like one of my books ;-) . Out in Spring 2009.

5. The Developing Teacher by Duncan Foord. Another book in the new Delta series, this one is by another relative newcomer to ELT publishing. This looks interesting as it is the only book (to my knowledge) that treats professional development in a practical and accessible way, through more than 75 activities. Certainly a must for teacher trainers and directors of studies, I think this book will make a good purchase for any teacher who wants to better themselves and get ahead. It will also be out in Spring 2009.

6. Uncovering EAP by Sam McCarter and Phil Jakes. OK, I know very little about EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and I’ve not heard of McCarter or Jakes but the “uncovering” books in the Macmillan books for teachers series have always been very good. I expect this will be the same, and I’m going to get a hold of a copy to find out more about EAP anyway. This book should be out now, but will be on Macmillan stands everywhere in 2009. Keep an eye out for it.

And guess what? I haven’t written any of these books so you know this isn’t just a thinly disguised attempt at self-promotion! However, I was the series editor for two of the books on the list but I’m not saying which ones - you will have to find out for yourself.

Incidentally, if any of the authors of these books stumble across this post (err, perhaps when Google searching yourselves?) feel free to leave a comment and tell us more! And if you happen to read or own a copy, let me know what it’s like!

Published in: | on December 29th, 2008 | 11 Comments »

Six great quotes about teaching

QuoteThis time, I won’t comment on my list – I think these quotes about teaching stand well on their own. And I have NOT included that “I hear and I forget…etc etc” Chinese quote about teaching. It’s used far too much, please stop it!

1. “To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler – and less trouble.” Mark Twain

2. “A poor surgeon hurts one person at a time. A poor teacher hurts thirty.” Ernest Boyer

3. “Of course, behaviorism works. So does torture. Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth behaviorist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances, and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public.”  W.H. Auden

4 To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching. George Bernard Shaw.

I don’t know the sources of the last two, but I really like them. I’ve included a horribly cynical one and an inspirational one to finish.

5. “Teachers are people who used to like children.”

6. “Teaching is the profession that creates all the others.”

One activity I like to do with quotes like these (not necessarily quotes about teaching, but quotes in general) is to give a class half of the quotes. Students then work in pairs to finish them however they fancy. We go through their quotes, and then go through the originals. This kind of thing would work well with quotes 2,4,5 and 6 above for example. In fact, if you’ve been to a workshop of mine you may have done this activity! Anyway, it’s a great five-minute filler or finisher.

Published in: | on December 27th, 2008 | 9 Comments »

Six wildly popular lists in English Language Teaching

list2Yes, by this time you’ve figured out that this site is all about lists. However, I’m far from the first or last person to be interested in lists. And there are quite a few lists in English Language Teaching (not as many as there are acronyms but still…). Here are six “wildly popular” lists, that you just can’t afford to ignore :-)

1. Irregular verb list – the daddy of all lists. This is the list of choice to fill the last page of a coursebook, put on a classroom wall, go on a school promotional bookmark etc. etc. It’s also the list that no student can escape. I have long sought a secret “way” to teach this list to students without them having to memorise it. Can’t find one though.

2. Multiple Intelligence list - The idea that there are seven, or eight (or more, this list keeps getting longer) “intelligences” was proposed by Howard Gardner over twenty years ago but it still keeps popping up at conferences as if it’s the newest thing. The original seven “intelligences” proposed were (I believe) logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, visual/spatial, linguistic. interpersonal and intrapersonal. This list tends to be very popular with teachers looking to change their teaching style.

3. Krashen 5 Hypotheses - a theoretical list, these are the five hypotheses proposed by Stephen Krashen in the early 1980s on how people acquire a second language. They are: the natural order hypothesis, the acquisition/learning hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the input (or input +1) hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis. I don’t have space to explain them, but Vivian Cook has a nice resume here. These hypotheses have been contested, but the list remains popular especially on MA and Diploma courses.

4. Eight word classes – This is a language list, the main classes that a word can fall into. They are noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, determiner, conjunction and pronoun. The sad truth is that many language teachers (native English novice teachers especially) would be a bit hard pressed to identify whether or not a word belongs to one class or another.

5. Common European Framework of levels – A1, A2 etc. This list has become the bane of many large institutions as they switch their system of classes, levels and exams to attempt to reflect the descriptors and levels outlined in the Common European Framework. For those wishing a cure for insomnia, you can read the whole list here.

6. Frequency Lists.  Since the arrival of large corpora, the idea of frequency of words, longer lexical items or grammatical items has gained more and more importance. It’s used in dictionaries and grammar books and to a lesser extent in coursebooks. The top six keywords, according to one source, are the, of, and, to, a, in. I personally think this kind of list is more useful for those who make teaching and reference materials than teachers in their day-to-day work but I may be wrong. This list, and its implications,  is popular at conferences.

Are there any lists you would add?

Published in: | on December 22nd, 2008 | 6 Comments »

Six uses of "OK"

www.morguefile.comThe first of my language lists – here are six uses for the most common discourse marker in English – OK. Examples provided relate to a fictitious Christmas day dinner.

1. To show you agree with someone. “Shall we open some more wine?”  ”Ok.”

2. To ask or check if someone agrees with you. “I’ll bring in the next course, ok?” “OK!”

3. To indicate that you are changing the subject or starting a new topic. “Is everyone listening? OK, I just wanted to say how nice it is to see you again. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve been home for Christmas blah blah…”

4. To say that something is satisfactory. “Is the turkey ok? Not too dry, I mean.”

5. To say that something is suitable. “The doctor said it was ok for me to have a drink this Christmas, so yes please I’ll have a single malt.”

6. To close a conversation. “OK. I should really… I should really be getting to bed. Thanks for the dinner, it was fantashtic…”

Can anyone else think of other typical examples to illustrate these uses? Post a comment!

Published in: | on December 20th, 2008 | 9 Comments »


For the last days of class in 2008, or the first in 2009, bringing in a current news buzz is an attractive option. The latest one would have to be the story of the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W Bush during a press conference. Here are six ways you could use this story in an English class.

1.  Use it to teach shoe vocabulary (heel, laces, shoe, trainer/sneaker, boot, leather, rubber, sole etc). Design a questionnaire about shoes for students to ask and answer. Relatively uncontroversial.

2. Use it as part of a Bush Legacy Quiz and do this nearer his last day in office (January 20). Include questions about world events of the past eight years connected to Bush, the people near him etc. Start with the Wikipedia entry on Bush, but I also like this article. For practical tips on exactly how to make the questions for this quiz, I’ve written about this here. Could get controversial.

 3. A video class. Show one of the many videos or joke videos or websites about this news item. A bit controversial.

4. Do it as a reading class. Take the text of the story from any of the major news sites (here’s the one from Reuters) and make some exercises to go with it. Relatively uncontroversial.

5. Include it in a discussion class on crimes and suitable punishments. Prepare a list of crimes and ask students to suggest punishments for them. Include “throwing a shoe at a head of state” in your “crimes”. Controversial, depending on what other crimes you choose.

6. Make it into a writing class. Divide the class into three groups. Group A writes a diary entry for that day from the point of view of the Iraqi journalist. Group B writes a diary entry from the point of view of George W Bush. And Group C writes a diary entry from the point of view of the shoe. Uncontroversial, but could get ridiculously funny.

note: the photo for the shoe, and all the stock photos on this site, come from a free photo sharing service

Six famous writers who used to be language teachers

glasses_and_bookAre you a language teacher who’s secretly a great writer “in the wings”? Feel you’ve got a great novel in you just waiting to come out? Take heart, the following six people were just like you!

1. J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien taught English Language at the University of Leeds.

2.  James Joyce. Author of Ulysses and The Dubliners. Joyce taught English for a Berlitz school in Austria-Hungary.

3. Aldous Huxley. Author of Brave New World. Taught French at the elite public school Eton, where Eric Blair (George Orwell) was one of his students.

4. .J.K. Rowling. Author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling worked as an EFL teacher in a private language school in Portugal while writing the first Harry Potter book.

5. Frank McCourt. Author of Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis and Teacher Man. McCourt taught English literature at a high school in New York.

6. Nick Hornby. Author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch. Hornby worked as an EFL teacher  in London (and I have a colleague, Duncan Foord, who worked with him!)

Does anyone else know other famous authors who taught English while trying to make ends meet? Post a comment and share!

Published in: | on December 17th, 2008 | 16 Comments »

Six gifts for the language teacher

giftWith the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share six gift ideas for the language teacher. Not sure what to ask for for Christmas? Need to buy something for a fellow teacher? See below.

1) Cool stationery. Things always go missing at school, and what teacher doesn’t like having a fresh set of whiteboard markers, pens and notepaper? Or how about a nicely bound notebook, some colourful post-it notes, some blu tack or a new folder. Or a memory stick to store work on. Price range: CHEAP.

2) A subscription to an English newspaper or magazine. This could be something like the Guardian Weekly, a favourite with lots of teachers, or the Guardian Monthly magazine. It could be a subscription to Time or Newsweek, always useful for planning classes around current news topics. Or it could be a subscription to a teaching magazine or journal, like English Teaching Professional or ELTJ. Price range: MID.

3) Mini speakers for an iPod or MP3 player. More and more teachers have MP3 players, and it’s just too much work to copy a favourite song or podcast to a CD to play on the class CD player. A set of travel speakers, loud enough to be heard in your class, and you’re sorted! Price range: MID to EXPENSIVE.

4) Something to read on the commute (or multiple commutes if you’re a business teacher) to class. Tastes will vary, but the following novels and books deal with language or teaching and are, in my opinion, good choices. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Loversby Xiaolu Gu, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, The Language Teacher’s Diaryby Joaquim Appel or anything by David Crystal in the paperback section. Price range: CHEAP.

5) A resource of teaching ideas and interesting stuff… something like The Language Teacher’s Survival Guide? Ok, so that’s a blatant plug but it is cheap and it’s only ONE of the six things! Price range: CHEAP 

6) Money. Language teachers don’t make a lot, and in these tough economic times we can always use more! Of course, it doesn’t have to be cold hard cash. Gift certificates for Amazon, iTunes or some other online shopping would probably be just as welcome.

Right. Those are my six. Any one else have good ideas?

Published in: | on December 15th, 2008 | 9 Comments »

What is Six Things?


Welcome! Six Things is a collection of miscellany from the world of English Language Teaching.

Check out the Recent Posts on the sidebar, or the menu a little further down for lists by category. Have fun, and please leave a comment if something interests you!

To find out more, click on Who’s Behind this Blog, or read the post Six Rules of this Blog.

Published in: | on December 13th, 2008 | Comments Off

Six Rules of this Blog

OK, I have decided to join the blogosphere. Many people have suggested I do so, and I know several other bloggers in English Language Teaching. So, since I enjoy writing I thought why not? However, I’ve made myself some rules. There are, of course, six of them.

1) This blog will deal with all things relating to English Language Teaching. That means anything that catches my fancy in this field!

2) While this is, in essence, a miscellany of ELT I want to make a good amount of it practical teaching ideas. I want there to be something useful to take away from the site, at least from time to time.

3) I will also use this site to post information about teaching English in the different countries I visit. I will collect this information from the teachers I meet there and my own impressions.

4) There will always be a list of six things in each post. That’s my goal.

5) I will try and update at least once a week (I originally thought once a month, but that’s too little!). More if possible.

6) I will try and keep the entries short! I don’t want people to have to scroll down loads to get the goods.

Phew! That’s my first post. We’ll see how it goes!

Published in: | on December 13th, 2008 | 10 Comments »