First Year TEFL Teacher Tips

By Armando Pannacci

You’ve completed your TEFL training. You have a general idea of how to teach ESL and you just landed your first job abroad. However, a few lingering uncertainties remain about the practicalities of teaching ESL full time. The cure for that is to jump into the deep end and start working, but first, you may want to consider a few things… Here are some quick tips on how to be prepared for your first TEFL job. 

Your first class

Culture shock

There are always some cultural differences that you will probably become more familiar with during your orientation. Keep an open mind as much as possible. Become familiar with dress code and ensure you are prepared to make a good first impression.  

Before the class starts

  • Familiarize yourself with the school. Know exactly where the office supplies, photocopiers, extra paper, and flashcards are. Also, if needed, where the tests and printouts are. And, most importantly, which classes you will be teaching in. It can be very frustrating looking for these right before your classes.   
  • Regarding the course material, the sooner you start looking at the school curriculum the better. Get your hands on the text books, work books, reading books, and take a look at the class syllabus. 
  • Make sure you understand the tech side of things as well. Most text books these days have multimedia lessons with software. Knowing how to set up the computers, projectors, speakers and the software needed to access the lessons is crucial, don’t be left scratching your head in the middle of class.

Introducing yourself

The students are curious about who you are and where you come from. Instead of telling them directly, I make them guess. It’s a light hearted icebreaker that works well with both kids and adults. I simply write down a few countries on the board and have the students guess which country I am from. I erase the wrong answers slowly until they all finally get it right. This can be done with age, name, nationality and so on. It is a fun icebreaker that only takes 5 minutes. 

Getting to know your students’ names

Next, after they get to know me, I like to get to know them. Remembering everyone’s name can seem daunting, but here is a quick tip. I ask the students to write down their names on a name card and introduce themselves or have a partner introduce them. They may mention their names and their favourite hobby. Then, I ask them to hold up their name cards so I can take a picture. I promise to memorize all their names by next class. I try to follow through on that promise and students appreciate the effort.

Setting up the class

It is a good idea to have some simple rules to let the students understand what is expected and what the course involves. If the students are kids, you may want to go over basic commands. If students are adults, you may want to go over what will be expected. Then, I ask them to open their books and have a look through the course material as I explain the course syllabus. Make sure to have some icebreakers as backups if needed.

Efficient planning

Being fresh out of TEFL school and ready to teach, you are eager to create great lessons. Unfortunately, in many ESL schools, you will be teaching anywhere from 5 to 8 classes a day. It is really hard to be thoroughly prepared and create lesson plans for each lesson. This kind of preparation is next to impossible. Instead, plan simply — know what your aim is for the lesson and teach it. If you are teaching a past tense lesson on what you did at school yesterday, you want them to be able to walk away from the class with that focus completed. Think of a creative way for them to learn “I studied in the library” or “I played soccer”. Creativity will really save you time. However, keep the aim of a past tense lesson clear. Just having a conversation is fun, but every lesson usually sequentially builds on grammar points, so you want to combine the two, conversation with the focus of past tense in this case.

Goal based learning

Take note of backwards designed courses. Backwards design or backward planning is a learning experience where the designers of the course start with a goal in mind and design backwards to help students reach that goal. As most text books are designed as goal-based learning, it is important for the teacher to understand the steps the textbook is leading the students to. This is usually also connected with the exams of the course. To avoid going off-topic, it is important to note the backwards designed nature of most text books so students will be ready for the tests. It also prevents the teacher from feeling disorganized.

Every class should have focus

As mentioned, yes, it is true that most ESL teachers will teach conversation, but this does not mean that you freely talk about a topic without having a focus or target vocabulary you are working on. If there is no focus, students feel disoriented and it is hard to direct the class, especially as time goes by. Instead, ensure the students walk away from each class with something concrete that they have learned.  They too will feel a sense of accomplishment. This will build their confidence.

Localize the knowledge

If you are teaching in a foreign country, it is always a good idea to localize the knowledge. To explain what that means, here is a quick example — if you are teaching about foods and tastes, you can teach words like “salty” or “sweet” by asking about which local foods would belong under which category. Another example might be when teaching comparatives such as “warmer, louder, busier, more expensive etc.”, comparing two cities in their country could help. You can ask why, and get them to speak or even teach you about their culture. This is a great way to increase engagement and meaningful communication. 

Check homework

Regarding homework, when you do assign homework, make sure you take the time to check it. Students put a lot of work into it, so it is important to check. Also, students will lose motivation in doing assigned homework if teachers do not bother to check it. For kids, their parents may not see the class, but the parents may well check their workbooks.  


In class, encourage students. As an ESL teacher, you need to get the answers from students, not only give them the answers. Make them think, challenge them and push them to help them reach their goals. Many students can speak or know the answers but are hesitant. Encouragement will help them with their hesitation. Also, teacher explanations can be difficult to comprehend in a second language. Instead, to help explain, you should use pictures or props for kids, or other forms of media for adults. As a teacher, you want to draw out as much English as you can using these props. Think of “Wh” questions you could ask to give context to new words and reinforce the vocabulary you have previously taught. 


As a first-year teacher you do not need to understand everything about grammar but I would suggest understanding the parts of speech and also the basic verb tenses. Start with parts of speech by clicking here. You need to understand some grammar basics because, as your students put sentences together, they may have questions about sentence structure. To explain, you need some basic understanding of how sentences are built around grammar.   

And, have fun!

Thanks for reading these tips. Just remember, most importantly, teaching is fun and exciting. But, like anything rewarding, it involves a bit of work.  With patience, dedication, and passion, teaching will be a wonderful experience. The best of luck to all new teachers and I hope you will benefit from the tips from this article.

Written by Armando Pannacci for December 2020
Arm is a Canadian ESL teacher with over ten years' experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.

One Comment

  • The King Of Love From IRAN says:

    Thank you,

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