22 Tips for Teaching English to Students in Spain

Sure, teaching English is a good excuse to live abroad and travel every weekend for a year. But, you should make an effort to actually mold some young minds, too. Too often, Americans see “Teach English” as a job where they can slack off, which gives us a bad rap. Don’t fall into that category. Do as your mom taught you and try your very best.

And, although it may seem to others as if you’re on a year-long vacation, teaching English is actually a lot harder than it seems. So here are a few tips to help you survive and be the most popular teacher in the school.

1. Learn your students’ names!

teach abroad spain

This may seem obvious, but as an auxiliar it is typical to have A LOT of students. You don’t have just one class, so it’s likely you will have 200+ students. I know this seems like an impossible task, but it makes a big difference. On the first day of class have each of them introduce themselves. At the end of the class, try to go through them again, and for the first couple times you have the classes go through and try to say all of their names. Students love when you try to guess them. If the teacher is busy with a couple students before/after class, start working with the other students and reviewing names. This not only helps build a connection and shows the students you care, but you will appreciate it when calling on students in class. Plus, it’ll help if when some students need reminders during a lesson 🙂 Other times to learn names? Recreo [recess], in the hallway, before/after school. Ask the teachers for a class list – it might even have photos so you can practice your memorization skills.

2. Communicate with the other teachers frequently. (Harass if you need to)

Working with people who don’t speak the same language is hard. You don’t speak Spanish perfectly, they don’t speak English perfectly, and mix that with different accents…let’s just say a lot can get lost in translation. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you need them to repeat, ask. If you need them to repeat again, ask again. Don’t be embarrassed. Make sure you know what they want from you, what’s going on in the classes, etc… Ideally, you want to know what you will be doing in each class that week. (What topic you’re teaching, how you’re teaching it, reading material, worksheets, etc… and how the teacher wants you to participate…maybe they want you to plan an entire lesson, or maybe they just want you there to correct the students’ pronunciation.) Whatever it is, make sure you know, and be as prepared as you can be. Getting this information can be a lot harder than you would think, so if you show up to class not knowing what’s going on, don’t be too hard on yourself. My main point is get involved and be proactive. Show the teachers that you’re there to work.

3. Be prepared for class.

This obviously goes along with #2, but it’s important so I just want to reinforce it. If you find out you’re going to be working on pronunciation, ask for the list of words so you can review. Are you smarter than a 5th grader has never been more relevant. You would think you could just show up and say words, right? English is our native language after all. But some words they are learning are really difficult. Maybe it’s just me? Also, it’s been a long time since you learned these things, so if you get to class and they ask you to talk about ecosystems or the circulatory system you will probably want to be ready for that. Bottom line: be ready for whatever things might be thrown your way.

4. Write in cursive.

Students in Spain learn cursive first. So if you start writing in large, capital letters the first day like I did, they will be confused. If you have older students (4th grade and up), you can print. Also, some cursive letters are written differently, so pay attention – s & z.

5. Bingo is your friend.

Everybody loves Bingo. And the best part is that you can use it for almost anything. Halloween words? Bingo. Animals? Bingo. Landscapes? Bingo. You can either have flashcards with a name and/or picture and students have to find the word/picture on their cards, or you can make it more complex by saying a description and students have to find the word that works best. It can be adjusted for all topics and ages – be creative!

6. So is Jeopardy.

Reviewing before an exam is universal, and Jeopardy is the best. The first couple times I helped in a “review” class in Spain, it consisted of the teacher asking random questions from the book and students raising their hands to answer. As you can imagine, most students did not participate, and everyone was bored. Most classes in Spain involve the teacher talking (reading directly from the book) and students listening. They aren’t big on pairing up, working in groups, doing station work, or changing it up at all. As the auxiliar – change it up! The students love doing something new, especially when it’s a game. I mainly used Jeopardy with my 4th/5th/6th graders, but it worked great. You can use an online template if your school has the technology, or just draw one on the board. I would have about 4-5 different categories each with 5 questions worth 100-500. Have a typed sheet so you know which questions go with which category/value (or use flash cards on the board – whatever you prefer). Split the class into teams of 4-5, and have them write their answers down on a sheet of paper. They can keep track of their own points. Voila. Feel free to offer incentives for the winner (aka candy).

7. And Hangman.

See a theme? Hangman is a great way to practice vocabulary and spelling and works for all ages. It’s also a perfect way to start class, whether to introduce a new topic or get the kids focused. A lot of times the lead teacher may show up late to class, so hangman is the solution for chaos in the classroom. When in doubt, hangman.

8. Make holidays a big deal.

teaching english in spain

You are there not only to teach them English, but to help them learn more about your culture, as well. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, April Fools, May Day, etc… Use these! Find songs about the holidays, coloring sheets, word searches, readings, have them make Valentine’s, do spooky Halloween Crafts, or make hand turkeys. There are SO many ideas, and tell me who doesn’t love to do holiday-related activities. If you’re drawing a blank – Pinterest. Google. You won’t be able to choose just one thing.

9. Bring & use your personal photos/experiences.

Make a PowerPoint to teach them about Thanksgiving. Show them photos of your Turkey Day feast or you dressed up for trick-or-treating. Show them your tree all decorated for Christmas. They LOVE to see photos of you and your family, and it is a great way to teach them about your culture. Make sure to have them repeat words after you or have a follow up activity, too!

10. Flash cards.

Flash cards are timeless. A lot of schools have a bunch for different topics, but if not, make your own! It’s a great way to introduce new words, as well as review old ones. You can set them up at the front of the room and call on students to hand you the correct one.

11. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

What’s the best way to learn a new language? Repetition. Make sure you always repeat what you’re teaching. Go over words again and again. When you think they’ve got it, repeat.

12. Nobody likes a monotone voice.

When you’re repeating vocabulary, use different tones! High-pitched, low-pitched, whisper, shout. Changing it up will help the kids learn faster and they will be more excited about it than if they were saying the same word over and over in the same old voice.

13. Use gestures.

Basically, become a crazy person in the front of the classroom. Use your arms, draw pictures, get down on the ground if you have to to act out what you’re trying to get them to learn. If you’re learning parts of the body, point to your eyes/ears/arms. If you’re learning senses, pretend your smelling something or listening for noises. These gestures will not only make the kids pay attention, but it will help them remember the words and concepts better. It’s always better to use gestures than to use a translation.

14. Pen pals!

teach abroad spain

If you have a friend or an old teacher back home, talk to them about setting up pen pals! I did pen pals with my 6th grade class and a friend’s class in the U.S., and all of the students loved it. It is an awesome way for them to practice reading and writing in English, and they also learn a ton about the different cultures. Plus, it’s exciting for them getting to communicate with students from a different part of the world. They certainly loved seeing the different names!

15. Youtube & Songs

Youtube is probably one of the greatest things to happen to schools, in my opinion, and singing songs is one of the best ways to practice a language and learn new vocabulary. (Little kids especially love it.) Whatever you’re teaching, there’s a song for it. Trust me. Colors, numbers, animals, clothes, the list goes on and on. Find good songs, and sing them with your students. Don’t forget the gestures!

16. Change it up.

teaching english in spain

Like I said before, in Spain the students are used to reading from a book as a whole class. Do something different whenever you can. From review games and songs to different holiday crafts, bring your creativeness to the table. Work in small groups, and try to find new and interesting ways to teach the topics. Learning about volcanoes? Do an experiment and make one erupt. A paper plate, cup, tin foil, vinegar, and baking soda can go a long way. Learning about minerals? Use items around the classroom. Bring the lessons to life.

17. Walk around the room.

If the other teacher is leading a lesson or if the students are working individually, don’t just sit there. Make sure the students are on task. Help those that need a little extra guidance. This also shows the students you care and that they can come to you for help.

18. Be yourself.

This is an important one. Yes, you will need to adapt to the different ways of the Spanish school system, but you’re also supposed to represent your culture. Don’t forget that. Spanish teachers yell a lot and/or bang on the chalkboard. Sometimes I felt like I should do that, but it wasn’t me. I smile a ton, and I also learned I’m big on thumbs up and high fives. Did the students make fun of me? Yes, but I kept doing it anyway.

19. Go out for recess.

If you can, go hang out with the students and teachers at recess. Get to know them, and maybe jump rope or get in on some fútbol.

20. Research & plan.

If you have a free period, use that time to get ideas for lessons or use it to prepare activities and worksheets.

21. Talk clearly and maybe in a British accent.

Don’t mumble. Don’t talk too fast. Don’t talk too slow either. They are learning British English so some words will be different (school bag instead of backpack; trousers instead of pants; rubbers instead of erasers – that’s a biggie). Get to know these words if you’re not British, and also be mindful of your American pronunciation. For example, the way we pronounce “butter” sounds more like a “d” in the middle. So if you pick up a bit of a British accent, just go with it.

22. American Candy.

Candy is always a good idea. Hersheys. Dum Dums. They will love you.

Show up to class ready to teach and with a positive attitude. There will be plenty of days where you are talking to yourself or the blackboard, but it truly is a rewarding job. If you put in just a little effort, both you and your students will get a whole lot out of it. And as far as being popular goes? You’re already the favorite teacher just because you’re foreign. Embrace the local celebrity life.

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