Category Archives: TEFL

Observed Teaching Practices at SEE TEFL

Our first two weeks at SEE TEFL were spent in the classroom learning grammar, teaching skills, and Thai.  We also had a Thai cultural day, and a half day spent visiting a school and observing Thai and foreign teachers.

The second two weeks of the course are entirely spent preparing for and teaching at our six Observed Teaching Practices (OTPs), or student teaching.

Teaching 2nd graders about classroom vocabulary
Teaching 2nd graders about classroom vocabulary

The OTPs are a major reason Jake and I decided to take our course at SEE TEFL. Each OTP is in a real Thai classroom, so we get to see what it is like to teach in a real school, with the schools’ real classrooms and facilities, and with actual Thai students of various ages.

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View from my classroom at the final Observed Teaching Practice….I can definitely get used to this 🙂

SEE TEFL sets up the OTPs at 5 different schools around Chiang Mai, plus a one-on-one lesson at EFL, the English language arm of SEE.  The instructors  provide us with the lesson, grade level, day, and time we will teach for all 6 OTPs a few days before each one.

On the morning of the OTP, we arrive at SEE TEFL between 7:40 and 8:00am. Usually everyone is very early, but there are always at least one or two people finishing up last minute printing, copying, or other preparations. When it is time to leave, we pile into the back of either John’s truck, or a songtheaw to head off to today’s school.

We arrive at the school towards the end of morning assembly. At some schools we meet the Director and then are immediately shown to the teachers’ room or a common space were we wait for our turn to teach.  At other schools, we are brought up in front of assembly and each take a turn introducing ourselves to the entire school.

The first group to teach begin at 9:00am, so they rush off right away to find their classrooms and start preparing their whiteboards. The rest of our class waits in our teacher’s room where the school usually provides us with coffee, water, and some snacks.

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Sometimes crazy Kindergarteners try to storm the Teacher’s room…which turns into a pretty hilarious scene.
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but they’re not quite sure what to do once they actually get inside….

There is a real sense of comradery in our teacher’s room. No matter how class went, everyone comes back from teaching either exhausted or extremely excited, eager to tell their story (good or bad!), and almost always dripping in sweat.

When it is my turn to teach, my observer from SEE is either sitting in the back corner of the room, or  switching between two rooms next door to one another if they are observing two of us at once. Other than that, the class is mine to teach as if I was already a certified teacher, and they are my regular class of students.

"My" 4th graders after the final Observed Teaching Practice--my favorite one!
“My” 4th graders after the final Observed Teaching Practice–my favorite one!

During my observed teaching practices I taught Pre-K (2-3 year olds); Primary 2, 3, 4, and 6; and an adult intermediate level ESL student (an early  20-something intern at EFL).

Each of these lessons follow the “3Ps” methodology–Presentation, Practice, and Production.  For each lesson (except for Kindergarten) I prepare a detailed lesson plan, whiteboard plan, whiteboard images to be used during the “Presentation” phase of the lesson, a worksheet for students to complete during the “Practice” phase, and flashcards for a “Production” activity where students practice speaking and producing language on their own, without any support on the whiteboard.

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Whiteboard plan, whiteboard images, flashcards, 10+ page lesson plan, and worksheet for my OTP with Primary 3 students
Presentation phase--Jake at the whiteboard teaching 1st graders about feelings
Presentation phase–Jake at the whiteboard teaching 1st graders about feelings
Practice phase--Jake reviewing his worksheet with the 1st graders
Practice phase–Jake reviewing completed worksheets with the 1st graders
Production phase--Jake offering praise for a job well done!
Production phase–Jake offering praise for a job well done!

More on the 3 Ps of TEFL can be found here.

Although we still follow the 3Ps, the Kindergarten OTP is slightly different. For kindergarten (where I taught farm animals), we sit on the floor in a circle, and there are no whiteboard plans or worksheets. Instead I prepare a detailed lesson plan (including “hello” and “goodbye” songs!); big, bright, colorful flashcards to use during the presentation phase; toy animal props to use during the practice phase; and finally a giant, colorful, handmade box with farm animal images on each side.  The box is used for a fun production activity where the students take turns rolling the box and saying the name of the image that pops up (obviously to then be rewarded with lots of praise and a high-five).  Even the little 2-3 year olds are producing language by the end of class, which is extremely exciting to see.

The completed project–my farm animal flashcards
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Jake making his Kindergarten box–He taught eating utensils to Kindergarten 3 (5-6 year olds)
My TEFL classmates and I after our Kindergarten OTP

The students are wonderful, although there are definitely the occasional discipline issues. The only “horror stories” I heard were from a kindergarten class (a student who kept kicking another student in the head–this was Jake’s class), Primary 1 ( students continuously putting plastic bags on their heads), Primary 2 (the trainee teacher had to confiscate some pretty inappropriate drawings), and Primary 4 (a student cut another students’ hair in the middle of class–also Jake’s story).

However, mostly the students are sweet, attentive, engaged, and trying their best. There are lots and lots of high fives, group hugs at the end of class, students giving the teachers cupcakes or stickers, students chanting the teacher’s name after class, or running up to help clean up the board and gather our materials. I was very lucky and I loved every class I taught during the TEFL course.

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Jake gets a big group hug from the 1st graders at his Observed Teaching Practice.

Teaching practices, at least for me, are usually really fun. It is exciting to see the class learning and producing the target language (even if only slightly).   Also, other than 50 minutes of teaching, for the rest of the time spent at the school I am able to relax and hang out with my TEFL classmates; or walk around, explore the school, and look in on other classes.

One of the many signs at Wat Chiangyuen Municipality School where we did our 5th OTP
One of the many signs at Wat Chiangyuen Municipality School where we did our 5th OTP

Once the last trainee finishes their lesson, we say goodbye to the school Director and pile back into the songthaew or John’s truck to head back to SEE TEFL.  We meet upstairs in our usual teaching room, Paris, and receive some general group feedback from John and the rest of the observers.  We then break into small groups with whoever observed our class for that day in order to receive some personalized feedback.  Finally our observer gives us our evaluation sheets with their comments, and our grade for that lesson.

Once we have our feedback, we head out for a lunch break, re-group, and then come back to SEE and immediately continue preparing our lessons for the next OTP!

Our TEFL class after finishing our 2nd Observed Teaching Practice!
Our TEFL class after finishing another Observed Teaching Practice!

If you completed a TEFL course, did you have Observed Teaching Practices?  How does your experience compare to mine?  Were you taught the 3Ps methodology?  Let me know in the comments!

The First Day at SEE TEFL

Jake and I spent our first four weeks in Thailand (August 31st-September 25th) taking a TEFL course at SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai (TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

SEE TEFL logo

On the first day of school (which was actually our 20th first day of school), Jake and I leave our guest house by 8am and go to a nearby breakfast spot.  I eat a huge breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, and a fancy looking cappuccino —all for about 75 baht ($2.15).  We would become regulars here over the next four weeks.

RaadNah Bangkok--"the breakfast spot" where we ate many breakfasts and weekend lunches for the first 4 weeks in Chiang Mai
RaadNah Bangkok–“the breakfast spot” where we ate many breakfasts and weekend lunches for the first 4 weeks in Chiang Mai.
Photo courtesy of GooLoo Chiang Mai

We arrive at school at about 8:45 AM and find about 10 other trainees standing around outside of the building.  All of us are nervous and don’t know what to expect, but we begin introducing ourselves around the circle we have for some reason formed.  A few others trickle in until there are 19 of us in total.  The TEFL courses at SEE are normally a fairly even mix of people from all over the world, but in our course the majority of the trainees are from the U.S. (1/3 of the group actually from the Boston area!),  there are three from the UK, a father-son duo from Australia,  and one each from Greece, the Philippines, Canada, and France.  The majority of the class are just out of college (a few months to a year or two), and although Jake and I are on the older end of the spectrum, it’s not by much, and there are a handful of older students as well to balance it out. We awkwardly stand around and wait for 9AM and to be told what to do next.

Right at 9, John, the Director of SEE TEFL, comes out and brings us all inside.  We head up to our main course room, Paris, where we would spend the majority of the next two weeks (all of the classrooms at SEE TEFL are named after cities where their trainees come from).

SEE TEFL!
SEE TEFL!

We start class promptly at 9 AM with introductions.  John tells us his very interesting life story and how we ended up where he is today, the Director of a TEFL school in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  John is originally from Woking.  He was bored of his life in the UK and so he set off on a trip backpacking around the world.  John has been to more countries than I could even begin to name here, and has even more adventure stories.  He found out about TEFL and teaching as a way to keep traveling,  enrolled in a 4 week course similar to the one we are enrolled in, and within a few weeks started teaching.  John went back to Woking a few times, but always left again, before finally settling in his now permanent home, Chiang Mai.  John tells his story here, and I strongly recommend you read it for yourself.

We begin introducing ourselves and although each story is different, they all have a similar tone–everyone wants to travel, see the world, experience new things, and have a new adventure in a country that is both beautiful and friendly.  Many are planning on staying for just a year or so before starting or going back to other careers in their home country.  Others are more open-ended about their travels, and still others are not planning on staying in Thailand after the course at all–but have plans to travel and work elsewhere in Asia.  As different as we all are, we all have this one very important thing in common–and I think that is why we get along so well–age and nationality differences aside.

After introductions and logistics, we have a 15 minute coffee break before beginning our first grammar input.  Grammar inputs are classes to relearn all of the grammar we forgot from elementary or middle school, or that we never really learned in the first place because many of us are native English speakers (NES).  John gives us each a grammar book and tells us that if we ever have trouble sleeping, to open up Murphy’s (our book) and start reading.  We should be asleep in minutes.

So much focus
So much focus

As boring as Murphy’s may be,  grammar inputs are very important because we are learning grammar in the way in which we will teach it.  Although hopefully we will teach grammar in a way that is as much fun as possible :-).

At noon, we take a break for lunch.  Our group ventures down the road to one of the many nearby restaurants or food stands for a 30-50 baht meal (<$1-$1.50 or so) of one of the following: meat and rice, meat and noodles, meat on a stick, or meat in soup.  Obviously there are many other options as well (including vegetarian and vegan), but these categories became a running joke as our new food groups.

Eating at restaurants and food stands in Thailand is an interesting experience in and of itself, and is probably best suited for another post.  However, my one mention here is to say that Thai food is delicious, varied, and cheap.

After lunch we have our first teaching input. Teaching inputs are the classes where we learn how to teach. Over the next two weeks we would learn the 3 P’s of TEFL—Presentation, Practice, and Production;  lesson planning; presenting material in a way that is interesting, and clear to second language learners;  grading of language, or eliminating all extra words other than the target language; and other teaching tricks.

We also learned how to teach a handful of sample lessons covering everything from simple Pre-K and Kindergarten vocabulary (cow, dog, horse, pig), to more complex grammatical structures (short actions that interrupt a long continuous action in the past), and everything in between.

After another 15 minute afternoon coffee break, we begin our first Thai lesson with Ying, a very smart lady who is also John’s wife.  Ying has a PhD in Education Curriculum and Instruction and she is the boss around EFL (SEE TEFL’s English language school), as well as the person to go to for connections to jobs anywhere in or around Chiang Mai (more on that here).

We have 10 hours of Thai language instruction as part of our course, but we also learn quite a bit about Thai culture and teaching in Thai schools throughout the four weeks,  which I think makes this course stand out above and beyond others I researched. In just the very first week we have an entire day devoted to Thai culture, and we learn so much from all of the instructors and Thai staff about how to live and work in Thailand.

We end class at 4 PM and have the evening to ourselves for dinner, hanging out with classmates, working on assignments, or relaxing.  Our homework on the first day is to meet up with our fellow trainees at a bar called John’s Place (no relation to the course Director) right near Tha Phae Gate in downtown Chiang Mai.

Almost every single person comes out for a beer, jet lagged and all.