All posts tagged “vocational

Scary Stories for Beginners

So my vocational school students failed to be able to retell the scary stories that I gave them as part of my Halloween Lesson Plan. They could read them and grasp the main ideas ok, but they didn’t have the English necessary to retell them in English. They were also wary to reenact them, which I thought they would think was fun. One girl said she had never studied acting so she was nervous. I gave them a demo, but they weren’t biting.

So I ended up having them retell them in Russian, emphasizing that they shouldn’t just translate, but retell them.That went ok. We then discussed which one was the scariest and which ones they thought were real or realistic (Incidentally, the Ghost Hitchhiker one was voted most scary but the only one they felt wasn’t real, which was interesting since usually most people find realistic stories most scary in my experience).

So for my next class of beginners, I made a little cartoon on
The Ghost Hitchhiker

My plan is to have them illustrate another story. Hopefully that will be less intimidating for them than acting (I plan to tell them that stick figures are ok) and avoid translating by making connections between words and pictures/scenes.

UPDATE: In response to the failure of my students to retell these stories, I’ve devised a genre-approach lesson with a Halloween theme. Students analyze the key features of an original scary story and then create their own according to those features they’ve identified as most important for scary stories.

Don’t Underestimate Beginners

I haven’t posted my lesson plans for my beginners recently primarily because I’ve been too busy putting together the plans and then adjusting them as I get used to how long things take and what they need to know. But I have learned two lessons I thought were valuable. One has to do with underestimating their language level and the other has to do with underestimating their enthusiasm.

I tried out Pancakes at 8 in the evening with my beginners. We’d been doing routines and daily activities so it fit in well and I wanted to see how they could handle a fairly long reading. I had my doubts. There are no raccoons in Kazakhstan. Nocturnal is a hard word. There are lots of new words: shiny, silly, garbage. The story is sort of silly so learners trying to use logic to figure out the meaning might run into problems. But I figured I’d give it to them and see what happened, knowing I could summarize it for them or focus them only on the bits about daily activities (which we’d already covered).

In fact they did find those words hard. I had to introduce raccoon to them and nocturnal. But since they’d never seen a raccoon before, they were fascinated to learn about them. So my intro ended up being 10-15 minutes long in mixed Russian and English. That made them actually excited to read the text and get the meaning. And they had pretty good guessing skills. And they knew a few words like strange and tail, which I wouldn’t have guessed they’d know.

So lesson #1: never underestimate the level of your students to cope with texts a bit above their level. i+1 might actually work (at least in a text and given time to puzzle over the words). The proof of this is that they have been asking me for more complicated sentences and examples even when I am trying to illustrate something like present simple. And they could parse complex subject, double verb sentences quite well.

Lesson #2 is that even though as a teacher I want to make the class fun and communicative and shun away from traditional rote learning, I’ve found my students sometimes need a lot of repetition. And they don’t get bored with it. I did one hour of transforming sentences in present simple from positive first person to positive third person (add an -s), to negative (do/does) to questions (do you/does he). They loved it. I thought we’d do it for 20 minutes max but they needed more practice, it was a great chance to review vocab by inserting it into the sentences, and frankly there was improvement in their ability to use present simple sentences. At 40 minutes they were ok, but at the one hour mark, they were good and did a free-writing exercise with no mistakes.

Now the next lesson we’ll see what mistakes have crept in, but I am learning not to underestimate the attention span of my students or their need for repetition.

Tips for Teaching Long Classes

I’ve gotten some great tips from English Companion Ning and also some fellow teachers on how to teach 3-hour-long classes. Some of the ideas I am implementing include:

  • Journal Writing Time at the beginning of class
  • Silent Reading (will test their reading ability today or next class and see how much they can handle)
  • Transitions Between Tasks maybe with a little wrap-up of what we learned or common mistakes or a short 5 minute activity like a guessing game or a jazz chant or something!
  • Lots and lots of pair and group work so they have more interaction time and less teacher-talk time
  • Structuring It As Three 1-hour Classes instead of one 3-hour class. Trying to keep to one theme per class, because their level is low and I want them to have repetition, but I’m thinking of doing one hour on learning new vocab words and practicing, one hour on some grammar point related to that vocab (possessive pronouns, the verb ‘to be’, prepositions, etc..) and one hour on related words or some other related area. And within each hour there will be Presentation, Practice and Production.

Any other advice?

Present Simple and Everyday Routines

I designed this lesson plan based on the fairly standard one of teaching present simple, every day activities and adverbs of frequency. I tried to keep in mind Kalinago English‘s critique that this can lead to inauthentic sentences (How often do you take a shower? Sometimes-who talks like that?). I made this lesson for my high-school age beginners and while I just wrote a post defending explanations and translations in class, I also felt that it was important for them to slip some things by them without teaching them them deliberately. I wanted to see if we could jump to authentic communication without having to go into too many confusing explanations of grammar.


  • To teach/review/elicit Present Simple in sentences
  • To teach verbs of every day activities
  • To teach/review adverbs of frequency: always, often, usually, sometimes, never


  • Flash cards with pictures of everyday activities such as: ESL Flash Cards

Warm Up

Try a few questions out on them to see how their vocabulary is. Ask a few students, “When do you wake up?” “When do you leave for school?” “When do you have dinner?” See how that goes and get a feel for what they know and what they don’t know.

Vocabulary of Every Day Activities

Put up a list of some things we do every day (wake up, get up, make breakfast, brush my teeth, shave, have a shower, make dinner, go to work, etc.) and a few sometimes activities (wash the clothes, watch TV, go for a walk, etc.). Now narrated your usual routine, adding in times and words like “often” or “usually”, as well as some commentary just to make it a little authentic. Make sure you emphasize the vocabulary words when you say them. You can even point at each word on the board as you use it. I say something like this:

I wake up at 8 o’clock. Usually I get up then and go to the bathroom. There I brush my teeth and usually I shave, but not always; I hate to shave. I make breakfast. Sometimes my wife makes breakfast, and I go to work at 9am…..

Now field questions they might have.

After that, hand out each student a picture card or two, Go over the vocabulary on the board one by one. Say the word, and ask which student has a card with a picture of that word on it. Have the student come up and tape it next to the word for a little TPR and a little analyzing of pictures.

If they seem to have the vocab down, ask them to break into pairs and tell each other their daily routine. Bring the class back together and ask them some more questions, “What time do you wake up, Azamat?” “What time do you have lunch, Irina?” and so on. Or if you want to really test them, ask the students’ partners, “What time does Irinia wake up, Azamat?” When you feel they are comfortable you can move on to “How Often”.

How Often

Put a model question on the board: “How often do you watch TV? (Note: I often underline the parts of model sentences that I want the students to manipulate or change. That way they can clearly see the base structure and also they know where they have to think). Then write down the adverbs of frequency, “usually, often, sometimes” as well as expressions like every day/month/year”.

Ask a few students individually, “how often do you talk on the phone?”, “how often do you wash the dishes?” Make sure they are giving good answers and that they sound authentic. Add any vocabulary onto the board that they ask for. When I did this, students immediately wanted to know how to say, “Once a week” for example. Now tell them to look at their picture cards and ask their partner how often they do the things in the picture.


For homework, have them write out their daily routines. Make sure they have the vocab down and also that they can write times and use the preposition “at”.

The next class before they hand the homework in, you can have them work in pairs or small groups. Tell them to take out the homework and then in their groups find 3 things in common (we both wake up at 7am, we both make dinner at 8pm) and three differences (I have dinner at 8:30 but she has dinner at 8pm).

As a follow-up you could have them find a free time when they can meet by asking each other, “Are you free at 3 o’clock?” “No, I have lunch at 3 o’clock.”

Note that this doesn’t work well if the students all have almost the exact same schedule because they may not have to even ask a question. When I did this, they all said, “But we all have our break at 4pm. So we can meet then.”


Teaching beginners, I am seeing the value of using flashcards. Yesterday at the vocational school I had a pretty good activity where I gave them pictures of jobs, names of jobs, pictures of instruments that go with those jobs and the names. They had to match everything up themselves (More detail and the cards themselves here). It went great. They worked hard and enjoyed it. Need to review that vocab obviously, but I think they got a lot of it. One of the funnier bits was that a lot of people read, “Hammer” as “Hummer”. So they matched the word “Hammer” to the taxi driver. I asked them which taxi drivers drive Hummers! But they got it quickly.

I am definitely going to do more group and pairwork with flashcards and I just wanted to share two good sites I found that have great premade flashcards: ESL Flash Cards and my perennial favorite Bogglesworld ESL.

Hope you like them as much as I do. If you have any other sites, please let me know. Or any good ideas for using flashcards.

Jobs and Families

This lesson plan was designed for high-school beginners as an early lesson to test their level and give them a basic framework for communication. The topic today was jobs and also family words.


  • To teach the names of different jobs and professions
  • To teach family words: mother, father, uncle, niece
  • To practice the question, “Who is Bob?”, “Who is your uncle?”


  • Jobs Flashcards
  • a blank chart of your family tree, preferably 3 generations
  • Cards with the names of your family to fit into the family tree
  • Extra cards with a few more family members, that have the name on one side and the relationship to someone else on the other

Jobs Vocabulary

Print out the Jobs Flashcards with names of jobs, pictures of jobs, names of one tool that goes with that job, and a picture of that tool. Hand out the full set of cards to students in pairs or small groups, mixed up. Their job is to match the word with the picture and the tool with the job. So if there’s a picture of a baker, they have to match it with the word “baker”. Then they have to match the word “oven” with the picture of the “oven”. Finally they have to match “baker” with “oven”.

Once they feel they have matched them up as best they can, go over all of them. I like to do this by calling out a word and having them show me the picture, or showing them the picture and the students call out the word.

For more practice, have make two separate piles of the word cards and the picture cards. Student A picks up a word card and Student B picks up a picture card and they decide if they match or not. If so, they take the pair out of the deck. If not, they have to name the picture card, put both cards back in their respective decks and repeat until they have matched up all the words.

Alternate procedure: Student A picks up a picture card and Student B names it and/or looks for the correct word card.

Finally, we’ll elicit some other jobs and tools that they know. If it seems like they can handle it, you can do simple sentences such as “A hairdresser cuts hair.” “A builder builds buildings.”


To segue into family, put up a sample sentence: “My father is an accountant.” Check the meaning of accountant. Then ask a few of them, “What does your father do?” “What does your mother do?”, to make sure they know the words for mother, father, sister, brother. Note that this is a good chance to teach, “What do you do?” meaning “What is your job?” Also, this is a good way to find out more about your students and what jobs they might need to know.

Then we can move into the Family Tree lesson by Jan Dormer. Prepare a chart of your family tree but make sure all the spaces are blank. Also prepare cards the same size as your blanks with the names of your family on them. There should be one card per blank.

Go over family relationship words, “uncle, aunt, cousin, nephew, niece, grandma, grandpa, husband, wife, son, daughter” by asking a few students, “Who is your mother?” “Who is your uncle?” and so on. Clear up any confusion and make sure they are comfortable with these words.

Then the fun part. Hand out the family tree and cards to each students. Show them where your name goes so that they have a base of reference.

Now encourage them to ask questions like, “Who is your mother?” or “What is your mother’s name?” You may need to model this a few times so that they get it. When you answer, the whole class should try to place the correct name card in the space indicated for your mother. Alternatively, students can ask questions based on the name cards, “Who is David?” Now you will give an answer like, “David is my father’s uncle.” And students will have to place the David card in the right place.

If your class is small, you can have students just call out questions. If the class size is large, you’ll probably want to call on students one by one to ask questions.

Once they have finished the family tree, put up the correct tree on the board, or have it prepared as a handout or to put up on the screen.

Now hand out the extra cards that have the names of some other family members (not already on the family tree) on one side and their relationship to another member of your family on the other. Students put the cards in a stack, name side up. In pairs, they take a card and show the name to the other student. Student B has to ask, “Who is Bob?” Student A should read the description and then Student B has to place the card in the correct place.

For homework, they should prepare their own family tree with small cards with family names on it, and the next class we’ll play the same game in pairs with their families. After that we’ll add jobs to their family trees to review and extend job words.

Many thanks to Jan Dormer and to Simple Speaking Activities (Oxford Basics)
book for the lesson plan ideas.

See also High School Beginners Lesson 1 for a way to teach and review basic uses of the verb “to be”, introductions and greetings. And lesson 2, on possessives, basic questions and biographical information


Had my first class with my vocational school kids.

Suprise #1: It’s way the heck out of town.

Surprise #2: the person who came with me didn’t actually know where it was so we drove around nowhere, Kazakhstan for almost an hour and a half.

Surprise #3: I thought I had 4 groups of kids for 45 minutes each. Turns out I have the same group of kids for 3 hours straight! Needless to say we burned through everything I had planned and then some. Seriously, the main reason I would never advise anyone to come teach ESL in Kazakhstan is that school administrators and private companies never see the need to make everything perfectly clear to you. They tend to view teaching as like being an electrician; show up, do your job, go home. Or maybe it’s just illegal here to give information to people.

Surprise #4: Although technically this vocational school comes after 9th grade, the kids are all between 17 and 22 years old, more like university age.

I swear, if I didn’t really like the kids a lot, I would probably quit. But the kids are great and they’ve really never been exposed to student-centered learning in their lives, so they are having a ball!

Off to plan 3 hour-long lessons. Lots of pair work and group work in their futures. Lots and lots of pair and group work!