Taboo

Easily adapted from the famous game of the same name (check out Uncle Wiki for a more detailed description), this vocabulary game is a useful way to repeat words that you’ve covered in class and gives students practice at paraphrasing and describing. What’s more, students give positive feedback for this game.

Preparation:

You will need your target words. For each target word, prepare a card with 3 related words that you don’t want your students to use during the description. The number of cards you prepare will depend on how long you want the activity to last and the size of your class, but I normally go for around 12 cards.taboo

You will also need a hat, bag or something to randomise the cards.

Time: 10 – 20 minutes
When: Warmer or cooler
Level: Elementary – Advanced
Happy students: ****

Detailed procedure:

  1. The student takes a card from the hat
  2. The student explains the target word without using the word itself or any of the 3 related words

You can play the game as a competition between 2 teams or individually – with the students taking it in turns to describe a word and the rest guessing. Make it competitive by giving points for correct guesses or explanations

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Easy essen for English Teachers: Chinco Vietnam Restaurant

Supremely-central Vietnamese eatery Chinco is a budget friendly lunchtime option boasting a sit down restaurant, a takeaway section with standing tables, an outdoor seating area, and dusty 1970s style décor.20150529_124433

Although the surroundings are not exactly inspiring, Chinco’s culinary fare offers relief. The sit down restaurant features a full range of East Asian cuisine. However, the travelling English teacher is more likely to take their repast in the takeaway section next door. The offerings here are rather more limited – basically coming down to a choice between a plate of chicken and rice, or a ‘Viet Box’, available in various combinations such as chicken curry and spicy chicken noodles. 20150529_130330The service is friendly enough and (as the ingredients are pre-cooked) extremely fast – making this an ideal option for those on a tight timetable. Another big plus point for Chinco are the prices. A Viet Box clocks in at a very competitive €3.50 – comparable to similar eats outside of the centre, but undercutting most other local choices.

The Chicken Curry Viet Box contains a reasonably generous amount of chicken, along with sticky rice, bean sprouts, carrot and topped off with a fairly spicy curry sauce. Although the chicken, vegetables and sauce hit the spot, the rice tends towards the over sticky side – clumping together into a big rice ball. The portion size is adequate for a normal appetite, although those with a bigger belly or who have skipped breakfast may feel unsatisfied. 20150529_124623

Chinco’s real appeal lies in its super central location next to Friedrichstraße station. Restaurants and cafes in the area tend to cater for our friends in suits, ties and Audis – budget options, apart from a few sub-par kebab shops and T.E.I.B. pet favourite Ditsch, are limited. Whilst the food may not win any Michelin stars, the location alone makes Chinco a welcome addition to the Mitte culinary landscape, especially for English teachers without a hankering for kebab or pretzel.

Taste 2.5/5 Convenience 5/5 Value 3.5/5

Chinco
Georgenstr. 25
10117 Berlin
Mitte

Why to change student pairs/groups and some ways to do it

Human beings are creatures of habit. Language learners are no exception.

To keep your teacher talking time to a minimum and give your students the maximum speaking practice, you will want to make plentiful use of pair and group work in the classroom. In keeping with the ‘human-creature-habit’ assertion, you will more than likely find that your students plonk themselves down in exactly the same seat week after week, surrounded by their close colleagues/classroom buddies and peering nervously at the less-knowns across the table.

Although not interfering with your students seating choice may be the most comfortable course of action, there are many benefits to mixing things up.

Why change things?

For starters, it can get boring for your learners to work with the same people every class, so swapping everyone around is a great way to keep things fresh. Taking your students out of their comfort zones can be beneficial for their linguistic development too, as people share their strengths and weaknesses. 20150527_152005

Varying student interactions can be essential when you have a mixed level class. You may choose to pair stronger and weaker students, or keep similar levels together depending on the activity and lesson focus. Finally, you may be faced with the simple fact that some students don’t get on, or that you have one especially awkward person in your class. Changing pairs in this case is essential for creating a positive learning environment.

Selling the idea to your students

Let’s get this categorically stated – you will encounter resistance from some of your business students. Whilst general English learners expect to be moved around, business people generally prefer to sit with their close colleagues and the people they feel more secure with. Why this is the case can be debated, although it’s probably down to a fear of losing face and making mistakes with colleagues that they don’t know so well. It can be even more problematic when you have different grades in the same class – nobody wants to have an error-strewn conversation with the boss or the HR manager in charge of their next annual evaluation. These are valid concerns of course, but the language benefits outweigh these risks and you will probably find that the majority of your students react positively to working with others.

Explaining the benefits of pair work to students is a good idea, detailing the focus on speaking fluency and the positive influence of working with a partner.

You can try to organise your classroom once everyone has arrived and sat down, explaining the benefits of mixed pairs to get student buy-in. Depending on your learners, it may be better to pair your students off before they sit down and have a chance to get comfortable.

(Fun) ways of swapping pairs

Of course the most straightforward and controlled method of organising pairs is to pick your students as they come into the room – “Michael work with Christian” and so on. If you are willing to leave things to chance, you can ask students to sort themselves according to height, birthday, star sign, place of birth (alphabetically) or any other factor.

You might also want to make pair swapping into a mini-classroom activity. You could ask your students to mingle and find a partner with the same interests, hobbies or work experience. Take things a step further and revise a recent language point. For example, if you have covered past simple recently, ask your learners to find a partner who did 3 of the same activities as them on the previous weekend. airplane

On the more outlandish side, why not organise a paper aeroplane competition? This might not the best choice for your class of investment bankers, but works well with a general English/fun loving business class. Make paper aeroplanes, throw them and pair 1st-last, 2nd-2nd last and so on.

Good mixing!

5 tip top tips for finding a job as an English teacher in Berlin

So, the draw of the world’s most fun city has proved too much, you’ve decided to move to Berlin and teaching English is the way that you’ll make your bread and honey. brandie gateBerlin truly is a great city to live in with tons to do, culture, parks and importantly – cheap beer. Beware though, that for those teaching English, this is absolutely not another Madrid or Dubai. Competition is fierce, work is on a freelance basis, workloads are variable and making a living can be a challenge. Still, if you’ve got your heart set on the city of currywurst, have a look at these top tips for finding work.

  1. Get the CELTA (or other well-regarded TEFL certificate)
  2. It may be a bit of an investment in time and money, but having one drastically increases your chances of finding work. You may (if you’re very lucky) still find some work without one, but the more reputable schools won’t consider you. Having some experience (especially business English) can also be a massive help.

  3. Email out your CV before you arrive
  4. Teaching positions are rarely advertised. The way to chase potential positions is to contact schools directly, introduce yourself and send them your CV. You may well be able to line up a few interviews in advance of your arrival date, saving you a lot of time (and money).

  5. Print off your CV and go to schools in person
  6. When you arrive in Berlin, print off your CV and deliver it in person. Emails often get forgotten or ignored (directors of studies are busy people!). Getting your face out there is the best way to secure an interview.

  7. Come with some pocket money
  8. Getting a teaching job in Berlin is not black and white and a successful interview never equals an immediate full time schedule. Rather the school will give you one class (usually a substitute class for another teacher) to get you started and as an evaluation. Your timetable will slowly build up over 2-3 months. With all this in mind, you should bring sufficient money to cover your living expenses during this time

  9. Going to the interview
  10. If you’ve got an interview, congratulations! Teaching interviews in Berlin are generally informal affairs and are often more like a chat about your experience and how the school works. Here are some more tips on aceing the interview:

    Things you should ask at the interview
    Common interview questions

Bear in mind that you will almost certainly have to work for more than one school to make ends meet, so keep job searching until you get your full timetable.

Good hunting!

Registering as a resident in Berlin: Paying a visit to the Bürgeramt

Everyone who is a resident in Berlin must register with the city council and give their address, a process known as Anmeldung or registration.

You must register in person in one of Berlin’s network of Bürgerämter or bureaucracy offices. By law, you must register within 14 days of moving to a new (or your first) address, although in practice this is often disregarded due to the congested system at the present time.

After registering, you’ll receive a Anmeldebestätigung or registration certificate. Asides from fulfilling your legal responsibilities, you will need your registration certificate to open a bank account, get a job and for a whole load of other essential administrative tasks.

Preparing for your visit

A bureaucrat’s fantasy, the Bürgeramt, can be a real hassle.

Opening times, as with all government type things, are rather limited and vary widely depending on the individual office. Standard opening times are from around 8am in the morning and to around 5pm in the afternoon. Most are closed at least 2 mornings or afternoons during the week. For full opening times, consult the official website.

You can register at any of Berlin’s Bürgerämter, it doesn’t matter where you live.

To get your appointment, you have two options:

1. Book an advance appointment

The preferable option. Book in advance on the official website (click on ‘Termin Berlinweit suchen‘), choose a time and office, go to the office a little bit before the appointment, tell the receptionist that you’re there and fill out the form. You may need to wait 30 minutes or so.
The big issue with this method is the crazy waiting time for an appointment. Expect to wait at least 6 weeks. Occasionally cancelled appointments are re-released, so you should keep checking the website to see if more appointments become available.

2. Turn up first thing in the morning

Some Bürgeramt including Bürgerämter Sonnenallee and Rathaus Neukölln also release a limited number of appointments on the day. For this option, you should aim to arrive at least an hour before opening time to get into the inevitable queue. On entry, go to the ticket machine and get a number for your appointment. Beware that waiting times can be rather long.

At your appointment

In order to register, you need your passport or national ID card, a completed registration form – Anmeldung bei der Meldebehörde (available at the office or download) and your rental agreement. They may also accept a signed letter from your landlord.

Bürgeramt agents don’t speak any English, or are not allowed to according to some reports, so you will need German. However, the appointment itself is relatively straightforward so anyone with a modest level and a dictionary should be fine. If you don’t feel confident, then it would be best to take a German speaking friend with you.

One last point to consider is Germany’s Kirchensteuer or church tax. You will be asked at registration if you are a member of any religion. If you reply in the afirmative, church tax of 9% will automatically be deducted from your monthly salary.

Grammar auction

Have you ever been to an auction? I once bought a car at an auction. It’s great fun, making bids and so on. You can also adapt this necessity of commerce into an classroom activity.

auction hammer

Give your students a list of sentences, they find the mistakes and then bid against each other to win the correct answers. This focuses on grammatical accuracy and can be adapted to suit you grammar point and the level of your students.

Preparation:

Prepare a list of sentences, some that have grammatical mistakes and some that don’t. The number of sentences depends on your target time, but I’ve found that between 6 – 10 works best (any more can get a bit boring). You can write these sentences yourself to focus on a language point you’ve covered recently or take the real mistakes that your students have made. Print these out or write them on the board.

Optional. Look at some auction vocabulary before you start.

Time: 10 – 30 minutes
When: Warmer or cooler
Level: Elementary – Advanced
Happy students: ****

Detailed procedure:

  1. Put students into groups. 3-4 works best.
  2. Give them the list of sentences and they find the mistakes. When they find the mistakes, you can also ask them to give the correction. Set a time limit.
  3. While they are working, write each team name on the board. Also, decide on and write an amount of money that each group gets – around €400.
  4. Go through the answers. For each sentence, hold a mini-auction. Students bid against each other. The highest bidding team give their answer
  5. Subtract the winning teams bid from their total.
  6. If the winning team give the correct answer, they win that sentence. If they give the incorrect answer, they lose their bid money and you can hold the auction again (or give the answer and move on)
  7. Once a team runs out of money, they can’t bid on any more sentences.
  8. The team with the most won sentences at the end are the winners.

If you cycle in Berlin, you have to read this!

berlin bike mapIgnore my shameless attempt at content marketing, the real title of this post is ‘4 places in Berlin that don’t have a bike lane, but really need one’. Summer and better weather has come to Berlin and it’s time for the city’s army of part-time, warm weather cyclists (myself included) to dust off the bike, pump up the tyres and brave the streets. Whilst Berlin boasts better cycling provision than all of the cities in my native Britain, it falls somewhat short of European powerhouses such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam. The city’s network of bumpy, brick surfaced bike lanes provide relief from the traffic in some areas, but many central streets lack any kind of cycling provision. Here are 4 cracking examples.

P.S. If you’re reading Angie, sort it out.

Around Hackescher Markt
hacke
Centrally-situated Hackie is a popular shopping and eating district. It is also rather crowded with drivers, pedestrians and cyclists all vying for limited space. The multiple tram tracks which line the street create an additional hazard, especially in the rain which I discovered the hard way a few weeks back. Add in a good tailgating by Berlin’s angriest taxi driver and you have the perfect storm.

Brunnenstraße, after Bernauer Straße
brunnen
In the North of Mitte, the rather nice separated bike lane abruptly disappears after Bernauer Straße leaving you with a choice between playing cosy with the double-decker bus on your left or hitting the pavement and risking a stern telling off from your grandma who happens to be on the way to do her shopping.

Friedrichstraße, between Französische Straße and Kochstraße
franzo
Extremely busy and popular with out-of-town visitors, Friedrichstraße boasts attractions like Galleries La Fayette and Checkpoint Charlie. For the roaming English teacher, this road can be a challenge. You have to negotiate cars, buses and Joe Tourist, armed to the teeth with a selfie stick and a sense of entitlement.

Hermannstraße, between Schöneleinstraße and Hermannplatz
schonstrasse
What must be the highest concentration of kebab shops and späties in a single street sounds like a wonderful fantasy. However, bear in mind that these places of never ending joy must be restocked on a regular basis and that means the inside lane of this stretch of Kreuzberg road is intermittently blocked by the cyclist’s arch enemy, the white van man and his hazard warning lights.

Inevitable Essen for English teachers: Mustapha’s Gemüse Kebap

'tiny' queue at Mustapha's, although I still waited over 20 minutes

‘tiny’ queue at Mustapha’s, although I still waited over 20 minutes

Widely regarded as Berlin’s best kebab (and therefore a strong contender for world champion), Mustapha’s Gemüse Kebap is also by far the most popular. Frequent visitors to Kreuzberg’s Mehringdamm district will inevitably notice the day-and-night queue of hungry punters, with waiting times of an hour or more common.

Mustapha’s popularity comes down to the simple combination of great kebabs, friendly service and very reasonable prices. This unpretentious kebabie has also stayed true to its roots and apart from a snazzy website, avoids the t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers and other tacky souvenirs that are common amongst successful eating houses – vital for scoring points with Berlin’s vast hipster community.

Sticking to what they do best, the menu is deliberately limited – giving you a choice between chicken, vegetable or dürüm kebab as well as chips and salad. The chicken döner is undeniably excellent, boasting delicious, freshly cut chicken, cooked carrots, potato and other veg, fresh salad and spicy, garlic or yoghurt sauce, all inside a warm, crispy pitta bread and topped off with feta cheese.

Tasty kebab!

Tasty kebab!

The size is certainly sufficient for the average appetite and easy on the wallet. A chicken döner is available for a recently hiked price of €3.20 (used to be €2.90) and whilst this represents the higher end of Berlin’s kebab market, it compares favourably with other lunchtime options – many bakeries charge a similar amount for a filled baguette that will leave you half as satisfied.

With no shortage of customers, the queue is the main problem with a meal here. The continuing success of Mustapha’s has led to many copycat operations springing up around the city such as NUR Gemüse Kebap in Hermannstraße and Food Point in the Moabit are of the city, providing much the same product without the ridiculous waiting times. Whilst tourists, occasional kebabers and those with time on their hands will be happy to tackle Mustapha’s queue, those on any kind of schedule will want to seek their Turkish snack elsewhere.

Taste 5/5 Convenience 1/5 Value 4/5

Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Mehringdamm 32
10961 Berlin

How to plan your first (business) class with new students

The immaculately turned out English teacher strides confidently into the well-furnished classroom complete with whiteboard, projector and state-of-the-art laptop. The awed students gaze on silently at the teacher, a model of sartorial elegance, resplendent in a perfectly-cut suit, ironed shirt and gleaming polished black shoes.

You'll be as cool as a cucumber wearing sunglasses

You’ll be as cool as a cucumber wearing sunglasses

He/she places his/her bag neatly to one side and takes out four brand new whiteboard markers, colour after gorgeous colour. After penning his/her name in impeccable handwriting, the teacher invites the students to introduce themselves. Sucked into the teacher’s easy, self-assured aura, the students enthusiastically comply. The teacher listens and nods knowingly, punctuating the student’s life stories with wry and witty observations gleaned from his/her encyclopedic knowledge of medium-sized towns in Saxony and the historical intricacies of the Bavarian waste management industry. The teacher probes the student`s knowledge of the English language, effortlessly establishing language needs, work requirements and areas of interest. A well-rehearsed get to know you activity completes the lesson. The students leave the room, excitedly talking amongst themselves and mentally counting how many milliseconds will pass before next week’s (master)class. The teacher silently packs his/her bag and leaves the room. Mission accomplished.

Whilst your class may not follow this ideal exactly, your first lesson with a new group of students is the most vital. After all, first impressions always last for the longest and a well-organised, confidently delivered class will stick in your student’s minds. How you go about planning this class will depend on your students, but following is the approach I use with business students in the fair city of Berlin.

What do you need to accomplish?

Along with actually meeting your student(s) and getting to know them, the main objective of your first class is to get more information on their learning backgrounds and to establish what they want to cover during the course. Therefore, I break down the standard first class into 4 parts:

  1. Introductions
  2. Course objectives
  3. Get to Know You (GTKY) activity
  4. Job and company profile

Introductions

Self-explanatory first stage. Write your name, job and home city on the board and go around the room, asking them to introduce themselves like we’ve all done at every single training course/class ever

Alternative: Brainstorm/elicit some introduction language on the board, for example:
What is your name?
Where are you from?
What do you do?
Ask them to introduce themselves to their partner and then introduce their partner to class

Course objectives

Some skills or functions to do during the course

Some skills or functions to do during the course

To make planning your course possible, you will need to establish what the student’s language needs and expectations are. You may very well have the luxury of a textbook, but you should always discuss and create some aims to help you tailor the lessons to your students. I give each pair a set of cards with skills or functions – presentations, meetings, sending emails, telephoning, grammar, reading newspapers and so on. I then ask each pair to discuss which ones are important for them and not important and why. Then we hold a feedback session and agree a list of skills/functions to study and the more specific aspects of each that are necessary for the class’s jobs or other needs.

Alternative. Give them a needs analysis sheet (loads of examples can be found on Tefltastic), get them to interview each other and then hold your feedback session to create your course objectives.

Get to know you (GTKY) activities

You can add any information about you that you want

You can add any information about you that you want

The GTKY activity is an ice breaker which also helps you to get more information about student’s backgrounds, hobbies and so on – information which is relevant to planning classes. I always use Jeopardy as my GTKY. Inspired by the American TV show, you write up pieces of information (answers) about you – 29, football – and then get your student’s to guess the questions – how old are you?, what’s your favourite sport? The beauty of this activity is that it’s very gradable. You might start a lower level class with the questions above, but a higher level class could tackle something more complicated, conditionals for example. As a follow up, ask the students to write the answers themselves and do the activity with their partner.

Alternative. Search google! Shelly Terrell, teacherbootcamp.com, lists some great ideas.

Job and company profile

Some example job tasks

Some example job tasks

Finally, talk through the student’s jobs and company (also vital information for planning). I have a set of cards with common job-related verbs and nouns/noun phrases on them. In pairs or small groups, the students match the cards together and then as a follow up, they tell their partner which of the tasks they do in their job. Hold a feedback session and ask them to explain their tasks and what their company does.

Alternative. Put the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to prepare a 5 minute presentation on their company or department

Homework

Write a short description of their job, department or company.

List of listening activities

Lead-in

General background discussion related to the topic
Brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic (whole group or in pairs)
Ranking exercise related to topic
Pyramid discussion
Some conversation questions (whole group or in pairs) related to the topic
Write the title of the video or listening on the board and ask the class to predict what they will see or hear

First listening activities

Check ideas or results from lead-in
Ask the students to make a summary
General gist questions related to the video or listening (you need to prep this before)
Put sentences or phrases in the order that you hear them (you need to prep this before)

Second listening activities

Comprehension questions (you need to prep this before)
Frue/false questions (you need to prep this before)
Gap fill (you will need a complete script for this)

Follow up activities

Discussion
Debate

Grammar point related to the video or listening