April 10


A Typical English Class

By Gordon Gaffney

April 10, 2018

Teaching English privately is different to teaching in a school. I have taught English since 2013 and have realised what my students want, what they don’t get from English classes in schools and how to make their language learning as efficient as possible. So after teaching more than 3500 English classes to Brazilians, this is how I teach in a typical English class.

First English Class is Free.

If you take an English class with me the first one is always free. I think most teachers do this. I do it because instead of answering lots of emails and WhatsApp messages about my methodology, the easiest thing for me to do is to teach a 60-minute class with a student. Then the student can decide if they want to take more classes. You can contact me about classes here.

First English Class is free

After teaching so many Brazilians I know what mistakes they will make before they make them! I also have taught and corrected these mistakes many times so I feel that my teaching method is now good. I also speak some Portuguese so this helps me understand why people that speak Portuguese are making these mistakes and show them how to correct them.

Before the first class, I tell the student that they will do a lot of speaking. So they can prepare a little bit or at least think about what they are going to say so it isn’t a shock to them when they come to class. They can talk to me about their English study, their work or study, hometown, family, news, sport, music, films or even gossip. It doesn’t matter. What is important is that they get to practise speaking and I can see their level of English.

If they are a little shy I will ask them questions to get them speaking. “Tell me about your job”, “Tell me about your English studies”, “Tell me about your hometown”, “What are your hobbies or pastimes?”, “What movies do you like?”

Notes to Study English

Then I take notes on my laptop. These notes are usually errors, though I will write down some examples of good English too. In general, I just listen to the student and take notes.   I try not to speak too much. The student is paying to practise their speaking, not to listen to me talking. Yes, it can be good to practise listening too, but a student can do that at home by themselves, not when they are paying for a private teacher’s time.

Almost every student wants to practise their speaking because they don’t get a chance to speak that much in their current classes in a school or, increasingly, because they need it for work or for their studies.

Then if there are a lot of errors or grammar points in my notes for that class I will stop after around 30 minutes, then teach the grammar or correct mistakes or answer questions for 30 minutes. If there are not many mistakes then I will stop after around 45 minutes.

I think that 99% of students will not use the Present Perfect correctly. This is the most difficult part of English for people that speak Portuguese. I have seen many lessons online and in books explaining it but I believe they are not good enough.

After teaching it to over 50 students in 1-on-1 classes, I have developed my own method that makes sense for people that speak Portuguese. It takes 60 minutes to teach, but I will usually do the class again maybe 3 or 6 months later, or even a year later just to refresh my student’s memory of why and when to use the Present Perfect along with strategies to help them.

This entire 60-minute class is described in detail in my book. In fact, most of the errors a student makes are in my book, which is why I wrote it.

After teaching grammar, correcting mistakes and answering questions the class is over and then, very importantly, I email the notes to the student so that they can study them. It’s a fact of life that you will probably make the same mistakes over and over and then eventually if you study at home after class you will eliminate them.

Abbreviations Used in My English Class

I also use abbreviations in my notes to help students, they are:

[port] = you are directly translating from Portuguese but this creates an error in English. The classic example is I have 23 years = I am 23 years old

[prn] = pronunciation error. In general, Brazilians have very good pronunciation! So you don’t need to worry, however, a lot of students do worry about pronunciation so this is something to look at. Again I cover this in my books and in this post here where you can listen to some common mistakes and the correct pronunciation.

[PP] = a note that it is an error related to Present Perfect.

[Native] =A student might say something that uses correct English, there isn’t anything wrong with it but not how a native will say it. Natives might use something informal, possibly use some slang or expression or it is the most common way of saying something.

[Formal], [Informal] = similar to native above. I will often put in these beside formal or informal words.

[good] or [fine] = I will put them in as examples of good English.  I don’t want the notes to be just errors!

[Opp] = opposite, for example, “to pass an exam, to fail [opp]”

An Example of My Student Notes

Let’s say, we are in our free class and the student is introducing themselves, they say their age and say it like this I have 23 years.

I write something in my notes like this:

I have 23 years =

When we are correcting mistakes in the second part of the class, the student will sit beside me and both of us are looking at my notes on my laptop, so I will ask them “Can you see a problem here?”

If they can’t see the problem then I might do something like this

I have 23 years [port] =

I put in [port] as a tip to help them realise the mistake is because they are directly translating from Portuguese.

Then, hopefully, they know the correct answer or else I need to teach them a little bit more. We might look at link online, or in my own books or in a grammar book. You can read which grammar books I use in class here.

Then the final note will look like

I have 23 years [port] = I am 23 or I am 23 years old

So at the end of class, each error is always on the left, and it has a strikethrough, like this. The correct answer is on the right, like in our example.

If I am teaching online using Skype I will put in:

I have 23 years [port] =

But I will email the list of notes to the student, then they open up the word document on their computer and then we start reviewing the notes together. There isn’t much difference between an online class and a class in person.  Of course, it is preferable to teach in person but as a compromise or an option then Skype can be great.  Plus it can reduce transport times as you can take the class at home.

Student notes form English class
An example of some notes from a typical English class

My Methodology

This is the method I use in my English class and is one I have developed myself and that my students prefer. In general, I am not a suitable teacher for absolute beginners, my Portuguese isn’t good enough to be able to explain things correctly. I like to teach students who want to practise speaking, so even an upper beginner is ok, so long as you can form basic sentences and want to speak then that’s fine. But the key is to come into class and start talking. It should be a natural conversation and if you can’t think of anything to say I always think the best thing is to talk about something in the news. I spend far too much time reading the news as I am very interested in it.

Most students do one class a week, if you can afford it, then I recommend 2 classes a week, you will notice a huge difference. It is a good idea to space out your classes, take a class on Monday and Thursday for example, or maybe Tuesday and Friday, but definitely spread it out, you don’t want to take classes on consecutive days, like Tuesday and Wednesday for example.

I don’t think there is any need to take more than 2 classes a week. However, if you do have the budget for it then go for it! Also, remember to keep an eye out for conversation classes in your area to practice too.

However, I will always do whatever the student wants in class. I have some students that still like using a traditional book such as Market Leader or Global or the Cambridge FCE and that’s fine too.

Remember to check out my material, my original 2016 eBook  for €6.99 “Eliminate the 63 Most Common Mistakes Portuguese Speakers Make in English” and also my 2020 video course for €14.99 which has 40% more content than the 2016 eBook, “Eliminate All the Most Important Mistakes Portuguese Speakers Make in English” .

But before going, you can also read my review on the “Market Leader” books in here.

Or read here my review of the IELTS exam material.

I hope this gives you a good idea of my preferred methodology, if you have any questions or comments then do post them and I will do my best to answer them.

Gordon Gaffney

About the author

Gordon is The Irish English Teacher, creator of this blog and many products to help all students learning English as a second language, but with a focus on Portuguese speakers.

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