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Teaching ESL in Spain: A Day in the Life at Zalima


“A day in the life at Zalima” tells the story of a typical teaching- ESL-day as the native English language assistant at my school. Zalima is an educational institution situated in Córdoba, in Andalusia, that offers Bachillerato and a variety of Vocational Training Courses. It thus encompasses a wide range of student needs and abilities, as well as opportunities for creativity teaching ESL classes. In fact, the particular nature of my school is the main reason why I wished to tell this story.

How I Ended Up Teaching ESL: A Little Presentation

I am a recent Modern Languages graduate from the University of Southampton, UK, and a born and bred Londoner. Following an enriching experience as a Language Assistant in Almeria on my year abroad; I decided it was time to come back to Spain after graduating. Therefore I started investigating ESL teaching programmes in Spain and discovered Meddeas. I am very keen on a career in education and foreign language teaching in particular. I started my placement with Meddeas in January 2017, and have been thoroughly enjoying my experience at Zalima ever since.

The English Native at Zalima Teaching ESL Students

Zalima is a semi-private educational institution situated in the historic Jewish Quarter of Córdoba, in Andalusia, in the south of Spain. It offers both Bachillerato, the British equivalent of Sixth Form and A Levels, as well as a wide range of Vocational Training courses, such as Finance and Administration, Early Years Education, and so on.

My Tasks while I Teach ESL Abroad

From the start, I have been teaching ESL to whole groups. I’ve also designed lesson plans and objectives with the guidance of the class teacher; focusing on various skills in language learning, including oral abilities, encouraging further exposure to the English-speaking world, and working to generally motivate students.

In terms of Bachillerato, I have not only been in English classes but also Philosophy, Physical Education, and ICT, which has allowed for exciting opportunities for the use of the English language. In English, I have had the opportunity to design my own ESL lesson plans and activities; as well as use online resources, to focus on a variety of competencies, particularly grammatical ones, as well as spoken production and interaction, and therefore complement their learning with the main teacher.

How to Teach ESL in Specific Subjects (Philosophy, P.E., ICT, Finance, etc.)

Philosophy Presents Particular Benefits Teaching ESL Students

Philosophy enhances the acquisition of vocabulary and spoken interaction, due to the thought-provoking and argumentative nature of the subject. Not only have we had the opportunity to debate, present arguments, and create projects on topics such as English speaking countries, International Woman’s Day, and the use of technologies in class, but also to discuss how to debate and give speeches.

Teaching ESL Secondary School Students
Secondary School.

Teaching ESL through P.E. Lessons

In P.E, I have also had the freedom to create lessons on the content given in the theory side of their classes, including topics such as feelings and body expression and healthy eating.

Teaching ESL Resources in ICT

As for ICT, my functions are directly related to the Erasmus + school project. We have collaborated with other schools in Europe on the topic of the value of new technologies in language learning. In these classes, I would help students with their projects and teach aspects such as journalistic language. I also worked alongside colleagues, translating documents and creating activities for the convention held at our school in March.

Teaching ESL: Lesson Plans in Vocational Training

As for Vocational Training, I have taught in Finance and Administration, Secretarial Studies, and Early Years Education. These students had very specific needs. In terms of the first two, my focus was on developing oral abilities, using the Cambridge B1 framework, as well as working on Business English. Examples of activities include group work creating companies and pitches for products, writing CVs and cover letters, and so on. In terms of Early Years Education, my classes focused on the acquisition of didactic vocabulary in English whilst developing teaching skills and language learning activities appropriate for Early Years.

The Video about My Experience Teaching ESL in Spain

As stated before, I have been teaching ESL in such a variety of courses and subjects. Thus I felt that it would be a great opportunity to try and show a day in my life in a video, that you can find at the beginning of this post. The idea was to go through a day with a variety of classes and projects.

teach esl abroad

In terms of artistic objectives, I can’t say that I’m very skilled in the use of cameras (!), but the idea was to use a camera angle in which the viewer could “walk in my footsteps” and see through my eyes. I hoped to make this a little more exciting and focus on certain aspects using slower and faster-paced captions, and with music that suited my geographical setting.

Through the different interviews, I hoped that others would have a clearer idea of particular responsibilities I have had, covering Bachillerato and Vocational Training. Last but not least, I hoped that the section on English Breakfast would add a little humour to the video. It was an initiative I set up following a positive discussion with the director whereby colleagues and I focus on English speaking during Friday break-time.

Take a glance at my teaching ESL experience in Spain and if you have any questions, write your comments below!

20 Responses

  1. Really cool! Seems like you’re having an incredible experience! My classes are super focused on conversation. Different to yours. Taking a lot of inspiration from you!

  2. What an amazing adventure to instruct different subjects while practicing ESL teaching practices at the same time; it’s like a two-for-one experience! The skills you learned from working with this institution will definitely be highly valued anywhere you go, especially if you are going into the teaching field.

    It seems like a great way to experience Spain and gain practical skills at the same time!

  3. What an exciting video! Your class is very diverse. It was very interesting for me to observe a class with older students because i currently teach infantil. Although bringing in aspects such as debate or philosophy into my classroom may not be exactly age appropriate, I do incorporate many other subjects into my English lessons! I often incorporate physical education into my lesson to get the kids moving around and learning. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to get children under 5 to sit still!
    Since I talked about how I incorporate physical education in one of my other comments, I want to share with you all how I use art to help with my students English learning skills.
    Art is a great way to help students put their own creative twist on information they have learned in the classroom. It makes the new material personal to them and adds to their comprehension of the topic.
    For example, right now, we are learning about the body and it’s different parts. I️ am teaching them about the parts of their face— eyes, ears, mouth, etc. After a few lessons and songs familiarizing the students with the parts of the face, I️ gave all of my students a piece of paper with a blank face on it. Each child then drew each part of their own face on the paper. For example, some of my students have brown hair, blonde hair or red hair. Some of my students have blue eyes, and some have brown eyes. Some students have long hair, and some have short hair. Each child made their own personal self portraits to practice and show comprehension of the parts of the body.

  4. You’ve had such diverse classes! I am only an English assistant at my school, and work with just two students at a time for about 20 minutes each pair. I would LOVE to get to work with a whole class! Really interesting that you get to work with so many different subjects. Such a unique opportunity! I’ve been incorporating a lot of different subjects and topics into my short speaking sessions, but I hadn’t thought to include things like philosophy or physical education. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  5. Hi Sara! It was enjoyable to learn about your experience as it is so different from mine! I teach preschool and primary students, so learning about someone who works with older students is really interesting to me! I think it’s so cool that you get to teach other subjects other than English language! It definitely makes it more interesting! I was just wondering if these subjects are easier or harder to teach? And if you enjoy them more or less than English language? I imagine they would be harder in some aspects as there are generally more scientific or technical terms, and also it’s possible you are not confident in your knowledge of the subject. I know, for certain, I would not do well at teaching Business, lol! But, even if they are more difficult to teach, it’s probably more rewarding and fun for the kids since it’s something different and new and interesting! Anyways, great blog and looking forward to your next one!

  6. This is super insightful! It sounds like you’ve had such an enriching experience and I’m sure that this job will serve you well in many future careers. I’d love to teach specific subjects such as drama, art, or debate as it combines the subjects I love into one. I also think that teaching english through the lens of teaching a different subject helps students learn the language in a different way and in a way that shows how the language can be used with a purpose. The video was amazing as well!

  7. I really like the idea of teaching philosophy in English and doing debates! I think it is a good way to challenge the students and help them practice what they know in a real context. I teach infantil and primaria but I will definitely try it with my older students. In the 5th grade class in my school, they use tablets and do quizzes etc. with them. They love it and it motivates them a lot. Thanks for your ideas, they are inspiring and it is nice to see what others are doing! 🙂

  8. What a lovely school and it seems like a great environment to work in!

    I currently teach art and drama in English as part of my role as a language assistant and have struggled with getting to grips with it! Your post and video really helped me to kind of understand more about the approach and what I can do to become more comfortable with this type of methodology!


  9. Seeing your “English Breakfast” with the other teachers made me do happy, I LOVE that you do that. It made me think of how beneficial integrating a form of the English culture into the class with the students would be! I remember taking Spanish classes in high school and one of the things that stuck out to me the most was when we would have Spanish celebrations like for the day of independence, or have traditional Spanish food in class one day, or learn a traditional Spanish dance, etc. So thank you for bringing English culture to your faculty! That was definitely a lightbulb moment for me that I will definitely bring to my classes.

  10. Right so I teach infant all the way through to ESO… and my only concern is that as much as I would love to encompass other subjects into my lessons of English, I fear my students don’t have a sufficient level of English to do this. Are there any tips you could offer for integrating other subjects into your classes? It just seems like quite the task trying to simplify the English enough so they understand the subject your trying to integrate (e.g philosophy).

  11. Sounds like you’re having a great experience! I teach ESO and Bachillerato and with the older groups I organise weekly debates for them which they LOVE. I am running out of ideas for debates though so I’d be interested to see what you debate about in philosophy classes. It’s difficult to know what is appropriate for the students and what isn’t!

    1. I love the idea of the weekly debates! We do a lot of investigative project work at the moment too, in cooperative learning groups, but still love a good debate to introduce or round up topics. As my school is catholic I obviously have to be careful with topics too. We’ve looked at learning and teaching methods, technologies, feminism.. watched and debated on some great TED talks too. Definitely recommend that for ideas!

  12. Really nice to read about your experience! I have to say firstly that you’re school building looks incredible! It looks like the typical “moorish” Andalucian style which is fantastic and surely adds to your cultural experience.

    Good to see that you’re integrating English language and other subjects. Is your school using the CLIL approach? Mine is, so I teach Natural Science to primary 1 and 5 every day in English. It’s a pretty interesting way to teach language actually and I’m becoming increasingly interested in this method. There’s always the question of what’s more important, the language skills or the subject knowledge…

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences! Hope you keep enjoying Spain as much as I am!

    1. Hey! The school is beautiful, with the typical Andalusian patio. It’s the only place you want to be in come spring and summe, given the intense heat in Córdoba.
      Also, my school doesn’t actually have a bilingual approach in place, in fact this year I’m not in P.E. for example, ultimately I just have students in such a variety of contexts with a variety of needs, so it may seem so! The idea in philosophy for example has always been that students ultimately lose thus fear of speaking in English, and acquire topic specific vocabulary as well as presentation skills. The content more or less mirrors the current topic, but I have quite a lot of freedom. At the moment for example we are working on projects looking at various cultural traditions. It’s a great opportunity! How are you finding teaching language in said approach?

      1. Sounds interesting! The conversation-based approach seems to win the day here in Spain as people are extremely keen to improve their communication skills in English and, as you said, lose the “vergüenza”!

        I’m finding it really rewarding teaching Science in English because although we have a book to follow in most cases, the main aim of these classes seems to be to reinforce language skills and expand lexicon. This gives me a certain degree of freedom to emphasise vocabulary, introduce useful phrasal verbs and also let the students have fun in this subject. They also get the chance to present and make posters about the different topics we cover. This year I have a Science class of 32 students so it’s been a real challenge in terms of classroom management. I started a new system this week where each student has a “stamp book” where they collect stamps awarded for good behaviour, participation in class, correct answers etc. It seems to be workng so far!

    1. Yes! It has alaso been very interesting to look at debating and presentation skills in terms of cultural differences between Spain and the UK, obviously people everywhere have different ideas as to how to put their points of view across (and as to the volume they should speak in, particularly amusing in the case of Spain!)

  13. I never thought of encompassing other subjects (philosophy, p.e etc.) into my English classes to expand the students knowledge, so this blog has really opened up a lot of different idea for my future classes!

    Also everything is explained and spoken about in such detail it really helps to develop new ideas for my own classes.

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