Back to the Classroom!


My journey as an educator began in March 2020, and the very first class I taught was on zoom. It was a disaster as everything that could go wrong did! I spent most of the class being IT support instead of a teacher. Thankfully, some of my students were experts and assisted me along the way, so that we could make some learning happen within class time. All my dreams of incorporating different elements of a physical classroom in my lesson plan had to be adapted for the online world. This remained true for almost all my classes for the first term. Call me old school, but I prefer the original physical boards, be they black or white, over the virtual ones. This preference stems from the love of using different coloured markers to highlight different aspects of a concept taught in class. Blue, black, green, red, and purple are lined up neatly on the desk alongside the whiteboard eraser and the cleaner, just in case a permanent one is used on the pristine whiteboard by mistake!

The last two years have been a journey filled with transitions, constant battles with technology, and continuous effort to manage my expectations as well as provide tech support to students. Do not get me wrong, Zoom is fabulous for meetings and consultations and, to some extent, classes as well; but as I said, I’m old school, and there are certain things that, despite all my best efforts (including tech training from an amazing expert), I could not learn. One of them is the whiteboard on zoom – it reminds me of all scribbles toddlers leave on the walls and floors. Every time I tried the whiteboard, the result was pure abstract art that only toddlers would appreciate. Forget sentences I was struggling to make a straight line on that thing.

Despite some successes in the online world of teaching, I still felt like something was missing. It was not until we went back to the physical classrooms that I found the missing part – coloured markers and the whiteboard. For 2.5 hours, I was comfortable, confident, content, and most of all, cheerful throughout the lesson. The students laughed at my lame jokes and answered enthusiastically, realizing they would earn both bonus marks and candies. Most of all, it felt like I was in the space where I fell in love with teaching- I was inside a classroom with a whiteboard and coloured markers.

My favourite marker would be a blue one, and for contrast, I love to use the black one. Red is my least favourite colour because it reminds me of all the mistakes I made as a student in school. Inside the classroom, the students remind me of the reason I became a teacher- to make learning fun, and in order to do that I need my whiteboard and blue marker.

On that note tell me, what’s your favourite part of going back to the classroom?

Author’s Bio

Hi! I’m Garima, an educator who loves enjoying little things in life, such as a full 8-hour sleep, hot coffee and sunshine! My teaching journey in Canada started in 2017, when I started as a teaching assistant supporting EAL students in person at Thompson Rivers University while completing my Master of Education. There, I developed my philosophy of education, circling the idea of nurturing oneself as well as others in a holistic way. Since the COVID19 pandemic, my work and teaching has changed drastically. I currently work at a private business school in Downtown Vancouver where I support international students with their English language learning happening both online and in person. 


Voices of Experience: EAL Teacher as a Guide and Facilitator


Hello everyone! My name is Olessya Akimenko, and I would like to welcome you to the blog series. In this series, I will be interviewing EAL professionals, including teachers, administrators, and program coordinators, or those who are working in English as an additional language (EAL) education in Canada. Through this series, we learn more about the professional experiences of EAL educators working in the EAL sphere in British Columbia.

Olga is an EAL teacher of more than 20 years. She is also an incredibly hardworking and active individual. In this interview, Olga shared her professional journey as an EAL teacher, her teaching philosophy, and the important lessons she has learned throughout her career.

Olessya: Thank you, Olga, for opening this blog series with me! So, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about you? Whatever you would like to share with the readers.

Olga: I am an EAL/EAP professional, passionate about my lessons, my students, my workplaces, whatever I am doing. Currently, I teach University and Academic Preparation Program at University Canada West and English for Academic Purposes at Acsenda School of Management. I also teach English at Capilano University EAP Department and English Language and Culture Centre at Simon Fraser University and a sessional instructor. I very much appreciate this opportunity to share some of my life with my professional community. Thank you for this, Olessya.

Olessya: Great! Thank you for sharing. My next question is, why did you choose this profession, an EAL teacher?

Olga: I started teaching English in 1998 when I was a graduate student of Linguistics and TESOL in the Far East of Russia. I chose this profession because back there and then, it opened some opportunities. There was a high demand for this profession; besides, being able to speak English fluently in late 1990s in Russia made it possible not just to make a living, but also to enter the global community, a new world of ideas, contacts, cultures, technologies. It was exciting. At that point, I also discovered teaching as my passion, and it still is.

Olessya: And how long have you been teaching in Canada? Could you tell us a bit about how your professional journey as an EAL teacher in Canada began?

Olga: I’ve been teaching in BC, Canada since 2016, although in my first year here I was mostly volunteering in places like Mosaic, and the other immigrant societies. The first school I volunteered in, for just several weeks, was New Directions in Langley. I started there only two weeks as my family and I landed in Canada. I am a person who needs to be involved in professional activity. At that moment, I was not sure yet what I was going to do in Canada; however, the director Yvonne and the instructors at the school were so welcoming and encouraging; I loved the students and how the teaching process was organized; plus, everyone was so friendly and supportive, that the short experience played such a big role in what I did next, which was taking the TESOL Diploma Program at VCC. This is how the journey began.

In 2017, I started my first instructor job in BC at Thompson Rivers University, in its English for Academic Purposes Program (now the ELLT Department). The Department will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so grateful to Dian Henderson who was leading the department in 2017 and to other colleagues; I wish I could name and thank everyone here personally, for giving me the chance to be a part of their team and providing incredible support every step of the way.

Olessya: How would you describe your teaching philosophy and/or pedagogical approach?

Olga: We live in the age when finding information, generally, is not hard. With just a click, people can find answers to most questions they might have. The key is, and the role of an instructor, in my opinion, is to encourage students to ask questions and actively look for the knowledge, to inspire curiosity and love for learning, to guide them in how to choose the right values, to increase self-awareness and to explore the world around them because the world is fantastic! My teaching philosophy would also include genuine care for the needs of the students, their physical and mental health and individual learning needs.

Olessya: And how do you care for students’ mental and physical health?

Olga: I believe in some kind of a “perfect EAL world”, which can be embedded in curricula, along with, say, speaking and writing learning outcomes, where the students can learn the importance of such things as physical activity, rest,

journaling and meditation, gratitude, etc. As EAL educators, we often have the opportunity to choose the themes and sources for creating teaching materials; this way we can implement these things in our lessons. We can also discuss them in class. We have the time and place for it.

Olessya: What have been the biggest challenges for you in your work as an EAL teacher?

Olga: I believe many ESL instructors would agree with me that the biggest challenge is the precarious nature of the position. The work can be very unstable, because it depends on the political and financial situations in Canada and other countries. Most ESL teaching positions are contract-based and don’t include any benefits. I usually don’t know at which institution and what courses I am going to teach next term. It can be quite stressful at times.

Olessya: What do you like about being an EAL teacher?

Olga: I genuinely enjoy working with people. I enjoy interacting with the students in class; their needs and their success are my first priorities. I love working in a team, having the pleasure of co-working and sharing. Besides, at absolute most of places I have worked or volunteered at, both the leadership and coworkers have been so supportive and inspiring. I’ve had (and still enjoying!) a privilege of learning from (my personal opinion!) – best in the world educators and leaders. Really, I wish I could list everyone’s name here to express my heartfelt gratitude.

Olessya: What has been the biggest lesson (or lessons) that you have learned during your work as an EAL teacher?

Olga: The biggest lesson… Communication is essential. Your expectations, your ideas, your feelings, what you want, what you need must be communicated clearly and in such a way that people can understand you. How many greatest ideas have been ruined by poor communication? Then, listening is a mega-important skill. To sum up, in all situations, from simple everyday tasks to bringing a mega-important idea to life, we need to be able to speak clearly and listen carefully. Communication is a skill we are constantly learning. Oh, and kindness is also essential. Communication and kindness, combined.

Olessya: Great, very interesting! And my final question is why did you join BC TEAL, and what do you think BC TEAL membership gives you?

Olga: For me, BC TEAL embodies two essential components in a career of an ESL educator: professional development and networking. Since 2016, I have had the honor and pleasure of attending numerous workshops and conferences. It is also a wonderful opportunity to connect and share with a diversity of experienced EAL colleagues. It is a benefit, a treasure of having a professional organization of this level of professionalism and commitment. It is incredibly valuable.

Thank you very much, Olga, for sharing your experiences as an EAL educator, as well as some really great ideas and tips that I think will be useful for all EAL teachers, both beginner and experienced. I especially liked the idea about the importance of communication and that communication is not only about sharing ideas, but also being able to listen to the other party to understand their needs better.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I share my interview with Karin, who is going to share her experiences as an EAL teacher and researcher!

Author’s bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL), for which she has received SSHRC CGS Doctoral Scholarship. Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.

Lessons about Lessons: Reflections on My First Year Building Ed-Tech


Jonny Kalambay

It’s been just about one year since I quit. One year since I said goodbye to my safe and well-paid software engineer job and jumped fully into pursuing my passion, building education software. Here’s the catch: I’m not a teacher. For years I’ve studied various languages, but I haven’t taught them.

“Who do you think you are, building education software if you haven’t been a teacher?” This was often whispered by the imposter-syndrome demon that hid under my desk. It didn’t stop me, but it did help me realize the most important thing for me to do. If I wanted to build something in an unfamiliar space, I needed to, first and foremost, learn as much as I could about it. It was a great idea, but the way I went about it wasn’t so great.

I started by researching the tools that are already out there. I figured that would give me a good idea of where I could find my place in that ecosystem. It turns out we have some awesome Canadian technology tools for language education. Here are just some examples:

  • Ellii: This seems to be the website most used by LINC teachers who want to find lessons at a particular level. They’re based out of Manitoba, which explains why they have an endless amount of quality material specifically tailored for Canada.
  • Mauril: With this app, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has made Duolingo-like language exercises based on television clips. It is funded as part of the “Action Plan for Official Languages” and, as a result of their collaboration with the Centre For Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB), includes a lot of great CLB-aligned tasks for students to try in their day-to-day lives. 
  • The Language Portal: This Canadian government-run site provides a large, easily navigable bank of learning resources for English learners and teachers. It started in 1970 as a terminology bank at the University of Montreal and has since grown into a treasure trove of learning material for French and English

“We already have all these incredible tools, built by large teams of experts. What could you possibly have to offer?” The imposter-syndrome demon had crawled into my headphones and was no longer just whispering. However, once again, there was a valid, actionable critique behind those negative words. I was going about this the wrong way, if I wanted to figure out what to build, I needed to start with the people for whom I wanted to build. I needed to talk to teachers.

On July 23rd, I attended a BC TEAL Lunch ‘n’ Learn. At that point, I had no connections to TEAL. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know of its existence until I Googled  “teacher events in Vancouver” a couple of days prior. At this event, I learned about something many of our teachers struggle with: adapting material for different levels. More importantly, I met teachers, who willingly take the time to help me understand this challenge in more depth.

To give you an idea of the depth of this issue, let’s look at one of the core components of most English lessons, the text. This text, whether it be a newspaper article, a video, or even a document, has a lot of ways to have its “difficulty” labeled. Here are a few:

  • The Flesh Reading Ease: A commonly used numeric measure of complexity designed by educator  J. Peter Kincaid in 1975. The score is calculated based on the total words, the total sentences, and the total syllables in a text. It goes from 100 to 0, with 100 being the easiest to understand and 0 being the most complex.
  • Sentence Length: (self-explanatory, I hope)
  • Lexical Density: This refers to the level of the vocabulary used in a text. One common way to measure its difficulty is by referencing frequency lists such as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
  • Syntactic Complexity: This is not a specific measure but rather a catch-all term to describe the complexity of grammatical structures used in a text. Within that umbrella, one specific example is nominal density, which measures the ratio of noun groups to clauses.
  • Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: The CEFR international standard for describing language ability. It has scores that range from A1(easiest) to C2 (most complex).
  • Canadian Language Benchmarks: I’m willing to bet that most people reading this understand this one better than I do. The CLB is our own standard out language proficiency, which similarly to the CEFR, is characterized by indicators of ability

You might have noticed something different about those last two: they don’t describe the text by itself; instead, they describe the person interacting with the text. This is because, even though teachers often do this out of convenience, it isn’t the best practice to label a text in isolation. An educator has to consider what the reader is being asked to do with the text. A simple task (e.g. identifying a specific piece of information) in a complex text can be just as easy as a complex task (e.g. high-level inferences) in a more “simple” text. In addition to the tasks, there are plenty of other adjacent factors to consider when levelling a lesson, such as a reader’s background knowledge, and how the text is formatted.

Over the past few months, I’ve been studying these different characteristics of complexity in order to figure out how to design technology tools to adapt to them. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and get help from educators with all the expertise I could hope for. I had great conversations with CLB consultants, LINC teachers, K-12 teachers, and university professors who have been kind enough to field my questions and share advice.

Things are going well, and I’ve even gotten customers across Canada with the tools I’ve built, but I still have a lot to learn. Too much to learn. These are concepts that are far beyond what I can hope to fully grasp in a short amount of time (let alone while running a business). Thankfully, I haven’t had to do it alone. 

The welcome and support from the community of educators have (almost) completely silenced that imposter syndrome demon under my desk. Looking back, I’m glad I decided to quit my cushy developer job for this journey a year ago, and I hope that it was the first of what will be many years to build tools for education.

Author’s Bio

I’m Jonny Kalambay. I’ve always been passionate about language education, but I’ve spent more time as a learner than a teacher. French is my first language; throughout my life, I’ve learned English, French, and Japanese, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Most of my professional experience is in technology, so I’m now putting my expertise and passion together. I’m working full-time on developing, a language-education toolkit to create and adapt lesson material.

Trauma in the Classroom – Part 2


This blog post is originally published at the blog of TESL Ontario on November 7, 2022, written by Allyson Eamer, Amea Wilbur, Katie Crossman, and Jennifer Allore.

This blog is the second in a two-part series on trauma in the classroom. Part 1 discusses how teachers can better facilitate learning and provide support for students who have experienced trauma, such as refugees. This segment focuses on vicarious trauma?

Vicarious trauma is a form of second-hand trauma. It is experienced by people in helping professions when they are deeply affected by their exposure to others’ trauma. The term was coined in 1995 by Laurie Pearlman and Karen Saakvitne, and originally was used to describe symptoms that clinicians experienced from working with clients with trauma experiences. Vicarious trauma has since been recognized in other fields. It can occur in various ways, such as listening to traumatic stories or viewing disturbing images. 

Anyone who engages empathetically with survivors of trauma or materials relating to trauma can be affected. In particular, it can affect instructors that hear traumatic stories from their students. This is especially true for instructors who work with recent immigrants or refugees to Canada. Instructors in full time language programs where they spend a lot of time with their learners may be at a heightened risk.

Vicarious trauma accumulates over time. Someone with vicarious trauma will experience a shift in how they view the world, or a shift in their fundamental beliefs about the world. For example, they might observe a shift in the belief that they are safe. This might manifest in checking and re-checking that doors and windows are locked or that family members are safe. These shifts in belief tend to gravitate towards the negative and play out subconsciously. 

How can vicarious trauma be addressed?

Like most things, prevention is better than a cure. Vicarious trauma can be prevented. In language classrooms, instructors can use trauma-informed approaches by creating a predictable, consistent, and safe environment for learning. Instructors should also be clear with themselves and their learners about their own boundaries and the scope of their role. For example, it would be irresponsible to listen to a learner’s disclosure of trauma and try to provide them with advice. Instead, an instructor should remind the learner of their role and acknowledge that they are not trained to provide advice. Instead, instructors should be aware of community and organizational resources such as counselling, women’s shelters, or settlement organizations that learners can access. Learners can get the support they need, and instructors avoid taking on the “weight” of a learner’s disclosure. 

Furthermore, in the classroom, instructors can build in everyday practices as part of warmers or other activities that promote emotional regulation. This can be done with grounding activities, such as mindful breathing or observation. Likewise, instructors can use these activities when they are overwhelmed in the classroom or their daily lives. 

As well, having a routine or ritual that marks a distinction between work life and home life can have a protective effect on instructors. For example, a leaving-work ritual that helps you mentally end the day can help keep work and home life separate. This can be as simple as mindfully turning out the light or saying goodbye to work at the end of the day. 

Finally, organizations, institutions, and funders must prioritize and support well-being for instructors. This can be done through balanced workload, access to counselling or wellness programs, collaboration, and maintaining a system-wide environment of care throughout our systems. 

Where can I learn more?

Resources are becoming available to support language instructors. As part of a research project at the School of Global Access at Bow Valley College in Calgary, a toolkit about vicarious trauma and other empathy-based stress was developed for language instructors. Along with instructors from across Canada, a group of TESL Ontario members are piloting it this fall, and the toolkit will be more widely available in Spring 2023. More information can be found here.

You can also read more about this in a forthcoming book, Teacher Well-Being in English Language Teaching (Routledge). Amea and Katie each contributed chapters on this topic. We (Allyson, Jennifer, Amea, and Katie) want to understand more about trauma in the classroom. To share your own experiences and thoughts, look for a survey in the coming months.

About the authors: This team of four researchers from three provinces and four post-secondary institutions brings a wide variety of experience (ESL teaching, settlement work, teacher training, adult education) to their research on the migrant experience, language learning, trauma and vicarious trauma. Allyson Eamer and Amea Wilbur are university professors; Katie Crossman is a researcher; and Jennifer Allore is an ESL instructor and (former) Chair of the TESL Ontario Board of Directors.

Trauma in the Classroom – Part 1


This blog post is originally published at the blog of TESL Ontario on November 7, 2022, written by Allyson Eamer, Amea Wilbur, Katie Crossman, and Jennifer Allore.

If you are a LINC or ESL instructor, there is a good chance that you have taught learners who have experienced trauma. Syrian, Afghan and now Ukrainian refugees, for example, have been arriving in Canada in large numbers and are increasingly part of our classrooms. Although you are not a mental health specialist, you are often the first point of contact for many students. They likely see you more often and for longer blocks of time than they see their settlement workers or other professionals in their lives. Your students undoubtedly view you as quintessentially Canadian and very much a part of “the system” that directly impacts their lives and futures in Canada. Because you work hard to be a caring instructor and to build trust in the classroom, you are likely to witness the effects of trauma on student learning, and/or to have trauma disclosed to you by a student. You are therefore an important, if unwitting (and likely unprepared, we will argue), key player in responding to trauma.

We (Allyson Eamer, Amea Wilbur, Katie Crossman, and Jennifer Allore) are researchers who strongly believe that language teachers need to:  

  • understand the impact of trauma on learning 
  • be trained in strategies for teaching students living with trauma 
  • have a plan for how to address disclosures from students  
  • be supported by their institution and systems to provide inclusive and responsive instruction 

What we know 

The literature is clear on how trauma affects the brain. People who have been exposed to trauma and chronic stress produce the stress hormones, cortisol and norepinephrine. While both are important in dealing with imminent danger and processing stress, too much of them have been found to create lasting effects on the brain’s neurobiology. For example., elevated levels of cortisol negatively affect the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain, both responsible for memory and executive function in the learning process. As a result, learners who have experienced trauma and stress may be at a disadvantage with their English language acquisition. Trauma may also compromise their ability to concentrate and to maintain motivation. This phenomenon is known as “survival brain,” and is well accepted in the literature. 

What we learned 

In 2018, we explored the relationship between trauma and language learning with a number of refugees in southern Ontario. We conducted interviews with adult refugees from Syria, Myanmar, Palestine, Burundi, and Tunisia. We asked them to describe their language classroom experiences and how they perceived the availability of existing educational, social, and health systems in supporting their language learning and acculturation.   

When we talked with refugees and heard their country-of-origin and passage stories (many of which were filled with traumatic events), as well as their settlement and language learning stories, we noticed thematic patterns of resilience, agency, resourcefulness, and identity development.  

Interestingly, participants described a tension between valuing teacher authority while enjoying teachers who were approachable and flexible. There was also a tension that emerged from wanting program structure and rigor, but also enjoying unstructured opportunities for conversation.  

What we think 

We argue for a more intentional balance between teacher-centered and student-driven lessons in classrooms consisting of refugee students. Achieving this balance will afford learners living with trauma the comfort of predictability, routine, and structure. This approach will also gradually expose them to the “teacher-as-facilitator” model, wherein lessons and assignments are developed democratically in response to student needs. Fortunately, language instructors have done well to develop sensitivities regarding the cultures, values, conflicts, and political circumstances relevant to their refugee students. Many instructors have begun to seek resources that will provide strategies to address these matters in the classroom. We highly recommend Beyond Trauma: Language Learning Strategies for New Canadians Living with Trauma

Next time 

The focus of our 2018 study was on the refugee language learners’ experiences and perceptions. It did not take into account the impact of disclosed trauma on the teachers of these students. So, while the research is very clear that primary trauma impacts learning, we suggest that secondary trauma may impact teachers in similar ways.  

Join us in part 2 on Wednesday where we shift the focus to vicarious trauma in instructors. 

About the authors: This team of four researchers from three provinces and four post-secondary institutions brings a wide variety of experience (ESL teaching, settlement work, teacher training, adult education) to their research on the migrant experience, language learning, trauma and vicarious trauma. Allyson Eamer and Amea Wilbur are university professors; Katie Crossman is a researcher; and Jennifer Allore is an ESL instructor and (former) Chair of the TESL Ontario Board of Directors.

How to Make Your LGBTQ+ Students Feel More Included


Did you know? Up to 30% of the world’s population belong to the LGBTQ+ community? This means that close to 1/3 of your students in class may as well. It is important to make all of our learners feel like they belong so here are a few tips on how to do this for your LGBTQ+ students. The most important point to remember is to allow for a natural type of inclusion and not portray any kind of ‘otherness’. Too often in an attempt to include LGBTQ+ in our lessons and surroundings, we tend to ‘fragment’ topics and activities. For example, some teachers focus on topics and representation only during the month of June – pride month. This, however, does not foster a sense of inclusion in everyday classrooms but rather serves to highlight an ‘otherness’, fragmenting the curriculum as a result. For real inclusion and a sense of belonging to occur, students in this community need to be represented on the walls of the classroom, in textbooks and materials used in class, and in real life activities.

Your Classroom

Take a good look around your classroom. What posters are on the wall? What pictures are on display? Is there any way you can make the visuals more inclusive without creating a sense of ‘otherness’?

Your Textbook

Research has shown that very few ELT textbooks include representation of the LGBTQ+ community. This can be remedied by a teacher supplementing with material on topics that relate both to the theme of the unit in the book and the LGBTQ+ community. For example, in the Reading and Writing Q: Skills for Success series there is a unit on colour. A teacher can easily bring in the symbol of the rainbow and what the colours mean to the community. Another unit in the same series focused on festivals in London. Here, the teacher can easily bring in the Pride Festival in London. By carefully examining your materials, you are able to naturally introduce topics related to the LGBTQ+ community without veering from your curriculum.

Your Activities

Classroom activities can also be adapted to better suit the needs of your learners. Activities in lower beginner classes on family, for example, can include pictures of many different kinds of families – the nuclear family, single-mom or dad family, two-dad family, two-mom family, extended family and so on. When students are asked to describe their perfect husband or wife, more neutral words such as ‘life partner’ can be used. The natural inclusion of the pronoun ‘they’ in lessons may also be helpful. When examples are given of people in different professions, try to include some from the LGBTQ+ community. For example, a unit on sports where students describe their favourite sport/athlete can be introduced with an example from the community, such as tennis star Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, or basketball star Jason Collins. This brings in representation of the LGBTQ+ community in a naturally inclusive way without creating a feeling of ‘otherness’ in the class.

Author’s Bio

Hilda, like many in ELT, has worked in a variety of contexts. She is currently a tenure-track Assistant Teaching Professor at Thompson Rivers University. She is working in EAP, the TESOL Certificate Program, and the MEd. She previously owned and ran her own private language school. She also has years of overseas experience. Hilda holds a PhD from Rhodes University and has contributed to the BCTEAL Journal as well as numerous other journals. Hilda’s experience in so many areas of EAL make her an excellent addition to the board as the Private Sector Representative (2021-2023).

10 Ways to Use Music in the ESL Classroom


Music is a wonderful way to engage learners in the classroom. It breaks up the monotony of worksheets that are often used to practice vocabulary and grammar points. Here are 10 ways to spice up your language lessons with music.

1. What’s the Word?

Function: Listening for details

Level: High Beginner +

Materials: worksheet with song lyrics that contain mistakes in vocabulary items


Create a worksheet from lyrics of a song by replacing words with certain vocabulary items the class is working on. Students correct the mistakes as they listen to the song. For example, if you are working on university subjects, you can use the song Don’t Know Much and replace the subjects in the song with subjects being taught in class (‘Don’t know much about history’ becomes ‘Don’t know much about chemistry’). Students listen and correct the mistakes.

2. Re-order the Lyrics

Function: To listen for details

Level: High Beginner +

Materials: song lyrics cut up into strips


Students work in pairs. They listen to a song and put the strips with the lyrics back in order. Long songs that are not too slow and have very little repetition are perfect for this kind of exercise. The level of difficulty of the song should match the level of your class.

For example:

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot (High Intermediate +)

3. Memories

Function: To describe memories

Level: Low intermediate +

Materials: a song that brings back memories for you


Start lesson by playing a song that is special to you as it reminds you of something or someone. To keep the students interested, you can make a gap fill with the lyrics. Then tell the students why this song is so special. Describe the memory. Then divide the students into pairs. Ask each person to choose a song (can be from their own culture/language) and write about the memory it brings back for them. Students present the song and the memory to their partners. Volunteers come up and sing part of their songs and describe their memories to class.

4. Word Search and Songs

Function: To learn new vocabulary

Level: High beginner +

Materials: lyrics with missing vocabulary words (same part of speech)


Start lesson by playing a song. Ask the students to write down as many nouns as they can from the song. Then put the students into pairs and give them a word search you created with all the nouns in the song. Ask students to use their lists and find as many of the words as possible. When time is up, the group that found the most nouns from the song wins. Make sure to go over meaning of words and show students how to remember any new words with various learning strategies.

5. Musical Analogies

Function: To review vocabulary

Level: Low Intermediate +

Materials: worksheet with lyrics and gap exercise, analogy worksheet with answers from the song


Begin by handing out the lyric worksheet and having students complete the blanks by listening to the song. Take up the answers on the board. Then hand out the analogy worksheet and ask students to work in pairs. The answers to the analogies can be one of the gap words or any other word in the song.

For example: Grass: green         Ocean: _blue_

6. If I Could Change the World

Function: To describe hypothetical changes

Level: High Intermediate +

Materials: Eric Clapton’s Change the World


Start lesson by asking students about people who have made a difference in the world. What have they done? Then ask students to listen to a song about a man who would like to change the world. They are to listen for things he would change and write them down. Take up the answers after the song is finished. Then ask each student to write down 5 things they would change about the world. Then put the students into groups. Together, they must come to an agreement on 5 changes they would make. Students present changes to class.

7. Music and Art

Function: Expressing and Supporting Opinions

Level: Low Intermediate +

Materials: various pictures of works of art, different musical pieces (jazz, new age, classical)


Put up various pictures of art around the room so it resembles an art gallery. Give each painting or picture a number. Give students time to move around the classroom and have a good look at all the pictures. Then break the class into pairs. Play different excerpts of music and ask students to match the music to the artwork. Students need to come up with reasons supporting their opinions. Their opinions are presented to class.

8. Make an Album Cover

Function: To express opinions

Level: Low Intermediate +

Materials: excerpts from an album no one has ever heard of, magazines, paper, scissors, glue sticks, markers


Students listen to a variety of excerpts from songs off an album. They make note of feelings, images, and ideas they get from the songs. Then they are divided into groups and told they are the artist’s creative team. They must come up with an album cover for the songs they just heard. They discuss their ideas and choose images from the magazines to create an album cover. These covers are presented to the class and then displayed around the room.

9. Questions and Answers

Function: To give reasons

Level: Low Intermediate +

Materials: songs that have Wh-Q questions in them, answers to the questions on index cards (one word, one card)


Start the lesson by reviewing Wh-words and question formation. Then play a couple of songs that have Wh-Q in them. Students write down all the Wh-Q they hear in the songs. Then divide the class into groups of three. Each group gets a set of index cards which have the answers to the questions (mixed up). It is a race to match the answers with the questions. Answers are presented to class.

For example: Why must we wait until tonight?

…because    we   have to   work   all   day.

10. Musical Cryptograms

Function: To review vocabulary

Level: Low Intermediate +

Materials: worksheet with lyrics and gap exercise, cryptogram worksheet using words in the song 


Begin by handing out the lyric worksheet and having students complete the blanks by listening to the song. Take up answers as class. Then hand out the cryptogram you created using some of the vocabulary or phrases in the song. Students must decipher the number-letter code in small groups or pairs. Some letters and codes are given. Groups race to finish first.

For example: 

Author’s Bio

Hilda, like many in ELT, has worked in a variety of contexts. She is currently a tenure-track Assistant Teaching Professor at Thompson Rivers University. She is working in EAP, the TESOL Certificate Program, and the MEd. She previously owned and ran her own private language school. She also has years of overseas experience. Hilda holds a PhD from Rhodes University and has contributed to the BCTEAL Journal as well as numerous other journals. Hilda’s experience in so many areas of EAL make her an excellent addition to the board as the Private Sector Representative (2021-2023). Launched!


It’s official! is now in its new home!

Some highlights of moving day on December 1, 2022:

  • We started at 4 amin the morning, preparing for the “movers” to arrive.
  • They arrived early, and we had the “truck” loaded by 6 amand began the move from our home of 4+ years.
  • The move itself went quick, and by noon, we were in our new space.
  • Even though we cleaned the new home thoroughly, a lot of new bugs showed up. We had to wait for the exterminators to come and clean it out which took until 3pm.
  • By 5pm the dust had settled and we had some guests. In fact we had 3 visitors, who decided to move in and join the community!
  • At around 6:30 pm, we made a public announcement to over 3000 of friends that we had moved into our new home!
  • By 8:45 pm most of the main items were unpacked and we sent the “house-warming” invite to 380 of our closest friends and family.
  • Over the next few weeks, we have started some housekeeping, touch-ups, and various home-improvements to make sure everyone has a pleasant stay when they come visit, as we settle into our new place! 🙂

In short, it was a rough day starting at 4 am in the morning but migration was underway on schedule at 6. Many issues came up, including a glitch in member information, pictures not loading, links misdirecting, and pages not showing up in the right place. Fortunately, by the end of the day, the majority of the issues were resolved, and the site was up. However, with some unexpected issues, we delayed our launch and had to inform our members through the mailer at 3:30 pm instead of in the morning. Finally, the Membership welcome email was sent at 8:45 pmto all active members!

Over following few weeks, we were hoping that most of our members are be able to log in and visit the site. We also anticipated a large number of ‘members’ realize that their membership had expired and hopefully renew. We already had a handful of members renew their membership on December 1, which was very encouraging for the Membership Committee!

There is more that we are doing! After things settle down, we will likely start up phase 2 of the website project. This will involve updating texts such as land acknowledgement, and forum guidelines, and upgrading the membership area including the LMS, video gallery, etc. and running more and better contents to make the most of our front page. You may notice some changes happening already!

Thank you again for everyone’s hard work, especially in November and December 2022, proofing so many items and providing so much feedback! We are very grateful for the members who volunteered to test the new site prior to the launch; they provided much valuable feedback to improve all members’ experience. Additionally, I offer special thank you to Cindi, Fedha, Vera, Jennifer, and Neil who made up the mini-website sub committee. Last be not least, I would like to extend my sincere appreciate to the board’s support!

Moses Lam

Website Chair

Edited by Vera Wu

Recent BCTEAL Survey Data: Hearing from Our Members

Aughtry & Cummins

Karen Aughtry & Jennifer Cummins

This June, we put out a fresh survey among BC TEAL members to discover more about our demographic.

Completion rate for the survey was high. We had forty-six members respond, with over half (twenty-six) from Metro Vancouver. The remainder were eight from the Fraser Valley; four from the Okanagan; three each from the islands and Thompson-Nicola; and one each from Northern BC and other.

Firstly, we were curious about the areas of the sector that our members are from. Surprisingly, none of the responders were TESL students; rather, being a field of such diverse roles and niches, our respondents were from a broad variety of professional positions: The vast majority ranged in careers from LINC instructor, manager, coordinator to general instructors, managers, coordinators, lecturers, and assistant/associate professors. There were two responders who specialized in IELTS teaching and testing, one curriculum manager and case manager, directors, and a recruiter.

Next, we asked about the current employment situation of this diverse group. In terms of percent, 64% are full-time, and 19% are employed part time. Of the remainder, 13% are on contract, and 10% are “non-applicable”.  The vast majority work for one employer.  

We were also interested in the happiness index of our professional membership. Are they happy in their roles, are they surviving, or are they struggling through from one day to the next? Seventy-four percent reported that their current roles are ones they wanted and are satisfied with. Fifteen percent have not attained the position they desire, and eleven percent prefer not to say. Set in the context of 75% having worked more than fifteen years in the industry, there is longevity that speaks to their satisfaction. 

Next, we wanted to know the education level of our membership. Three have Doctoral Degrees, thirty-one have Master’s Degrees, and ten have Bachelor’s Degrees. 

In regard to longevity of membership in BCTEAL, results show that 45/46 of the responders have been in BCTEAL from two to more than ten years. Almost half of those members purchase yearly memberships, whereas a few have two or year memberships, and several have special discounted memberships.

Additionally, many of our members are associated with other professional groups. Although 30% belong solely to BC TEAL, TESL Canada is an added connection for 46%, TESOL International for 26%, and the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics and IATEFL each have 6.5%. The other 22% belong to unnamed organizations.

Curious as to how much our responders participate in BCTEAL events and publications, we asked, “How have you participated in BCTEAL?” The vast majority (85%) both participate in yearly conferences and in reading newsletters. The next largest rating for participation (66%) is attendance at regional conferences and BC partner events. Many (77%) browse our website and 64% attend webinars or other online events. Of the respondents, 40% have volunteered with BC TEAL for events or positions.

Surprisingly, not many responders utilized BC TEAL’s social media! The highest draw is the Facebook site at 28%, with Twitter following at 19%. Instagram, the Blog, YouTube, and LinkedIn are scarcely visited.

So, what do the survey results say about BC TEAL (besides that only one person may be reading this blog article)?

The higher ratings by responders revealed that their professional needs were met by this organization in terms of professional development opportunities (87%), networking opportunities (67%), updates on current issues in English language teaching (61%), and communication and updates on association activities and events (57%).

Thus, when asked what they hoped to get from BC TEAL membership, “choosing all that apply”, EVERYONE checked the boxes for all the following: networking and professional development opportunities, discounts on conference and pro-d fees, advocacy for the profession, updates on issues, opportunities in leadership and volunteering, recognition, and access to awards and scholarships from the TEAL Charitable Foundation. Thus, it was no surprise in response to the greatest benefit of joining BC TEAL, the above points were reiterated, appreciating the kindred spirit and professional identity that ensues.

Comments from survey participants on what BC TEAL provides for members:

“The greatest benefit is to stay connected to colleagues and see what other institutions are doing, and to contribute to the field through research and teaching expertise.”

“Networking and leadership opportunities”

“To be a member of a professional community”

Even in the best of organizations there is room for improvement, and this information comes from the participants:

 In selecting “all that apply” (and referring only to the highest percentages), 41% wanted more membership benefits, 33% wanted more engagement with the EAL sector, and 28% desired more communication between TEAL and its members. There were many specific suggestions for improvement, which the board will consider.

Comments from survey participants on BC TEAL areas of improvement:

“I’d love to have more updates / info provided by the BC TEAL board and the members.”

“More in person networking events”

“Additional networking and professional development and training opportunities.”

Thank you to all who participated in this survey. Your opinion, interaction, and commitment mean much to the survey committee and board.

Authors’ Bio

Karen has been a member of BC TEAL for over a decade. It is her love of professional development that propelled her teaching from the first steps of tutoring and homeschooling to attaining her undergrad and graduate degrees (MATESOL). After several years of retirement from her EAP position and membership expiration from BC TEAL, she renewed her membership, realizing the value of being part of the community, continuing to learn and give.

Jennifer Cummins is a passionate, creative, and committed instructor in the field of English as an Additional Language. Over the past 15 years, she has worked in a variety of settings, including international education, non-profit work, and post-secondary. She has shown leadership at both provincial and national scales by presenting at conferences, leading professional development opportunities for other educators, and consulting on policy decisions for the provincial and federal governments. Jennifer maintains active involvement in both private and public sectors of EAL education. She continues to look for new opportunities to develop as a leader in the educational field.

Can You Really Motivate Someone to Learn a Language?


By Olessya Akimenko

Motivation is generally considered to be an important factor that can affect a learner’s success in English as an additional language (EAL). On the internet, you can find countless articles about how to motivate your EAL learners. The authors of these articles suggest multiple ways how this could be done, ranging from “triggering students’ interests” (Lesley University, n.d.) to “giving them a little friendly competition” (Pesce, n.d.) However, is it really possible to motivate a learner if they are not really interested?

First of all, let’s define motivation. According to Dörnyei and Skehan (2003), “motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, and how hard they are going to pursue it” (p. 614). Speaking from my personal experience, as an EAL teacher with 10+ years of teaching experience, I don’t think it is possible to motivate someone to learn, unless they are already motivated. I believe that either a learner already comes motivated to learn or they don’t. The only thing that the teacher can do is not to let the learner lose this precious motivation. If they aren’t already motivated, there isn’t much that could be done.  

In this essay, I’d like to talk about how we as EAL teachers can create an environment for the learner, so they wouldn’t lose the motivation that they already have to learn a language. First of all, we do this by letting each and every learner contribute to the classroom practices and activities. It’s easy to lose motivation if you are not given an opportunity to actively participate. For example, Norton (1997) in her article “Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English” describes the experiences of an EAL learner who mentions how frustrating it can be to listen to only one student speak throughout the whole lesson. This student eventually drops the course feeling that she “didn’t learn at all”.

Second, we make sure that that the needs of all learners are addressed. People come to language classrooms with various needs, such as to get a (better) job or pursue post-secondary education, and those needs should be the main priority for the teacher. This, of course, might be harder to do in larger classrooms, but maybe this means that the classrooms do not need to be large.

Norton (2015) also suggests that classroom practices need to draw from and legitimize learners’ cultural capital, i.e., their prior knowledge and experience. Therefore, it is important to choose materials and activities that learners can relate to. Canada is a multicultural and multilingual country. However, do the learning materials for EAL students always reflect this cultural and linguistic diversity?

These are some of the ways that I believe can help teachers retain the motivation of their EAL students. And I am positive many teachers are already applying them. However, if you don’t, it’s probably high time to start.

Now, going back to my original idea that a learner either comes motivated to learn or they don’t, you may ask then why people come to learn a language if they are not really motivated? Can you really motivate them to learn? Well, this is something I’d like to hear your ideas on!

Olessya’s Bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL). Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Olessya also teaches at the Faculty of Education at SFU. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.


Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Blackwell.

Lesley University. (n.d.). 3 strategies for motivating ESL students.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2015). Identity, investment, and faces of English internationally. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 38(4), 375-391. Pesce, C. (n.d.). How to motivate ESL students: The 10 best ways to increase teenage student motivation. Busy Teacher.