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TEFL to the Rescue: Classroom Problems Solved

This post was written by Zoe Sand, a TEFL Alumni and a Teach in China participant. 

Nervous about teaching abroad? Taking a TEFL course is the best way to boost your confidence before heading into the classroom. Speaking from personal experience, TEFL helped me land my first teaching English job without any prior teaching experience. Most importantly, it has helped me navigate tricky classroom situations. The best lesson I learned from TEFL was to “plan for Z.” In other words, be prepared for whatever problems may come your way. Since starting my teaching position in Shanghai, I’ve encountered several problems that I was well prepared for thanks to my TEFL training. 

CIEE Teach in South Korea

Problem: The computer won’t open your Powerpoint presentation.


Solution: As if giving a presentation isn’t stressful enough, being in a new environment will only make it worse. The last thing you need is a technical problem, like a Powerpoint that won’t open. One of the most valuable lessons my TEFL tutor taught me was that technology may not always work.

Be prepared to give your lesson using whatever resources you have, be it a computer, a chalkboard, a piece of paper, or just yourself. When my PowerPoint wouldn’t open in one class one day, I knew my slides well enough to go through the lesson on the board, writing the vocabulary and key points down. For my classes, I also like to have a handwritten outline of the lesson to refer to. Ultimately, you are the teacher, and all the other materials are supplemental. Remember that plan A may fall through, so you’ll need to have a plan B, C, and even Z. Most importantly, prepare yourself to be the only resource you have!

Problem: There is no Wi-Fi in your classroom.


Solution: My teaching position in Shanghai, requires me to commute to several different schools to teach a variety of ages. In one sixth-grade class, I am helping the students to improve their English through singing songs in English. I love to sing for fun, so I was very excited to be able to design my very own curriculum for this class. For my first class, I prepared a small PowerPoint with some songs to play for the kids, plus links to music videos on Youku (YouTube in China). I went to open the music video for “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, and to my unpleasant surprise, there was no Wi-Fi in my classroom. I almost panicked, but thankfully, I had downloaded the songs on my phone, so we were able to listen that way. Not my ideal outcome, but I was able to get through the lesson and still play the songs for the class. Thanks to TEFL, I was prepared to handle a situation like this; I learned to prepare multiple sources of media to use in my class in case my first choice didn’t work. Another example of planning for Z!

Problem: Your students keep talking while you’re talking.


Solution: My TEFL tutor taught me that establishing classroom rules early on is very important. My rules: Raise your hand to talk or answer a question; don’t talk to your classmates while I’m talking; respect your teacher, your classmates, and the classroom. The most important rule, though? Keep Your Dear Teach Happy (KYDTH).

This last rule is one that I got from an experienced teacher at my school, and so far, I think it has been a great rule to have in the classroom. KYDTH  tells the students that they should not do anything that would make the teacher unhappy, or there will be repercussions. For example, breaking any of the prior classroom rules would make me unhappy, as well as students being rude, loud, obnoxious, or disruptive in any way. In my most misbehaved classes, I enforce consequences like silent time during certain activities, instead of letting them chat with their friends. When my classes behave well, I reward them with a fun video clip in English or a few minutes of homework time. Ultimately, you need to find a way to keep discipline in your classroom and maintain a positive environment. Try these rules or make your own, regardless you will need to get to know your students first to find out what really works for your class.

Problem: You finished your lesson and still have 10 minutes left of class.


Solution: The last thing you ever want to do is have a staring contest with my students because you've run out of material and have 10 minutes or more to fill. The best way to stop this issue from occurring is to have a collection of “fillers” ready to use. Fillers are any short activity that aren’t essential to the lesson but are fun and engaging for the students. Fillers can be games, songs, videos, quizzes, or additional assignments. Fillers can be used as warm ups, warm downs, or anywhere in the middle of your lesson.

My TEFL Course gave me many great ideas for fillers activities. For example, my favorite icebreaker activity is “two truths and a lie.” You can play by writing on the board to play as a class or have the students get into groups. You can also get some great ideas online, like this page and this one.

Here in Shanghai, I have several middle school classes that are typically 40 minutes long, so I’ve gotten pretty good at planning for this timeframe. However, one of my classes is scheduled for 80 minutes, TWICE as long as what I’m used to. Fillers have definitely helped me to extend my original 40-minute lesson plans to fit this time frame, but sometimes I still have extra time. If you have gone through your lesson and even a couple fillers and still have time, it doesn’t hurt to play a non-English-related game every once in awhile. Games such as Hangman or Heads-Up-7-Up, may or may not relate to the lesson, but are a nice break for the students. By allowing them to have a little fun every once in awhile, your students will enjoy class a little more and appreciate you as a teacher.


By the time you complete your TEFL certification, you will have the most important tools you need to be successful in the classroom, so be confident and excited to start teaching. Like any job, problems will happen, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Plan for Z and your classes will be smooth sailing! For more information about CIEE TEFL, check out our page or reach out to us at  tefl@ciee.org.