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 Roshi.ai, 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).

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. https://lesley.edu/article/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. https://busyteacher.org/3644-how-to-motivate-esl-students.html

Enriching Language Learning With Authentic Local Interactions


by Yukie Ueda

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]

This summer, I had a chance to participate in a university course to learn about additional language acquisition. Throughout the course, the question of what makes language learning effective repeatedly arose, making me stop and look back on my own experiences. Reflecting on my history of learning English and Danish as a student, and also my history supporting international students as a student counselor in Japan, what came up in my mind as a key component in language learning was the involvement in local communities through interactions and cultural experiences. These interactions and experiences seem to speak not only for me but the majority of students who I’ve met. Many students often find their learning further enriched when they have more interactions with local people through various activities. This interaction also promotes intercultural understanding, which is typically one of the reasons people learn a language. So here, I would like to introduce my story of learning languages through local experiences as well as the various activities which have helped international students I’ve worked with in the past.

I started studying English at the age of 13 at a junior high school just like other Japanese kids. The English class was delivered in a traditional lecture style, focusing mostly on grammar and reading comprehension. I enjoyed the class, and without any other chance to study English outside the classroom, I thought this was the way people learned a new language. This view was completely broken when I went to Denmark as an exchange student during high school and participated in English classes in the local school. Once, I was given 10 pages of an article discussing the topic of genetic engineering. I had never read that long of an article before, so it took me a whole night just to look up new vocabulary and manage to grasp the gist. During class, I was proud of myself having read the whole article, waiting for my teacher to ask me about the grammar used in the article. Finally, I was picked, but then the teacher asked me to present my opinion about genetic engineering. I froze. Not only because of my English limit, but also because I had never thought about giving my opinion. For a long time, understanding the grammar and story had been the final purpose in the English classes I had attended. While I struggled in producing a word, my classmates started an active discussion. It was a shocking experience, but at the same time, a transformative moment for me, giving me a real drive to learn the language and communicate my ideas with others over the barriers.

During my time in Denmark, I was given many opportunities to get to know the community and its people. There were locally organized events every two months, meeting local people and other exchange students from different countries, sharing food, playing games, and watching movies. Most exchange students, including myself, knew only a few words in Danish when we arrived, so when we saw each other at these events, we always checked out who had improved their Danish the best. There was an idea among exchange students that all of us would improve our Danish dramatically over the Christmas holiday. This belief was because each student spent most of their time with their host family and friends, preparing for Christmas together and joining in parties. In fact, I had no time to stay in my room alone, and I was always out either in the kitchen or living room, learning how to cook roast duck and Christmas sweets, preparing mulled wine, and making handcrafted Christmas decorations, which I had never experienced in my home country. These experiences were the cornerstone of my time in Denmark. I felt my Danish was improving day by day. Moreover, as I started to have more common things to do and talk about, I finally felt I was speaking the same language as my family and friends, becoming a part of them.

After graduating from university, I started working as a coordinator at a worldwide non-profit organization which promoted international exchange programs for high school students. Some distinctive characteristics of the organization were that the programs were designed to promote intercultural understanding among youth, and local volunteer-staff played extremely active roles in organizing cultural learning activities. For example, they organized cooking clubs to show students how to cook sushi, and in exchange, learned about the students’ home food. The students also celebrated traditional seasonal events such as Japanese New Year, rice-cake making, and calligraphy together with local kids. Some students visited a ramen noodle museum or joined a ninja tour to learn about local industries, and others experienced a Japanese tea ceremony with traditional confectionery that they had made. Similarly, when I was working in a team at another job at a university that organized study programs for students from the United States, various field trips and activities were merged with Japanese language classes, offering students opportunities to learn about Japanese culture, history, and traditions. The students visited a Noh theatre (Japan’s oldest form of theatre), played traditional musical instruments, and also visited temples to experience Zen culture by participating in meditation and other cultural activities.

Throughout my work in the education sector, I have received a lot of feedback from both Japanese students studying abroad and international students visiting Japan, saying that those experiences helped them understand the places they visited and local people in breadth and depth. Especially, participating in those activities together with local people enabled them to gain different perspectives on the place, often changing the stereotypical ideas they had before. Students also gained a stronger sense of belongingness to the community as they had more authentic interactions with locals, which further promoted their integrative motivations to acquire the language. Observing those students, language development seemed to be inseparable from sharing common experiences and knowledge and for gaining deeper cultural understandings. The reason for additional language learning must differ from one person to another and everybody has different preferences about how they learn. However, I cannot overemphasize the values and pleasure that authentic interactions and cultural understanding can bring to learning an additional language.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Ueda, Y. (2019, Winter). Enriching language learning with authentic local interactions. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf



By Sarah Barr

In the spring of 2020, as Covid took hold, I watched my class get smaller and smaller. By the middle of March there were only about 3 people who came to my lessons. They all sat apart trying to follow this new “social distancing”. I remember standing in front of the classroom and saying, “Well, looks like we are some of the bravest people still willing to come to class.” Then one student quite astutely said, “Or we are the stupidest.” That was the last day I taught inside a classroom.

Figuring Out Zoom

As we all hunkered down in our houses, my work offered online learning. I enlisted some friends and family to be my practice online class. All was going well until we entered the breakout rooms. My 11 year old son thought he had to “break out” of this room so spent his entire time trying to escape. A few days later with my real beginner ESL class, things were going well until I created the breakout rooms. I joined virtual room #1 and no one was there. Until I figured out how to automatically send my beginner ESL students to the breakout rooms, I kept turning up in virtual rooms all by myself.

Confined to a Zoom Box

Next on my list of things to solve was how to teach while stuck in a Zoom box. Since people could only see my head and not much more, my usual technique of walking around a room trying to act out explanations was out the window. My miming and hand gestures were now confined to a small box only showing the top third of my body. Once a student asked what “crossed legs” meant? I demonstrated by crossing my fingers, pretending they were legs. This is the new normal – teaching in a square box.


Screenshots Galore

Miscommunications happen to the best of us but throw in beginner ESL students with sometimes limited computer skills and it’s certainly no picnic trying to get everyone to follow instructions. I found the best way to combat this problem was to take screenshots or photos to demonstrate what needed to be done. For example, I showed everyone that you need to click on the white dots/View in the upper right corner to select Gallery View, if you want to see everyone’s faces. In the old days I could have pointed at my smartboard and showed everyone what to do. Now I’m stuck on the other side of the computer screen unable to help like I used to. 


So my usual bag of goodies with hands on materials: flash cards, games and anything involving dice is a distant memory. However, although online learning has been forced upon us, it’s not all bad. I no longer have to battle with my nemesis: the photocopier which always seemed to run out of paper whenever it was my turn to use it.


How has your teaching changed since teaching online?

Bio: Sarah Barr immigrated to Canada in 2015 from Christchurch, New Zealand. She started teaching ESL over 20 years ago and has worked in England, New Zealand and Canada. Currently Sarah works at the North Shore Multicultural Society and volunteers at North Shore Emergency Management giving presentations on how to be prepared for emergencies.

Exploring Tutors’ Work with English as an Additional Language Students in a Writing Centre


by Maya Pilin

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2019 issue of TEAL News.]

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (2018), Canada is considered one of the top five countries for higher education by international students. The latest statistics note that there is a total of 494,525 international students holding a valid study permit in Canada as of 2017. British Columbia ranks second in the country, after Ontario, as a destination, with 24% of Canada’s study permits (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2018). In fact, enrollment in B.C.’s post-secondary system has almost tripled over the past ten years (Heslop, 2018). As international students predominantly originate from countries where English is not the primary language, English as an Additional Language (EAL) services have become integral to British Columbia’s universities. For example, writing centres are a resource to which EAL students can turn for assistance with writing assignments. However, tutoring sessions with EAL students may differ from other tutoring sessions in a variety of ways, including the teaching style (Thonus, 2004), communication styles (Moser, 1993), and students’ concerns (Winder, Kathpalia, & Koo, 2014). Despite these differences, few studies have examined the unique aspects of tutoring sessions with EAL students from the tutors’ perspective. The goal of the current study was to determine students’ expectations and tutors’ identified competencies and challenges in working with EAL students.

The Study

The current qualitative study included a sample of 12 undergraduate and graduate writing tutors at a research-intensive public university in Western Canada. The tutors worked at a writing centre whose goal was to help both EAL and non-EAL students improve their writing skills by clarifying arguments, grammar, and teaching proofreading strategies. Tutors completed an online questionnaire designed by the research team. After questionnaires were completed, tutors’ answers were coded by two researchers, working alone first and then in collaboration. Data was examined for units of meaning as well as emerging themes.

The Findings

Unique Aspects of Tutoring Students Using EAL

Differences between tutoring students using EAL and other students vising the writing centre arose in terms of the session focus, communication styles, and teaching pace. The most common was the focus of the tutoring session. The majority of advisors noted that the session focus with EAL students would predominantly be on grammar as opposed to other topics. Aptly summarizing the differences, one advisor wrote:

With English speakers, I critique the structure of their papers and the evidence they provide. Often I don’t have time to get this far with EAL students; we get stuck on the small stuff.

Advisors also noted that often the communication style would differ in appointments with students using EAL. One advisor stated “I may slow down when talking and try not to use many idioms or slang words…” Furthermore, the pace of the appointment itself would also slow down to accommodate the students, with one advisor writing “I do find myself working slower and more carefully with EAL students. I want to make sure we are working/learning together.”

Student Expectations

Participants felt that students expected them to be editors, take a leading role, and provide expertise during a tutoring session. The predominant theme that emerged above all others in the participants’ responses was related to editing. One advisor wrote: “[EAL students] often seem to have expectations that I’ll correct their paper for grammatical mistakes myself and then give them back a corrected version.” Many of the participants’ responses that focused on students’ expectations of advisors editing their work specified that the editing pertained specifically to grammatical errors. For example, one participant stated that students using EAL expect “micro-edits” in their appointment. Furthermore, several responses that hinged upon editing also hinted that students using EAL expected to be passive participants in the tutoring sessions, as opposed to active ones, with one advisor writing “[EAL students] expect me to ‘fix’ their paper for them, in the grammar sense.”

Identified Competencies

Tutors generally felt competent explaining grammar, focusing on macro-level writing issues, and interacting with students, with prior experience playing a role in boosting tutors’ confidence working with students. The most salient theme was related to helping with grammar. Advisors felt comfortable assisting EAL students with various aspects of grammar, such as article use, tenses, sentence structure, and parts of speech. For instance, one participant wrote “I feel confident with teaching ‘how’ to use different parts of speech. For example, I have taught different students the use of definite and indefinite articles (a, an, the), when and where to use them.”

In addition to grammar, a large subset of advisors also felt comfortable teaching macro-level skills to students using EAL. For example, participants felt comfortable with teaching genre awareness, content, organization, and various aspects of the writing process. One advisor commented “Often, I find that tutoring earlier, during the planning process, results in a far more successful paper, regardless of grammar mistakes and surface levels problems.” Notably, some advisors who mentioned their comfort levels in regard to either teaching grammar or macro-level skills noted that their ability and comfort in the process of teaching in general played an important role in their comfort level.

Experience seemed to play a role in boosting participants comfort levels. For the advisors who felt comfortable and confident in tutoring sessions, prior experience played a large role in their comfort level. One tutor claimed, “I’m very confident, because I’ve been in their shoes, and I can show them some of the strategies that worked for me.” Often, advisors who were empathetic towards students using EAL due to personal second-language experience also felt confident in their tutoring skills, with another tutor writing

I’m very confident that I can tutor EAL students (given some training) because I speak multiple languages with noticeable differences, and I also understand how patterns and structures work for different languages, which means I can empathize with the EAL students and help them learn English from their perspective…

Identified Challenges

While some participants did report feeling confident explaining grammar to students, for the most part, the participants overwhelmingly felt that explaining grammatical concepts was the most challenging aspect that they encountered in tutoring sessions. It was also put forward that a lack of experience using an additional language might contribute to this challenge. Specifically, many advisors discussed struggling with explaining concepts that they understand intuitively as first-language English speakers. One advisor said “sometimes it’s hard for me to be very specific about why what someone has written is wrong. Reading it aloud, I can certainly tell when it sounds off and explain how to fix the issue. Actually explaining why though, can be very difficult.” Several advisors noted that they “don’t know” grammatical rules or would forget some of the rules. Moreover, one advisor mentioned finding it difficult to use the proper terminology to discuss grammatical concepts, stating that they find it challenging “explaining [grammar issues] using professional English technical language—e.g. oh, this is meant to be a ‘past participle.’” A possible explanation for the discomfort and lack of confidence in explaining grammar might be related to a lack of experience. One participant noted “sometimes I don’t feel that I’m clear enough with my explanations. Maybe I’ve never been in the opposite position, so it’s hard for me to know when I’m being convoluted.” Thus, both personal and prior professional experience played an important role in increasing advisors’ confidence levels.

Discussion and Implications

All in all, tutoring sessions with EAL students differed in a variety of ways; students came in with specific expectations, particularly regarding grammar, and tutors experienced unique challenges. While tutors noted some difficulties in working with EAL students, including communication and managing expectations, several key factors emerged as potential predictors of tutor comfort, including tutors’ own experience with languages other than English and tutors’ ability to pace the appointments well.

However, potentially the most interesting finding of the study is that tutors reported feeling both comfortable with teaching grammar and experiencing challenges in teaching this aspect of English. This discrepancy may be related to “grammar” being a relatively vague term for a field that includes many concepts, including punctuation, sentence structure, and parts of speech. In fact, what seemed to emerge from tutors’ answers was the idea that while tutors felt comfortable identifying errors in students’ work, they were challenged by the pedagogical aspects of the appointment. Specifically, tutors struggled to explain the reasons behind grammatical errors to students. The discrepancy between tutors’ comfort and discomfort with various aspects of grammar may prove to be a fruitful arena for further research.

Importantly, the findings of the current study provide the basis for the development of evidence-based tutor training programs. As tutors have now identified their challenges in teaching EAL students, evidence-based training should capitalize on this information to develop tutors’ competency in these areas of weakness. For example, training programs may focus on teaching tutors the vocabulary to discuss grammatical concepts with EAL students. Moreover, training programs should discuss the expectations with which EAL students may enter a tutoring session and how to properly manage these expectations. Finally, it may prove useful to have tutors with personal EAL or other additional language experience discuss students’ potential strengths and challenges from their point of view.


In conclusion, tutors experience unique challenges in working with EAL students. Future studies should examine these challenges in more detail, particularly tutors’ struggles associated with grammar, Furthermore, writing centre directors should consider incorporating training components that may help tutors struggling with some of these challenges into their tutor training sessions.


Canadian Bureau for International Education. (2018). International students in Canada. Retrieved from https://cbie.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/International-Students-in-Canada-ENG.pdf

Heslop, J. (2018). International students in BC’s education systems. Retrieved from: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/post-secondary-education/data-research/stp/stp-international-research-results.pdf

Moser, J. (1993). Crossed currents: ESL students and their peer tutors. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 9(2), 37-43. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/42801897

Thonus, T. (1999). How to communicate politely and be a tutor, too: NS-NNS interaction and writing center practice. Text-Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, 19(2), 253-280. https://www.doi.org/10.1515/text.1.1999.19.2.253

Winder, R., Kathpalia, S. S., & Koo, S. L. (2016). Writing centre tutoring sessions: Addressing students’ concerns. Educational Studies, 42(4), 323-339. https://www.doi.org/10.1080/03055698.2016.1193476

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pilin, M. (2019, Winter). Exploring tutors’ work with EAL students in a writing centre. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TEAL-News-Winter-2019-v3.pdf