Teaching Teens 101


Teenagers often have a reputation which precedes them. Moody, rude, unmotivated and uncooperative, they’re many teachers’ least favourite age group to work with. What many teachers don’t realise is that teaching teens can be just as fun and rewarding as teaching other age groups – you just have to approach it in the right way. 

Thrown in at the deep end and have a class of teenagers to deal with? Here is what I wish I’d known when I first started teaching teens. 

1. Remember that they’re not adults.

It sounds obvious, but especially if (like me) you’re not overly tall, it can be a bit of a shock to walk into a room of 15 year olds and realise that they all tower over you. One of the mistakes people often make when teaching teens is that they assume that because their students look like adults, sound like adults, and sometimes act like adults, they can teach them in the same way that they would adults. With some classes, you can – however as a general rule, I’d say ‘don’t’. Teenagers don’t have the same attention span as adults. Hormones lead to fluctuations in both mood and energy levels. Often teachers complain about their teenage classes being ‘bored and lethargic’, when actually their students are just tired. For more information about the differences between teenage and adult brains, I really enjoyed this article.

Teenagers can be interested in very ‘adult’ topics (and by this I mean things like politics and the economy, as well as the other interpretation), but they can also surprise you by suddenly being interested in something that would strike you as being very immature. I remember one occasion when my teens begged me to let them write letters to Father Christmas – simply because they’d seen the letters my younger students had written and for whatever reason it had tickled their fancy.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that teenagers do need stricter boundaries than adult students. In most adult classes, there isn’t much classroom management to ‘do’, students don’t tend to be badly behaved and students are generally respectful of others’ points of view. Adult students also don’t have quite the same propensity to say things simply to ‘get a reaction’. Your teenagers need to be aware that if they wish to be treated like adults, they need to behave like them.

2. …but they’re not kids either.

Given what I’ve just said, it can be natural for teachers (especially those used to teaching younger children) to go too far in the other direction and treat their teens as though they are simply bigger children. Again, this tends to not work well. Teenagers are becoming ever more aware of themselves and the world around them, and as they get older they are increasingly able to engage in adult topics. I’ve yet to encounter a teenager who doesn’t hate being patronised – and if you ask them to do too many activities which are seen as ‘babyish’ this is the risk you are running.

3. Let them provide the input.

As I’ve touched upon in my last two points, teens can often be changeable, and surprising! It can be hard to work out what they will (or won’t) be interested in, and even if you weren’t a teenager too long ago yourself, it can still be difficult as an adult to try to keep up with the latest popular singers, films, books, and trends. Rather than guess what your students might be interested in or which celebrities they might be familiar with, it’s far safer to plan your activities so that your students can provide as much of the input as possible – even if it means asking them about things they like, and planning a subsequent lesson based on that.

4. Let them talk about themselves.

A useful addition to the above point. Teenagers are often pretty self-absorbed creatures, and are far more likely to engage with an activity if it gives them the opportunity to think, write, or speak about themselves. It also means you’re guaranteed a topic that everyone is interested in – win-win! The teenage years are also when children move from only thinking about their own little world to having opinions on more diverse subjects and issues, so if something does come up (or a textbook activity on the environment or laws is unavoidable), be sure to ask if they have an opinion on it.

5. Respect them!

I cannot stress this enough, as I’ve always found this to be the most important factor when teaching teens. If you respect them, they respect you – and vice versa. Teens need to be allowed to express themselves, to engage with themselves, each other and the world around them, and they need to be able to do so in an atmosphere which is open, friendly and supportive. Conversely, they should know that there is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the classroom, and any words or behaviour which are intended to hurt, belittle or intimidate other class members, or to disrupt others’ learning, will not be tolerated. Make your expectations know, be clear, be firm, and above all, be consistent.

6. Give them some responsibility.

With respecting teens, comes giving them some responsibility. Show them that you trust them, you respect and value their ideas and opinions, and their behaviour is almost sure to reward you. Not sure how to give your teens responsibility? Allow them to determine the consequences when rules in the class contract are broken. Allocate a certain student or group of students to be responsible for preparing/leading a game each week or each lesson. Spice up a revision lesson by asking each pair to prepare and present a short summary of a topic that will be covered in the test.

7. Don’t police them too rigidly.

Part of treating teens with respect and giving them some responsibility means trusting their ideas and opinions. Sometimes it can be worth giving teens a bit of a free rein and allowing them to talk about a potentially controversial issue – they may well surprise you with their maturity!

8. Ask “why?”

Often we associate constantly asking ‘why?’ with toddlers or small children. However it’s something I like to use with teens, as it forces them to think a little more and express themselves more clearly and in more detail. Often teens tend to try to cut off a conversation by giving a quick/silly answer. ‘What did you do on the weekend?’ ‘I slept.’ ‘What did you do yesterday?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘What can you tell me about the person in the photo?’ ‘He’s stupid’. Rather than try to pressure students into giving an entirely different answer, another approach can be to take their original answer and then run with it. ‘You slept? All weekend? Do you like sleeping? Why do you like sleeping?’. Be warned, this will make you incredibly annoying. It will also make your teenagers talk more, and in time they will give longer, more thought-through answers.

9. Expect the unexpected.

One of the joys (and the challenges) of teaching teens is that you never quite know what to expect. A normally chatty, lively class can be impacted hugely by a pre-lesson argument. School exams can have an effect on how motivated (or even how awake!) your students are. You may carefully plan a lesson, only to find that for whatever reason, on that day, your students aren’t interested in it. Yes, it’s annoying. But often going with the flow is the only way.

10. Hold the coursebook loosely.

Maybe whatever coursebook you’re meant to be using is fantastic, ideal for teenagers and really suited to both the level and the interests of the students you’re teaching. Chances are this is not the case. You may want to think about adapting the coursebook, leaving out or changing some activities altogether. Particularly if your coursebook is a few years old, don’t hesitate to replace the material (or particularly the songs!) for something a bit more up-to-date. The coursebook is there to help you – but provided you’re teaching whatever grammar, vocabulary and skills that the students need for any exams they are taking, don’t feel as if you have to follow it slavishly.

I hope some of this helps with your teen classes (particularly if you’re new to teaching this age group!). You can also read my Teaching Kids 101 post, which focuses on teaching 6-12 year olds. 




Project ideas for Summer School

Project Ideas


One of the loveliest things (for me, at least) about summer school is having a bit more freedom in your classes than you often have the rest of the year. The combination of mixed nationality (and potentially mixed level groups), seeing the same groups of students every day, and potentially quite long lessons (my last summer school had three 90 min classes a day, pretty long for 7-13 year olds!) all lends itself to one thing: project work.

Film Project

I have to admit that these are hands down my favourite type of project. I’ve done them at summer camps in Russia, summer schools in the UK, and even managed to slot them into the last few weeks of term when my students have desperately needed a little ‘something different’ as a pick-me-up. Ideally for a film project you need at least a couple of 90 min lessons – they work best if you can spread them out over a whole week. It sounds like a lot of time to spend on one project, but I’ve found that the rewards of seeing a film through to the end are enormous, a lot of language learning will be taking place, and once the ball is rolling, the students will provide most of the input, meaning minimal planning time!

  • The first step in any film project is for the students to understand what is being asked of them. They’ll all be pretty familiar with films, but I find that often they don’t have much of a clue about scripts, and what they tend to include. I’ve found that the easiest way to introduce this idea is simply to show the students some short sections of simple scripts – some can be found here  or here. Ask them what is different about the scripts compared to a normal story – that they contain stage directions (telling you what you can see, when and how people enter and exit, and how people say things), and that they are generally laid out ‘Character name: What the character says…’ – but that they lack lots of the information that we normally include if we are writing a story (adjectives, long descriptions of people and places, lots of background information etc).
  • Once the students understand what format a script normally looks like, explain to them that they are going to write a script – which they will then act and turn into a film. Brainstorm film genres and then vote for the most popular one. At this stage you have multiple options: if you have a very small class, they can all work together to write the whole script. In larger classes you many want them to roughly outline the story as a whole group, then allocate smaller groups of students to each write a section of the script. Alternatively (ideally with teens) each smaller group could plan and write their own script, for a different short film.
  • Monitor and help the students as they are writing their script – you may need to remind them of the format, or help them to make sure the different sections of the story fit together seamlessly (if they are in smaller groups who are each writing a scene of the film). Once the scripts are complete make sure you read them all through and check that they make sense!
  • Ideally set aside one section of a lesson (or one lesson!) for students to make/find the props that they will need in their film.
  • Allocate the different roles in the film, and practice reading through the lines – it’s easier to correct pronunciation at this stage rather than waiting until everyone is acting! (It could be helpful at this point to make some photocopies of the script so that everyone can see it easily – particularly your main actors).
  • Record your film! The great thing about technology these days is that you can now record film on most cameras, tablets, and other handheld devices – eliminating the need for a video camera. Even if you don’t have the ability to record video yourself, chances are that one of your students will have some kind of device that can. If your summer school is based at a school, you will normally have access to some kind of video editing software already installed on the computers – if not this programme is a free download which I’ve used before. Either the teacher or one of the stronger students can act as director.
  • Once the film is complete, make sure the students have a chance to watch it! Ideally have a screening so that they can show it to the rest of the school too.
  • To extend the start of the project: This one is pretty easy to extend, as you can use it as a follow up to any other kind of work on film – discussion of students’ favourite films, reading about films/film making, or film related vocabulary such as different film genres.
  • To extend the end of the project: Especially if you have had several groups/classes making films, you can make the screening into a big event – your very own film premiere, complete with red carpet and interviews of the stars. The students can review the films they watch, and you can have an awards ceremony with prizes for Best Actor, Best Actress, etc.

Dragon’s Den

Again, a tried-and-tested project that I’ve done multiple times, with both kids and teenagers. This is a really good one for getting students to work on their presentation skills, and gives them a great opportunity to be creative! For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Dragon’s Den is a TV show in which contestants showcase their new invention or business idea. They present their idea to a panel of ‘dragons’ – successful businessmen and women, who are all looking to invest in new projects – and successful candidates receive money towards their business, in exchange for shares in the company or part of the profits. It all sounds very ‘adult’, but some years ago the BBC produced a great kids’ version for BBC Children in Need – and it’s been lovely to show my young students that just because they are young, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a taste for business!

  • Show the students an extract from Dragon’s Den. I tend to use the BBC Children in Need version which can be found here – but be warned, I’ve found that this clip is not available outside the UK. For those teaching elsewhere, I’ve found that the best option available is this Irish version of the same concept, but be warned, the accents can be quite tricky for learners to follow! Tell the students that it is a TV show/competition, and ask them to find out: Who are the dragons? and What do the contestants (preteach if necessary) have to do? 
  • Collect feedback, then ask the students to watch the extract again – if you’re using the BBC version you can choose a different business idea if you prefer. This time ask the students to write down as much information about the business idea as possible. They should be looking for things like: What is the idea, why did the contestant decide to produce this product, how do they make the product, how do they sell the product, how much money have they made so far etc. Again, collect feedback.
  • Explain to the students that they are going to do something similar – they need to design their own product/their own idea for a business, and present it to a panel of judges. Put the students into groups, and then allow them time to brainstorm ideas and decide on a final product/business idea.
  • Once they have decided on a product, encourage the students to think about it in as much detail as possible. They should think about what it is made of, its size, any possible variants on it (different models, different colours etc). If you have lots of time on your hands and creative students, they can draw or make a model of their finished product.
  • Having designed their product, the students need to work in their groups to create their presentations. It’s worth reminding them at this point that everyone in their group needs to speak, rather than just one person doing all the work while everyone else stands around awkwardly! At this point, as well as the specifications of their product, they should also be thinking about things like how they will sell their product, how much it will cost, how much it costs them to make, and how much profit they have made already.
  • Now it’s time to host your very own version of Dragon’s Den – the dragons can either be a panel of teachers/other staff members, or be all of the other students in the class! There are different options when it comes to prizes – I’ve had students request the number of housepoints/raffle tickets they would like (rather than the size of the investment) – and then granted the winning students’ request (tying in with a whole school reward system), but I’ve also simply awarded a small prize to the group with the highest number of votes.
  • To extend the start of the project: Students can discuss other inventions, or read or discuss ideas about entrepreneurship. Students can study useful vocabulary/structures, eg. passives, vocabulary for describing objects/materials, presenation skills.

Design a Game/Sport

Coursebooks aimed at children/teenagers often include a section on sport. However, as we all know, playing sport tends to be far more fun than simply talking about it! This project combines the best of both worlds – and makes for some interesting discussion about some of the wackier aspects of British culture as well!

  • Show students some pictures of weird and wacky sports – we have some great ones here in the UK! Examples can be found here, here and here. Tell the students that the pictures each show a real sport – and put them in small groups to discuss a) what each sport is called, b) what equipment you need for it, and c) what the participants have to do. Collect feedback, and let students know if their predictions were correct!
  • Put the students in small groups. Tell them that they are going to design a new sport – it should be interesting, and unusual, but remind them that it also needs to be safe! Let them know at this stage that provided it is possible (ie. the equipment and space are available) they will be able to try out one of their new sports.
  • Remind the students that they need to plan: What equipment is needed for this sport, where will the sport take place, how many players/teams are needed, what you do to play the game, how players/teams score points (and how the scoring system works), how players win the game, and how the game is won. Give examples using some well known sports (ie. how do these things apply to football, tennis etc). Then leave time for students to discuss their ideas – you can ask them to prepare a poster/presentation about it.
  • Students present their new sports to the class – hold a vote to decide the best/most interesting one!
  • Provided you have time, space, and equipment, get the winning group to teach the rest of the class how to play their sport – and then play it! (This is the most fun part of the activity, so ideally while monitoring encourage students to prepare something that they can actually play – eg. no pig riding/broomsticks/shark-infested swimming pools etc.)
  • To extend the project at the start: Discuss students’ favourite sports/popular or strange sports in their own countries. Turn the ‘wacky sports’ information into a reading activity/running dictation rather than simply telling the students the correct answers. Teach useful structures/vocabulary, eg. must, have to, don’t have to, sports equipment, verbs relating to sport eg. shoot, score, hit, kick, win, lose, draw.
  • To extend the project at the end: Students can review/evaluate the game they played. Students can create an advert for their game. Students can create a kit and badge for their game. Students can teach their game to other people/another class.

What’s your favourite thing about summer school?

Do you have any great project ideas? I’d love to hear them! 

5 Getting to Know You Activities for Summer School

Getting-to-know-you activities

Most English teachers have the bulk of their new classes at the start of the academic year – in September or October, or around January in many Asian countries. What sets teaching at summer school apart from this is finding that you have new students every week or two! Here are a few ‘getting to know you’ activities to make things a little easier, and to prevent you from racking your brains to remember what you did last September!

Some team-building activities can also be good ice-breakers with a new class – see my post about them here.

Paper Faces

Time: 15 mins                               Level: Beginner +

Materials: Paper plates – 1 per student, slips of paper, felt tip pens/coloured pencils

If you don’t have paper plates, an alternative would be simply to use paper or card, and ask students to draw a circle after handing out the paper and pens.  This activity also helps to revise parts of the face, colours, and simple adjectives such as big/small, long/short.


  1. Give each student a slip of paper, and ask them to write their name.
  2. Collect all the strips back in. Randomly distribute them to the students/ask them to draw the names out of a hat – but if they get their own name they must put it back and take another. They must not show the other students the name they have.
  3. Hand out the paper plates – 1 per student. Tell the students that this is a face, and they are going to draw the person whose name they have.
  4. Tell the students that they have 30 seconds to draw this person’s eyes. Draw their attention to the different aspects of the feature by asking them to think about what colour the person’s eyes are, are they big/small, etc.
  5. Now give the students 30 seconds to draw the person’s mouth. Is it big or small? Do they look happy or sad?
  6. Repeat the process asking the students to draw the nose, ears, hair, and then giving a final minute or two for students to add any other features (eg. glasses, eyebrows) and to colour.
  7. Collect the plates in and either blu-tak them to the board, or place them around the room. Ask the students to run to the one they think is (student’s name). Repeat until all the students have been correctly guessed. This can be done as a team activity, in which the students who reach the correct plate first get a point.

To extend the task: Students discuss whether they think the plate is a good picture of them – why or why not? Students vote for the best drawing (the one which looks most like the person) or the most imaginative drawing. Students write a short description of their/another ss’ plate; then match the descriptions with the people.

Find Someone Who…

We’ve all done them – but honestly, that’s because Find Someone Who activities work. You can easily find one appropriate for your students’ age group and level online, such as this example, or you can simply make your own in a few minutes.

Time: 5-10 mins                                      Level: Beginner +

Materials: Find Someone Who worksheets – 1 per student, make sure all the students have a pen/pencil!


1. Hand out the worksheets. Allow a minute or two for students to read all the sentences and make sure they understand. For lower levels this would be a good time to check students know how to correctly form the appropriate types of questions.

2. Model the activity using one or two students. Make it clear that they need to speak to individual students, not simply call out and ask the whole class (they will try!) and emphasise that they need to speak English throughout the activity.

3. Allow around 5 mins for students to mingle and speak to as many people as possible.

To extend the task: Students find the person in the class who is the most similar to/most different from them. Students write a short description of one person in the class based on the information they have found out. They the read this description out and the rest of the class guesses who it is. Students answer teachers’ questions about their classmates – either as a whole group or as a team activity.


Time: 10 mins                                          Level: High elementary +              

Materials: paper for each student, music


  1. Give each student one piece of paper. Ask them to write down 5 facts about themselves (eg. I can play the piano, I like eating pizza, I am 10 years old…). Tell them that they must keep the facts they are writing secret – they mustn’t show anyone else! Teacher can model/provide ideas if necessary.
  2. When everyone has finished, ask all the students to screw up their paper. Modelling is needed for this one – normally they all stare at you blankly when you ask them to screw up their work!
  3. Explain the rules: You will play music. When the students hear music, they must throw their balls of paper. They should keep throwing the paper until the music stops (pick up any that come near them/go and find them and keep throwing!). When the music stops, they must stop throwing, find the ball nearest to them and pick it up.
  4. On the count of 3, everyone must unfold their paper, and try to guess which class member it belongs to.
  5. Repeat the activity several times.

To extend the activity: Students can write questions instead of facts, mingle and ask and answer when the music stops.

2 Truths and a Lie

Another common one, but adults and young learners seem to love it alike.

Time: 10-15 mins                                      Materials: Paper and pens only

  1. Explain to the students that you are going to tell them three facts about you. However, while two of the facts are true, one of them is a lie. They can ask you 5 (or more if you desire – alternatively you can set a time limit) questions about the facts, but then they must decide together which things they think are true and which is false.
  2. Tell the students the facts (and write them on the board as a reminder/model).
  3. Students ask you the questions – you can choose whether or not you lie in your answers or whether you tell the truth, but I find that attempting to keep up the illusion that the ‘lie’ fact is true makes for a better game! After they have reached their limit, they must explain which fact they believe is the lie and why.
  4. Students then repeat the activity, writing their own facts and guessing about their partner.

Quiz the Teacher

Time: 15-20 mins                                       Level: Pre-intermediate +

This is my favourite ‘getting to know you’ type activity with teens and older children. It really gives them an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about their new teacher, and is also a great practice of question forms, giving opinions, and justifying ideas.


1. Ask the students what information they want to know when they meet a new person – eg. name, age, hobbies, where they live, etc. Write their suggestions on the board (in one/two word note form).

2. Elicit what questions you would need to ask about these topics in order to find out the answer: eg. age = how old are you?

3. Put the students in pairs/small groups. Tell them that you are going to give them 5 mins (or more if you have lots of ideas on the board!) to guess your answers to the questions. They must also say why they have chosen each answer (eg. We think your favourite colour is yellow, because you’re wearing a yellow t-shirt). Tell them that after 5 mins they can ask you the questions and find out if their guesses are correct or not.

4. Monitor while the students are discussing/writing their answers. Then ask each group at a time for their guesses and reasons, before confirming the right answer. Students can then work in pairs and complete the same guessing/asking/answering activity with their partner.

To extend the activity: Students discuss what they thought was the most surprising/interesting fact they found out about their teacher/about someone else in the class. Students write a mini-profile of themselves or a classmate using the information discussed.

Have you tried any of these getting-to-know you activities in your classroom?

What are your favourite getting-to-know you activities? 

If you enjoyed this post please check out my series on Surviving Summer School – you can find them all here.

Surviving Summer School: After It’s All Over…

This is part 6/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here. 

Nail Art (1)

Today’s the day: it’s under two weeks until the usual start of summer school season, and my final post in this series. In this post I’m talking about after it’s all over – you’ve completed your two or four or six or even eight weeks at summer school, and now you need to relearn how to survive in the real world.

Expect withdrawl symptoms.

If you thought starting at summer school was a culture shock, finishing summer school is even more so. For the last x number of weeks, you’ve lived in a bubble. A somewhat hectic, crazy bubble, where you’ve not had much free time, you’ve had a very rigid schedule, and you’ve been working (and living) with pretty much the same group of people 24/7. Leaving that is almost guaranteed to be strange.

Personally, I know that for the first few days after my summer school contract finishes, these thoughts will be at the forefront of my mind:

  • Where are the children? Am I meant to be supervising them?
  • See above, preceded by variants on ‘It’s suspiciously quiet…’
  • What do you mean dinner isn’t at exactly 6pm every night?
  • What do you mean I have to cook my own dinner? And then wash up after?
  • Wait, I get to choose what food I want to eat?
  • What exactly am I meant to be doing right now?
  • Just wait til I tell (insert name of summer school colleague) about this!

All I can say with regards to any of this is a) it’s normal, b) give it time.

This one time, at summer school…

The double-edged sword of returning to the ‘real world’ post summer school is that not only are you rejoining your previous life, but you’re also suddenly spending all your time with PWWNASSs – People Who Were Not At Summer School. Understandably, the only known cure for this is both to keep in touch with your summer school colleagues, and to start (or restart) a teaching job in the autumn with a load of other recovering summer school teachers.

In the meantime, I must offer my condolences to all your friends, family, and loved ones. If you’ve ever seen the first few American Pie films you’ll know where I’m coming from with the title of this section: recovering summer school staff are destined to retell all of the hilarious summer school stories at any available opportunity. PWWNASSs will not get it. That’s ok.

Taking it back into the ‘real world’.

I’m well aware that this is a pretty light-hearted post, but I do still have some wisdom to impart. Hopefully, over your time at summer school, you’ve learnt something – now is your chance to put it into practice.

  • During your time at summer school, chances are that you’ve come across something new. Be it a new game or activity, a type of lesson you taught that worked really well, or a coursebook or online resource that you hadn’t used previously – make a note of it, and use it again! If you’re returning to or starting a teaching job in the autumn, you’ve got a great excuse to try it out. If you’ll be returning to uni or looking for work, simply make a note of it that you’ll have available when you are next in front of a class.
  • Never underestimate the amount that summer school can help you grow in confidence, or in your ability to be flexible and think on your feet. I can honestly say that if I’d never done summer school, I’d be a very different person to who I am now – and I can’t imagine any situation where that would be a positive thing.
  • Don’t forget to keep in touch with people!* If you don’t keep in touch with your summer school colleagues, where else are you going to share those summer school memories? Perhaps I’m biased, as I met the love of my life when we were both teaching at summer school. But I’ve made some great friends that way as well!
  • On a slightly less sentimental note, people can be a resource too. If you’re in the market for a job come the autumn (or even thinking about what you’re going to do the following year) summer school is a great opportunity to find out what working in different countries/for different schools is really like. Where else are you likely to find someone you know personally who’s been working for IH Madrid, or who has backpacked across Asia, or who has taught primary school students in Poland?

Looking forward to next year…

…in more ways than one, I hope! If you loved your summer school experience (and I really, really hope you did) then it’s never too soon to start thinking about next summer. The summer school recruitment season doesn’t seem to start properly until spring, but most schools tend to prefer returning staff to get in touch early. When I worked in the Head Office for a language school, we had one staff member email to let us know he’d like to come back the following year – on the day his contract finished! While perhaps that’s a little too keen, remember that summer schools do tend to work on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you really want to return to the same school you worked at this year, or you want to work with a particular colleague (and have made plans to return there together) it’s probably wise to get in touch early. Otherwise, there’s always the option of applying to work for a school in a different location, or even a different summer school company.

If by any chance your summer school experience wasn’t a good one, I’m truly sorry. I have to admit that just as not everyone is a talented artist or a skilled sportsman, summer school simply isn’t always for everyone. It can be a demanding job, an intense environment, and particularly if you’re dealing with problems of any kind back in the real world, it can all be a bit much. If this is you and you’re still struggling through, well done for making it as far as you have, and please talk to someone.

Do you have any other questions or things you’d like to know about summer school? 

Please do get in touch – I’d be happy to help!


*Disclaimer: Pretty much every summer school has a policy about staff not keeping in touch with students via social media etc, and if they don’t, they should do. Keeping in touch with child or teen summer school students is never a good idea, and can result in you being disciplined or even fired. If one of your students asks if they can add you on Facebook etc, politely decline, let them know it’s nothing personal, and if they persist tell them that it’s the company rules and you are simply not allowed. I’ve never had a student argue with that.

Surviving Summer School: Lesson Planning 101

This is part 5/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here. 

Surviving Summer School

For many new CELTA/Trinity graduates, summer school is their first teaching job. If you are one of them, then this post is for you!

Summer schools all work a little differently, and one of those differences is in terms of *what* exactly is taught. Whilst I can’t offer one-size-fits-all advice here, I can offer some hints and tips to make teaching a little easier.

1. Find out what materials are used.

Some summer schools do base their syllabus on existing coursebooks. Others produce a ‘lesson plan pack’ that is individual to that particular school. Still others have school-unique workbooks for the students to complete during their stay, and the lessons aim to cover those topics. This is something that’s helpful to find out about during your interview. If you didn’t ask and they didn’t tell you, don’t panic – do some scouting around on the summer school’s website, email the company, or even just wait until you get there; it won’t be the end of the world. Once you’ve found this out, there are three main questions you’ll want to address:

  • What exactly is it? If you have a standard coursebook to work from (which will likely be accompanied by teachers’ notes), teaching isn’t really likely to be too different from what you did on your CELTA. The same theories still apply – for each lesson figure out what you want your students to be able to do by the end of it, and then work backwards from there. If you have lesson plan packs, that’s potentially great! Lesson planning done! (At least to some extent – see the next point). If the students simply have a workbook, or a designated ‘theme for the week’ and nothing else, chances are you’ll need to be a bit more creative with your planning. Importantly though, don’t panic!
  • How useable is it? This is probably more likely to apply to lesson plan packs or workbooks, as coursebooks are normally rather more thoroughly ‘tried and tested’! However: if you’re teaching teens and you’re given an adult coursebook (has happened!) then be prepared to do a little more work when it comes to figuring out how to teach it. I’ve worked with teachers who have assumed that because the summer school provides lesson plan packs, that means no lesson planning required – it’s all been done for you! Check what you’re working with before you decide if this is the case 🙂 Often provided lesson plans will do the majority of the work for you, but there will still be parts you’ll want to change and things you’ll want to add or leave out, depending on your students.
  • What can you add to it? Just because you’ve been given some kind of material to follow, it doesn’t mean that you have to only do that. Don’t be scared of the idea of using supplementary materials. I share some ideas about how to choose what to use here.

2. Start from the very… end?

I remember in my first few months of teaching finding the idea of ‘lesson aims’ utterly daunting, and something I’d rather avoid thinking about. After all, it’s much easier to simply aim to cover page 66 and 67 of the coursebook. What I found completely changed my approach, however, was the idea of starting at the end and working backwards in order to figure out what your aims actually are. Whether you’re considering a set of vocabulary words, a grammar point, or even just a couple of pages in the coursebook, think about what you’d ideally like your students to be able to do at the end of the lesson. Do you want them to be able to talk about their favourite film? Do you want them to write a story using past simple and past continuous? Do you want them to ask another student in the class questions about their family? Once you’ve identified that ‘end aim’, what you do in the lesson should enable your students to get there. For example, if you want them to ask questions about family, they need to remember words for different family members, they need to know how to form questions, and they perhaps need some work on intonation/pronunciation in questions. These are the things you need to include in your lesson. Working backwards suddenly makes it very easy to work out what you do (and don’t!) need to include, and so helps you to work out what the different stages in your lesson will be.

3. Teamwork is your friend!

At most summer schools, there will be more than one teacher for each level – for example, there will be several classes of pre-intermediate students, several of upper-intermediate students, etc. This means that there is likely to be someone else teaching the same material as you. Make use of each other! One of the nicest summer schools I’ve worked at was where one of my colleagues and I set up a ‘photocopying agreement’. The syllabus involved lots of worksheets/bits of paper on most days, which meant lots of time spent at the photocopier. We agreed that on one day, one of us would do all the copying for both our classes (we would be teaching the same lessons, so it simply entailed making double the amount of copies), on the other day the other would do all the copying. More free time, everyone wins! It’s also nice to have someone to plan with/bounce ideas off – often other people have fantastic ideas that you might not have thought of.

4. Ask for help if you need it.

I feel as if I spend a lot of time reiterating this point, but it is an important one. Your senior teacher is there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re uncertain or even if you simply want reassurance that you’re on the right lines. No one starts out teaching knowing everything (in fact it’s the people who think they do who often run into problems!), and all of your colleagues were new to teaching once. At some point in the future you’ll be the one giving advice to the scared-looking newbie, and realise just how far you’ve come!

Good luck, and happy teaching!

Surviving Summer School: Free Time Fears

This is part 4/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here. 

Summer School

Summer school is a full time job – and then some. Make no mistake, no matter how well-prepared you think you are, how much teaching experience you have, or how much energy you think you have to spare, by the end of the first week you will be exhausted. Don’t despair, don’t panic, and above all else please don’t think about quitting. You can survive 6-8 weeks of this, and there are some ways to make it far easier.

Know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Most summer schools have a disclaimer in their contracts where it states that on some occasions you will be required to work for more than 40 hours a week. This is there for a reason. It’s also not as terrifying as it initially sounds. Here’s why. It isn’t all ‘work’ as you know it. Some of those hours will be when you are having the time of your life dancing at a disco (trust me, it’s amazing – it’s like going clubbing but without the pressure to pull, and the lack of alcohol means no hangover the next day). Some of those hours will be on the glorious sunny afternoon when you are lounging by the swimming pool, or playing volleyball in blazing sunshine with a group of Spanish teenagers. Some of those hours will likely be supervising students at meal times, or during their free time, or during the ‘lights out’ period. It’s all ‘work’, but not all work is equal, and it isn’t all equally tiring – in fact a lot of it’s pretty fun!

Saying that, it is wise to make sure you’re as well-rested as possible before you head to summer school. If at all possible, don’t start work there immediately after finishing a contract elsewhere. If that’s unavoidable, know that you are going to get tired. Cut yourself some slack.

Look after yourself.

Tiredness, working hard, a change in diet, lots of students coming from all different countries… it only means one thing: getting sick. It sounds like typical ‘Mum advice’, but regardless of what you do the rest of the year, summer school is the time to make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating as much fruit and vegetables as possible, drinking enough water, and ideally taking multivitamins. Taking precautions won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, but it will mean that if you do, it will likely be less severe and you’ll recover more quickly. It can be difficult to get good fruit and veg (UK boarding school food is notoriously dire) so this is where either stocking up on your own supply or bringing multivitamins with you comes in. It can also be tempting to stay up late socialising with your new colleagues/hopefully friends – don’t do this every night. I speak from experience!

Don’t work all the time.

This advice also comes from personal experience. The first couple of years I did summer school, I was at something of a loss as to what to do with myself when I did get time off. I’m an extrovert by nature, and spending my day off by myself in a city I didn’t know didn’t appeal in the slightest – so I did what seemed natural: hung out with my colleagues. Who, obviously, were working. Meaning that I ended up working too. When you’re nineteen or twenty (as I was) you can deal with being constantly ‘on’. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable. However as an elderly lady of twenty-seven, I now find that I need my time off. I’d advice anyone valuing their sanity to do the same.

If you have a hobby you can easily indulge in while at summer school, make sure you pack whatever you need for it. Take some good books or a laptop with films or TV shows you love on it. If at all possible, leave the site on your days off. It might seem easier just to stay put, but you will feel far more refreshed and relaxed if you physically leave for a few hours and go somewhere else. This is also where befriending your colleagues comes in! It can be harder as an activity leader (they generally have their days off during the week and, at least at smaller schools, take separate days off) but as a teacher you will tend to have a weekend day off – along with other teachers. See if you can go somewhere or do something with them – and if they’d rather just stay in their room and relax show them this post!

It is only X weeks.

At the end of the day, no matter how exhausted you feel, remember that summer school is invariably only for a limited number of weeks. This is not your life from now on (although it might feel like it) and things that would not be sustainable in the longterm are perfectly ok if you’re only doing it for a short period of time. Expect to sleep well for the first few days after you finish your contract!

And a final word… talk to someone.

If at any point you’re feeling tired to the point that you can’t cope, talk to someone. Your senior teacher/ADOS/course leader is there to help you – and as it won’t be their first summer school, they’ve definitely been in your position. Maybe you can swap a shift with someone so you can go to bed a little earlier, or supervise a slightly gentler activity. Maybe another teacher or your senior teacher can help you a little with planning or photocopying so that you get a bit more free time. Don’t make yourself suffer in silence.


Surviving Summer School: The Staffroom (And What the Activity Leaders Want You To Know)

This is part 3/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here. 

surviving summer school 3

At every summer school I’ve worked at so far there has been, to a greater or lesser extent, a Great Divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – the teachers and the activity leaders. Everyone on the staff at a summer school is working together to make it an enjoyable experience for the kids, so we’re all on the same team, right? In theory, yes. But it can be hard to believe. As one of the seemingly rare hybrid species who have done both roles, here are some mediating letters to both sides.

Dear Teachers,

You may think that our role as Activity Leaders is less important (or you may have even been told as such by well-meaning but ill-informed management). The fact of the matter is that this is simply not true. Much as the sense of taste is damaged with no sense of smell, we are a team. Without you, the students would simply play games, do sports and do arts and crafts for the whole summer – all in their own languages. Without developing their English skills, they would not have the ability or the confidence to strike up a conversation with a student with a different first language… and as a result everyone’s experiences would be far less rich. During activities, however, is when the language they have learnt in class becomes a real, ‘living’ thing. Using English as a tool to communicate will develop their confidence, their self-esteem, and their English as well, and this is something the students will hopefully experience outside the classroom as well.

We know you are tired after teaching for the morning and are mentally busy planning for the following day. But please, please try to be enthusiastic about activities. Unless we tell you otherwise, you aren’t in ‘teacher mode’ here, we are – so a lot of the time you can simply join in and have some fun! You don’t need to be a skilled sportsman/woman. Some of the students inevitably won’t be either, and the best thing you can do for the reluctant student who wants to sit on the sidelines is to take part and show enthusiasm yourself.

Likewise, please try your hardest to be flexible – as in the classroom, things can and do go wrong. If the plans suddenly change or something doesn’t work as intended, please try to be understanding. The best thing you can do is to offer to help or to ask what needs to be done – then do it.

Often we are pretty young – most of us are university students. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are immature, irresponsible or simply in this job for the money. Who knows, one day we might do a CELTA and become one of you!


Your Activity Leaders



Dear Activity Leaders,

Teaching for the day and then being expected to do activities is hard. Teaching takes a lot of energy, and by the time we come to you in the afternoon we may well be occupied by the events that happened in our lessons – the student who was struggling, the student we think should probably move up a level, the one who doesn’t seem to mix well with the others and the one who is downright angry about being here.

Activities are your time to shine. Please take the lead here and make sure you plan what we’re going to do, where we’re going to be, and make sure that the space and equipment are available. As teachers, we know all about planning, and no one enjoys an unstructured ‘let’s just go down to the sports field and kick a ball around’ as much as a properly organised event.

As previously mentioned, by the time we get to you we are tired. We don’t intend to be deliberately obtuse, but it can really help us if you give us specific tasks to do – collect the footballs from here, supervise this group of students, help this group of students sort themselves into teams. After a morning of making tens of decisions, we don’t really have the energy to play guesswork to figure out what you want us to do. (This is why we might be standing in a little group in the corner of the field talking, not because we are deliberately trying to annoy you).


Your Teachers