Tag Archives: teaching English to children

Failing at your own business–Private ESL classes


An artist’s rendition of me–Teacher on the go!

I’ve written about teaching English before (See Saturday classes) but I thought I’d expand this topic a bit today. Teaching English as a Second Language isn’t easy. It requires an incredible amount of on-the-spot invention, an excellent command of English grammar and lots of patience. It also helps if the teacher is able to explain some things in the student’s native language.

I use my moto to travel to most of my private classes. I’ve found that parents like that they can leave their kids at home with a “babysitter” and I’m not stuck babysitting after the class hour is up. I can just leave the kids there. Some adults prefer to have class in their home, others would rather meet at the school saying they have too many distractions at home. In the less formal home environment, there’s also a better chance of tea and crumpets (or fruit and juice) during class.

Cancellations tend to be a problem, though. I count on the money from private classes for our day to day living expenses. When a student cancels, that’s less money for tortillas the next day. I’ve made it my policy if a students is a no-show or cancels 3 times, I offer the time slot to someone else.

To reduce the probability of cancellations, it’s important to keep the classes interesting. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my tricks of the trade.


Nearly every class I have taught at the adult level has been what I would call beginner level. I have found that even if the student claims to know some English, it’s usually a lot less than they think. There have been a few exceptions, like students who have lived in the U.S. for a lengthy period of time, but they are easy to identify in the first few minutes of class. The text I recommend for adult beginners is Ingles para Latinos (Spanish Edition). Not only is the text in Spanish but it has Spanish-language pronunciation guides for the English vocabulary. I also really like the introductory section in the level 1 book. It addresses the number 1 obstacle to language learning–fear. The text is designed with the idea that the ESL student is already living or planning to live in the US, thus the vocabulary and short grammar lessons are practical rather than theoretical. I’m not as crazy about Ingles Para Latinos Level 2 , but it does go more in-depth with English grammar structures.

As any language teacher can tell you, mastering the four components of language fluency is essential to be truly fluent in the language. The four aspects of language domination are reading, writing (which includes grammar), speaking and listening.

Once my students have finished the beginner books, I ask them which component they would like to work on next. Here are my recommendations for texts in each aspect.


I have found the Chicken Soup for the Soul series to be a good intermediate level reading book. The stories are short, the vocabulary common and the topics are interesting. I have used the Chicken Soup For The Woman’s Soul successfully in a small group setting. The readings worked well as an introduction for speaking topics.

I have also used Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: Stories of Life, Love and Learning (Chicken Soup for the Soul) in a small group setting for younger students.

Another excellent resource is The Scholastic Read-Aloud Anthology: 35 Short, Riveting Read-Alouds That Build Comprehension, Listening, and Higher-Level Thinking Skills—and Keep Kids on the Edge of Their Seats. The topics are varied and the stories short. There are a few discussion questions at the end of each story that encourage student reactions and further discussion of the topics.

I have also used children’s books with pre-teens. These classes are usually one-on-one with an emphasis on pronunciation and comprehension. The most successful series I’ve used are The Boxcar ChildrenCaptain Underpants Series and Judy Blume’s Fudge Box Set


Sometimes a student wishes to work on their grammar skills, usually as preparation for some sort of standardized test. My favorite text to use in these classes is Gramatica De La Lengua Inglesa : A Complete English Grammar Workbook for Spanish Speakers. Again the text is in Spanish and the book concentrates on the most problematic grammar points for Spanish speakers, things that just don’t translate well.


Listening skills are the hardest to practice in the area where I live. There aren’t many native English speakers in the area. And although I always recommend watching English language movies without subtitles and listening to music to improve auditory understanding, sometimes students want a class to improve their listening comprehension. Learning to Listen: International Version (No.1) is a good choice for those who are preparing for the TOEIC exam. It has actual conversations about everyday sort of activities with a variety of accented English speakers. My second recommendation is Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein (25th Anniversary Edition Book & CD). I’ve designed a cloze procedure text to accompany the readings. Students find these activities more challenging, but highly entertaining.

Speaking/Idiomatic expressions                                                                                                                          
As I am an American, my accent is American as well. Although that’s not quite good enough for some people, I do teach American English to those who wish it. Speak English Like an American is an interesting text set up in a sort of telenovela (soap opera) style using common idiomatic American expressions as the drama of Bob and his family unfolds. It’s funny and engaging. There is an audio CD to go with the readings. The idiomatic expressions are defined in Spanish afterward and there are practice activities for the expressions. I’ve used this text both in small group and individual classes.

American culture is often confusing for the ESL student and thus I also teach an American Customs class using 101 American Customs : Understanding Language and Culture Through Common Practices and 101 American Superstitions : Understanding Language and Culture through Superstitions. The origin of each strange cultural phenomenon is briefly explained in these books and it’s easy to transition to a discussion comparing superstitions and customs between the US and the student’s native country.

Exam Preparation

On occasion I have students search me out for intensive exam preparation.

The most common exam given here is the TOEFL.  This is believed to be the ultimate exam for English Proficiency in Mexico, although that’s not its designed intent. Any TOEFL preparation guide will do, but that one I use is Barron’s Practice Exercises for the Toefl. Most students have difficulty with the grammar section and this book breaks it down into types of errors to look for. It also helps the students become more familiar with the test format, as it is NOT at all like Mexican school exams.

Gaining in popularity is the TOEIC exam.  I had my first experience with this when I completed the preparation course for a student (See Failing at your own business–University courses). It’s more of a business English exam, and the vocabulary used is often new to the average English student. Again, any preparation guide would help, but I use the Barron’s TOEIC Practice Exams . The Learning to Listen: International Version makes a nice complement for this.

The IELTS is the exam used by UNAM admissions and I have had students specifically request a preparation class designed with this exam in mind. The exam is British based, designed for the UK and other subjugated nations, like Australia and New Zealand, so it was a little bit of a learning process for me as well. I ordered the Barron’s IELTS as a guide to teach this class.

I have also been requested as a teacher for the U.S. Citizenship exam. Materials are easily downloadable from USCIS here. In order to be fully prepared for this exam, students must be fluent in English and be able to answer the questions about US history, government and culture. Sometimes this requires quite a bit of explanation on the part of the teacher, but it’s often a fun class to teach. All my students who have taken their exams after our preparation class have passed and gone on to become US citizens. Yeah me!

I also teach ESL privately to children in addition to my job at the Kinder (See Kindergarten Event) and the Elementary school (See Elementary Event). I like to start with students who can already read in Spanish, so my students tend to at least 5 years old. I have compiled my own books for these classes and hope to soon have them available to download. It depends on when my illustrator, who is a bit of a free spirit, gets her part done. Right now I’ve done books about the alphabet, short vowels, beginning and ending consonant blends, homophones, homographs, and homonyms. I’m currently working on books for long vowels and kindergarten activities with a thematic approach.


Here are some recommendations from my treasure trove of teaching materials:

501 English Verbs: Fully Conjugated in All the Tenses in a New Easy-to-Learn Format, Alphabetically Arranged  This is an excellent writing resource for students.

An English/Spanish Dictionary. Not all dictionaries are created equal. The most common dictionary available in my area is the Larousse Pocket Spanish – English / Ingles – Espanol Dictionary , however, I recommend Vox Compact Spanish and English Dictionary. It’s just more complete, in my opinion. Then there’s that whole American English vs. British English thing.

Oxford Picture Dictionary English-Spanish: Bilingual Dictionary for Spanish speaking teenage and adult students of English . This is a nice way to work with vocabulary organized by themes.

Scholastic Children’s Dictionary This is sort of like a mini-encyclopedia with full-color illustrations rather than a traditional dictionary.

Scholastic Children’s Thesaurus Using the same adjective over and over again gets WAY boring.

Manila folder games. These are great and can be found on any subject, not just language arts. Here’s one set I use. File Folder Games Book Reading & Math: Grade 1

Card Games.  I use these for kids a little bit older instead of the manila folder games.
10 Reading Comprehension Card Games: Easy-to-Play, Reproducible Card and Board Games That Boost Kids’ Reading Skills—and Help Them Succeed on Tests

Puzzles. Melissa and Doug have all sorts of durable wooden puzzles for preschool and up. It makes vocabulary practice dynamic and fun. Here’s one I have.Melissa & Doug Wooden USA Map Puzzle

Even with all these things at my fingertips, there’s no predicting which students will continue and which give up. I have some regular, long-term students, but I also have a high turn-over rate, especially at the end of the school year. I’m not too fussed over that though because I have a waiting list. As one of the very few native speakers in the area, and having a BS in education to boot, I’m in demand!




Filed under Education, Teaching