Teaching Inspiration from the Best

This summer, I spent some time watching episodes of Sesame Street with my 12-year-old host cousin in order to help her with her English. It had been years since I’d seen the show (go figure). One interesting thing I observed is this: there is no common theme for each episode. Each skit operates as its own thing. I was starting to think of how I wanted to structure the English course I would be teaching at the orphanage in the fall, and this observation gave me hope.

I don’t love teaching. It’s okay. I can do it. But I don’t love it. I especially don’t love lesson planning (not that that really matters … lesson planning isn’t much of a thing here in Kosovo). I struggle to take one idea (for example: how to tell time) and stretch it into an entire class period with enough worksheets, games, etc. to keep students interested.
Sesame Street gave me an idea: since the course at the orphanage isn’t part of school (and I don’t have to follow a curriculum), why not structure it using a hodgepog of activities, rather than trying to commit to one theme every week?

But … what hodgepog of activities to do? I decided that each week would follow the same structure, but with each “lesson” being its own thing. I am now in my fourth week of teaching the course, and here is what I have been doing each week.

1. Each week, I pick 5-6 new flashcards to teach. We start each class by reviewing the flashcards from last week. We review them together, and then I go around the room and quiz each student.

beginning flashcards
Sesame Street flashcards

2. My friend, Sierra, put together this brilliant ABC booklet. A bunch of us have made copies of it. Each week, I give each student a different letter, and they have to practice writing it and then writing all the words they know that begin with that letter.


a. (When we finish the alphabet, I plan to move on to the 50 states, using Xerox copies of an awesome workbook I bought at Target this summer when I was home.)

state worksheets
50 States

3. My mom had the awesome idea to send me a “Where’s Waldo?” book. I’ve copied several of the pictures. I hand them out to students and ask them to find different things in the pictures. “Find a man in a red hat.” “Find a woman in a green dress with a brown dog.” Etc.

Where’s Waldo?

4. I take out 5-6 new flashcards and we practice those as a group, and then individually.

5. I play a song for them twice in English. The first time, they just listen. The second time, I tell them to listen for a specific word or words, and count how many times it is repeated within the song. Songs I have played for them so far are: “Roar” by Katy Perry; “In My Room” by the Beach Boys; and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. (Tomorrow’s song will be “Monster Mash.”)

jamberry speaker male-to-male plug
Trusty Jamberry speaker + iPhone

6. I read them a story from this easy reader I bought in the U.S. (I think it was at Five Below.) Then, I ask them follow-up questions about the story.

I have a tutoring background but no teaching background. I don’t know what the best pedagogical approaches are to teaching a new language. So, someone out there with more knowledge may argue in favor of a traditional, single-themed lesson plan. But, I’ve been having fun teaching in this more free-style way, and the students seem to like it, too.

Photo taken by the orphanage

I feel like I should clarify something: The orphanage where I volunteer has several locations, and the one where I teach is not a childcare facility. It is just an office. At our location, the organization focuses on family strengthening programs to keep at-risk families together. I refer to it as “the orphanage,” though, because I want to maintain privacy by not using the organization’s name.

Adjective Contest at School

On Wednesday, my counterpart and I hosted an adjective memorization contest at school. I had the idea for it at the end of  last school year. I was tired of hearing students use the word “beautiful” to describe everything. “My friend is beautiful.” “The shirt is beautiful.” “The apple is beautiful.” All right. Time to learn some new adjectives.

I wrote a list of about 80 adjectives in English, and my counterpart wrote the corresponding words in Shqip (Albanian). We photocopied the list and passed it out to the students, telling them to memorize it over the summer. We told them we would host a content with prizes when they came back to school.

adjectives english albanian shqip

Between my counterpart and me, we came up with the following prizes:


(A stuffed dog and Venice puzzle that came in a care package from my parents; an American flag pencil from a pack I bought at Target; Hello Kitty candies I got in other care packages [I like Hello Kitty but don’t eat candy that isn’t chocolate]; and my counterpart brought in a book of Albanian poetry; a stuff bear; and a notebook.)

Seven students participated, and two girls actually memorized the entire list! Wow. 🙂

To put this into context, my second village school only averages about eight students per grade. So, a 7-student turnout is pretty good!

The Easiest Secondary Project Ever

Today Kosovo goes back to school! Since this is the newest cohort’s first day teaching in Kosovo, I thought I would write about a very easy secondary project I have undertaken at my school. (My aunt called me out — she said she knows I am struggling for blog ideas when I post about teaching. Haha. That’s partly true.)

Anyway … another English teacher at my school approached me and asked if I would compile a binder of different games and activities that we could all use. (There are three English teachers at my school + me.) It was such a brilliant and simple idea, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.

activities book

I bought a binder and some plastic sheets for under 5 Euro total. I bought them at the bookstore in Peja, but they’re probably widely available.

It is getting thick …

Whenever I bring in a worksheet or a game for my class, I make sure to bring an extra copy to throw in the book. We keep it on a shelf in the teacher’s lounge, so that everyone has access to it.

informational sheet
Informational sheet (found on Pinterest)
handmade worksheet
Handmade worksheet
Wordfinds for different sets of vocabulary
coloring page
Coloring pages for younger students
fake money
Teaching materials (yay for fake, Dollar Store money)
Copied from workbooks my mom sends me from the U.S.
party worksheet
Worksheet I “created” by combining two similar workbook activities

What I like about this book is that other teachers can contribute to it, and it is sustainable. My school can continue to add to and use it after I am gone.

Also, I was at one of my schools last week and snapped some pictures, so you can see the inside. 🙂

teachers lounge kosovo
Teachers’ Lounge
hallway 1 kosovo school
Hallway 1
hallway 2 kosovo school
Hallway 2

Happy First Day of School, everyone! 🙂

The Last Few Weeks Before Summer Vacation

I fully expected that the last few weeks of school would drag by. I thought I’d be eager for the school year to be over, so I could visit home and then enjoy my summer vacation. But surprisingly, the last few weeks went by quickly.

Above: One of my fourth graders wrote me a sweet letter, and drew some pictures for me.

It is a tradition in Kosovo for the 9th grade to have a prom. I’ll admit, I didn’t want to attend (I don’t even teach the 9th grade). In my experience, celebrations in Kosovo can go one of two ways: they’re either fun, or they drag on forever. I tried to get out of going to prom by saying I didn’t have any money (because everyone had to pay their own way). Well, then my host father insisted on paying for me. So I kind of had to go.

The prom turned out to be pretty fun. My experience was in no way the night-long marathon my friend Chester experienced and wrote about here.

FullSizeRender (19)
My counterpart, another teacher, and me
circle dancing
Circle dancing (of course!)

The only “bad” thing that happened is that I was unexpectedly pulled in front of a microphone and asked to give a speech. Not only do I hate being put on the spot (who doesn’t?), I also don’t possess the language skills to spout off an impromptu speech in Shqip (Albanian). I managed to say, “Urime!” (congratulations), and then I ran away.

And last, my host family threw me a little birthday party before I left for the States. (I spent my actual birthday at home.) My host mother made all of my favorite foods: mish pule me patate (literally translated: meat chicken with potatoes), sallat shope (a salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and cheese), homemade cheese, and (not pictured), petulla (pronounced “pate-la”), which is fried bread with sugar on top. They also got me a chocolate cake.

Kosovo food
Kosovar food

chocolate cake

My host family invited my two site mates (Peace Corps speak for “other volunteers who live near you”) for dinner. Rachel brought Hello Kitty party hats.

happy birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me

Creating Worksheets for School

There are millions of teaching materials available on the Internet. I spend a good amount of time pinning worksheets and activities to my TEFL Pinterest board. The problem is, I don’t have an easy way to get things from my computer to the copier at my school. I either end up copying/drawing worksheets by hand, or going to the Peace Corps office in Pristina, printing a copy of something from the Internet, and taking it back to my school to make more copies for my students. (I recently learned I can use my school director’s computer to print directly from the Internet, but I don’t want to make a habit of it.)

A while back, my mom sent me some workbooks from the United States (thanks, mama!). I’ve been cutting them up and taping them to computer paper to create my own worksheets. This eliminates the cumbersome need to find a printer. Also, it’s kind of fun to make my own stuff. 🙂

Here are some examples of worksheets I’ve “created” recently:

fruits and vegetables classroom worksheet
Fruits and Vegetables worksheet
summerfun classroom worksheet
Summer fun worksheet
travel brochure classroom worksheet
Travel brochure for Kosovo

Here are some more links to materials and activities I’ve used in the classroom:

Welcome, Kosovo Group 4!

Kosovo is the second-newest Peace Corps country. My cohort is the third group of volunteers here. (If you’re curious, you can see a full list of Peace Corps countries, including the length of their programs and the number of their currently-serving volunteers, here.)

In a week, the newest Kosovo cohort arrives! The feeling I have is not unlike entering my senior year of high school. You know how things are so much better when you’re a senior, because you’re the oldest and you know everything and you’re excited for the future? That’s how I anticipate feeling in the coming year. One year of service down, one more to go!

I remember how I felt this time last year … my last week in the United States. My emotions ran the gamut from happy, sad, excited, scared, anxious, and hopeful.

Last fall, I created some blog posts in order to provide helpful information to the new cohort, as they were beginning to receive their acceptance letters. With only a week to go before they arrive in-country, I thought I would re-post the links to those posts.

Other posts that might be helpful:

Pre-Service Training

All About Kosovo


Lesson Plans and Activities

Albanian/Shqip Language

Guest Bloggers (Different perspectives from my fellow Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteers)

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Travel Within Kosovo

We are looking forward to meeting you, Kosovo Group 4!

Lesson Plan: Teaching Adjectives

I recently created this lesson plan to teach adjectives to my English Club (about 15 students, ranging from grades 6-9). It required very little in the way of materials, and my students enjoyed it, so I thought I would share it.

(You can download this lesson plan hereLesson Plan Teaching Adjectives)

The Lesson

  1. Begin with a reminder/explanation of what adjectives are. Write an example on the board.
  2. Adjective Race: Give students a minute or two, and have them write all the adjectives they can think of on a piece of paper. Ask students to read from their lists, and write their words on the board.
  3. Expanding Sentences: Write simple sentences on the board. Have students copy the sentences into their notebooks, and “expand” them by adding adjectives.
    Example: The lamp is on the table. –> The metal lamp is on the small table.
    Have students read their sentences aloud.
  4. Explain Adjective Order: When using more than one adjective, list adjectives in the following order:
    1. Opinion
    2. Size
    3. Age
    4. Shape
    5. Color
    6. Origin
    7. Material
    8. (Noun)
  5. Activity: Create a list of adjectives and write each word on a set of index cards. (I made two sets of cards in anticipation of dividing my students into two groups. Make as many sets of cards as you think you’ll need.) Divide students into groups. Each group will receive an identical packet of cards and will race to put them in the correct adjective order. (You can do this several times, with several different sets of adjectives. Here is one of the sets I used):
    1. Beautiful
    2. Big
    3. Square
    4. Old
    5. Blue
    6. Turkish
    7. Metal
    8. Lamp (noun)
  6. Final Activity: Have students draw a card from a stack of cards with an adjective written on each one. Instruct them to find something in the classroom or school that the adjective could be used to describe.

The only materials I used for this entire lesson plan were index cards, a pen, a blackboard, and chalk.

Here are some other activities, materials, and lesson plans I have used in my classroom: