Teacher zone: how to make language classes engaging

As experts in the language education industry, Cactus has over 15 years’ experience designing and implementing language courses. If you have a language learning or language teaching query that you can’t find the answer to, please get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter or contact us here.

In line with our new teacher training courses for foreign languages, we’re bringing you our best tips for how to make your language classes engaging.

  1. Activate Schemata

Whatever your lesson aims, find out what your students already know about the target language/topic. This shows you, the teacher, the language your students already have, encourages revision and recycling, and is good opportunity for some peer teaching and peer correction. It also shows your students what they lack, and shows them the language they don’t have, thereby creating a need for that language, which in turn motivates them to participate in the activities that follow – “I don’t know how to say this, I need to pay attention here!”. Activating schemata benefits both the teacher and the students on many levels. Images, realia, discussion questions, what happens next and problem-solving questions are some ways of activating schemata.

  1. Personalise your activities

Generally people prefer to talk about themselves, or about what they know. Remember – if someone doesn’t have a lot to say about a topic in their own language, they will have even less to say in a foreign language. By personalising your activities and finding a way for your learners to relate the questions to themselves, their lives, their experiences and their opinions, you will find that they have a lot more to say, and will be much more engaged.

  1. Vary Interaction Patterns

Increasing student talking time and reducing teacher talking time is key to maintaining students’ engagement levels and ensuring they progress at a good speed. However, it’s also important to remember to change things up – people don’t want to be working with or talking to the same person all the time. So change the pairs around, do the activities in groups of 3 or 4, change the classroom set up and physical arrangement. Keep things interesting by not being predictable.

  1. Cater for different learn styles

People learn in different ways so it is important to cover all bases by including a variety of activities that cater for different learner styles. Remember to have a good balance between aural, visual and kinesthetic tasks – this will keep your students engaged and also ensure that their learner style needs are being met. If you’re in a classroom that cannot accommodate a running dictation then get students to the board for feedback – you can incorporate ‘catering for different learner styles’ at all stages of the task cycle.

  1. Be Interested

Don’t use materials or activities you find boring, tedious or pointless. If you don’t like the materials or activities then this will show, and your students will not like them either. Be interested in what you are teaching and who you are teaching, and your students will be interested in what is being taught. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain enthusiasm for topics or language points you have taught many times before – so find different materials to teach the target language. Use authentic materials, take information from the internet, video clips, music, YouTube, TED talks etc. Bring the outside world into the classroom and your students will relate and participate fully.

Cactus has a wealth of information and tips on language teaching. Visit our blog or sign up to our newsletter for further information about language learning and teaching.

Of course, you can always call us on 00 44 (0) 1273 830 960 for information and advice on anything related to languages.

Winner of the Cactus 2011, Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship, talks about her CELTA course.

Suzanne Furstner Scholarship 2011 – Winner’s Review

It was a Friday evening when I was sitting in the library with some of my colleagues, after having worked non-stop all week. We were researching for an assignment, furiously reading and taking notes, when from behind a tall stack of books a voice calmly stated that at that moment, the rest of the world was probably enjoying a cold beer and some well-deserved R & R. We barely entertained the idea, concluding that whilst it was attractive we had our work cut out for us, and so we dropped our eyes back to the books, saving our cervesas for another day. Such is the life of a CELTA trainee.

barcelonaIn February 2012, I attended the Cambridge CELTA course at International House Barcelona, one of the most reputable teacher training centres in the world. Made possible by the generosity of Cactus TEFL’s Suzanne Furstner Scholarship, the course was a rich and rewarding experience for me. Four-weeks of full-time training was made up of input sessions (a sort-of mix of workshops and lectures) and teaching practice, with the evening hours dedicated to lesson planning and completing written assignments. I received continuous support and direction from the course tutors, each of whom brought to the training room their years of teaching experience.

My class of 18 CELTA candidates was made up of individuals from the UK, the EU, the USA and Ireland, with me, the Australian, being the furthest from home. Some of my classmates were preparing to enter the workforce for the first time, whilst others were looking for a change in career and lifestyle. The training room was a fun learning environment from Day One, when an ongoing impromptu comedy routine was birthed due to an unusually high number of witty personalities in our group.

My expectations of the course had been set-up by a friend in London who had earlier completed his CELTA, and whose forewarning of long days and an intense transformation period proved to be true. I had experienced teaching English for a short stint before the course and was acutely aware of my need for quality training. I found the CELTA methodology to be both stretching and awakening, and unlike other candidates without prior experience I had to unlearn a few bad habits and replace them with ‘new and improved’ techniques.

An example of an area of learning for me was with regards to developing flexibility in the role of teacher. I devoted a lot of time to preparing my lessons, and sometimes the lessons didn’t go according to plan, either because of an aspect I had overlooked in my planning or because of a class dynamic which effected a change in direction. This experience taught me to ‘let go’ a bit as a teacher, to be guided by the students and to allow and encourage organic developments to occur. It taught me that being prepared for a lesson is equally as important as being ready to respond to its natural flow and momentum.

At the completion of the course, our group enjoyed dinner together at a restaurant to celebrate our success and hard work. A few of my classmates shared how they questioned if teaching English was the job for them, because in a course of such intensity you really have to work relentlessly from woe to go. However to live the CELTA as your every day life would be impossible; it’s an intensive training period crammed with all the content and practice you need to start working. The course is challenging but the end result is worthwhile; teaching is a rewarding and fun job that helps others, and having a CELTA opens up doors to employment in many countries around the world. As for me, I came to Barcelona exclusively to attain the CELTA, and five months later, I’m still here, nurturing my love of coffee and drinking in the beauty of this city. And when I’m not riding my bike or trying to improve my Spanish, I’m in the classroom, teaching English.

Cactus TEFL is an admissions and advice service for quality teacher training courses worldwide. Cactus works with well-known course providers to offer CELTA, TESOL, equivalent and online courses in over 90 locations across 36 countries. Cactus TEFL also offers free post-course careers advice and support, as well as access to our very own TEFL jobs board and job alerts. The next Suzanne Furstner Scholarship will be in 2016.


April is TEFL month at Cactus

Throughout April we will aim to answer all your TEFL questions, such as:

“What is the difference between TEFL, CELTA and TESOL?”

“Is a 4-week TEFL course as intensive as everyone says?”

“How do you know which TEFL course is best for you?”

We will be posting a series of videos discussing and answering the most common TEFL questions. So make sure you’re a fan or following us and don’t miss out!



For transcripts of the videos and even more TEFL related questions, as well as information on thousands of courses around the world visit www.cactustefl.com.

What is a teacher refresher course?

Although most modern language teachers would love to go abroad regularly and practise their skills in an authentic setting, for the majority this is unfortunately not possible.

A great alternative though, can be a to set aside a designated week or two per year that not only allows them to practise their language skills and familiarise themselves with the latest cultural trends, but to update their language awareness and/or knowledge of latest teaching materials and methodology in a classroom setting. 

Generally, teacher refresher courses are offered by large, well-established language schools that have the resource and expertise available to provide specialist courses like these. The courses are usually available for both primary and secondary school teachers, although the focus for these two types of teacher may differ slightly. Whereas primary teachers tend to need to improve existing language skills (some primary school teachers are expected to teach languages despite not necessarily having any language skills themselves), secondary teachers normally need language tuition at a more advanced level that usually also includes sessions on materials, methodology and sharing best practice.

Normally, the courses are offered over a two week period, although some schools in Spain (Granada, Malaga, Nerja and Valencia) offer them on a one-week basis too.

The cost of the courses can vary from centre to centre, although somewhere between £550 and £800 seems to be about standard for tuition on a 2-week course. The good news though, is that funding for these courses is available via the European Comenius Grant Scheme, for which Cactus is an approved provider. If you want to apply for funding, we can pass your details on to experts who can help you through the process.

Currently, Cactus offers Teacher Refresher courses in French, German and Spanish. Courses are available in locations across France, Germany, Austria and Spain, and full details can be found on the Cactus Language website.

Which countries have the most TEFL jobs?

When it comes to TEFL, it is often assumed that you can teach anywhere in the world that you want, and to a certain extent this is true…

You could, visa permitting, arrive anywhere your heart desires and offer your services as a TEFL teacher. It pays to do a little research beforehand, however, to maximise your chances of finding work.


When it comes to finding paid work in private language schools there do seem to be certain countries where there is much more work on offer than others. Long-standing hotspots in Europe include Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. The Eastern European countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary all offer ample opportunities for work too, as, more recently, do Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Russia is also a plentiful source of work for today’s TEFL teacher.


Competing with Europe for the title of most popular teaching destination is Asia. There are thousands of jobs here, especially in China, where it was estimated last year that around 80,000 more English teachers are needed! Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all offer teaching opportunities aplenty too, and it is often in these countries where you can stand to earn some of the highest wages in the industry.

The South East Asian countries of Thailand and Vietnam are becoming veritable magnets for TEFL teachers – with their low cost of living and exotic nature it’s no wonder really.

Middle East

The Middle East is another area of the world where English teachers are in high demand, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE it seems. It’s worth bearing in mind that requirements can sometimes be quite strict though, not only in terms of qualifications and experience but also in terms of gender.


Interestingly, Australia is a country that is always in need of teachers as well. The English-learning industry here is big business, and there is a wealth of private language schools English which need qualified teachers. They seem especially keen, apparently, to employ people working on working holiday visas.

South America

South America is another area of the world where it is relatively easy to find TEFL work, with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile seemingly top of the list for jobs. This part of the world can be a good option for teachers who want to teach fairly short-term, or in a variety of countries, especially as a lot of the work is ‘casual’.


Africa as a continent offers fewer opportunities for paid work in language schools, as is probably to be expected. Exceptions to this are the Northern countries of Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Libya where you sometimes see jobs advertised. South Africa also has options for anyone able to get a visa.

North America

Notably missing from the run-down thus far are Canada and the US, where unless you are able to get a green card it is unfortunately almost impossible to get work.


A good number of Brits who train in TEFL actually want to stay and teach in the UK, and there are certainly opportunities to be had. Britain has thousands of language schools that need English teachers, although competition for these jobs can sometimes be high. As with anything though, a lot of how successful your job hunt is depends on how well you market yourself, and to a certain extent, being in the right place at the right time. Doing your TEFL training course in a school you’d be interested in working for, or securing work at one of the thousands of summer programmes held at schools across the country can both be good ways of getting your foot in the door.

Aside from working in a private language school, there is also the option for anyone hoping to make money from teaching English to register as a freelance trainer with language training agencies such as Cactus, to advertise locally and offer private English tuition, or to work within the lifelong learning sector.

Volunteering opportunities for teaching EFL are always abundant too, whether in the UK or abroad. To do this abroad you would need to search out a specific programme with a volunteering organisation (of which there are hundreds), but possibilities in the UK are easier to source and arrange. The majority of this will be teaching immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers as part of council or charity-led schemes.

More about TEFL courses worldwide

Student feedback confirms continuing ‘teaching excellence’ at Cactus

There are now hundreds of teachers who work for Cactus across the UK. All have relevant experience and qualifications, and have been fully vetted by our Director of Studies prior to beginning work for us. As a result, we have a fantastically talented, enthusiastic and experienced pool of teachers who we know will provide interesting and effective lessons for our students.

We also have a dedicated Academic Department in place, which not only recruits the best teachers available but also, in order to support and develop our teachers as much as possible, oversees regular classroom observations and provides on-going training and seminars.

This combination of talented teachers and an experienced and supportive academic team is essential for ensuring high quality teaching and lessons, and our investment in academic quality is bearing fruit. The latest student and observation feedback shows that 92% of our teachers are ranked as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, compared to 76% a year ago.

We are, of course, delighted with these figures and will continue to work closely with our teachers to maintain, and wherever possible, improve these admirably high standards.

We’d like to thank our teachers for their consistent hard work and dedication and look forward to sharing another successful year with them.

Cactus offers a range of UK-based evening and part-time language courses. For full listings of locations, languages and to test your level. please visit www.languagecoursesuk.co.uk.

Who teaches Cactus’ foreign language evening courses in the US and Canada?

We are fortunate to have a hugely talented pool of teachers, and consider the standard of the teaching on offer to be fantastic. All of our teachers are experienced, enthusiastic and either native speakers of the language they teach, or of native speaker level. To give you an idea of the kind of skills and qualifications they have, we spoke to Spanish teacher Enrique Gonzales (pictured), Brazilian Portuguese teacher Alice Ishii and French teacher Christelle Durandy.

Enrique Gonzales

Enrique is originally from Trujillo, Peru and has been living in the United States since 2006, first in San Francisco and now in New York.

He has been a foreign language learner since the age of 7 and started teaching English in Trujillo in 1999. He later worked as a private tutor in English, French, and Spanish to foreigners living in Peru. He has a degree in Mass Communications and several years of classroom experience.

Enrique has been working with Cactus since 2007 and is currently teaching group and private Spanish classes in all levels. He always tries to get his students to expose themselves to the language as much as possible and New York is a great environment for Spanish learners – they can easily find people to listen to, talk with and plenty of cultural and artistic manifestations to experience a variety of accents.

Alica Ishii

Alice is one of our Vancouver-based Portuguese teachers. Alice was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and graduated from USP -University of São Paulo with a major in Portuguese Language and Literature and minor in English as a Second Language. She gained her certified teaching degree in British Columbia at SFU – Simon Fraser University in 2000 and also taught ESL for 10 years in a public school first in British Columbia and 5 years in Wisconsin, at the Technical College. She has been teaching in Vancouver for Cactus since 2008.

The reason she has a passion for teaching, especially adults, is that she can really interact with them, exchanging experiences and learning about different cultures, customs and connecting with a wide range of people.

At the end of each year when she sees her students’ improvement her enthusiasm rises and as a result she wants to learn more. Therefore, she’s always in constant learning process, doing research, experimenting, questioning and adjusting lessons plans to her students’ needs.

Alice’s top tips for successful language learning are:

1. Organise your schedule: manage your time and material

2. Review each class : 15 minutes each day

3. Practice/Use the target language at home, with your friends, family

4. Listen carefully to tapes, podcasts and watch films, clips, songs in the target language as many as you can

Christelle Durandy

Christelle has lived in the US for five years, although originally comes from France. She currently teaches for Cactus in New York –normally two or three sessions a week.

She’s been teaching for 10 years, and is a graduate of the University of Rennes. She also has a GRETA (certification) – GRETA (GRoupements d’ETAblissements) is a national network of public and adult education centres in France.

When asked about what she most enjoys about teaching she said the interaction; finding personalized ways and keys to make the students understand, and their happiness when they do.

Cactus offers 5 and 10-week evening language courses in New York, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto. Languages offered include French, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese and Russian. Please visit the Cactus Language Courses website for full course listings, to test your level, or to book.

TEFL course feedback: CELTA in London

Cactus client Richard Fielden-Watkinson gives us the lowdown on the 4-week Cambridge CELTA course that he took at our Queensway centre in London

As I walked down the long road from Queensway Underground to the Stanton School of English, which is tucked away on the corner at the far end of the street, I nervously wondered what my class-mates would be like: would they be super-clever? Would they be nerdy? Much younger than me? Much older than me? And so these concerns went round in my head as I pushed on the door to enter the school.

It was twelve years since I had left school, with mediocre A-levels in Art, English and Business Studies, and even then I was not an ‘academic’ student. So my fear of looking stupid in front of the other trainee teachers was hanging over my head as I entered the school. Two weeks ago at the interview, the compassionate interviewer had appeared to give me a break when I messed up the entrance exam but displayed a keenness to learn and a dedication to the four-week course. She had accepted me onto the course with the condition that I promised to read a specific English Grammar book, cover-to-cover, by the start of the course.

So now, two weeks later, the first half of the book read and understood and the second half gist-read and vague in my head, I pushed on the door and considered the repercussions of turning round. I could just forget about the course and go back to waiting on tables – it wasn’t so bad. I could tell my parents and friends that I realised it just wasn’t for me. Or, I could not answer the phone to them for a few months, until it was all forgotten about.

I felt light on my feet as I walked up the stairs; perhaps I was ill and could come back on the second day?

As I fell over my words in front of the receptionist she beamed a smile and pointed to a close-by room. Three other CELTA trainees were spread out around the room. I found some confidence and said hello to everyone, which was promptly reciprocated. I chatted to a woman who had been teaching in South America, in all the countries I dreamed about visiting; she was on the course because she wanted a good qualification to be able to take with her around the world. Perhaps Saudi Arabia next, she suggested. The room filled up, nods and greetings were exchanged and I realised very quickly that I was not alone on this course; I could see nerves, anticipation and excitement etched onto all their faces.

The teacher trainers entered the room and we all fell silent. We listened to what they had to say and it began – the most rewarding four weeks of my life.

We were briefed and divided into three smaller groups within which we would create lesson-plans, teach and have feedback sessions. After the first day I was shattered, from all the information we were given and from the excitement of meeting 17 new people. As I got to know everybody (and what a diverse mix there was), I heard a similar story over again “…I want to travel and teach and this is the best qualification to enable me to do that…”. Another similarity amongst the group was some insecurity about their stamina and grammar knowledge going into the course. We all had reason to be worried about these two things, but together we overcame both. In fact, despite all being of different ages and from different backgrounds, we all had a lot in common; mainly that of not knowing what a modal verb was.

We were placed in front a class to teach on the second day and although this might seems like a step too far too quick, it is the best way to dispel nerves. We worked together in the original group of 18 and within our smaller groups; we photocopied relevant handouts for each other, we helped each other with the assignments (which is encouraged), we panicked together, we ate Marks and Spencer sandwiches together…often text messages regarding lesson-plans fired back and forth past midnight, we consoled each other when we were not successful and we said “Don’t worry, nobody noticed” to each other when lessons fell to pieces.

So four weeks passed, and we left the course with knowledge that we could carry with us and nurture our whole lives; a bursting ring-binder, more sheets of A4 than there are trees in the southern hemisphere, a handful of new friends and vivid memories.

Aside from the positive camaraderie I encountered on the course I was also happy to learn so many skills to enable me to teach. We learnt the importance of eliciting answers from the learners, of not talking too much to the class and stopping or changing an exercise when it was no longer efficient. Essentially, the balance between leading the students down a road of learning and yet being constantly receptive to their needs struck me as being the most important thing to consider. It is amazing how much you rely on the learners to ‘give back’ and encourage you; you have to learn to work with them.

They are right; it is intense, and difficult, and fun. The only advice I could give anybody who was taking the step to apply for a CELTA is: be prepared to learn a lot, sleep a little and for four weeks to constantly oscillate between anxiety and elation. Good Luck!

Cactus TEFL offers a free and impartial TEFL course advice and admissions service. Please visit the Cactus TEFL website for full course listings, to submit an online application or for information and advice on courses, qualifications and TEFL opportunities worldwide.

Who teaches Cactus’ foreign language evening courses in the UK?

Cactus works with a huge number of teachers, many of whom have been teaching for us for years. Here at Cactus we have a dedicated Academic Department in place specifically to interview prospective teachers, to assist them with their continued development and to offer guidance on course content and resources.

We are fortunate to have a hugely talented pool of teachers, and consider the standard of the teaching on offer to be fantastic. All of our teachers are experienced, enthusiastic and either native speakers of the language they teach, or of native speaker level.

We talked to a selection of our foreign language teachers, to give you an idea of who they are, and the kinds of skills that they offer.

Claudia Colia (Italian teacher)

Claudia (pictured above) is one of our London-based Italian teachers. She has been living in London since 2003, although originally comes from Rome, where she qualified as a teacher of Italian as a foreign language. Prior to gaining her teaching qualification, she also completed a degree in History of Art and a Masters degree in Contemporary Art Theory.

Claudia teaches a range of Italian evening classes for us in London, although also teaches on a one-to-one basis and in companies.

We asked Claudia what she enjoys most about teaching and she said:

“For me teaching and interaction with my students are really rewarding. I like my classes to be a full-immersion experience not only with the language, but also with the culture of my country. To enhance this experience, I always source new materials for my lessons and I keep updated with the more recent communicative approaches. I teach in all the fundamental aspects of the language, including syntax and grammar rules, but my method is more based on communication, so that my students can express themselves in Italian from the very beginning of the course. “

We also asked her to tell us about memorable aspects of her teaching career, to which she replied:

“I helped an opera singer to improve her career and enlarge her repertoire; I quickly prepared a beginner student to speak Italian in few weeks for business reasons, enabling her to successfully take part in a fair in Italy. I also had many students who were engaged to an Italian, and wanted to learn the language to communicate better with their partners and families. Most of them got married in the end!”

Katrin Fischer (German teacher)

Katrin is based between Liverpool and Manchester, and teaches German both on evening courses and within companies.

Katrin is originally from Jena, Germany but has lived in the UK since August 2008. Prior to that she spent time in Lucerne, Switzerland, where she gained the European Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults.

She loves the contact with people that teaching allows, and really enjoys meeting new people. We asked her what the key to a good lesson was, and she mentioned three specific things:

– Enthusiasm! It’s really important to show that you love your job so that your students engage with you and enjoy the lessons.

– Good preparation. It’s imperative to prepare properly for your lessons to ensure that they have a good structure. Structured lessons mean optimum learning.

– Good (and relevant) materials. A teacher must always use good materials and resources in lessons as they too are integral to successful learning.

On the flip side, we also asked her what the key to successful learning is, to which she replied:

“Do as much extra study as you can – it really shows…there’s a huge difference between those who do and those who don’t. Also, go to the country where it’s spoken if you can – it gives you a great chance to practise, and to immerse yourself in the culture’.

Veronica de Felice (Italian teacher)

Originally from Naples, Italy, Veronica lives in London, where she teaches evening courses and private lessons. She has been teaching for Cactus for 4 years, and has been in the UK for the last eight.

In terms of teaching qualifications, Veronica holds a CLTA Honours Degree in Foreign Languages, and the DTLLS.

According to Veronica, teaching is the best job in the world – she finds it really rewarding to see her students’ progress, and loves being able to pass on her knowledge so successfully.

She, like Katrin, believes that teachers must be enthusiastic in their lessons – especially when it comes to evening courses, when students can be tired after a long day at work. She focuses a lot on speaking activities to keep her students interested and involved, and tends to leave writing tasks mainly for homework.

Her top tip for successful language learning would be to take every opportunity to read books and watch films in the language outside of classes. You will learn a lot in your lessons, but a bit of independent learning on top will boost your progress significantly.

Fabienne Coupe (French teacher) image

Fabienne was born in Valence, 70 miles south of Lyon, but has lived in the UK for nearly 18 years now. She has been teaching for four years and has got a City & Guilds Teaching Certificate qualification.

Fabienne is currently teaching some of Cactus’ French evening courses in Manchester, and says that she loves the contact she has with her students, and watching them gain confidence and progress.

When asked about the ‘key’ to teaching a good lesson, she said that she thinks it’s very important to get to know your group well, from the beginning, and to get regular feedback, throughout the course. And of course, having a clear lesson plan for each lesson, which is tailored to the group’s needs, is essential. She also recognises the importance of giving everyone a chance to participate and of giving everyone plenty of encouragement, especially the less confident students.

Her tips for successful language learning include regular work, preferably little and often, and plenty of practice, ideally in the country where the language is spoken.

Amongst the memorable things that have happened during her teaching career, she recalls covering narration using the past tense, and the many funny stories the students came up with. One of her students told the class about a young boy bringing a ferret in a bag on a bus she was travelling on, years ago, and the animal escaping from the bag and running wild amongst astounded and horrified passengers! She’s never forgotten that!

Cedric Pytel (French teacher)

Cedric teaches French for Cactus in London – at the moment once or twice a week. He’s originally from Geneva, but has lived in London for the last 13 years.

Cedric has been teaching since 1999 and has a Masters degree in French literature, an RSA (Royal Society of Art) certificate in teaching foreign languages and a City and Guilds 7307/1.

He loves sharing his language and culture with students and thinks that, as a teacher, it’s imperative for each lesson to have a clear goal that builds on previous knowledge, and to incorporate a variety of interactive activities to reach that goal.

Cedric’s advice for language students would be not to be afraid of making mistakes – it’s a really important part of the learning process and is necessary to ensure that you progress!

Cactus offers evening courses in a range of languages around the UK, the US and Canada. Courses are offered in 5 or 10-week format, although intensive 1-week and weekend courses are aslo available. Please visit the dedicated evening course website for full course listings, to test your language level, or to book.

Cactus seminar on ‘Teaching Grammar Communicatively’

On Saturday 6th November many of the teachers of Spanish who teach for Cactus attended the seminar taught by Virgilio Borobio and organised by Cactus and SM, the publishing house of the “Nuevo ELE” textbooks that we use in Cactus to teach Spanish.

Mr. Borobio, the author of “Nuevo ELE”, began his talk reminding us about the importance of opening a lesson with a starter or warming-up activity to get students engaged and create a sense of learning from the beginning, and gave us a practical demonstration of how they work with a very simple but engaging activity ideal to revise topics already taught.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Virgilio Borobio introduced us to the world of grammar: he explained to us why our students, depending on their origin and previous educational experiences, have a different conception of grammar; the need to approach the teaching of languages from a communicative perspective and to follow a topic criteria, because it allows us to introduce vocabulary, grammar and phonology at the same time, and the advisability of using cyclical schemes of work to revise what we have covered in previous lessons.

After a short break for coffee, tea and biscuits perfectly organised by Cactus representatives, Mr. Borobio proceeded to show us how to approach the teaching of some areas of the Spanish grammar which are especially difficult for English native speakers students, such as the use of subjunctive and the differences among the Spanish past tenses, and suggested very clear visual ideas to teach, for example, the concept of a finished action.

Following a delicious lunch based on sandwiches, fruit and fresh drinks, which provided us with an excellent opportunity to exchange opinions and experiences, Virgilio Borobio explained to us the different approaches to grammar, its diverse treatments and the advantages of teaching grammar from an inductive point of view, because it helps students remember much better what they learn, find a certain logic in it and therefore, feel more confident and secure when using the Spanish language.

Mr. Borobio ended his fruitful lecture focussing on the importance of planning carefully our lessons and creating always a teaching sequence, which starts introducing the new language to the students (vocabulary, phonetics and grammatical structures), continues with a controlled practice in which we always know what our students can answer and ends with an open and free practice where students can develop their imagination and creativity. Mr. Borobio brought the seminar to an end with a series of some practical examples cleverly chosen from his “Nuevo ELE” textbooks.

This Cactus seminar was undoubtedly a great success, not only because of its good attendance and the active participation of all students, as we even debated about the new changes introduced by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, but also thanks to its content, as we were given clear explanations, ideas and examples on how to teach grammar and, therefore, we left the seminar as better teachers.

The organisation of this training course by Cactus and its academic director Jenny Johnson, who spent the whole day with us, was also brilliant, very much in keeping with the high level of the lecturer and his talk: Cactus representatives paid attention to the smallest of details in breaks and at lunch time, gave us a free copy of the interesting and helpful book “Didactired I: Grammar. Pragmatic-Discursive Aspects”, published by SM, and provided us with a certificate of attendance.

On behalf of my fellow Cactus teachers, thank you very much for the organisation of such a productive day in which we could explore some new areas in the teaching of grammar, become better teachers of Spanish and also make new friends.

————————————————-SPANISH VERSION———————————————–


El pasado sábado seis de Noviembre muchos de los profesores de español que trabajamos para Cactus asistimos al seminario “Cómo trabajar con la gramática en un enfoque comunicativo” impartido por Virgilio Borobio y organizado por Cactus en colaboración con SM, la editorial que ha publicado los libros Nuevo ELE que usamos en Cactus para enseñar español.

El señor Borobio, autor de Nuevo ELE, comenzó su intervención recordándonos la importancia de empezar la clase con una actividad de calentamiento para atraer la atención de los estudiantes y crear una atmósfera de aprendizaje desde el principio, y nos hizo una pequeña demostración con una sencilla pero atractiva actividad ideal para repasar contenidos ya vistos.

Entrados ya en materia, Virgilio Borobio nos introdujo en el mundo de la gramática: nos explicó por qué los estudiantes, dependiendo de su origen y de experiencias educativas anteriores, tienen una concepción diferente de la gramática; la necesidad de afrontar la enseñanza de una lengua con un enfoque comunicativo y siguiendo un criterio temático, ya que nos permite introducir a un mismo tiempo vocabulario, gramática y fonética, y la conveniencia de utilizar una programación cíclica que incluya repasar lo aprendido en anteriores clases.

Tras un pequeño descanso para café, té y galletas perfectamente organizado por las chicas de Cactus, el señor Borobio procedió a explicarnos algunas de las áreas de la gramática española que resultan especialmente difíciles para los estudiantes ingleses, como el uso del subjuntivo y las diferencias entre los diferentes tiempos verbales pasados, y nos ofreció ideas visuales muy claras para explicar, por ejemplo, el concepto de acción terminada.

Después de un exquisito almuerzo a base de sándwiches, fruta y bebidas frescas en el que pudimos intercambiar opiniones y experiencias, Virgilio Borobio nos introdujo en las diferentes aproximaciones a la enseñanza de la gramática, sus diferentes tratamientos y las ventajas que ofrece afrontar su enseñanza desde un punto de inductivo, ya que éste permite a los alumnos recordar mucho mejor lo que aprenden, encontrarle una cierta lógica y, por consiguiente, ganar en confianza y seguridad cuando usan el español.

El señor Borobio terminó su fructífera conferencia centrándose en la importancia de planificar cuidadosamente las clases y crear siempre una secuencia didáctica, que se inicia con la presentación del lenguaje nuevo (vocabulario, fonética y estructuras gramaticales), continúa con una práctica controlada en la que sabemos de antemano lo que el alumno puede responder, y finaliza con una práctica abierta o libre en la que los alumnos pueden desarrollar su imaginación y su creatividad. La charla concluyó con una serie de ejemplos prácticos de los libros Nuevo ELE inteligentemente escogidos por el señor Borobio.

El seminario resultó sin dudas un rotundo éxito, no sólo por la numerosa asistencia y la activa participación de los alumnos, que incluso debatimos sobre las nuevas modificaciones introducidas por la Real Academia Española de la Lengua, sino también gracias a su contenido, pues nos ofreció explicaciones claras, ideas y ejemplos para afrontar la enseñanza de la gramática y, por consiguiente, nos convirtió automáticamente en mejores profesores. 

La organización del evento, a cargo de Cactus y de su directora academica, Jenny Johnson, que nos acompañó durante todo el día, fue también brillante, a tono con el nivel del conferenciante y de su ponencia. Cuidaron hasta el último detalle en los recesos y en el almuerzo, nos regalaron un ejemplar del interesante libro publicado por SM y nos acreditaron la asistencia con un certificado.

En nombre de todos los compañeros profesores de Cactus y en el mío propio, muchísimas gracias por la organización de un día tan productivo en el que pudimos explorar nuevas áreas en la enseñanza de la gramática, mejorar como profesores de español y también hacer nuevas amistades.