Building an Income outside of Teaching

I love teaching English as a foreign language. I really do. However, being a freelancer, I face the risk of cancelled courses if not enough students enroll, which has happened with three out of six evening courses this past trimester (with the other three running below the minimum number of students out of goodwill). The four evening courses starting in mid-January are still way below the number of students needed as well. In short, it doesn’t exactly look rosy for freelance EFL teachers here in Berlin at the moment.

What that means for me (and my colleagues) is this: We block time slots for planned courses (and we only have a limited amount of time we can block, plus if we block too much time and–miracle!–all courses run, we may very well burn out because it’s too much) and then are left with more free time and less money if courses are cancelled, usually without the chance to fill the time slots at such short notice (since a lot of courses are cancelled after the first class, or only a day or two before they should have started).

We only get paid for the hours we actually teach (which is okay with me), not for all the additional time it takes us to prepare classes, correct written assignments (and in the case of some courses, grade them), go to teacher training workshops, do all the administrative stuff. In order to determine actual work hours for possible additional payment (part of health and pension insurance premiums), the Land Berlin calculates with double the time we actually teach. To put this into perspective: According to them, a full-time job with an average of 40 hours per week would be about 27 class hours of teaching (à 45 minutes each). Currently, my plan for the upcoming trimester has between 20 and 27 class hours, and one week of 35 hours (a week-long intensive class). That’s besides going to university for currently 12 class hours each week (plus preparation and homework) for part of the upcoming trimester.

So you see, I can’t possibly plan even more time slots for teaching, so if most or all of my evening classes are cancelled, it leaves me with only a fraction of the income I’m planning with. I either need more students, or a second (passive) income to counterbalance the risk.

And that’s why I started to upload designs to Redbubble for T-shirts, coffee mugs, notebooks and stuff. I will add to them as inspiration strikes me, so maybe check back every now and then.

I also have my children’s books about Miro the Dragon up on Amazon (print and ebook). The first book is available in German, English, or Mandarin Chinese, and the second book is available in German.

Anyway, it would mean the world to me if you took the time to check out my stuff. Thanks for your support!


A Paper about English Sentence Structure in an EFL Context

My latest paper for university dealt with the issue of regularising English sentence structure especially for low-level EFL learners. The way it is traditionally taught is confusing for a lot of students since it is rife with exceptions (randomly appearing do-support, adverbs of frequency changing places, exceptions concerning the verb be).

In the past four years, I’ve been teaching a lot of EFL classes at an elementary level, but also at higher levels, and basic sentence structure (e.g. questions, negation) has been a constant struggle for some students no matter their level. Since I started studying linguistics in 2014, I’ve started to notice some underlying structural regularities that aren’t taught by text books or grammar books. So I started teaching them the way I saw them, and although it might be a bit more confusing at the beginning when first confronted with it, my students seemed to gain a better understanding of English sentence structure, and I’m noticing less mistakes in my beginner’s class who learnt “my” structure from the beginning.

The paper has been graded a 1.0 (best academic grade in Germany) by my professor, and has been proofread for formatting issues and clarification afterwards. Feel free to share it with others who are interested in this topic, but don’t change it or claim authorship. I publish my paper under a CC-BY-ND-NC licence.


ESL Methodenkoffer: Grammar Buffet

Excuse the German word in my headline but I can’t think of a good translation that I equally like. “Methodenkoffer” (method suitcase, literally) is basically a collection of methods, in this case for teaching ESL (or really any foreign language).

What is a Grammar Buffet?

I think I don’t have to explain how a buffet works, but just in case: It’s usually an arrangement of food where everyone can just choose the food he wants. In my case, I use grammar exercises instead of food.

This method works well if you have to teach a class with a great variation in language level, but you’re still supposed to teach grammar. Everyone will need to revise a different grammar topic, some might not even know anything about the topic someone else needs to revise, while other topics might be too easy for other students.

So what do I actually do?

This method needs good preparation in advance since you have to find exercises and practice materials that don’t require a lot of explanation by the teacher. Ideal are self-study materials since they usually include a short overview and explanation of the grammar topic at hand. Make sure your materials cover topics for all of your students (e.g. different tenses that are taught at different language levels), and make enough copies of each worksheet for all of your students. You might be surprised at lower-level students who make a beeline for the advanced materials, and actually get them mostly right.

How does it work?

Set up all the worksheets on a side table and explain to your students that they can choose their own worksheet(s) for the lesson. Make it clear that they can ask you for help at any time, and that you will then come to their table and answer their questions individually. Usually, students know if they’re at different levels, but just in case, explain to them that you’re choosing this method to allow each one of them to work on the grammar topic they need most even though they are at different levels.

If your students know how to work with dictionaries, provide a few so that they don’t have to ask you for help for individual words. This will give you more time to actually address grammar questions.

Tell them that you will correct their worksheets when they are done (either do it in class if you have the time, or do it at home and give them back the next day–and make sure you have time to go over some of their mistakes with each student).

I have used this method a number of times when I had classes of students ranging from 9 to 16, learning English as a foreign language at school, during a holiday course. They usually liked it well since it allowed them to focus on something they feel they need to practise more (or even on some new grammar topic that interests them), and to work through the chosen material at their own pace.

If you try it out, I would be happy to hear back from you how it worked for you. 🙂

Transitioning to Blended Teacher

So while I’ve used videos in class before, once or twice, it was an exception for a special class. It wasn’t for my normal classes, and it didn’t really feel like blended teaching. Back then, it was just a way to get my students’ attention, all of whom were teenagers, on a Friday morning in their summer break.

This year, after the presentation of our new textbook series for teaching English, which contains video elements and an online language lab, I took some online classes on Coursera to familiarize myself with online and blended learning and teaching. And I slowly realised that blended teaching offers a lot of possibilities. Still, I thought that, apart from the video elements, I wouldn’t really be able to use much of what I learnt in my classes.

Now this week, I’m teaching an intensive communication and grammar class at an intermediate level (CEFR B1) from 9 – 2pm every day, and part of the materials I want to use as conversation starters are short video clips I found online (next to more classic elements like reading or listening texts, or simple questions). After some technical problems with the Internet connection today (or, rather, me not checking the second outlet after the first didn’t work…), my boss sent me an email this afternoon to assure me I will have a working Internet connection tomorrow. So my classroom has a laptop, loudspeakers, a projector, and Internet. And it’s dawning what that actually means.

The possibilities I now have go beyond a few online video clips. I can show them cartoons or photos online, use presentation tools like PowerPoint (or let my students use them for their end-of-class presentation on Friday), maybe even access quizzes online that they can take together. My vault of teaching materials just increased a hundredfold, if not more.

Sure, it takes a little while to set up laptop and projector, but once I’ve done it a few times, it should be a routine that doesn’t take much longer than a few minutes at most–time I often spend copying materials.

On days where my knees hurt too much to write stuff on the board much, I could even use a Word processor to write explanations or vocabulary for my students to see. Without leaving my chair.

And when I finally get a smartboard installed in “my” classroom (read: the classroom I teach most of my classes in) and get my training done, things will get even easier.

I think I’m really looking forward to transitioning from an offline teacher to a blended teacher.

Word Puzzles about Transportation and Verbs

I’ve had a little bit of backlog due to not posting my word puzzles for a while, so here’s yet another fresh batch of word puzzles for you and your classes. This time, it’s all about methods of transportation, and about verbs. These two were used in my A1.2 class.

I’m making them available under a CC-BY-NC-ND licence, which means you may use them for teaching as is, without changing anything, without deleting my byline, and without making a profit with them (e.g. by selling them). Print them out and copy them for your students as often as you like:)

And a heartfelt thank you to all the other teaching material creators out there who make their materials available for free use by teachers! I love you, and you make teaching a lot easier!

Word Puzzle A1.2 Modes of Transport

Word Puzzle A1.2 Verbs and Phrasal Verbs (1)

More Word Puzzles for Teachers

Here’s a new batch of word puzzles for beginners of English as a foreign/second language. This time, they are about everyday objects, and about family and kinship words. These word puzzles are great as a warmer to revise some vocabulary, or as a cool-down at the end of a difficult or long lesson. Have fun with them!

I’m making them available under a CC-BY-NC-ND licence, which means you may use them for teaching as is, without changing anything, without deleting my byline, and without making a profit with them (e.g. by selling them). Print them out and copy them for your students as often as you like:)

And a heartfelt thank you to all the other teaching material creators out there who make their materials available for free use by teachers! I love you, and you make teaching a lot easier!

Word Puzzle A1.1 Everyday Objects (with solutions)

Word Puzzle A1.1 Family Words (with solutions)

The EFL Teacher’s Toolbox (1)

I’m in my fourth year of teaching English as a foreign language at our local Volkshochschule (kind of a community college or trade school). Most of my students are adults, and most of my courses are elementary level (CEFR A1/A2). I usually teach with a textbook including audio CD or MP3. However, there are some additional materials I have gathered by now that I often use to supplement my lessons, and that may be a great addition to any EFL teacher’s toolbox:

1) English Flashcards

My flashcards are illustrated on both sides with both charming pictures and the English word they’re illustrating. They can be used for explaining exercises or creative writing/speaking, for vocabulary teaching, and for other vocabulary games like association games (draw a flashcard and write down as many associated words as you can think of).

2) Taboo Game

Whether you get the original, or a variant, doesn’t matter. I own both the original taboo game and a children’s version with easier words and the possibility to decide between one and four taboo words for each card, which is especially great for beginners or younger students. It works great as a warm-up or as vocabulary repetition (sort the cards before you play), and often at least some of your students will know the rules so they can help you explain them to the others.

3) An Assortment of Dice

Yes, I’m a gamer so I already owned a lot of dice before I started using them in my classroom. However, dice can be great for repeating numbers (playing bingo with a d20 or d%), dates (use a d12 for months and a d30 for the days of the month, although it’s not 100% correct that way), time of day (d12 for the hour and 3d20 or something like that for the minutes), and so on.

4) Emotions Memory

This one is a memory game that was given to us during the presentation of a new series of workbooks based on emotions. It works well as a conversation starter or for creative writing/speaking exercises, but it can also be used for some little acting (build groups, each group has to present their emotion in a short silent sketch of about a minute’s length), or to determine pairs or groups to work together in class.