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Teaching Abroad with No Experience: How to Hit the Ground Running!

teaching abroad tips

I want to give useful tips for teaching abroad in the first few weeks as a teacher who’s had no previous teaching experience. I will explain how to give lead-ins to your lessons, and the importance of pre-teaching vocabulary before doing activities. The activities should also allow students to mix the new vocabulary along with their previous knowledge of the English language. I will also give pointers on how to be prepared for any classes that go wrong. Also, what equipment you need to have before your first lesson. This should help you to have a kick-start in your first lessons as a new teacher!

teaching abroad tips
My beautiful students, the teacher and I.

Lead-Ins to Start the Lesson

Firstly, use lead-ins to jump start all your lessons. This allows the students to grasp the context of your lessons. They can be on topics, such as holidays, food, or daily routines. Some other ideas for topics are weather, clothes or hobbies. Adjectives, countries or health. Prepositions, numbers or school subjects. These are only some that come to my mind!

You can start with a related picture and have the students make observations about the picture. Or you could start with an activity such as a crossword with easy words related to the topic, that they should already know.

Another way is to ask questions related to the specific topic you want to revise with them and help them along with anything they may have difficulty saying in English. Questions are a good way to start the lesson as they make it personal to the students. This way, they are usually more eager to learn. This should take between five and ten minutes of your class time.

Language Assistant in Spain classroom
One classroom in my school in Spain.

Make Sure They Know the Vocabulary

Next, you should pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. It is a common case where you would find students of different levels in the same class. Many of my students study English at an academy twice a week, but these are the ambitious ones who already have acquired some of the language while the more challenged fall behind. You may be left with a big gap between levels. Pre-teaching vocabulary ensures all students are on the same level for the lesson, so you can carry on with the activities as normal.

To teach the vocabulary, you can use Pictionary or Charades and have the students draw a picture of the word or act out the word (in the case of an action verb). Other students try to guess the correct word. It is good to have pictures already prepared on presentation slides as well, to make sure the students understand any new words. This will give you an idea of the learning objectives for the following activities in your lessons.

Another way is to have the students match the nouns to the correct adjectives. Or to the correct definitions on small flashcards. You can write them up once and reuse them again later.

drawings and words in the classroom
Some cute drawings and English words posted in the classroom.

Prepare a Wrap-Up Activity

Have an activity planned for the end of every lesson, which they can use to practice what they learned. Students want to have fun while using the language. It is a great opportunity for them to practice if you are teaching abroad with Meddeas and are assisting another teacher. The stress levels of the students are much lower in your lessons since you are not grading them and they don’t have to study or do homework.


Two games I found that the students loved were Taboo and Fruit Salad. In Taboo, one student sits at the top of the class, facing the other students. The teacher writes a word on the board behind the student, who is sitting in the chair. Only the other students in the class can see what it is. The students have to use their current knowledge of the language to form sentences to describe the word on the board, without actually saying the word. The goal is to get the student sitting in the chair to say the word.

For the more advanced students, you can also write other words that the students are not allowed to use to make it more challenging. This is a great way to teach synonyms of other words. This version looks more like the game, ‘Who Am I?’, which is similar, but the word is held over the student’s head, instead of on the board.

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad is another game that can be adapted to whatever topic you decide to revise in the lesson. Have everyone sit in a circle on a chair and have one person in the centre standing up, which means that we are missing a chair for one person. Then, have the students say phrases about what they did this morning when they woke up, to practice the past tense. Phrases such as “I ate toast this morning” or “I tied my shoelaces this morning”. Those who did, have to stand up and find a new seat. The goal is to avoid being left in the middle of the circle.

You can also use this to teach vocabulary, such as food vocabulary and have the students label themselves as a particular fruit or vegetable. The student in the centre has to give a description of a certain food, and those who match the description have to stand up. This should take up the most part of your class time.

Always Have Something Up your Sleeve

When teaching abroad, it’s also important to have extra activities up your sleeve to be safe. Apparently things can go wrong in class, even to the best teachers. You don’t want to be stuck in a class with disengaged learners if they don’t like an activity. This is why you should have some adaptable back-up activities stored in your memory.

Also, you could have notes on games such as Hangman, Bingo, Outburst, Concentration, Q + A, Hot Seat, Memory Challenge, or Find Someone Who. Instead of Hangman, you could write about eight words with their letters shuffled on the board. You could also play Teams, where you write two words lists covering the topic for the lesson. The students write questions using the words and ask the other. They write the answers and they report them back to the teacher.

Jeopardy never fails 

Another activity that is good to have for your first few weeks of teaching abroad, in case of any classroom disaster, is Jeopardy. To play, you draw a grid with a list of categories. In the first column, and the top row you put a range of six difficulties from €100 to €600. You draw the grid on the board and split the students into teams of 2-4 students.

The first team then starts by choosing a category and an amount, depending on the difficulty they want to choose and how confident they feel about the topic. If they get it wrong, they don’t get the amount. The square stays open for the next team. You can find many samples online, such as on ESLGames.

Get your Equipment Ready

Finally, it’s important to have the necessary equipment. You never know what is going to be available to you in the classroom. Most classes have a whiteboard, but teachers may have to bring their own markers. Make sure you know the codes to the computers for the projectors in advance. In my case, it was taped to the top of the screen, but that may not be the case for all schools.

Lastly, make sure you start the class with the rule that students are to only speak in English. This is the golden rule when teaching abroad. You should set clear boundaries before the lesson starts. This will also give you better control for the rest of the class.

In conclusion, structure your lessons well when teaching abroad. The students want to be prepared to learn the lesson as much as you want to be prepared to deliver it. Make sure you introduce each new activity before carrying them out. And make sure the students understand. The questions at the beginning are a good way to get an idea of the students’ level. They can allow you to alter the pace of the lesson to suit the students better. It’s important in the first days to prepare ideas for activities. Also, to prepare lists of vocabulary for each topic as your learning objectives for classes. The activities can follow after.

Good luck and happy teaching!

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