Film English: Love in a Heartbeat

As Valentine’s Day is around the corner I thought I would post some lessons regarding love. I’ve always found love to be a good topic for students whether you have experienced it or not, believe in love or not – we all have some opinion to give.


to have a change of heart about smt
to have a heart-to-heart with sb
to have a heart of stone
to have (one's) heart in smt
to follow (one's) heart
a childhood sweetheart
to pour (one's) heart out to sb
to be young at heart
to wear (one's) heart on (one's) sleeve

This is a lesson I have taken and adapted from which is a very good website to use to add a little media magic to your classroom.

First, I start off by writing the title of the film, asking the students what does ‘in a heartbeat’ mean (something very quick) and holding a short discussion about love. Do you believe in love? What would you say to someone who doesn’t believe in love? Have you ever been in love? What is love to you? Is love forever/eternal?

Next give them the worksheet and put them in pairs. Students must now read the sentences with the expressions and discuss the meaning of the expressions. After 5/10 minutes get some feedback, clarify meaning and elicit some examples to write on the board. Now get the students to write some sentences about themselves or people they know using the expressions.

Next tell students they are going to watch a short animation about a love story. Make sure they understand the questions by going through each one. Students watch the film, compare answers in pairs and then get some feedback.

Now put them in groups to discuss the questions. When they are done, hold a class discussion with the feedback.

Storytelling: Narrative Tenses (B1+/B2)

I’m an avid reader of books but above all fantasy books. One of my favourite books is ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. It tells a tale of a boy name Kvothe – from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as an orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. If you haven’t already read it, please do so.

Anyway, this is a little frame story from the book that I’ve adapted for the purpose of presenting and practising narrative tenses with my students.

Firstly, I like to discuss books/reading with my students – Do you like to read? What kind of books do you read? Do you have a favourite book? Could you recommend a book to read? Has your taste in books changed over the years?

Then go through the vocabulary with students, elicit and board some examples and then have them practice with the gap-fill.

Next students to read the story and answer the following questions;

  1. How did Taborlin escape from the tower?
  2. Was he scared when he escaped from the tower?
  3. Who did he meet on the road?
  4. How did he get the amulet?
  5. How much did he pay for it?
  6. Why was it important to the story?
  7. What did he do when he heard a noise?
  8. What do you think will happen next?

Board the following examples and elicit form, meaning, and example from the students.

Past Simple

Form: regular verb(+ed) / irregular verb in past simple
Why: To tell the main events of a story, a series of events

‘He stepped to the edge, looked down, and without a second thought he stepped out into the open air.’

Past Continuous

Form: was/were + verb(+ing) 
Why? to describe a situation that continued for some time (1)
to give background information (2)
a continuous action that was interrupted by another action (3)
(past continuous with past simple)

‘But that wasn’t even the worst of it you see, because the lamps on the wall were burning blue. ‘

‘As Taborlin was preparing to fight, he recognised the figure, it was the Tinker he had met a few days earlier’

Past Perfect

Form: had + past participle
Why? to describe an action that happened before another past action

‘When he got to the ground and felt his side where they had stabbed him’

Now students have a better understanding of the grammar, get them to do some practice by completing the story. If they really liked the story of Taborlin they could produce the grammar by continuing the story or choose a prompt after the mystery story to write their own story in class or as homework.

Lesson Plan: Lexicography (B2+)

Hmmmmm, what is lexicography, you ask?

‘the activity or occupation of compiling dictionaries.’ – Sounds like fun, right?!

This is a nice little Ted Talk lesson focused on vocabulary and how words are selected in our dictionaries, also focusing on a discussion on what words should/shouldn’t be put into the dictionary.

Here are some new words added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2018 you can share with your students. Why do you think they were selected? What do you think is the criteria for adding a word to the dictionary? Are these words useful?

slimeball (n) – A repulsive or despicable person.

‘My boss is a complete slimeball – he always hits on me and he’s married!’

sausage party (n) -An event or group in which the majority of participants are male.

‘this is a total sausage party, let’s leave’

munted (adj) -In a state of disastrous disintegration; broken or ruined.

‘with government departments buying overpriced rubbish, no wonder the budget is all munted’

chemsex, n. -Sexual activity engaged in while under the influence of stimulant drugs

‘the majority of interviewees had a history of recreational drug use prior to becoming involved in chemsex’

facepalm, v. – A gesture in which the palm of one’s hand is brought to one’s face as an expression of dismay, exasperation, embarrassment.

‘did anyone else facepalm during this scene?’

crowd-surfer, n. – A person who engages in crowd-surfing at a concert.

‘I was recording a video of my favorite band when a crowd-surfer kicked my phone out of my hand’

Get students to check the questions before watching the video. Watch the video and then go through the answers. Put students into groups to discuss the questions and then get some feedback. If you have any time left, use the extension task below (it’s hilariously fun).


Game: Balderdash

Play in groups. One student will be the leader of the group. The teacher will give the leader of each group and set of words and definitions. The leader will give the word to the group (but not the definition!). Everyone must invent a definition for the word. The leader should write correct definition and then mix with the other definitions. The group must then decide the correct definition. Whoever chooses the correct definition gets a point. The student with the most points wins.

Lesson Plan: Lying (B1-B2)

If you’re partner hasn’t been eating very healthily for the last few weeks and asks you ‘Do I look fat today?’, what do you say? If you tell the truth, you’ll ruin their day (and probably your sex life) or maybe they will appreciate the honesty – who knows.

You see your friend’s partner on the street kissing another person – What do you do? Most people would tell their friend immediately but should you? is it your business? could it jeopardise your friendship?

You’re gay and not ready to come out but people are asking you? Sure, you could tell the truth but can you wholeheartedly trust the people you love to accept you? What are the short-term/long-term consequences?

We are all taught from a child that lying is wrong but then why is it so easy? We all do it. We do it to protect ourselves, we do it to protect others and we do it because sometimes telling the truth feels like giving up the control in a situation.

and so, is lying inherently bad?

These are some questions and situations I like to discuss with my students at the beginning of the class before eliciting some good vocab – for example;

to tell a lie
to tell the truth
to tell a whopper/a tall tale
to fib / tell a fib (UK)
to detect a lie
a white lie
to get away with a lie
to get caught (in a lie)

After this, get them to discuss the questions with a partner and then pre-teach the vocabulary on the worksheet, get them to match to the definitions and maybe make some example sentences together if they are finding the vocab too difficult.

Next, tell them they are going to watch a talk about children lying – Ask them ‘Do you think children lie more than adults or adults lie more than children – why?’ – hold a little discussion with your class and then get them to take a look at the questions before watching the video.

After you have gone through the answers and checked their understanding of what was said in the talk – have them discuss the questions in groups and get some feedback.


If I have some time left, I usually play 3 truths and a lie. If you don’t know this game, it’s very fun! Do an example for your students. Write 4 things about yourself, 3 true and 1 lie. Ask them to try and detect the lie, hold a small discussion and then reveal who is right. Put your students in groups and ask them to do the same.

I have met JK Rowling. (t)

I have lived in Italy. (t)

I have been a teacher for 7 years. (f)

I have met Amy Winehouse. (t)

Past Simple vs. Present Perfect when talking about travel experiences

A: Did you ever go to Paris? Yes, I did
B: When you went to Paris?
A: I go to Paris last Summer with my family.
B: Was good? Yes.

If you think this conversation is an example of good grammar then you need stop taking drugs immediately. Unfortunately, this is often a typical conversation I hear in the classroom, outside the classroom and even sometimes on the grammar-less streets of London. However, if everybody spoke English perfectly, I wouldn’t have a job and I love my job so, I guess every cloud has a silver lining.*

What’s wrong with it? Well, I’m a total grammar nerd so, a lot to be honest </insert angry face>.

Take a look at the conversation above between two people. What are they talking about? Travel – right, simple enough I suppose. But, what grammar tenses do they use? Ok, I’ll be nice and give you a clue, there are two of them.

If you said Past Simple and Present Perfect then DING DING DING – winner winner, chicken dinner.

Ok, good but why do we use these tenses?

If this is you right now, don’t worry. Ok, maybe worry but continue reading anyway.

Read More »

ESL Teaching Abroad: the glitz, glamour and garbage of it all

My name is Joe and I’m from london. I’ve been an ESL teacher for about five years and still loving it. I’ve worked in England, Sicily and Malta and will be heading off to Mexico in the Autumn. I love travelling, it’s probably part of the reason I chose this profession so I thought I would write a bit about my personal experiences to educate, inform and terrify – did I say terrify? I meant encourage – anyone thinking about taking that first leap into teaching abroad.

Who can be an ESL teacher?

All you need is a relevant qualification such as a TEFL or a CELTA. I always recommend taking a CELTA course to people as you get a real hands on experience by actually teaching lessons as you learn. Like your students, you will only get better with practice. The more lessons you teach, the better teacher you will become.

Occasionally, a school might also require you to have a University degree but it’s usually due to Visa requirements (one example would be Japan).

It helps a lot more to be a native speaker of English but isn’t always necessary. Unfortunately, a lot of schools will only take native speakers of English. I think this is an unfair practice as having had to learn the language and now wanting to teach it, I think is an added benefit. When I first started teaching I knew next to nothing about English grammar and would have to vigorously study it before the lesson. On top of that, having studied the language, a non-native speaker has an added insight into how it feels to learn English, the particular struggles and useful tips that helped them along their way.

All in all, if you like the sound of the job, just apply. There’s no harm in trying. If they say yes, then great and if they say no, don’t worry there are plenty more jobs in the ESL sea.

How do I find a job?

There are many websites to use but I’ll just mention a choice few.

TEFL Jobs – I’ve used this one most often and had good results with character building consequences.

Dave’s ESL Cafe – Who’s Dave? Don’t know but it’s a good place to upload your CV and hope for possible job offers

Teach Away – Another good site to use on the job hunt.

Or just use good old-fashioned google and search for tefl/esl jobs.

Also you’re students can help with this matter sometimes. Recently, I had a student from Mexico who was impressed with my lessons. He told me his sister is an English teacher in Cancun and he would be happy to speak to her on my behalf in getting a job there. I, of course, said yes please.

What’s the pay like?

Teachers aren’t normally known, in any country, to be paid well. However, the cost of living is often cheaper abroad (I live in London so basically anywhere is cheaper). For example, while I was working in Sicily I was earning €1,100 net per month. This may not seem a lot when you convert to £ but my rent was €200 euros per month, leaving me plenty to play around with.

On top of that, I had plenty of private lessons to bulk up my bank balance. Just don’t mention anything to the school about private lessons – they usually don’t like that and see it as stealing their ‘customers’. You should instead recommend the school to them, like that’s ever going to happen…

The Middle East and Asia seem to pay the most. The Middle East offering up to 4K a month plus flights and free accommodation is enough to have anyone selling their soul to the devil over but it’s never appealed to me as I find the cultures too restrictive and I know I would just say the wrong thing and end up in a lovely room with no windows. However, I’ve had friends that worked there and loved it. To each, their own.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about pay at the end of your interview. I didn’t do this on my first ESL job abroad and it was to my detriment. I later found out we would be paid a month in arrears. We started in October so I didn’t receive my first payment until after Christmas. It was macaroni and papier-mâché for everyone that Christmas.

Do I need to speak the language?

You don’t need to speak the language but it does help. Most schools will state in the job description the level they desire but very few will require you to be fluent.

It does help to know a little of the language to help ease you into the life there. When I went to Sicily, I knew zero Italian and I definitely wish I had got a few of the basics down before I arrived.

A very good friend of mine whom I wouldn’t have met if not for teaching abroad once gave me some great advice. She said listen to your students mistakes and mimic them when you speak their language. For example if you have ever had any Latin speakers in your class, I’m sure you’ve heard them say ‘I have 20 years old’ because in their language that’s how you say it whereas in English we use ‘to be’ instead of ‘to have’. This is a very simple example but you get the point.

You’ll learn a lot of words just from spending time with your students. They’ll usually get stuck on the same old words and after hearing them for the 20/30th time you’ll be a walking, talking bi-lingual dictionary for your students. For the simple words, anyway.

In general, just follow the same advice you give to your students. Read the newspaper, watch tv/films, read a book, speak with people, study, do a language exchange – you’ll find no shortage of people wanting to do this with you as speaking English is very valuable and often too expensive for most people.

Where will I live?

Schools will often find you somewhere to live or may even have their own accommodation to offer you but make sure to ask during the interview or any correspondence before you arrive. Unless you want to end up like me, that is…

Now here’s a question that brings back fond and traumatising memories. If you’re lucky, you’ll be living with other teachers as some of my fellow ESL teachers have experienced or you’ll be me.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

When I first arrived in Sicily, I was taken by one of the secretaries to view two properties. She would be my translator for this lovely afternoon.

One place was very nice, it was spacious, had two bathrooms and I’d be sharing with only 2 other people. I took a look at the bedroom and decided it could be worse despite the leopard print sheets on the bed that were definitely not going to be used.

The secretary asked me if I liked the room and I said yes (still wondering what kind of person would have leopard print sheets – my Sherlock Holmes like deductive skills were leaning more towards total hoe). The landlord and secretary started nattering away with me none the wiser as I spoke zero Italian at the time.

Then she looked at me and, well, I started getting a bad feeling. Turned out there were only 2 bedrooms. Now, if you’ve been paying attention that means 2 bedrooms and 3 people. How does that work then? Is it a Sicilian thing or what?

Turned out I would be sharing the bed adorned with those ghastly leopard print sheets with a total stranger. So I’m in a new country, I don’t speak any Italian and you want me to share a bed with a total stranger? Oh, no ma’am. So, being the polite English gentleman that I am, I said let’s just see the other property and I’ll decide then.

So off we went to view the second property while praying to every deity I could think of for a lucky break.

Right, so property two was closer to the school, tick, it was cheaper than the first property, tick and I would have my own bedroom, tick tick tick. The room was pink for some odd reason but after the traumatising experience of the first property I was willing to go all Elsa and let it go.

I decided to take the second property because nothing could actually be worse. Or could it?

Enter flatmates. I had two flat mates, a very nice guy from Calabria who was studying law and spoke very little English but I couldn’t blame him, I’m in his country and I spoke zero and I mean zero Italian. And then there was the other one. The only way I could describe her was a bulldog in human form. Some kind of transfiguration gone wrong straight out of the Harry Potter universe. She also turned out to be a drug dealer. Oh great. Did I also mention she was totally bi-polar and prone to fits of rage? Those leopard print sheets and the warmth of another human being were looking mighty good at this point…

I could go on but I’ve probably either bored or terrified you enough at this point. It was a great experience and I’m a strong person and now an even stronger person from going through these experiences so please don’t let me put you off the experience. Remember, these experience make for great stories to tell at dinner parties.

What do I need to be aware of?

I recommend doing some thorough research about the culture, religion and laws of the country. What goes down well in your country is often different in another. You will need this information for tailoring your lessons. Some topics might be ok for you but are taboo in other cultures. It’s good to be informed.

What’s it like to teach ESL abroad?

It’s a great experience, you’ll make lots of friends, see and experience things you could never do as a tourist. You’ll have some highs and lows but that’s life in general, no matter where you are, right?

What are the advantages and pitfalls to watch out for?

You’ll experience a new culture and have greater insight than most people. I learnt that in London we spend too much time working and running around to actually enjoy life. In Sicily, I learnt to appreciate the small things in life, spending time with friends, enjoying my food rather than wolfing it down while briskly walking to work or even reading a book in the evening sun on Sunday while a man plays the theme from The Pink Panther on his trumpet walking around town because, well, fuck it, it’s Sunday.

You’ll learn a new language which is always a plus. Unless you’re a lucky bugger who has a knack for languages, you’ll struggle a bit at first but this will give you a great insight into how your students feel in your lessons and what you can do to help them learn.

Your classes will almost certainly be monolingual making your life a little easier when explaining things but on the other hand more challenging when you’re asking two people who speak the same language fluently to now talk together in another they don’t speak so well. (This is usually more of a problem with the younglings).

There will most definitely be some culture shock depending on which country you choose. For example, in Sicily they just don’t do queues, at all. It’s more of a case of who can shout the loudest at the counter. Another example was touchy-feeliness (did I just invent a new word? Go me!). People just LOVE to put their hands on you which is something I just wasn’t accustomed to being from london where a minimum personal distance of 3 feet is to be kept at all times with all persons. At one point, I had a woman casually stroking my stomach while talking to me – still confused about this.

In essence, I think you’ve got the idea that I have mixed feelings about teaching abroad and I do – it’s a bittersweet thing – but my past experiences, although sometimes bad, could never stop me from taking that leap abroad again because the pros outweigh the cons and even the cons have their benefits. You might stumble, you might fall, you might fail but you will always learn something and that will leave you better prepared for the next hurdle life will inevitably throw at you.

Phrasal Verbs for Emotions/Feelings

Phrasal verbs, phrasal verbs, phrasal verbs! I love phrasal verbs but I feel like most students overlook their importance. Phrasal verbs are a very important part of the English language, there are over 10,000 of them, they are often used in spoken English, and they are probably the reason why you find it so hard to understand when English speakers are talking to you. So here are 10 common phrasal verbs connected to emotions and feelings. Try to use them the next time you’re speaking English

to cheer up

Meaning: to make yourself or somebody else happy when feeling sad

E.g. ‘I took my friend to the pub last week to cheer him up after he broke up with his girlfriend

to lash out at someone

Meaning: to attack someone physically or verbally because you’ve had a bad day.

E.g. ‘My sister always lashes out at me when she is in a bad mood

to crack up

Meaning: to suddenly laugh; laugh without control because it was just so damn funny

E.g. ‘I cracked up when my sister fell down the stairs

to calm down

Meaning: to become less angry or upset

E.g. ‘I try to count down from 10 when I am angry to calm down

to choke up

Meaning: to almost cry. That moment when you want to cry but other people are around and you have to remain strong.

E.g. ‘I choked up like five times while I was watching Coco

to let someone down

Meaning: to disappoint someone.

E.g. ‘I let my friend down yesterday because it was his birthday and I forgot to message him ‘Happy Birthday’.

to grow on someone

Meaning: to gradually like something or someone; to slowly like or appreciate someone/something.

E.g. ‘It usually takes some time for people to grow on me.

to bottle up

Meaning: to not express your emotions.

E.g. ‘I know it is not healthy but I usually bottle up my feelings.

to goof off/around

Meaning: to not focus; to be silly; to watch funny cat videos on youtube when you should be doing your homework ;p.

E.g. ‘When I was at school, I was a very lazy student. I always used to goofoff/around in class.

to lighten up/loosen up

Meaning: to be less serious and more fun

E.g. ‘I wish my friend would lighten up/loosen up a little and come to the pub with me but he just wants to study all the time.