TESOL Connections

Quick Tip: M is for Motivation

by Sarah Sahr

Motivation is a key component in successful teaching, and it is also notoriously difficult to address and improve. Use these tips, compiled by a group of educators in Doha, Qatar, to increase and maintain motivation for your English language learners and for your own teaching. 

Audience: All levels of teachers and students

During the 2008–2009 school year, I worked as an English advisory teacher at AL Wajbah Primary Independent Girls School, in Doha, Qatar. I assisted many groups of professionals in this school including English, Arabic, and physical education teachers; media specialists; and school administrators. In May of 2009, I helped develop a school-wide workshop on motivation. After the workshop, teachers compiled a summary of key points for distribution to the school with some key findings and highlights. I’d like to share some of those findings with you here. It might be just what you need to keep both teachers and students motivated!

Suggestions on How YOU Can Motivate Students to Continuously Improve

  1. Create an environment that is open and positive: Your classrooms should reflect an environment that allows students the ability to speak freely and to have a sense of personal ownership in what takes place there. Help students find personal meaning and value in learning. Decorate your walls with useful, engaging information, not just the latest trendy comic characters. And, of course, you can always give snacks and other rewards, and send positive messages home.
  2. Increase student success by assigning task that are neither too easy nor too difficult: Often, problems from classroom management stems from students being disengaged with school work. Make sure to differentiate instruction based on the level of each student. Set achievable timelines and deadlines for tasks. Work with your students to find the right instructional balance.

Suggestions on How YOU Can Motivate Yourself to Continuously Improve

  1. Never say “no” to professional development (PD): And by PD, I mean all PD. Walk to a teacher’s classroom down the hall and talk about the current initiatives in the school. Search the Internet for communities of practice that interest you and you can participate in. If comfortable, ask selective students how you, as a teacher, could improve. Sometimes the greatest PD is closer than you think.
  2. Celebrate small victories! If a challenging student finally sees the light, tell your colleagues. If a class has had an amazing week and met all lesson outcomes, include them in the celebration by allowing a homework pass or 30-minutes of controlled “down time” where students can relax. And, when taking a vacation, sincerely take a vacation and disconnect. Leave school work at school.

As a reminder, these teaching tips come from an amazing group of primary school teachers in Doha, Qatar. Although they might have a different teaching experience, I think we can all take some of their advice.


Sarah Sahr is the director of education programs at TESOL and is currently pursuing her doctorate in education administration and policy at the George Washington University.

Free Activities From New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary, Revised

Edited by Averil Coxhead

Check out these activities, for all levels, from the newly revised New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary. Both activities focus on vocabulary accuracy: The first activity is a game that celebrates accuracy while getting students to interact, and the second activity puts students into teams that bet on their vocabulary precision. 

These activities come from New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary, Revised, edited by Averil Coxhead (TESOL, 2014). Look for the book on sale in the TESOL Bookstore in early November, and check out the other books in the New Ways series.

Accuracy Vocabulary Party

Natalia Petersen

Levels: All
Aims: Consolidate accurate use of target vocabulary in context
Class Time: 15 minutes+
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Resources: List of target words

This game requires previous study of the target words. It is a good way for students to produce the target words in context, focussing on form.


  1. Allocate a word to each student in the class from the list of target words.
  2. Ask students to write a question using the target word which they can ask their classmates. Family words are fine.
  3. Check the questions for accuracy before giving students a slip of paper to write their question on.
  4. Once all students have a slip with a question, ask them to bring the slips to the front of the room and place them face down on a table.
  5. Ask students to take a slip each, look at the question, memorise it and hide the slip behind their back.
  6. Students then have a “vocabulary party,” mixing and mingling, taking turns to ask and answer questions.
  7. After students have asked a partner their question, they take another question and follow the same procedure, finding new partners to ask.
  8. Conclude the task by asking students if they can remember any of the questions.


  1. Prepare the questions on the slips before class. This ensures students have good models to memorise.
  2. Slips can be saved and reused with a focus on developing fluency so that students rely less on the slips and are given less time to ask and answer with each repetition.

Risky Business

Philippa Lyall

Levels: All
Aims: Notice and correct vocabulary errors (family word or collocation) in writing;
Explain accurate use of vocabulary in groups and to the class
Class Time: 20 minutes+
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Resources: Whiteboard
Six sentences containing one or two vocabulary errors from students’ writing


  1. Divide the class into mixed-ability teams of three to four students.
  2. Provide each team with a list of six sentences containing one or two vocabulary errors from their writing (one copy of the list of sentences for each team).
  3. Assign a section of whiteboard to the teams for their answers and totals. Start each team with “$500” to bet with.
  4. Ask the class, “Are these sentences correct?” Also mention that there may be one or two correct sentences.
  5. Have the teams quietly study and discuss the first sentence for no more than 5 minutes. Then ask them to put their correction for the sentence on the whiteboard and decide how much of their money they are prepared to bet on whether their correction is right.
  6. Invite one team with the correct answer to explain their correction(s) to the class. Confirm the answer and tell the team with the correct answer that they win what they bet; those with incorrect answers deduct their bet from their total of money.
  7. Move onto the next sentence and continue as above.
  8. The team with the most money at the end wins.


  1. Keep the pace quite fast and make sure everyone stops to listen carefully to the explanation of the correct answer given by their peers.
  2. Teams can get quite competitive and noisy.
  3. Include one correct sentence from a student’s writing (anonymously) with a particularly nice feature you want the others to notice.
  4. Teams can borrow from the bank to stay in the game if they have to.
  5. The game can also be made more challenging with a grammar error as well.


Intercultural Skills for the EFL Classroom

by Yoshi Joanna Grote and Jennifer Jordan
ELT should be coupled with encouraging students to become interculturally competent communicating on a world stage; try these intercultural skill building activities. 

As we well know, the vast majority of interactions in English are between nonnative speakers. Unlike many other languages, English is not simply the language of one (two or three) nation(s); it is a tool for communicating in a variety of different contexts which expose the speaker to a plethora of cultural backgrounds. Therefore, in the EFL classroom, teaching language and native-English cultures alone is no longer enough. Neither is supplementing our teaching with culture-specific readings any longer fulfilling all our students’ needs. While reading about specific cultural practices may have some interest value, much more is necessary to help students interact with the myriad of different cultures they will encounter in their English-speaking lives.

Equipping our students with the ability to function effectively on the global stage should be an aspect of the EFL teacher’s responsibility. What this means is providing our students with the facility to adjust to different cultural settings without having to study the specifics of each culture individually. One means of doing this is to provide students with the opportunity to experience cultural contact first hand in a nonthreatening environment.

The EFL classroom is the perfect place for this kind of cultural training for several reasons. First, English is being used as a world lingua franca (Graddol, 2006). Students are more likely to encounter new cultures in English than in other languages. Second, students are already operating outside the constraints and norms of their home cultures in the EFL classroom, making it easier for them to actively participate in certain tasks. One way to encourage intercultural learning without sacrificing English language teaching time is to use warm-ups, cool-downs, or supplementary options when touching upon culturally-related content. In this article, we introduce a few of our shortest and most basic ideas that have been tried and tested in our classrooms and that have also received positive feedback from others who have adapted them to their own contexts.

Most of these activities are best used with very little pre-explanation, but some postactivity discussion will be required to clarify the point. For most exercises, this can be accomplished through a brief gathering of students’ reflections and a guided analysis of those responses. Although we are presenting these in their shortest form, all of these tasks are well suited to facilitating an extended discussion of intercultural topics. For each activity, we have briefly detailed the materials, purpose, method, and any extension options.

Proxemics Activity

Materials: None.

Purpose: To demonstrate that the size of our comfortable personal space bubbles is culturally determined, and to allow students to experience how it feels to be placed in a situation outside of their personal comfort zones. This activity can be used in conjunction with any warm-up/discussion activity.

Method: Have students stand a comfortable distance apart and give them a topic to discuss (or free talk). Explain to students that they should stay relatively still while discussing, especially without moving their feet. After a short time, ask one student to take one step closer to the other and continue the discussion. Make sure they understand it is important to stay planted in this position; otherwise, their discomfort will make them step back, even unconsciously. Finally, ask both students to take a large step back and continue the discussion. Finish with a plenary discussion about how they felt about the different discussion spaces.

Extension: Do the above while asking students to imagine they are in different relationships to each other (friends, strangers, couple, teacher-student, etc.) and have them discuss how this affects their personal space bubbles.

Cultural Maps

Materials: Paper and pens.

Purpose: To illustrate how culture is more than just nationality, and to encourage students to think about the composition of their own cultures and give them short presentation practice.

Method: First, initiate a brainstorm of cultures on the board. Explain that culture has many definitions but can be seen as a group with a shared set of behaviors. Start with the obvious, such as nationality and language, and elicit all the main players like religion, sexuality, age, gender, socioeconomic background, education, race, ethnicity, and so on. After you have a healthy number of ideas, encourage students to come up with subcultures for each (e.g., nationality–region, language–dialect, etc.). Once your board is flooded with ideas, ask students to draw their own cultural maps. They should do this by drawing circles for all the cultures they feel some sense of belonging to; the stronger their sense of belonging to a particular culture, the bigger the circle. Once complete, ask students to present and explain their cultural maps to their classmates.

Zero Context Activity

Materials: Cultural artifact flashcards (In Japan, we use pictures of things like tatami, sashimi, macha, dango, kotatsu, okonomiyaki, geta, manga, soba, natto, etc.) Alternatively, in a mixed-culture class, students could bring in their own cultural artifacts.

Purpose: To help students think about how they could explain items from their culture to someone of another culture, and to encourage or practice circumlocution and descriptive language use.

Method: Call on a student to help you demonstrate a zero-context description (thorough and with no prior cultural knowledge required) of a cultural artifact. Initiate a question and answer session with the student. An easy first example can be sashimi. Ask the student to explain sashimi to you while you feedback the image he or she is creating in your mind.

S: It is sliced, raw fish.
T: I see a dead fish that you have cut up.
S: No, it has no skin.
T: I see a skinned, dead fish that you have chopped up.
S: It is very clean, it has no bones.
T: It is clean but it is staring at me with its dead eyes.
S: It doesn’t have any eyes.

After you have demonstrated the exercise, put students in groups of three to four and place the flashcards in a stack upside-down between them. The first student takes the first card from the top of the pile and describes it to the group. The group tries to a) feedback the image the student is creating and/or b) guess what it is.

Interruption Gaps

Materials: None.

Purpose: To help students learn interruption skills and become more comfortable with interrupting and being interrupted. Our Japanese students who return from overseas often report having had difficulties in entering conversations abroad. This is because the Japanese turn-taking gap is quite large with speakers generally waiting for one interlocutor to finish speaking before taking their turn.

Method: Before you begin, you may need to preteach some interruption skills/language depending on how adept your students already are at this. Put students in threes and give two of them a topic to discuss. Tell them that whenever you clap your hands, the third person, who is not speaking, must make an effort to appropriately interrupt the speaker, by asking a question, interjecting a personal experience, or commenting on what’s been said. You may also want to focus a little on the body language that directly precedes an interruption.

In conclusion, we have found these activities, some of which are based on tried and true intercultural training activities, have been very effective with our EFL students in terms of increasing their general intercultural awareness and motivations to communicate on a global scale. We hope you enjoy implementing them in your classroom and always welcome any feedback you might have.


Graddol, D. (2006). English next. Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language,’ London, England: British Council.


Yoshi Joanna Grote has a master’s degree in intercultural communication and currently teaches English and intercultural skills at Kyoto Sangyo University in northern Kyoto. She is also the author of NatioNILism: Belonging to the Spaces Between. Her current research focuses on developing ways to couple building intercultural competence with learning English.

Jennifer Jordan has a master’s in applied linguistics from Macquarie University in Australia. She is an associate lecturer of English at Kwansei Gakuin University’s School of Policy Studies, where she teaches English for academic purposes and a content course on cultural skills.


Tips From a Recruiter: Applying for International Teaching Jobs

by Engin Ayvaz
Learn the best way to present your CV and yourself when applying and interviewing for international ELT jobs. 

Every year, scores of ESL teachers take the plunge and travel internationally for better career prospects, because teaching in an international setting is indeed a unique experience and enriches the individual like no other. While some professionals simply do it to explore different worlds and cultures, many are also either under the burden of student loans and/or are unable to secure a position locally. Thus, many applicants hastily apply and accept (or are rejected from, for that matter) positions without paying due attention to a number of important factors. Seeking, interviewing, and accepting a teaching job in a context in which you possess limited knowledge has several dimensions and requires a careful and comprehensive look at all the issues. This article focuses on the application and interview process when applying to international teaching positions, with tips on avoiding the occupational and cultural issues that might hinder you from showing your full potential while applying for international posts.

Job Seeking

Where to Look

Though it is possible to find international jobs all year round, the better programs ordinarily hire between February and May to start as early as the following September. These jobs are announced through the programs’ own websites as well as TESOL’s Career Center and IATEFL’s Vacancies pages. There are also numerous other job vacancy sites for TEFL/TESL jobs worldwide, but job seekers should use common sense with regard to those websites and intermediary companies, because their quality and bona fides are variable.

There are also two major job fairs held annually where job seekers will have a priceless opportunity to meet and interview face-to-face with a lot of international recruiters in one place: TESOL’s Job Marketplace in March and IATEFL’s Jobs Market in April. Many programs post open positions on both webpages where they invite prospective candidates to apply online and schedule an interview during the conference.

Learning About the Program

There are thousands of programs serving the needs of millions of language learners all around the world. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • Is it a university-bound language program (highly sought after with weekday working hours) or is it an independent language institution (operates after hours and on weekends)?
  • Where is it located (in an urban area, with high rents cost of living, or in a rural area)?
  • Does it have private or state status (which might indicate alternative quality levels when considered within the national context)?
  • Is it accredited? Accreditation (or lack thereof) is one of the most important quality indicators for any language program; it gives some guarantee that an institution’s modus operandi complies with international standards, including but not limited to hiring and firing, working conditions, grievances and so forth. Look for accreditation by The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), EAQUALS, BALEAP, and NEAS.
  • Can you support the information you find with accounts from individuals (in person, if possible) who have either worked there or know the program? (Consider current or former employees, the expat community in the country, citizens of the country in question within your immediate environment.)
  • What is the remuneration package? Does it include a monthly salary, health insurance, paid leave, and flight reimbursement? Paid housing with utilities, bonuses, a one-time settling in allowance, school fees for your children? How does the compensation compare with the state teacher’s average salary in that country? Is the salary tax exempt? In which currency is the salary is going to be paid?

Applying for Jobs

The focus of this section will be the application, namely the cover letter and résumé. All of the documents below are better submitted in a PDF format to prevent problems that might occur in transferring and/or opening the files.

Cover Letter

Applicants tend to write a generic cover letter and send it to all employers. Though this might save time, the truth is not many employers read this one-size-fits-all letter. What most employers like to see in a cover letter is your making specific reference to the program’s mission, curriculum, and philosophy, and proving how you would be the best fit for that particular position.


An employer will typically spend 10 to 15 seconds for the initial screening of a résumé; hence, it must be easily navigable. I strongly urge you to refrain from preparing unreasonably extensive résumés, and recommend limiting it to two or three pages. The sections in the résumé must be clearly indicated and include education, relevant experience, presentations and publications, and achievements, all in reverse chronological order, and references if required. Font, size, and style should be wisely and sparingly used. Unless absolutely necessary, it is always safer to avoid narrative and to use bullet points.

Unlike in the United States, in most parts of the world it is only natural that one provides personal information including picture, age, and marital status in the résumé. However, it is highly recommended that the applicant check this technical detail with local customs and company policies. It also deserves mention at this point that applicants should be prepared for questions concerning frequent job changes or long career breaks indicated in the résumé. Furthermore, candidates should bear in mind that most employers can and do Google names.

Finally, I strongly suggest not including any attachments such as copies of diplomas, reference letters, and so on, at initial stages of the application unless specifically instructed.

Interviews are reciprocal tools for institutions and teaching professionals to find out the option that best fits their objectives and priorities. Whatever the format of the process may be, the ultimate goal of an interview is to provide a snapshot of how both parties would mutually function in the work setting.

Before the Interview

Interviews might take place at the institution’s site, at a job fair, or online. Regardless of the form and place of the interview, the most important aspect is preparing well by familiarizing yourself about the job and its requirements before the interview. It is imperative that the applicant has done some research and has information about the curriculum, learner profile, and cultural context prior to the interview. Having basic information about meeting and greeting in the country of the position and being culturally aware is also a nice gesture. Moreover, it is always handy to bring a hard copy of your résumé—preferably on high quality paper— as well as reference letters and other materials that you see fit. As far as the dress code is concerned, a smart casual outfit would be the safest choice.

During the Interview

Tardiness can result in immediate elimination from consideration, even if the actual interview still takes place; hence, being punctual is a good head start. The first 5 or 10 minutes are the most important part of the interview, and generally indicate how the interview will proceed. Rather than leaving it at the sole discretion of the interviewer, it is a good idea to prepare a rough roadmap for the interview that will help you to try to steer proceedings to allow you to mention why you feel you would be the perfect candidate.

Nevertheless, in doing so it is of critical importance that you answer questions promptly, avoiding incoherence and verbosity. A formal yet approachable tone is definitely an asset, and so is the appropriate body language. An interviewee should definitely take the opportunity to ask questions about the country, institution, job, or similar issues, because employers always regard such questions as a sign of genuine interest. Questions can include matters pertaining to professional development opportunities, any orientation program offered, job descriptions, and so on. Last but not least, finishing off on a high note will certainly increase your chances of an offer. Always plan ahead what to say before you leave the interview room, so that you leave a good impression on the interviewer,

After the Interview

Following up on the interview is a crucial element of the process, especially if you are still interested in the position after the interview. The best way to do this is by writing a short thank you e-mail stating why you are still interested in the position by making specific references to the job requirements and institution. Especially at job fairs, employers know that candidates interview with as many as 20 schools, and it is difficult for them to know if you are truly interested. However, the e-mail should be timed appropriately so it has the best chance of being seen. If sent during the busy days during a job fair when the organization is constantly conducting interviews, it may well fall through the cracks; it is better to wait until just after the job fair is over.

What to Avoid

The applicant should avoid the following:

  • Scheduling the first or the last interview of the day.
  • Going to the interview without knowing anything about the post.
  • Speaking negatively about previous employers, even if prompted.
  • Using clichés such as “My weakness is that I am a perfectionist!”
  • Politics
  • Stereotyping


Finally, it should further be noted that employers spend substantial amounts of time and effort, and many resources to find the best professionals for their institutions and learners. It is an arduous task for them, too, and requires care and attention. It is also equally important that employers recognize and appreciate applicants’ positions and help create an environment in which candidates can best show their potential. All in all, trying to see the whole recruitment process from each other’s perspective would certainly help both parties understand one another and help applicants make better career decisions.



Engin Ayvaz is the director of School of Foreign Languages at Yasar University, in Izmir-Turkey.

Confessions of a Digital Neanderthal

by Thomas Healy
How can a 20th century instructor motivate and engage the 21st century learner? Thomas Healy describes his journey from technophobe to a regular user of mobile technology. 

Recently, I discovered some notes that I had taken at a technology training session at the Pratt Institute in 2010, when several classrooms were equipped with SMART Boards. Under the title of the presentation and the date, all that I had written was “Do not write on the SMART Board with colored markers.”

For me, CALL directors were keepers of mysteries, like the high priests and priestesses of great ancient temples. They probably attended secret meetings and identified each other through a special handshake. Certainly, they spoke a language that I did not understand. When I completed my teacher training in the early 1990s, overhead projectors and boom boxes were high tech. I remember how excited I was when I first saw an erasable whiteboard and how dismayed I was in 2010 when one of the two useful whiteboards in my classroom was replaced by a SMART Board. I knew that I would never use it, and I had lost valuable board space.

At the same time, I found myself increasingly frustrated by students. While I didn’t have a cellphone of any kind, students were glued to their smartphones like Linus and his security blanket. Much of the time, I felt like a cabin attendant before takeoff. My passengers, however, wouldn’t put their devices away and kept trying to peek at their messages all during the flight. For the first time in my teaching career I felt old. I asked students what they were doing on their devices. “Everything and anything,” they answered. It was a couple of years before I actually understood what they were telling me.

One day, I saw a student trying to enlarge an image in her print textbook, as though it was an image on a smartphone. Many students laughed, but I was horrified. Clearly, she (and probably the entire class) was more familiar with digital content than print; she expected content to be interactive and manipulable. “Ah, a digital native,” the director of CALL said later. How could I, more a digital Neanderthal than a digital immigrant, motivate and engage digital natives?

In her book Understanding Language Teaching, Karen E. Johnson (1999) goes beyond asking instructors to reflect on their own teaching and encourages them to observe and try to understand students better. In addition to reflecting on my own technophobia, I tried to understand students’ behavior. Why, I asked myself, did students want to be online all the time but seemed to take forever to answer an email? Why, when I attempted to learn and use the Pratt Learning Management System (LMS), did they show so little interest? What were they doing with the photos they took after class of what I had written on my precious whiteboard? What was the “everything and anything” that they claimed to do online?

Essentially, they seemed to be recording and sharing: fleeting thoughts, what they were eating, where they were, their high scores in digital games, and yes, sometimes even images of grammar explanations from the board, and often using English. These students were all on Facebook and were members of private groups, such as the Pratt Korean Students Association and the Class of 2014. Whereas the LMS was teacher-driven and top-down, Facebook was collaborative. Compared to the LMS, everything posted on Facebook was open, instantly accessible, and inviting. Unlike emails sent on the Pratt email service, their text messages appeared on their phone screens immediately. If I could make it inviting and accessible, surely “everything and anything” could include what we did in class?

In 2011, I bought a smartphone and a student taught me the basic features. A week later, my nephew helped me join Facebook and showed me how to make private groups. It was still a foreign language to me, but this was a language that I could actually learn. I realized that unlike the SMART Board, smartphones and social media applications were designed for consumers, not for experts. Once I dipped my toe in, I found I could swim almost immediately.

Instead of using the college LMS, I created private groups on Facebook. In addition to posting assignments and notifications, we used Facebook and the students’ own devices in an interactive and collaborative way. For example, students used their phones to record their presentations, which they posted to our class group. After posting and discussing the criteria, we used the Facebook comments feature for feedback. We did peer reviewing of academic papers in a similar way. We used it to post images of what I had written on the board, images that students had taken of their own work, and countless other kinds of activities. In addition, students started posting and responding to their own questions, for example, questions about citations. I could see the class group becoming a community network in a way that the Pratt LMS could never be. Now, Facebook and the learners’ own devices have become essential tools in my class.

Classroom management was and remains a concern. Although we still use print textbooks, and pens and paper, students now have the potential distraction of their mobile devices. How can I be sure that they are working and not playing Candy Crush? When faced with issues such as this, I often return to my original observation; I get them to record and share. My students know that at any time, no matter what medium they are using, I can ask them to record their work, usually by taking a photograph, and share it on Facebook to be critiqued in class, or to send their work to me privately to be formally assessed later.

I am not sure whether I have become more confident using digital applications or whether digital applications have become simpler to use. Regardless, I have gone on to make grammar instruction videos using Keynote and Camtasia. In addition, students can now enlarge the images in my course pack because instead of photocopies, I make interactive PDFs using Adobe Acrobat Pro XI. I am currently considering how I can use digital technology to create multiple pathways for differentiated learning.

Having met several CALL directors at the TESOL conference in Portland this year, I’m pretty sure there is no secret handshake. And, no, I never did use the SMART Board, but I have not written on it yet either.


Johnson, K. E. (1999). Understanding language teaching. Boston, MA: Heinle.


Thomas Healy is an instructor at the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York. His research interests include developing self-supported technology solutions using widely available and easy-to-use digital tools. He is a coauthor of the Smart Choice series published by Oxford University Press.

NOTE: A version of this article originally appeared in On CALL (July 2014). Used with permission.