Posted on 1 Comment

Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…

Applications

Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!

CVs

I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL

 

That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!

 

Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!

 

Simon

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Using the future in Writing Task 1

This is a very short tip on using the future in IELTS Writing Task 1. Let’s look at an example chart.

Line Graph Future

This is a typical example of a graph that starts in the past, but ends in the future. This is a bit more tricky than a graph in which all the information is in the past, because you need to change your grammar depending on the section. However, it’s a good opportunity to increase your mark for Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Here’s what we can add in:

Introduction

So, we start with our typical “The graph shows…” section. Something like:

The graph shows financial data, separated in to revenue, charges, borrowings and grants and subsidies, as a monetary figure in millions of dollars. 

So, we have explained the Y axis. we now need to explain the X axis, specifically, that it starts in the past and finishes in the future.

This information runs from 2012 to the present day, and includes a projection for 2016 to 2022.

The word “projection” is a financial word meaning “prediction”. We could also use “estimation”.

Body

So, we could separate our paragraphs in to 1) Past until now and 2) Now in to the future. That would help us divide up the grammar to keep it simple – past in body paragraph 1 and future in body paragraph 2. What are our choices?

  1. will

We can use “will” + infinitive as a simple option. Here’s an example:

From 2016 until 2022, the rates revenue figure will consistently increase from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million.

Fine, but a bit simple, so we can’t use it for the whole paragraph.

2. Is + past participle + to + infinitive

There are a few different participles we could use: estimated, predicted, expected, projected. Example:

After 2015, the rates revenue figure is expected to continue its growth, from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million at the end of the period.

Very nice because it’s simple, you can use the same structure but just change the past participle each time, and it includes a passive.

3. Future perfect (will + have + past participle)

Possibly the highest level way to express the future in IELTS. We need to look at the very end of the graph, so that we imagine that the increase / decrease has already happened. This is exactly what we do for present / past perfect as well. We can do this by using “by”. Look at the example:

The rates revenue figure started increasing in 2014, and, by 2022, it will have reached a peak of just under 2500 million.

An excellent piece of grammar to include – just remember to use “by + end of graph / end of increase or decrease” and then talk about the change that will have happened at that point in the future.

 

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me!

 

Simon

Posted on 2 Comments

Prepositions in IELTS Task 1 Writing

OK, let’s take a look at a few prepositions, and a really easy way to remember how to use them.

  1. to / from

In task 1, you will use “to” if you are talking about change. So, if something goes up or down, we use “to”. Look at the example:

The number of people rose to 800,000 in 2011.

So, we use “to” for changes, and we use it to describe the second number – the number at the end of the increase / decrease.

We also use “to” with “from” – like from 400,000 to 800,000 – again, we are talking about the end number. If we want to talk about the start number, we use “from”.

2. by

We use “by” similarly to “to”, so when we talk about change. This time, however, we are thinking about the difference between point A and point B. Here’s another example:

Number of people, 2001 = 55

Number of people, 2005 = 60

The number of people rose by 5 from 2001 to 2005.

So, we also use “by” for changes as well, but to talk about difference.

3. at

We use “at” to talk about numbers that haven’t changed over time. Look at this example:

The number remained steady at 25 for about five years.

So, “at” is used in the opposite situation to “to”.

4. with

We use “with” when we just want to talk about one number, at one time, with no changes. Here’s an example:

The highest number was in the 16-25 age group, with 500,000.

Conclusion

So, here’s the simple way to remember:

to – change, second number
from – change, first number
by – change, difference between first and last

at – no change over time

with – one number, no movement in time

Good luck!

 

Simon

Posted on 1 Comment

Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 2)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

It has long been a priority of educational authorities to widen and improve the overall experience of pupils. To that end, a recent suggestion has been made that children should be involved in community service tasks such as charity work or neighbourhood improvement as a mandatory part of their schooling. While this could be seen as a waste of school time, there are clear benefits which can not be ignored.

It could be argued that children today do not spend enough time learning, and that compulsory extra-curricular activities would only further decrease study time. Although community work is important, homework and self-study time would have a more direct benefit on the education and exam results of a child, in turn providing the opportunity for academic advancement to university. Alternatively, this time could be spent on physical exercise and team sports as a way of combatting the increase in free time activities which promote laziness, such as computer-based gaming or chatting. Moreover, neighbourhood tasks should be being undertaken by council employees, rather than being forced upon the younger members of a community. These issues could therefore form a valid argument against the incorporation of such activities in to school curricula.

However, the importance of children learning social values through experiencing and contributing to community spirit should not be ignored. Charity work would teach them to support one another in later life, and any activity related to improvement would teach them the importance of contribution to one’s own local area, thereby simultaneously discouraging anti-social or criminal behaviour. Furthermore, becoming involved in mentoring younger children would arguably promote a stronger sense of team spirit than merely engaging in competitive sport with age-group segregation. Therefore, it would be an excellent idea to consider some kind of monitored social activity to encourage personal growth in teenage pupils.

In conclusion, while it is understandable that the idea of community service may cause concern due to a perceived lack of educating, I strongly believe that these activities would teach children at high school level to be more rounded as individuals, as well as better able to positively contribute to society in later life.

Posted on Leave a comment

The IELTS Exam

Not sure what to expect? Not sure if you want to, or need to do the IELTS exam? This article will tell you what you need to know – I promise not to make it confusing!

IELTS

IELTS (pronounced “eye-yelts”) stands for International English Language Testing System is an exam that is internationally recognised by universities, immigration departments, professional organisations and a large number of businesses. While there are other well-known English Exams (FCE, CAE, CPE, TOEFL, TOEIC), IELTS remains the most widely recognised and therefore a very good choice for you if you want certification of your English level.

What’s in the exam?

Below is an overview of what exams you will do, and what you can expect to find in the papers:

Listening

The Listening paper is in 4 parts, and lasts 30 minutes. At the end, you have 10 minutes to write your answers on an answer sheet (see example here)

IELTS Listening Answer Sheet

 

You will only hear each recording once, but you will have some time to look at the questions before you listen, and then to check your answers after listening. Spelling is very important – even a single letter wrong will mean that the answer is marked wrong. Have a look at my spelling article for the listening paper here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-ov

  • Part 1 is a conversation between two people. You will have to listen for personal details – names (which will be spelt), numbers, dates, addresses etc. This is the easiest part of the exam.
  • Part 2 is somebody talking to a group of people, giving information semi-formally. This could be directions, dates, a map, a table to complete or some multiple choice questions.
  • Part 3 is a conversation involving three people – usually some university students with a tutor. The subject will be academic. you can expect multiple choice and sentence completion here.
  • Part 4 is the most difficult part, and is part of a lecture about something academic. You will need to complete lecture notes, flow diagrams and sentences with words you here.

Reading

The reading paper is in three parts. Usually, the third text is the most difficult. Each text is about 800 words and the exam lasts one hour. The answer sheet is very similar, but unlike the listening you do not get extra time to transfer your answers.

For more information on what to expect, have a look at my reading article here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1P

REMEMBER: If the exam paper asks you to write “True, False, or Not Given”, then write exactly that. T, F and NG are not acceptable. Similarly, if you asked to write A-G instead of words, make sure you do this! Spelling is important again.

Writing

The writing paper is in two parts.

Part 1

This part is 20 minutes and 150 words long. You will need to report the most important numbers and percentages from one of the following:

  • A bar graph

bar_graph_example

  • A line graph

line_example1

  • A pie chart

pie2

  • A table

uOtWljXUC_8hn9P5WoB0Qzl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9

There is also a chance you will get a paper asking you to describe a process of how something works or is done.

ielts-process-bricks

 

In part 1, you are only reporting facts. This means you don’t put your opinion, and you don’t write a conclusion

 

Part 2

In part 2, you are given 40 minutes to write 250 words about an academic topic, giving your opinion. You could be asked to write about advantages and disadvantages, agreeing or disagreeing, benefits and drawbacks or problems and solutions. For each of these, you must write:

  • An introduction
  • Two or three body paragraphs
  • A conclusion

With both parts of the writing, the word count is very important. If you write less than 150 / 250 words, you will lose marks. The examiners will mark you in the following areas:

Task Achievement

  • Did you answer all parts of the question?
  • Did you reach the word limit?
  • Is your paragraphing clear?

Coherence / Cohesion

  • Do your sentences and paragraphs connect together logically?
  • Do you use linking words and ideas?
  • Are the words in your sentences in the correct order?

Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource

  • Have you used a good range of vocabulary without repeating yourself?
  • Is the vocabulary related to the topic and the task?
  • Is your spelling good?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Is your grammar correct?
  • Have you used a range of different grammatical structures?

Remember to put your opinion at the end of part 2. For more information see my articles on writing: Introductions: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J Body paragraphs: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4P Conclusions: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5f

Speaking

The speaking test is the final part of the exam. It can happen any time within seven days of the other papers. It is split in to three parts, and lasts a total of 11-14 minutes.

Part 1

This is like an introduction. You will be asked some general questions about your life, studies, interests etc. Make your answers as full and friendly as you can!

Part 2

In this section, you are given a topic and one minute to prepare. You then need to speak for two minutes. The subject will always be something related to your experience. For some examples, look here: http://www.goodluckielts.com/IELTS-speaking-topics-2.html

For each topic, it is important to answer every part of the question. You must speak for a minimum of one minute – of course, two minutes is better.

Part 3

This part is a discussion. The examiner will ask you some more questions related to the topic from part 2. This time, the questions will be more global, and they may engage you in a conversation. Look at the follow-up questions here (the first parts are examples of part 2): http://www.ielts-exam.net/ielts_speaking_samples/386/ Again, try to give full answers and include reasons for your answers.

In the speaking, the examiners are marking you on the following:

Fluency / Coherence

  • Can you speak without much hesitation?
  • Do your sentences make sense?
  • Do you have a natural rhythm?

Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource

  • Do you have a wide range of vocabulary?
  • Can you use topic-specific vocabulary in a number of situations?
  • Can you explain yourself if you don’t know a word?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Can you use grammar accurately?
  • Can you make the right choices in order to communicate the meaning you want?
  • Can you use a wide range of different grammatical structures?

Pronunciation

  • Can you pronounce words correctly?
  • Do you use connected speech and natural contractions?
  • Do you have a natural tone and range of pitches?
  • Do you sound “English”?

Take a look here for some advice: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1v (fluency) and here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5l (Questions)

What are the possible marks?

IELTS is marked from 0.0 to 9.0, with marks going up in stages of 0.5. If you want to do the following, these are often needed:

Foundation course – 4.5-5.0
Undergraduate course – 5.0-6.0
Masters Course – 6.0-7.0
PhD – 7.0-8.0

If you want to see how these match (approximately) to the CEFR scale, have a look below:

cefr2011a

In your language classes, A1 = Elementary, A2 = Pre-Intermediate, B1 – Intermediate, B2 = Upper Intermediate, C1 = Advanced and C2 = proficient.

When should I take IELTS classes?

Before you start studying for the exam, you need to have a good level of general English. Because of this, it isn’t a good idea to have IELTS classes until you have finished / nearly finished Intermediate level.

When you are ready, it is important to have these classes. You need to practise specific techniques and use real exams before you will be ready to sit the exam.

 

I hope this information has helped you. For information about booking and sitting the exam, have a look here: http://www.ielts.org/test_centre_search/search_results.aspx

 

Simon

 

Posted on 2 Comments

“Ghost” Observations – An Idea for Schools

“It’s time for a round of peer observations”

Why is it that this extremely helpful sentence always sounds like anything but? Sadly, mentoring, buddying, peer reviewing  – whatever your school calls it, often has the appearance of adding an extra layer of stress and scrutiny to an already stressful and scrutinised job. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Initially designed for busy times when there is no cover available for your classes, the Ghost observation allows you to be… well, a ghost. Yes, this is an observation during which your class is not observed by anyone.

Strange.

However, there are some really interesting and positive twists on a regular observation here. In brief:

  • The forms involved encourage and directly prompt reflection, but the pre-lesson form also allows for the teacher to think about the class itself before it has happened – meaning that a greater degree of objectivity can be achieved before thoughts are (often) distorted by the way that the class has gone.
  • No observer = a “normal” class. That phrase “They were far quieter / less communicative etc… because you were in the room” has no place in a ghost observation.
  • Feedback is objective – the “observer” hasn’t observed anything, so they only have your own thoughts to go on, rather than a prior knowledge of student behaviour from having taught / met them before.

Sound interesting? On to the procedure….

  1. The teacher completes this form Pre-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  2. The teacher teaches the class
  3. The teacher completes this form Post-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  4. The “ghost” observer reads both forms and organises a time to sit down and discuss these with the teacher. In the discussion – as with conventional lesson feedback – advice, tips, frustrations, joy and completely unrelated things(!) can be discussed.
  5. Everybody is happy.

With the exception of number 5, this should run like clockwork. Having had a go at this, I can say that I got an awful lot out of it – which wasn’t exactly what I expected. I strongly urge you to have a go – or talk to your manager about having a go. If you do, then please let me know how it goes!

Simon