Turbo Charge Your English Teaching by Not Working So Hard! – A Guest Post! (long read)

This is a guest post brought to us by Todd Persaud.

I previously published a post of his, but was asked to take it down as it had already been published on another site. Instead he sent me a few more articles and I’d love to share !one with you.


Source: Google Images, Image by Syda Productions / Shutterstock, Inc

As a teacher, your aim is to NOT reinvent the wheel. As much as humanly possible. Please note that you can give the same level of value without reinventing the wheel. We grow up somehow thinking that we have to feel pain and stress to give incredible amounts of value. This is a fallacy and you learn that this is a fallacy when you become an English teacher. Pain only hurts you, and since there’s no corporal punishment for kids why should there be pain for you?

What follows are some ways to NOT reinvent wheels.

Category games are extraordinary and I have used them extensively in my class. I’ve learned a lot about them from many books, but most of my activities derive from the Cambridge series. Discussions that Work, Vocabulary Activities for Language Learners, Personalizing Language Learning, and Teaching One-to-One all contain great activities that you can use in your classes to keep the little tykes busy.

One activity that has worked really well for me is having the students draw out Venn diagrams. I’ll have them write at the top of the Venn diagram “Likes” and “Dislikes” and then have them go interview other students and collect information . You don’t necessarily have to perform this activity in a Venn diagram. You can use a grid instead. Either way, getting the students up and out of their chairs and working with other students usually keeps the students busy for a while so you can sit down and relax, perhaps sipping a tropical smoothie or catching up on your Twitter viral feed. And who doesn’t love the playful toxic banter of Twitter?

Once the students do finish interviewing at least two people, which should take at least 45% of the class, I will have them sit down and we’ll do a global feedback session where I have each student tell me what they learned about their friends in this activity (poof, another 30% of the class gone by). And guess what, you didn’t do anything! Genius!

Sometimes I’ll correct what they have to say if there is anything glaring, but usually, I just give the students an opportunity to exercise their mouth muscles and feel more confident with the language they are trying to learn.

Saves lots of energy.

Afterwards, you can have them reflect on the experience by asking them what they learned today (another 20%). What did they learn without you teaching, that’s next level stuff, you guys!

It’s sort of the equivalent saying what you’re going to say, saying it, and then repeating what you said. See how easy this gets? And isn’t the point of life to work smarter and not harder?

Another category game I give to my students is writing random words on the board and then having students create their own categories based on the words that they see. To add further relevance, I will use terms from the textbook that they are given.

Zero prep whatsoever and roughly 60% of the class. Do you see the pattern?

Hey, don’t blame me. I actually got this from reading books! And we all know books make you smarter. So I’m just sharing knowledge.

See Recipes for Tired Teachers, folks, if you don’t believe me, because this problem is historic! Don’t you remember your teacher giving you “free time”? Yeah that was what they called it back then.

Sometimes I will model these sorts of activities but very often—particularly if you’re working with high school—you need not model this at all and the students will work on this naturally. Almost like the activity takes care of itself, which is the best kind of activity! Hands off, just like your father. Parenting and teaching are simple!

Once they have created categories, I then ask the students to explain their answers (30% of the class). This compels them to speak further about their choices and I just sit placidly and listen to what they have to say. This can be a great warmup activity for students too (and a great cool down for you). Heck you might even be able to get in a nap.

Another great categorizing activity to apply to your classes is to have the students create stories from different words. These can be words that they are either using from their other classes or ones that you randomly picked from a textbook or some other source. Then have the students develop a story or a comic strip based on the words, and create a stipulation that the students absolutely must use all the words in some way. It will help if you anticipate the difficulty that some students might have.

My policy is to make the words just challenging enough for the students to continually feel the need to struggle with them for the rest of the class. Thus you don’t have to teach and they leave you alone, everyone wins.

There’s that perfect mid-point where the students will run their own class, in their minds, and continue on the hamster wheel to success! All you have to do is get them on the wheel. Run student run!

Don’t fight it! This is success! Can’t you feel it coursing though your veins?

Personally, I love using dictionaries in my class for most of my activities. It prolongs the activities A LOT while giving the students the extra discipline that they usually need to stay focused and learn new vocabulary. Dictionaries also give students access to a range of words that might not otherwise be used in the classroom. And dictionaries just keep the students busy! Special thanks to the leaders over at Cambridge, for helping me realize this!

Sometimes, I will give students a worksheet and have them take some time to look up the words on the worksheet. It makes the activity longer while also giving the students that ol’ discipline again.

If you don’t have dictionaries in your class, I highly recommend you ask someone to get them for you because they’ll give you that much more access to free time in your own class, not to mention establishing that win-win situation of giving you some more breathing room while the students get cracking on learning their vocabulary. Heck maybe even copying the dictionary could be another task or punishment.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

There’s something really authoritative in itself about dictionaries. Students are funny because they don’t even question the need to look at them, even when we have apps today that pretty much plant words in our head and require us not to need to look anything up. Welcome to the future, isn’t less work wonderful?

And yet, dictionaries still kind of make people feel like they have to look at them to learn something. Kind of like Wikipedia or IMDB.


You can find tons of games like this in the Cambridge series. If you don’t have the time, you can get easily accessible activities from various websites throughout the internet. You can just use the worksheets and literature that other kind people have created and published before you. The great news, oh salvaged teachers, is that it has all been done before! You literally don’t have to lift a finger to teach anymore! You can just work off of the hard efforts of other teachers from years, and even decades, gone by and be on easy street for most of your English teaching career. And that’s why you are in it anyway right?

This sense that you have to create something entirely brand new and tailored is absolutely ludicrous. There are no new thoughts (as famous self-help guru Byron Katie has often said), nothing that you can’t traverse from the efforts of teachers, dead or alive. The canon is all there for you to take advantage of, so use it!

I have had many weeks where I didn’t have the desire in me to lesson plan anymore. It was another full-time job in itself. I didn’t want to do it. Unpaid at least. So when I felt this way–and believe me it was often–I used websites to generate a list of activities to give to the students.

Some aspiring English teachers will cry “blasphemy,” upon reading this particularly badass sentence. They’ll call me a fraud and a cheat and tell me that I am doing this teaching all for the wrong reasons. But they are forgetting one thing:

Teaching is as teaching does. I mean, it’s not rocket science right?

Life has taught me that self-maintenance is numero uno on anyone’s list of priorities. In order for you to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself. There’s only one person who can do that for you and it’s not the person you’re sharing a bed with. Or that especially informative Udemy instructor. Or that barista that might be flirting with you, but you’re not sure. How do you know anyway, right?

Hint, look in the mirror.

There are ways of providing value in this world without having to lift a finger to do so. Figure it out so that you can enjoy the one life you have to live. I mean that’s why I yell YOLO everyday. Amen.

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Filed under Blogging, ESL, Guest Post, Teaching

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