Where do you direct your energy?

I was asked this question on Instagram today (obviously sending my energy into a downward spiral there!) and it got me thinking.

Where do I direct most of my energy in teaching? And is it where I can make most of a difference? If I actually stopped to think about it, my teaching time would look something like this…

30% Interacting with our intranet system– uploading results, filling in lesson plans and homework, reading messages from admin and colleagues… especially looking up homework I put online last week to show students that… I actually put the homework up last week ūüôā

20% Reading and Answering mails– to and from admin, and parents (to tell them yes, I put the homework up last week, follow this link…:)

10% Marking, a drain but must be done, TBH if I had a robot that could do it I wouldn’t let it, I do need to see for myself how my students are getting on, I just wish we didn’t need to do so many draining written tests (draining for us all:)

10% Planning– I should probably spend more time and effort, but as I usually wing something completely different in class anyway depending on how we’re all feeling or what’s going on in the world, I’m a bit loath to.

0.00001% CPD: Reading books and articles & stuff, doing action research…

Oh, and then I suppose there’s Actual Teaching, which must take up the rest.

I don’t know about you but I tend to dash into life head first, putting out (and probably causing) fires around me, I’m coming to realise that slowing down and acting with more intention would probably be more effective – in many areas of my life.

So what’s the solution? Well here are a couple of ideas I’m going to try.

Maybe you’re familiar with the Eisenhower matrix


As you can see, the idea is to separate your tasks into this grid Urgent-> Non-urgent and Important -> Non-important. It feels great to dump all your jobs onto paper and helps deliver a little clarity to what probably looks like a big mess of stuff to do.

Unfortunately I can’t delegate all the things I’d like to so I prefer this second version…


It helps me avoid putting on a wash when I’m reading an article, or clearing a cupboard when I should be marking.

I’va also decided to make use of when I have most energy during the day to block out time in my planner according to the 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the matrix. Being a bear (what on earth is Rachael talking about?) I’m more efficient in the morning, but not first thing, so that’s when I do should be doing my FOCUS tasks for example.

So that’s my plan for the next few weeks, I’ll let you know how I get on and in the meantime please share your suggestions for making time count below.

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Teaching Learning Strategies 1-How to learn vocabulary

This year I’m making a big effort to really teach strategies in depth. I’ve always felt strategies were essential in learning in general, but especially in encouraging learner autonomy and with supporting students with learning difficulties; because, as with so many things in the classroom, many of the strategies I teach are automatic for some students – but not for all, and these are the ones who really need them to succeed.

So, I thought I’d share with you how I do this.

This lesson plan and worksheet is about vocabulary, our school has a policy of learning weekly vocabulary lists, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but that’s a story for another time. I ask the students to think-pair and share all the reasons WHY learning vocabulary is important and note them on the board. I then do the same with HOW they can learn their vocab, if necessary I suggest a few to start them off. If the group needs more support I give them the accompanying worksheet at the start, rather than at the end. Then once they have a few ideas, I ask them to choose their own and as you can see on the worksheet, they write their top two or three in the box provided and then either cut it out or rewrite their top 3 reasons somewhere they can see regularly – at the front of their books, on a post-it on their desks, etc.

Please feel free to download and use the worksheet above, as you can see I’ve left it in word format so you can play about with it if you like. If you’re wondering about the think bubble – that’s where the students write the lesson number so they can file it easily in their folders, for example this is S1 – Skills lesson number 1, and goes in the SKILLS section of their folder. I tend to give quite a few worksheets to avoid students having to copy too much from the board, which means we have to rise to the challenge of organising, and not losing them!

Do let me know what ideas you’d add to the lists, and also watch this space for more strategy lesson plans – let me know what you’d like to see in this section!

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Questions to get to know your new students

  1. What’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to you?

2. What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

3. How would your biggest fan describe you?

4. And how would your worst critic describe you?

5. What’s your favourite charity?

6. Describe your role model who is NOT a member of your family.

7. If money was no object, how would you spend your life?

8. Why are you in this class?

9. What is going to be challenging for you in class this year? How are your going to deal with that challenge?

10. What support do you want from me, your teacher, in order to succeed this class?

Please add your own suggestions in the comments box!

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10 things I wish I’d known when I finished my CELTA

Today I went to chat to a brilliant group of CELTA trainees and this is what I told them…

  1. Buy shares in Google! Yes I passed my CELTA so long ago it was called a CTEFLA, and it was 5 years before Google was created!I would have been a millionaire by now!

2. We are all learners- always; reminding your students that you are also a learner, but that you’ve just been learning longer than them, will create a bond between you. Also be that learner, this is one of the careers that requires the most continual professional development, look how far we’ve come since I was taught to P-P-P and used real carbon copy to, erm carbon copy.

There are several simple ways to keep your CPD up to date; one of my favourites is going to conferences, in pre-covid days arriving at IATEFL conference or an ETAS event always reminded me of this scene:

But there are also tons of webinars and resources online. the best way however is to become member of an ELT association, I suggest your national one and IATEFL. When joining IATEFL you can choose a special interest group (SIG), here you have a choice of 16 – from literature to business, via pronunciation and technology. Faced with such a choice I obviously advise IP&SEN, because let’s face it, if you have real, life students, you will have students with learning differences. Also by promoting a more inclusive classroom, you will be supporting ALL your learners, and not just a token selection.

3. It’s OK to make mistakes, and to encourage your students to do so as well, that’s how we learn, and by being honest with your students you will develop a much better relationship with them, as well as modelling the vulnerability that makes a great learner. This means saying “I don’t know, I’ll find out” rather than “oh what a coincidence, we’re doing that in the next lesson” and then dashing off to find out the answer!

4. The lesson will never go according to plan, so…

5. If an activity isn’t working, dump it. This doesn’t mean planning two or three lessons, but do have a couple of things up your sleeve for when the beamer lets you down. Pyramid discussions are easy to set up as are, group projects on the topic at hand; create your ideal school/pub/fruit salad/English lesson.

6. We are all on the same side and have the same objective. This is particularly worth reminding teens from time to time.

7. On the subject of classroom management, the person who said “don’t smile ’til Christmas” sounds like a right numpty, I definitely wouldn’t want to work with them! For everyone’s sake – show you’re students you are happy to see them, if only because smiles are contagious and they may smile back at you!

8. Another classroom management gem; Sweat the Small Stuff. If you’ve said no chewing gum and you spot it, call it out. If you want Johnny to stop chatting then ask him politely to do so and explain why. Explain the rules, even when they’re obvious to you. This makes it clear that the reason I want you to stop talking is so that you and your neighbour can hear the instructions and therefore successfully accomplish this project, not because I’m a fascist who enjoys telling people what to do all the time.

9. Although this sounds like a contradiction to my previous point, I also believe that everybody (including you!) is allowed an off day, and quietly suggesting that Johnny appears to be having one today, would he like to just do something quietly to one side and we’ll have a chat later? is definitely easier to deal with than backing him into a corner, in fact never back anyone into a corner, even if they do cow down to you they will resent you for it for ever – and more importantly – so will the rest of the class. In fact, the better students will judge you on how you treat the most challenging elements of your class, so always give a get-out option ( e.g. you can calm down and continue the activity or do something quietly in the corner while the others finish).

10. Finally, you will never, ever, finish your work, or catch up, so Get a Life, and sure to live it, even especially when you are busy – which will be all the time. That means don’t cancel drinks with mates or your yoga session, your students will thank you for this!

What would your ten tips to the newbie you be?

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Post-Confinement Thoughts

I’ve been using the KISS method in my weekly reflections for a while now, both professionally and personally, sounds exciting doesn’t it?!

Actually it stand for Keep, Improve, Start, and Stop.

Our school term has finished, and although I’m teaching summer camp (another rash, mad but brilliant decision that will merit it’s own rambling post soon enough I should imagine!) it’s time for a little reflection.


Personal Wellbeing: Not everything about confinement was awful, in fact on a personal level I really appreciated the extra time I got in the mornings, our school started at 9am, rather than 8:15, and then on top of that of course was the non- 45 minute commute. This meant I had time to run before work, and do yoga afterwards. I’d love to find a way to keep doing more of these activities, which kept me fit, calm, sane, and helped me sleep well.

Tailor-made lessons: It soon became clear that what had become my “default-when-overworked” way of following the textbook and adding a few well-tested activities, was not going to work on zoom or in the aftermath (see here). This was actually a brilliant opportunity in disguise to get back to one of my favourite things about teaching, thinking about the various students in my classes and producing material specifically for them. It was motivating, gave me a buzz, moreover the students loved it and produced some truly magnificent work, for example a group of 11 year olds I’ve been teaching since December did some amazing space projects.

Films & Plays: for myself but also my students, I’ve been enjoying the chance to watch Shakespeare plays from the Globe theatre, and a variety, including a brilliant “Streetcar named Desire” from the National theatre. Although the free streaming may not continue in is certainly an investment to consider, especially if you teach literature.

Short films: such as this one are a brilliant way of presenting both language and grammar, in this case comparisons. They really get the students’ attention and work well both on zoom, and in socially-distanced classrooms too.


Organisation: I’ve never exactly been known for my organisational skills and confinement teaching pushed that to the limit, on our first day of online teaching I received 150 messages, and that was before lunch – from both parents and students. I regularly received around a hundred mails all containing myhomework.doc and quickly realised I needed to set up some system(s). Once I sorted out my folders on my pc I realised if I wanted to keep enough space to download a film or two ( see KEEP!) I needed to upload stuff into the cloud, enter Evernote .

Before I could never remember where I’d stored certain activities, you know, the ones that don’t particularly fit just one class, one grammar point, etc. Now I just upload everything, including photos, weblinks, anything. What I particularly appreciate is the #hashtags, my problem before was not remembering the title I gave any particular doc and therefore spending hours searching my files, now I just bung a couple of hashtag searches into evernote, #teens #fun #video #presentperfect, etc. and up comes my painstakingly prepared activity of a couple of years ago.

Talking of which, while clearing out my cellar during my holidays I found a ton of stuff, including flash cards I made just after my CTEFLA in 1993!! And yes, I’m using them in summer camp with primary students!

Relationships with students: Online teaching made it really obvious who wanted someone to reach out to and talk to, I even had students turn up to a voluntary “teatime chat” zoom after school. We all got to know each other better and I’d like to keep this up.


Checking my bags before I leave in the morning! Yes, organisation again, but honestly, the amount of times I’ve spent the weekend preparing a ton of wonderful stuff the dashed out of the house on Monday morning, leaving it all on my study desk!

Listening to, using and sharing podcasts: During my extended lunch hour and morning runs I started listening to a ton of new podcasts, Something rhymes with purple is a brilliant podcast about the meaning and origin of words – probably more interesting for teachers or very high level students. The Compass is a great podcast by the BBC on a load of interesting topics and the presenter speaks slowly and clearly enough to use in class.

Blogging regularly again: Although I don’t always have the time I really enjoy sharing my thoughts and ideas, for a while I was worried that either no-one cared, or worse, that they realised I was talking a load of old tosh! But now I’ve decided I don’t care, I’ve been reading back on my reflective posts which started when I did my Master’s TESOL and I find them useful and interesting to look back on, so that’s at least one of us!


Saying yes to everything: Lockdown was the prefect opportunity to slow down, in nearly all aspects of my life (except teaching perhaps!). I’d like to take that with me.

FOMO: I was perfectly content to sit in my garden reading, or run with the dogs in the woods, again I see no reason to dash back to a rush of activities!

What about you, I’d love to hear your “kiss”!

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Social Distanced teaching

I wrote recently about the challenges of post-confinement teaching and promised you some ideas. They’ve taken a while coming, things haven’t been easy, as you’ve probably guessed; no handouts, no group or pair work (without students yelling at each other across 1.5 metres), no taking work in… Anyway, here are a few things we’ve enjoyed in class recently;

Stand Up!

With students stuck at their desks, not being allowed to move around the classroom, come to the board, or even leave the room between every class (we do let them out occasionally though!) thank heavens they can at least stand up by their desks! So “Heads & Shoulders” for the primary, we’re looking at the body aptly enough, but no more “touch your nose” – it’s definitely point to but DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE! For older students this has been stand up if the phrase on the board is correct, stand up for your beliefs – put a few controversial statements on the board & have a class debate, or even occasionally stand up & do a few jumping jacks, just to wake you all up between lessons, activities etc.

Thumbs Up! (or down)

As I can no longer go around the class looking over students shoulders and checking their work, I’ve pondered on how to work out if they’ve “got it” or not. I realised about a decade ago that “does everyone understand?” doesn’t work ( I still use it daily though!). So everyone has drawn something vaguely representing a thumb on a piece of paper that they keep on their desks, and occasionally I ask for a show of thumbs, do you get the exercise? Do you agree? Shall I explain again? By all facing forward (or putting the thumb pictures in front of their faces) we have kept some kind of anonymat which makes students more willing to communicate their difficulties. Can also be used with teens who won’t leave their chair for debates etc.


As lessons have become more teacher/board/whole class orientated I’ve been using short films (just google youtube short films). There are loads of brilliant ones from CGI or Pixar. Also useful when half the class has lost their books at the end of term and you can’t photocopy or let them share!

Kahoot & Quizzes

As we’re heading to the end of the school year it would be revision season, whatever was happening outside in the real world. The forced retirement of the photocopier has meant me preparing quizzes on Kahoot, etc. This is more time-consuming but hey, I’ll have them for next year. When really pushed for time I ask each student to write 5 questions on a unit which they then ask aloud to the rest of the class.

Fast Finishers

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about those students who finish an activity seconds after you’ve successfully given the instructions to the last student, as I’ve mentioned before I have¬† had¬† a box of lovely activities on my desk that my FF would come and choose from, in the old days that is. Now I have to do it myself. Photocopy or print a few pages from here – blatant plug for book!¬†or here if you fancy a freebie!¬†and then put them out face down on your desk, asking a student to choose which one you should pick up. Giving them the power of choosing makes all the difference, and you can always give them a couple of shots. Then write the activities on one side of the board for the FF to be getting on with while the rest of the class actually gets a chance to complete an activity.


Ponders can be used in the same way, just write one up in the corner of the board and let your fast finishers have a think on it while waiting for the others to finish.

Whatsapp, airdrop etc.

Yes, we’re actually still using these apps in the classroom, I’ve even opened a zoom meeting & put groups into break out rooms so they can write to each other in the chatbox in the classroom! It’s a good way to bring group work into a socially distanced classroom, & works well with dictoglosses and group writing activities.

The same can be said for google classroom etc. I’m still sending students worksheets & explanations via google classroom or our intranet system which they can print or look at on their devices at home or in class, it’s saving a ton of paper, students can change the font and size as they wish, and bags are a lot lighter – as we’ve said with many aspects of confinement, some things will be worth keeping in the longterm.

Please share and add to these ideas, and especially please be kind to yourselves, it’s a whole new way of teaching and we’re all newbies here!

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Post-confinement teaching

I don’t know about you but being plunged into the world of online teaching felt like learning a whole new job and set of skills overnight. I felt like a complete novice teacher again, and in fact I was. I had to learn from scratch what worked and what didn’t, I watched webinars, read articles, and as always – learnt from experience.¬†It was a challenge, but after two months I’d finally developed a new skill set and was enjoying my zoom lessons as much as my students.

Then something even more challenging happened – we went back to school.

In Geneva schools opened again on 11th May, under strict sanitary guidelines and I found myself teaching half the class at a time (which was often the case because our school has always split at least two thirds of the language class hours anyway), so far so good you may say.

Yes, it was lovely to see everyone again, to have face-to-face (or mask to mask!) contact, to see my colleagues, for students who had weak internet connection to finally join in, to no longer have to spend my evenings scanning chapters for those who’d left their books at school.

However, the new rules mean the teachers must wear a mask when moving around the school. When the students have entered a classroom, we have all disinfected our hands and they have sat in their new socially distanced places then I can remove my mask if I stay standing at the front of the class, at least two metres away from the students. Some classrooms even have plastic screens I can sit behind.

I cannot give worksheets, cards, games, anything in fact to my students. I cannot take in their work, I cannot move around the classroom checking their work, or making suggestions. Students cannot work in pairs, share documents or materials, they cannot work in groups. I cannot move from in front of the whiteboard. A student who has forgotten his/her book cannot share with a neighbour, students no longer have neighbours! The French education ministry has officially declared that results from this period (how was I supposed to mark their work anyway??) are not to be taken into account, and certain students have quickly realised what this entails. However new rules mean we cannot remove a student from the classroom ¬†if their behaviour disturbs the lesson, there are no longer detentions or written sanctions in case of misbehaviour, students who would whisper to their classmates before now need to call out in order to be heard…

My first thoughts when trying to prepare my post-confinement classes were about all the things we cannot do, and I’ll admit that a few of my lessons felt like I’d gone back in time a hundred years or so, me writing on the board and the students copying it ( with me having no idea whether what they were copying was correct or not!).

This is NOT the kind of “teaching” I want in my classroom, it’s soul destroying and boring, I’m continually trying to make my lessons more inclusive; avoiding my students having to copy from the board, giving time for everyone to discretely ask for help if they need it, leaving a box of fast-finisher activities at the front of the class or students to delve into and find a fun activity to be getting on with while the others finish, plenty of “think-share-pair”…

Now we’re down to just “think-“.

So think is what I’ve been doing and I’ll be sharing any ideas I come up with over the next week or so. In the meantime, please share yours below.


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Working from home – like Mr D, quick lesson based on Roald Dahl’s writing shed


Look carefully, describe in detail, would you like to work here? What do you think could/might/should/must be on the desk? Who do you think would work in a place like this? (Your English teacher?!) Would you like to?

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Create a netflix series

What I love about this lesson is that students can really go to town on their strengths, music, designing posters, character study, etc. I often use it at the end of a chapter to bring in everything they’ve learnt, for example this week a class will be preparing a series set in Australia, including at least four animals and I want a superlative in the title/by line.


  1. Decide on and describe the location(s)
  2. Decide and describe the main characters
  3. Explain the main plot, what happens during the series? What problems do the characters face?
  4. Plan and act out the opening scene
  5. Plan the trailer ‚Äď what is the title and by line of your series
  6. Design the poster
  7. Find the signature music
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What is the difference between travel & tourism? – A TED talk comprehension activity


I was looking through some TED talks today, which I often do when I want some inspiration (for life as well as class!) and came across this brilliant guy who travelled from Washington D.C. to Antarctica.

I thought I’d share the comprehension questions (with answers!) for you in cas you’re interested, I’ve left it in simple word format so you can play about with it!


Open RoadTEDtalkquestions

Open RoadTEDtalkquestionsOpen RoadTEDtalkanswers

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