Master’s Degree Now or Later?

One of the most frequent questions I see discussed on social media is, “When should I start a master’s degree?” It’s often phrased as, “Should I start my master’s right away or should I teach for a few years?” It’s a good question, and ultimately the decision is a personal one, but I’d like to give you my perspective. Spoiler alert: I think you should wait a few years.

The most frequent argument I hear for getting your degree early is that you’ll make more money sooner. This is true, most schools set up their pay scale so those with advanced degrees are paid a higher wage. The question is, how much higher a wage? The argument I hear most often for waiting to get a degree is that it’s easier to find a job without one because the school can pay you less. This also has a certain amount of truth to it, but how much truth is unknown. I myself have been applied for, and gotten, three different jobs after gaining an advanced degree (two of the jobs were with two master’s degrees on my resume). While I agree these are factors to consider, I don’t think they are the only, or necessarily most important, ones.

The purpose of a master’s degree, in my opinion, is to set you up for the end of your career. If you want to go into administration, you’ll need a Master’s of Educational Leadership. If you want to be a specialist or interventionalist, you’ll need a corresponding degree. If you want to stay in the classroom, you will want a Master’s of Teaching for your grade/subject area. I think you get the idea.

The problem with deciding what you want to do at the end of your career is that you don’t know who you are as a teacher yet. Thus far you’ve experienced education almost entirely from the viewpoint of a student. The view from the other side of the classroom is very different and there is a lot that goes on in a school that students never even notice (even student teachers just get a small glimpse of it). It takes a few years to get to know yourself as a teacher and start to see/experience different aspects of the education world.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I graduated with my BS in elementary education, there was one thing I was sure I’d never do: teach English language learners. TESOL was just getting started as a focus for schools in most of the USA, and they’d talked about it in some of my classes, but it wasn’t something anyone really pushed. I listened and decided it wasn’t for me. Then I started teaching for a non-profit that had an English language school and said, “You have a teaching certificate. You can run the school for us.” I decided that if I was going to do this, I should do it right, and took the classes necessary to become certified in TESOL. Shortly after that, I enrolled full time in a Master’s of Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program. It’s been 14 years since I finished that degree; I am still teaching ESL and still enjoying it. In fact, I can’t imagine not teaching language learners! Had I immediately gotten my master’s after graduation I would likely have gotten a general Master’s of Elementary Education, or become a reading specialist. There’s nothing wrong with either degree, I know many great teachers who have one or the other, but neither would have been the right one for me and my career would likely look very different today.

Another argument for waiting to get your master’s degree is finances. Taking a few years to teach gives you the chance to start paying off any student loans you may have taken out for your bachelor’s degree. Rather than continuing to add to your debt, take the opportunity to gain some experience and pay it down a little. There are even loan forgiveness programs for qualifying teachers, but they all require you to teach full time.

Besides dealing with any student loan debt, getting started with your teaching career can help you pay for your master’s degree in different ways. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for returning students and students who are advancing their careers through further education. The school you work for may also offer some type of tuition reimbursement program. The first school I worked for upon returning to the USA had such a program and it paid for almost half of my second master’s degree (curriculum and instruction, if you were wondering). Sometimes, if a school really needs people with a particular certification, they will pay for the entire degree (though this is fairly rare and usually for very specific specialty fields).

Besides getting to know yourself as a teacher and finances, there’s application to be considered as well. I don’t mean the application to the program, I mean the application of your learning. Both of my master’s degrees required me to complete assignments, projects, and research that could only be done in a classroom with real students. There were also a lot of readings and class discussions that were much more meaningful to me because of my classroom experience.

You learn a lot in your teacher preparation program, and student teaching is invaluable experience, but nothing can compare to having your own classroom and learning on the job. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes and funny videos about the college classes they should have offered. They are funny for a reason–there’s a lot of truth in there! Some things just can’t be taught in a classroom, or experienced in a student teaching internship. Having a few years of teaching under your belt will give you a whole new perspective on the theories being taught and how various concepts/approaches might look in the classroom.

Finally, though certainly not least, your first few years of teaching will likely be the hardest of your career. I speak from experience when I say that being a full time teacher and a full time student is HARD! To some degree it is easier now with remote learning (yes, I did both of my master’s degrees in the dark ages before on-line learning was popular), but don’t underestimate how much time a degree will take, even in a remote format.

You also don’t want to underestimate how much time and energy those first few years of teaching will take. While I will be the first to tell you that it’s ok to stick close to the curriculum and not do a lot of the extras your first year or two, it still takes a lot of time to make even the most basic of lesson plans and prepare for each new day of learning. I was only able to survive teaching and taking classes because I was teaching the same curriculum I’d used for a few years already and I only had to update and tweak my lesson plans, not start from scratch. I’d also already worked the kinks out of my classroom management strategy and classroom routines/procedures for every aspect of the school year. Teaching is never an eight to three, or even eight to four, job, but it does get easier and less time consuming as you gain more experience.

Whether you decide to pursue that master’s immediately or wait a year (or two, or three…), I can tell you this–it will be a valuable experience for you. Even though I never became a curriculum director or designer, as I thought I might when pursuing the second degree, I use both of my master’s degrees every day. I learned a lot pursuing both degrees and they’ve made me a better teacher. I’m sure you’ll find the same to be true for you as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Open Compound Nouns

We teachers, especially we ESL teachers, spend a lot of time talking about compound nouns. In fact, I have quite a few activities that I use to practice them with my students (check this blog post for details). This is important, but I’ve noticed there is one particular type of compound noun that seems to trip up my students more than any other, the open compound noun. My students tend to think of them as two separate nouns, or as an adjective and a noun, rather than a single noun, and I can understand why they do! Open compound nouns are tricky because they look like two words, when in fact they are functioning as one. Now there is some discussion about open compound nouns: should they actually be closed or hyphenated? I am not here to settle these arguments, for my purposes I’ve let Merriam Webster’s Dictionary be the determining voice. If Merriam Webster’s Dictionary lists the noun as a single entry, and does not close or hyphenate it, I consider it an open compound noun. Here are some of the fun activities my students and I use to build our open compound noun vocabulary.

Dominoes: Digital

Dominoes

Played similarly to traditional dominoes, each student takes five dominoes and the rest are placed in a draw pile. The top card from the pile is turned over and placed in the center of the playing area. The first person tries to match one of his/her cards to the card in the middle of the playing area, lining up the ends to form an open compound noun. If he/she has a matching card, he/she plays it, and the second person then takes a turn. If he/she doesn’t have a match, he/she draws a domino, plays it if he/she can, or adds it to his/her hand if not. The first person to get rid of all of his/her dominoes is the winner.

An alternative, less competitive, way to use dominoes is to give a complete set to each pair or group of students. The students then work together to create a huge rectangle by matching all of the words to form open compound nouns.

The digital version of the game is played in a similar fashion, but students drag and drop their dominoes to make plays. You can watch how to play the digital version in this short video:

Memory

Memory

Played exactly like the popular children’s game, this open compound noun version is perfect for vocabulary practice. Students turn over two cards, trying to match the term to the picture. It’s a great way to introduce less proficient students to the concept of open compound nouns. The included 24 nouns are all relatively common ones and so students have the opportunity to expand their vocabularies while playing a very low stress game.

Taboo

Taboo

This game uses the same 24 nouns as the others, but is more challenging linguistically. As in the popular card game, students have to describe the open compound noun without saying any of the words on the card. It’s a great speaking activity and one that my intermediate and advanced students really get into. When choosing the forbidden words, I tried to create a reasonable level of difficulty without making the game so challenging students wouldn’t want to play. It seems to have worked and my students have been known to ask to play the game again.

Spoons

Spoons

Hands down the most popular and competitive game in my open compounds game repertoire is Spoons. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you can get all of the details in this blog post. The goal of the game is to collect an open compound noun triplicate (word one, word two, compound noun) and grab a spoon from the center of the table. That starts a spoon grab frenzy with the final person being left spoonless and gaining a letter. Once a person collects all of the letters in SPOONS, he/she is out of the game. The winner is the last person in the game. There is an alternate play version included that doesn’t involve grabbing and wrestling for spoons, but I rarely have students that want to play it. Those that do opt for the more sedate version usually end up quickly abandoning it once they see how much fun other groups are having.

While these activities don’t get quite as much use as my general compound word activities, I do use them much more frequently than I expected when I first made them. In fact, just this week, we were talking about word stress in my pronunciation class. All of the students are advanced English speakers, holding advanced degrees, and most work full time in professional jobs here in the USA. Yet, the minute they saw the open compound noun examples in the book, several hands shot up and they all wanted to know why there were two word examples in the single word stress section. Fully expecting this to happen, I simply smiled, explained what an open compound noun is, and pulled out Open Compound Noun Taboo. As I did the first word as an example, I was reminded once again of how deceptively difficult that game is! One thing I can absolutely say, the game, as is always the case with these games, was a success with my students. Happy teaching, everyone!


Here are those links again, in case you missed some:

Or get a bundle that has all four of the games (paper version of dominoes) at a 20% discount!

This bundle has all four of the open compound noun activities and six “regular” compound word activities.

Adverbial Fractions & Percentages

What if I told you there was a way you could teach frequency adverbs and changing percentages into fractions with the same activity? Perhaps even in the same day (depending on how much time you have with students, though I recommend spreading it over two days).

That would be amazing, right? I have good news for you: it’s possible and I’m going to share with you all the details so you can give it a try yourself.

Frequency Adverbs

To start, teach or review the frequency adverbs with your students. I like to use this free poster/handout that uses percentages to represent the various frequency adverbs. Once students are familiar with the terms, it’s time to practice them by talking about our habits.

I have an activity/game set that I like to use when practicing frequency adverbs. The entire set is called Adverbs of Frequency: How Often Do You? There are five different activities in the set, but all reference the same 12 life activities: ride the bus, watch TV, read a book, eat breakfast, drink coffee, eat dessert, exercise, get a haircut, talk on the phone, go to the movie theater, take vitamins, and grocery shop.

I decide which of the five different activities I want to use based on which would be best for a particular group of students. The activity options are:

  • Scoot: I place full size frequency adverb posters in five different areas of the room. Students then move (scoot) to the correct area when I call out or show an activity. I then call on one or two students to express their frequency responses in a complete sentence (i.e.: I rarely ride the bus.).
  • Clip It: I give each student five different colors of clothes pins, one for each different adverb of frequency (this can also be done with sticky notes), and place the large activity cards around the room. Students move around the room, placing their clothes pins on each card to represent how often they do each activity. I find it helps students if I put a color key on the board for them to reference as they go. After students have finished, we discuss how often the majority of the class does each activity.
  • Sort It: I supply each group of students with five different colored containers (large plastic cups or paper plates work well), one color for each frequency adverb. I also provide each group of four to six students with a set of small activity cards. Students take turns drawing a card and expressing in a complete sentence how often they do that activity before placing it into the corresponding container.
  • Roll It: I give each group of four to six students a six-sided die, a set of small activity cards, and a reference card. Students take turns rolling the die, choosing an activity, and making a sentence using the adverb rolled and activity chosen. If sentences are grammatically correct, the student keeps the card. If not, the card goes back into the pile.
  • Cover Up: Cover up games are very popular in my class. In this version, I give each pair of students a cover up board, a twelve-sided die, and a set of covers (8 covers per student, each student needs a different color). Popular covers in my class include milk jug lids, counters, mini erasers, and marking X’s with dry erase markers. Students play by taking turns rolling the die. If the number rolled is not covered, the student can say a sentence about the activity shown in the corresponding square. If the sentence is correct, the student covers the space with one of his/her covers. If the sentence is not correct, or the space is already covered, the turn is forfeited. Once all the squares have been covered, the student with the most markers on the board is the winner.

Digital Version

When it came time to take this activity digital, I considered a lot of options. I thought about a digital cover up game, a digital Scattergories game, or a set of digital task cards. None of these options would lead to the conversations I wanted though, so I ended up creating a drag-and-drop activity.

This particular activity includes a section of empty boxes for students to type their names into. Each box is able to be dragged and dropped into the sections labeled with frequency adverbs. As we work through the activity, students move their name box (I have them add their names on the first slide and then I quickly copy and paste them onto all of the subsequent slides) into the correct section for them. I then call on a few students to express their tendency with a complete sentence. It’s a quick and easy way for students to still use the same basic activity while learning remotely.

Percentages to Fractions

Once students have a good understanding of frequency adverbs, it’s time to bring in the math. I like to do this part the next day or week because it gives me an opportunity to review what we just learned with frequency adverbs.

I always start out with a review of vocabulary (this free poster is a good one to keep around for fraction vocabulary). I also introduce, or review, how to convert a percentage into a fraction. This fold up activity is a fun way of doing that. Once I’m reasonably sure students have at least a general idea of how to convert a percentage into a fraction, it’s time to return to our frequency adverbs.

As a very quick review activity, I used the same activities and frequency adverbs as How Often Do You and created a Google Form (view the template and add it to your Google Drive with this link). When I’m ready, I share the link with students and they quickly fill out and submit the form.

It is the students’ responses that we use for our math practice. Once everyone has submitted the form, we check the summary section of the responses to see what percentage of our class selected each frequency adverb for each activity.

Students then work in groups to convert each percentage into a fraction and write a sentence (ex.: Thirty percent of us often ride the bus.). Since there are twelve activities in the form, and five possible responses for each activity, that could result in as many as 60 different conversions. In my experience, that rarely happens. Most of the activities have only two or three adverbs chosen for them. The students live in the same geographic area and tend to come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, meaning that their daily lives are actually fairly similar. If you feel there are too many percentages to be converted, you can assign each group a certain number of activities, thereby reducing the number of conversions.

Conclusion

There you have it, how I teach grammar and math with a single activity. My students get practice with frequency adverbs, basic vocabulary, sentence writing, using words to write numbers, and an important math skill. If you had told me I’d be thinking about, let alone creating, such a thing when I was in college, I would have laughed and said it was impossible to do so much with so little! But then that’s true of a lot of what I do these days. 🙂 Happy teaching, everyone!

Match Up Boards

Learning Wrap Ups

I loved my third grade teacher, Mrs. Sherkey. Maybe that’s why third grade is one of the elementary grades I remember the best. One thing I remember quite vividly is Learning Wrap Ups. I remember sitting in a corner of the classroom in 19… and carefully wrapping that string around the plastic stick to practice various multiplication fact families. Then I’d eagerly turn it over to see if I’d gotten them all correct or not. This week I went looking and was pleasantly surprised to find they still make them!

When I was a novice teacher, one thing I tried to do was remember all of the impactful learning experiences I had. What were the things I actually remember doing and learning from? I figured if they worked for me, they could work for my students. Learning Wrap Ups were one of the things that came to mind, but at that point I didn’t teach math. I also wanted something that could be easily changed, allowing students to practice multiple skills/vocabulary (and I didn’t want to have a gazillion plastic sticks I had to keep track of and store). So what did I do? What I’ve often done when faced with something I needed/wanted for my classroom: I gave a rambling description (complete with hand gestures and badly drawn pictures) to my father. Much like what happened with the CD spinners (see the Spin & Spell post for details), my dad went to his workshop and came back with a prototype Match Up Board. After giving it a trial run, he produced a complete set of them for me, a set that I’m still using years later.

The overall design of the boards is quite simple: three sections that I can slide cardstock strips into with columns of screws running down the interior dividing pieces. They are sized so the cards are printed on a single sheet of letter-sized cardstock and then cut apart (meaning I make two quick cuts with my guillotine and I’m done). I format my cards to print double-sided and on the back create an answer key. In other words, flip the center card and you can quickly check if the answers are correct or not.

To use the boards, students place the cards in the three sections and hook rubber bands around the screws to match the items on the left with those on the right. My boards all have ten screws in each column, meaning up to ten things can be matched. It makes for a great center activity because the boards, cards, and rubber bands can all be left on a table and students can check their own work.

So what do I use these boards to practice? In a word, everything. The most common thing is vocabulary. I put the words on the left and a picture or definition on the right. Most of my vocabulary units include a set of match up cards in them. I’ve also used them to practice question words, parts of speech, compound words, and USA coins. One of the things I appreciate the most about Match Up Boards is they are easy enough for a kindergartener to use but not too childish for my adult learners (one of my adult classes used them this week). Do I occasionally have to review classroom materials usage procedures? Yes, because kids will be kids and at times rubber bands do fly through the air (especially with my middle schoolers), but for the most part my students are quite responsible about it.

If I’ve convinced you to try Match Up Boards in your own classroom, you just need to find yourself someone with some basic tools and knowledge of woodworking (my dad assures me they aren’t difficult to make and a novice craftsman can do it). The plans are a free download from one of the many links in this post and include written instructions as well as a couple of diagrams. Go on, give them a try–I bet your students will like them. Happy teaching, everyone!


Did you make your own boards and want some premade cards to use with them? These card sets are ready to go, and if you print them double-sided they include the answer key on the back of the center card.

Connected Conditionals

Connected Conditionals Board Game: Paper

Despite my efforts, game smashing is still not a popular term, but it continues to be a real thing in my classroom. Awhile ago I saw a video from Twinkl ESL about The Chain Game. This is an easy, no prep game for practicing conditionals. It seemed like fun and I decided to try it. My students loved it! They only had two comments: they wanted to practice more conditions at a time (but needed a reference sheet), and they wanted it to be more game-like. After thinking about it for awhile, I put together a board game version (complete with reference chart in the middle of the game board) and tried it out on them. They declared it even better than the original speaking version and asked to play again sometime. Today, I’d like to share all the details with you so you can try out your own version of Connected Conditionals with your students.

The Materials

To play the board game version, you’ll need a few things, including a game board, playing pieces, and reference chart (free download above). You have some choices here: you can make your own, you can game smash, or you can purchase my premade version using the links above.

The first time we tried the game board version of the game, I game smashed to see how it would go. I used a game board and set of playing pieces from popular board games (Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, etc.) for each group. This worked well, but when we tried to play again many of the students didn’t have their paper reference charts with them (don’t forget, it’s a free download above). They also had a little bit of trouble keeping track of which conditional to use when practicing multiple conditionals.

That was when I created Connected Conditionals specific game boards. The basic board is one I’ve used many times, with squares around the outside of the page and a blank center (the easiest way to do this is to put a huge table over the entire page and merge all of the inner cells). Normally I put game directions in the center, but this time I put a slightly smaller version of the reference chart. This meant that no matter how many times we played, or how far apart those times were, every student would have access to the reference chart every turn.

I also took the opportunity to create specific direction cards for the various conditional combinations (saving me from having to write them on the board every time we wanted to play):

  • Zero Conditional Only
  • First Conditional Only
  • Second Conditional Only
  • Third Conditional Only
  • Zero & First Conditionals
  • Zero & Second Conditionals
  • Zero & Third Conditionals
  • First & Second Conditionals
  • First & Third Conditionals
  • Second & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Second Conditionals
  • Zero, First, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • First, Second, & Third Conditionals
  • Zero, First, Second, & Third Conditionals

Of course this meant I needed to gather playing pieces and dice, but that was easy to do. We often use plastic counters for playing pieces, but other popular options include milk jug lids and mini erasers.

Game Play

The general directions for playing are as follows:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional (assigned based on the die roll on the specific direction cards). Example: If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional (which may or may not be the same as player one’s, depending on the directions set and die roll), he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence as the beginning of his/her own. Example: If you had taken your umbrella, I would have worn my coat with a hood.
  4. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece,
  5. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  6. The first player to reach finish is the winner.

The cards giving directions for the fifteen different conditional combinations include which die rolls go with which conditional, as well as example sentences. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are the directions for the zero, first, and second conditional version:

  1. The first player rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence using the target conditional. Roll 1 or 4 = 0 conditional, Roll 2 or 5 = 1st conditional, Roll 3 or 6 = 2nd conditional: Ex: (rolls a 2) If it is cloudy, I will take my umbrella.
  2. If the sentence is grammatically correct, player one moves his/her piece the indicated number of spaces. If it is not grammatically correct, he/she stays on his/her current square.
  3. Player two rolls the die and states a complete conditional sentence. Besides using the target conditional, he/she must also use the end of player one’s sentence. If player two’s sentence is grammatically correct, he/she moves his/her piece. Ex: (rolls a 6) If you were to take an umbrella, I would wear a jacket.
  4. Play continues with each consecutive player rolling and making sentences using the target conditional and the end of the previous player’s sentence.
  5. The first player to reach Finish is the winner.

Possible Scaffold

My advanced students do quite well with this game, but sometimes my lower proficiency students need help thinking of things to stay. One thing that helps is to allow them to roll story dice or use the spinners from our Silly Shorts game. Of course students are always allowed to make the sentences as ridiculous as they choose (and they do!), so the picture dice/spinners really help.

The fewer conditionals you are practicing at any given time, the easier the game. We almost always practice only one or two conditionals at a time, but sometimes my advanced students like to challenge themselves with one of the more challenging levels. Whichever version of the game we play, we always end up with some very entertaining sentences! I’m honestly not sure which game produces more laughter, this one or Silly Shorts. Give it a try and see what your students think. Happy teaching, everyone!

Phrasal Verb Reference

For native speakers, phrasal verbs are so common and “easy” we don’t even realize we use them (or even that they exist). While the structure and grammar of phrasal verbs is relatively easy to teach and grasp, the meaning and usage of them is not. There are just so many of them that do not mean what you would expect by simply considering the meaning of the verb and particle alone! My students are always asking for more practice with them, and I try to oblige, but games were just not enough, and I was starting to struggle to even create some of them.

I do have various references I point my students towards for looking up phrasal verbs and their definitions, (One of the ones we use the most is the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English.), but even this wasn’t enough. Sometimes students wanted to be able to quickly check if a word pairing was a phrasal verb or not. I also found myself wishing I had a chart that listed all of the phrasal verbs by both verb and particle. I tried searching for one but never found exactly what I what I needed. Finally, I gave up and decided to create my own.

I used all of those reference lists I’ve been pointing my students to over the years, and especially the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary for learners of English, to create an Excel spreadsheet. I listed the verbs down the first column and the particles across the top row. If a verb and particle can be combined to form a phrasal verb, I put an X in the intersecting cell. The first tab of the spreadsheet is a complete list with all 1,135 included verbs. Following that is a tab for each letter of the alphabet so students can quickly look up a specific verb. Does the chart include every phrasal verb in the English language? No, but it does contain quite a few!

I learned a lot of interesting things while making the chart. For example, did you know that up is the most common particle? I found at least 388 verbs that pair with it! (Out is a relatively close second with 356 verbs.) Or that come and go are the most common verbs? Come pairs with 30 particles and go with 32!

The Phrasal Verb Chart is a nice digital reference for my students (it converts well to Google Sheets, if you are a Google school), and it’s been very helpful for me as well. It is yours to use as well, just click the download button above to get your own copy of the Excel version. I did password protect each of the tabs to prevent my students from accidentally making changes to it. The password is ESL2022#. If you need to unprotect a sheet, simply right click on the desired tab and click “Unprotect Sheet.” Type in the password and click OK. To reinstate the protections, right click on the tab again, click “Protect Sheet,” enter your desired password, click OK, reenter the password, and click OK. I hope it’s as helpful for you and your students as it’s been for me and mine. Happy teaching, everyone!


Interested in some of those games I’ve developed to practice phrasal verbs? Here are the links:

Or you can get all five phrasal verb games in a single bundle and at a 20% discount! The bundle includes the PowerPoint version of Jeopardy.

Interview Advice

It’s interview season for teachers, and that means I am seeing A LOT of posts on social media asking for advice. I am not an HR person, nor am I an expert on the subject, but I have been on my fair share of interviews (and always been offered the job), and I’ve also been the person conducting the interview, so I do have some thoughts to share on the subject.

Be Yourself

An interview is about the school representative getting to know you and you getting to know them. That can’t happen if you aren’t being yourself. Are you a bubbly, outgoing, exuberant person? Be that. Are you a quieter, more introverted, subdued person? Be that. Do not try to be something your not, you’re only setting yourself up for failure if you try. If you’re successful, and the interviewer buys it, you may end up in a position you’re not actually suited for (or they may end up not happy with you and show it in your evaluations). If you’re not successful, and the interviewer sees through your act, it’s pretty much a guarantee you won’t get an offer.

Be Honest & Direct

Yes, an interview is all about selling yourself and your abilities, but don’t exaggerate or lie. Speak as positively as possible about your strengths/weaknesses, education, and experience, but don’t try to make yourself into something you’re not. Give direct answers to direct questions. Rambling and obfuscating can indicate a lack of focus or suggest that you’re trying to distract the interviewer from the fact you don’t know what you are talking about.

What if I don’t know the answer?!?

If you don’t know what a term means, ask. You can say something such as, “I think I’ve heard that term before, but I’m nervous and can’t remember. Could you tell me what you mean by…” And if you have no idea how to answer a question, just admit it. You could say something such as, “I’m really not sure how to answer that as I’ve never experienced it before. I think I might…” Or your could ask them to restate the question by saying something such as, “I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re asking, could you restate the question?”

The Portfolio

I hear a lot of people talking about portfolios and the best way to make and present them. They talked about them when I was in college 20+ years ago as well. I’ve been on interviews for, and by hired by, tutoring companies, non-profit education institutions, private schools, a charter school, public schools, and community colleges. Do you know how many times I was asked about a portfolio, or had someone look at one I’d made? Zero. Everyone has a different opinion on this subject, but for what it’s worth mine is to not waste your time.

What To Take

While I don’t recommend taking a portfolio to your interview, I do recommend taking extra copies of your resume (especially if it’s a job fair–then take a lot of extra copies). In a scheduled interview you’re unlikely to need it, they’ll already have it printed and in front of them, but it’s always good to have. I also recommend taking a notebook and pen. This allows you to take notes (especially important at a job fair) and also gives you something to do with your hands (holding a notebook is better than wringing them when nervous).

The Demo Lesson

Personally, I think a demo lesson is next to useless. It’s nothing like reality: it’s too short, the students (if there are any present) are always well behaved and prepped ahead of time, and anyone can prepare and teach one good lesson. But some schools require them and you may be asked to teach one. Please, please, please, do not simply “steal” something from someone else. Actually develop your own lesson and materials. If you do use something created by someone else (reading, worksheet, game, etc.), be sure to give credit to the original author in some way that will be obvious to the interview team. The last thing you want is to have them discover later that you did not credit your source.

What to Wear

In general, you want to be professional. Think about what you would wear to present to the school board or for parent-teacher conferences. Will you dress more casually in your classroom? Probably. But you’ll also be dealing with children/teenagers and wearing it all day long. Those things are not the case with an interview, so dress up a bit.

Men, I’ll start with you because, let’s be honest, your clothing is much easier to deal with. In my opinion, there’s not much to decide: wear a suit and tie, or at the very least dress pants with a button down shirt and tie. Even my software architect husband, who works in an office where most people wear t-shirts and jeans every day, wears a suit to interviews. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but invest in a decent suit, shirt, and tie combination in a basic color. Oh, and buy yourself a pair of shoes that aren’t sport shoes–tennis shoes/sneakers do not belong in an interview, even if they are brown or black.

Women, we have a lot more options, and a lot more things to consider, when getting dressed. Here are my specific tips/considerations:

  • Sleeves- Your top should cover your shoulder, at least a cap sleeve is preferable. At minimum, be sure your top completely covers any undergarment straps, even when you move.
  • Pants- Wear dress pants. Choose a pair that has a flattering fit and cut, but not one that is overly tight. They should not show any of your midriff or back, even when standing, sitting, and moving.
  • Skirt/Dress- Again, choose a flattering fit/cut, but not one that’s overly tight or that shows your midriff or back. Also consider the length of the skirt. What shows when you are standing? How about when you sit? Remember, many styles ride up when you sit.
  • Neckline- This too should be flattering but not overly revealing. At the very least, all parts of your bra should remain covered when you move and bend. Consider what someone who is taller than you can see when standing close to you (i.e.: shaking hands). Also consider what can be seen when you bend over (i.e.: shake hands across a table, place your purse on the floor).
  • Shoes- As with the men, do not wear anything that could be worn to play a sport. If you choose to wear sandals, make them dress sandals–not something you’d wear to the beach. And a side tip for job fairs: wear flats. You’re likely to be standing a lot and your feet will thank you later.

My advice is to give your outfit choice(s) the mirror test. Get dressed in everything you think you want to wear (including undergarments and shoes). Position a full length mirror so you have some room to move around. Start out standing in front of the mirror. Examine yourself from head to toe from all angles: front, side, and back. What can you see and not see? Now partially bend at the waist (as if you were leaning across a table to shake hands or take a piece of paper being handed to you). Check all angles again and see what you can see. Now fully bend at the waist (as if picking something off the floor) and check all angles again. Finally, bend at the knees (as if picking something off the floor) and check all angles one last time.

Next, get a chair and place it in front of the mirror. Sit down in the chair and see what is visible. Cross your legs, uncross your legs, tuck your feet under the chair…try out as many positions as you can think of (you’re likely to be nervous and moving around a bit). Check all of them to see what your outfit looks like from all angels. Now do the two different bends: reaching across a table and picking something up off the floor. What can you see? This may seem extreme or overly cautious, but you don’t want to unintentionally embarrass yourself, and clothing malfunctions are something you don’t need to be worrying about during the interview.

Bottom line on what to wear: you want to be comfortable and look your best, but you also don’t want anything about your looks to distract from your abilities as an educator. Find an outfit that looks great on you but allows your skills and personality to take center stage, not your appearance.

Final Thoughts

Interviewing will always be stressful, but being prepared can help you feel more confident. You’ve no doubt worked very hard to get where you are and have earned the right to be sitting in that room, so be confident in yourself and your background. If you get the offer, great! Consider it carefully and decide to take it or turn it down. If you don’t get an offer, that’s OK too. Remember, it’s better for everyone (you included) to find a good fit between the person and the position; the right job will come along at the right time. Best of luck to you and happy teaching, everyone!

Regular Past Tense Pronunciation Packing

I have a confession to make, I don’t particularly like teaching pronunciation. However, I have come to see its value, especially in a few specific areas. In the past, when I taught the past tense, I tended to quickly breeze over the regular verbs and jump straight into the irregular ones. This was for the obvious reasons: there seem to be far more irregular than regular verbs in English, and they are more difficult! As I’ve been teaching more and more speaking classes though, I’ve been noticing how often students struggle with the pronunciation of the -ed ending on regular past tense verbs. This has caused me to slow down and spend more time on that particular skill. Now this is a skill that can lend itself to some fairly boring lessons, and while we still do the “boring” things, I always try to find some way to liven things up, and this is no exception.

I generally start our lesson on the pronunciation of regular past tense verbs in the usual manner, explaining the rules, viewing a video (I particular like this one from Elemental English), and doing some listening practice exercises in our book. After students have a general understanding of the rules, and are able to be fairly accurate in identifying the sounds while listening, it’s time to play!

Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation Packing was a new game for us this semester and my beginning level students gave it a thumbs up. The game is a free download in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop, so read on to get the details and then download it and try it yourself.

Game Components:

  • Sorting “suitcase”- Pictured above, this is the sorting mat students use to “pack” their sentence cards. Cards are placed into the correct section of the suitcase based on the pronunciation of the past tense verb.
  • Sentence cards- The download includes two types of sentence cards, one with the main verb underlined and one without. There are 288 sentences included, each with a different verb. Due to the large number of sentences in the game, not all of them are travel themed. What this does mean is the game can be played multiple times without students encountering the same sentences too often. I recommend printing each set of sentence cards (you’ll need one for every group of 2-6 students) on a different color of cardstock so you can quickly return lost cards to the correct set.
  • Lost Luggage cards- These cards are not required to play the game, but they do add an extra challenge to keep it interesting for more advanced students. If a student draws one of these cards, the card, and all cards already packed into his/her suitcase, must be discarded.
  • Answer key- This chart, organized in alphabetical order by the present tense form, is available for download above. Students can use it to check the correct pronunciation of any -ed ending they are unsure of, allowing the game to continue without having to wait for the teacher’s confirmation of answers.
  • Draw container- This is the one component not included with the game download. Students will need something to draw the sentence cards out of while playing. This first time around I didn’t have time to make anything, so I used plain white mailing envelopes. Another option could be an oatmeal or other cylindrical container. What I’m planning to do this summer is transform old facial tissue boxes into suitcases by painting them brown (if you use a lighter color of brown, these same containers could also double as “kangaroo pouches” for Kangaroo Words). If I get really creative, I’ll put some travel stickers on the sides as well (since I have fabric bags for my Kangaroo Words game).

Game Play:

  1. The first player draws a card. He/she identifies the main verb (if not using the cards with the verb already underlined) and converts it from present to past. He/she then places the card into the correct section of his/her suitcase based on the pronunciation of the verb’s -ed ending. If the player’s placement is correct, the card remains in the suitcase and his/her turn is over. If the player’s placement is not correct, the card is removed from the suitcase and discarded.
  2. The second player then draws a card and follows the same procedure.
  3. The first player to fill his/her suitcase with nine sentence cards (three for each pronunciation) is the winner.

Game Play Notes:

  1. If a Lost Luggage card is drawn, all cards in that player’s suitcase are discarded (along with the Lost Luggage card).
  2. If a player draws a card and finds the corresponding section of his/her suitcase is already full, the card is discarded.
  3. If the cards in the draw container run out, mix up the discard pile to refill.

Regular Past Tense Verb Pronunciation Packing is the first game of this type I’ve attempted. I wish I could tell you where the idea came from, but I’m really not sure. Perhaps it was because the theme of the past tense unit I taught this semester was travel themed and that got me thinking about packing. Wherever the idea came from, I’m glad it did, as this was a fun game to play. I’m looking forward to trying it again, with a new group of students, this spring. Happy teaching, everyone!

Sweet Percentages

This week is tax week in the USA, never a week that gets people very excited. It does get me thinking about percentages though. That brought to mind a fun activity I did with my middle schoolers one year that served as an assessment after we’d been working on percentages for several weeks, M&M Percents.

The assessment consisted of only four questions:

1. “What percentage of your M&Ms is each color?” I provided them with a chart and filled in the colors for them. The students did their work on the back of the paper and wrote the final percentages on the other half of the table. Each student’s answer for this question was slightly different, but because there is actually a formula for how many of each color goes into each bag (which is what question three is based off of), the answers were quite similar. I also highly advised all of the students to make a chart of their own with the total number of M&Ms of each color in it. This had two advantages: I had raw data to work from when checking answers, and they could eat their candy sooner rather than later (I only pointed out one of the advantages to the students.)

2. “Today is the 16th day of the month and Miss Bowman’s favorite color is green. I want 16 green M&Ms. If 4% of each package consists of green M&Ms, how many M&Ms need to be in the package for me to get exactly 16 green M&Ms?” Besides assessing their percentage skills, this question also allowed me to assess their abilities with writing an algebraic equation from a word problem (a skill we’d learned in a previous unit). The first time I gave this assessment was on the 16th of whatever month, and I honestly don’t remember if I updated this question the next time I used it, but it wouldn’t be hard to do.

3. “The Mars Candy Company has published the average percentage of M&Ms in a bag by color. If a regular sized bag of M&Ms has 48 pieces of candy in it, how many can you expect of each color?” I tried to find the official publication of these numbers again, but was unsuccessful. I did learn that the percentage actually varies based on which factory the M&Ms were packaged in (there are two), at least according to Stats Medic. I provided students a table for this question as well (they once again had to show their work on the back) and used the following percentages:

  • Red- 13%
  • Blue- 24%
  • Green- 16%
  • Yellow- 14%
  • Orange- 20%
  • Brown- 13%

4. “Write your own percent problem based on your bag of M&Ms.” We are always trying to push students to think deeper and use higher order thinking, to go up a level or two on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and that’s what this question was aiming for. I also wanted them to practice their math writing skills in preparation for the state testing that was coming in the near future. I gave a lot of grace on this one and, provided the question was related to percentages and made mathematical sense, gave full credit for whatever they came up with.

I would love to tell you that the students didn’t complain at all, and passing out chocolate candy with my assessment resulted in happy students; but anyone who’s ever taught middle school, or even met a middle schooler, would know instantly I was telling a lie. Of course my students whined–they were taking an assessment. Was there less whining than usual? Yes…after I promised an extra bag of M&Ms to anyone who achieved a score that was higher than their personal average. Yes, it’s true, I am not above bribery–especially when faced with whining middle schoolers and having to teach math first thing in the morning. What I can tell you with complete honesty is that this was a successful assessment and I liked how it was short, easy to prepare, hit multiple levels of Bloom’s, and allowed me to check students’ understanding of multiple standards. So, while I can’t promise you a fun or painless tax season, at least I’ve given you a possible assessment for your next unit on percentages. Happy teaching, everyone!

Eggcellent Activities: Scrambled Words

One of the things I often see in posts from other teachers is a need for more ways to practice spelling and vocabulary words. Last year I shared with you three of our favorite spelling games: Spin & Spell, Magnetic Spelling, and Body Boggle. Today I’d like to share with you another activity we often use to practice spelling and vocabulary: Scrambled Words. Besides being hands-on, relatively easy to set up, and good vocabulary practice, this activity is yet another way to use those plastic eggs that are so prevalent this time of year. So, if Contraction Eggs and Coin Eggs were a hit in your room, get ready for another eggcellent idea!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Letter tiles (I use Scrabble tiles, but you can use anything that has a single letter on it and fits into the egg)
  • Plastic eggs
  • An egg carton (I make one set for every 4-6 students)
  • A recording sheet (described below)

Preparation:

Recording Sheet: I try to keep this very simple. I make three columns: egg number, picture and/or definition, word. The only column I fill in for students is the picture and/or definition. The students record the number from the egg in which they find the word in the egg number column (so I can be sure they actually unscrambled the letters in the eggs), and they write the word in the word column (to practice the spelling). The picture/definition takes this from a simple spelling exercise to a vocabulary exercise by giving the students at least some context for the word.

The Eggs: Each egg is numbered, 1-12 or 1-18 (depending on the size of my word list and carton). I then place the letter tiles to spell one word from our list into each egg. I do not put the words into eggs in the same order as the recording sheet. Doing so would defeat the point of having to unscramble the letters, students would be able to just write the words from the picture/definition alone.

The letter tiles can get a little expensive, especially if you are (like me) making quite a few different sets (we use this activity with nearly all of our themed vocabulary units and our phonics based vocabulary units). I have found letter tiles cheaper on eBay, but even that can get expensive after awhile. My solution was to employ the services of my woodworking father again. He sanded scrap wood and cut it into squares of approximately the same size as Scrabble tiles for me. I then wrote the letters I needed on the wood using a Sharpie marker. The result wasn’t as fancy, but it worked and was much cheaper.

At first I considered reusing the same eggs and letter tiles, just mixing up the combinations for the different lists, but I taught the same units over and over again and didn’t want to have to remake my eggs every year. Instead, I labeled the end of each carton with the unit information so I can quickly grab the set I want. Over the years there have been times when I no longer used a particular set (such as when the curriculum changed), and so those cartons were recycled and the eggs & tiles were reused to make new sets.

In Class Use:

I’ve used Scrambled Words in two ways. Sometimes we’ll do it as part of our whole class practice time. In those instances, I give a set of eggs and recording sheets to each group of students and let them work. The other way I’ve used this activity is as a center activity. I place 1-2 sets of eggs in the center along with a stack of recording sheets. When students get to that center in the rotation, they do the activity and leave their completed recording sheet inside a folder for me to check later.

The only problem I’ve ever run into with this activity is occasionally students will get the letters for two different eggs mixed up, or won’t get all of the letters back into a particular egg. I always remind students to only do one egg at a time, making sure to put the letters for that egg away before getting another one out, but accidents do happen. I am always careful to record on a small piece of paper I can keep in the carton (and remove before giving it to students) a key that tells me what word is in each egg. That allows me to quickly check that all the eggs have the correct letters in them before putting them away to await the next time we need them.

Conclusion:

The first time I tried this activity I didn’t know how it would go over, especially with my middle school and adult students. They didn’t find it too childish though and it is a good way to practice spelling/vocabulary words that’s not writing them over and over again. Scrambled Words, along with Spin & Spell and Magnetic Spelling, is a staple in our vocabulary units, both the themed sets and our phonics based units. So, if you’re looking for a new way to practice spelling and vocabulary words, consider giving Scrambled Words a try. I think your students will like it. Happy teaching, everyone!