Auxiliares de Conversación in Spain: an Interview

The Auxiliares Program, officially called Language and Culture Assistants in Spain, gives the opportunity to anyone to teach his or her own native language here in Spain for 8 months, basically for a whole school year. 

Candidates will work in a bilingual school and help students improve their listening and speaking skills for the most part.

But, what do assistants really do once they are inside a Spanish classroom?

I asked some questions to my friend Jessica, who worked here in Madrid, in order to enlighten parents and anyone who might be interested in applying for this experience.

Take your time... It's long and really interesting!

Here it goes!  

How long did you work as an 'auxiliar de conversación'? In which kind of school?

I had the opportunity to work with the public school IES Manuel de Falla in Coslada, Madrid, for one school year.

We know from the
web page  of the Comunidad de Madrid that the assistant's basic duties are:  
-To assist the regular staff at class
-To conduct conversation classes in the foreign language
-To supplement the classes with exercises in reading, dictation and oral composition
-To give pupils an insight to the way of life in his/her country.
-To prepare material.
-Assistants may also be asked to participate in extra-curricular activities such as workshops, field trips, music and theater performances, or sports events.

What did you really do?

I assisted the main teachers in Art, History and  English Literature classes. This included creating presentations or activities to supplement the existing coursework and textbook lessons. Often times I would work on reading and speaking skills with small groups while the main teacher taught the rest of the class. One of my favorite lessons in the upper level art class was going over design vocabulary and having the students create their own logo. It was great to use my graphic design background in class and the kids really loved being able to create their own business idea/logo. I was also responsible for holding an after-school conversational English class for any teachers that wanted to improve their English skills.

Let's talk about students for a moment. How did they interact with you? Were they engaged by the whole experience of having a real native speaker who was there to talk about her own culture?

Most all of the students responded really well to having a native speaker in class. They were all very inquisitive and loved to learn about the U.S. Some of them were shy or a bit embarrassed when trying to speak English because it was a challenge for them, but they did get more comfortable with time and by the end of the year I saw a lot of improvement in all of my classes. 

What was the best part of your English teaching experience?

My favorite part about teaching in Madrid was definitely helping the students to get excited about language learning. I personally love to learn new languages and know what it’s like to be in a boring class with endless grammar lessons. Being able to engage students and see them use their creativity to explore the English language was incredibly rewarding. It was also wonderful to be able to give them a new perspective on my country, the kinds of culture the U.S. exports aren’t necessarily the best representation of America, so it was neat to teach them about some of the less well known figures and places.

In your opinion, what should be taken into account, from a student's point of view, to enhance the program? 

As far as my school was concerned I think I had one of the best experiences of any of my friends that did the Auxiliares program. Other students complained about not being paid regularly and having little to no direction. Most of the teachers I worked with were incredibly helpful and the school fully supported me and gave me all the materials and direction I needed.

However, one of the few things I struggled with was learning some of the material that I was expected to teach, particularly in the history classes, rather than helping with activities or conducting conversations I was expected to teach for an entire class after being informed of what sections of the book I would be teaching just the day before. For someone that doesn’t have a great history background this required a lot of reviewing and often I didn’t feel that I knew enough to really teach a class effectively. Working outside of the classroom wasn’t the issue, I knew going in that I would have to prepare lessons and activities after school hours, it was more that the teacher didn’t know how to incorporate me into the classroom so they just split up the lessons and when I was there they let me teach. It would be great if the teachers could have more training on what to do with English assistants.

Another challenge was helping some of the students in the lower level English classes. We were instructed only to use English when in class, but for the lower levels many students had come from middle schools where their core classes were not taught in English so they had a very hard time keeping up. I found myself having to use Spanish at points so that I could quickly explain things, but even then I think that there are a lot of kids that are caught in the middle and did not get good grades. Not because they couldn’t handle the material in most cases, but because they couldn’t learn well in English. Right now the Spanish school system is transitioning into having more bilingual schools and it’s hurting students that can’t keep up. I suppose that’s more of a problem with the system than with the Auxiliares program though, but perhaps there could be better ways to use English assistants in lower level classes. Otherwise my experience was really wonderful. The teachers made me feel very welcome and the students were great!

Intriguing, isn't it? Are you thinking of applying for the position? 
Read a little bit more then...

While I had a wonderful time teaching I think that there are a lot of students that go to Spain with unrealistic expectations of what they’ll have to do and how much time they have to dedicate. It is not easy to teach a class, especially one with 20 or more students so I think having English speakers that have some training in Education or language learning would vastly improve the quality of the program, or at least giving them spots first when they apply. 

There are a ton of people who I know in the US that applied to the program and didn’t get in because it’s first come first serve. Spain could be a lot more picky with the selection process, or at least provide better training for the assistants and it would help everyone involved. I received my TEFL certificate before going to Madrid and think that I would have struggled a lot more without that experience. 

Also, the program should tell students to expect to do at least half an hour of work outside of class for each class they teach. Some assistants think they’re just have to show up and speak, when really to give the best experience to the students the position requires you to prepare outside of class. Yes it is a fun job, but the program should be a bit more realistic when describing the duties so that students know what they are getting into when they sign up.

Download the Language Assistant Handbook for more details

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Summertime is perfect for books. I remember when I was in high school I had to read many classics, sometimes a little boring, that were going to be meticulously studied during the following school year.

We didn't have many options to pick from. Nowadays things have significantly improved, very much thanks to technology and pedagogic enhancements. We are aware that not all teenagers are eager readers and that we can meet those who are not halfway by proposing a more engaging version of the classic novel, such as a comic.

The publishing house Heinle Cengage Learning (National Geographic) has a collection called Classical Comics especially designed for ELT students. I don't know, maybe if it's my impression, but I've noticed that most students (even the most difficult to engage) react in a very positive and unexpected way when I tell them they are going to read a comic. 

I suppose that direct speech (the dialogues are graded) and attractive comic strips are more entertaining and easier to understand than a stack of words on a piece of paper. Also, the characters are more recognizable. For example in Great Expectations, that's the book I got, there are at least 24 characters and, let's face it, it's difficult even for an adult to remember who is who all the time, especially when you get to those complicated parts where many names appear and you start to get really lost in the mist while you can't help falling asleep.

Well, in these ELT graphic novels you'll find a full descriptions of the main characters with pictures to help students follow the story and also, a glossary to support students while they read. The language used is for intermediate learners, levels B1 and B2.  There's a short biography of the author and, of course, audio CDs to provide a complete reading experience that will allow students to improve their listening and speaking skills too.

Give it a try! Get your students to love reading!

Great Expectations worksheets here.

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Anorak: Yay for Dreams!!!

It's finally time for the latest issue of Anorak, the happy mag for kids!

Dreams are the protagonists this time.

Which one would you like to buy? A 'flying over the cities' dream or perhaps you'd rather get a 'flying over the rainforest' one? There's the 'flying over the zoos' dream too, but it'll cost you 50,000 neurons and 300 kg of imagination!

Those who are afraid of having nightmares will find several options to overcome their fear. One solution might be making some night-time friends, following a few easy steps. Another solution to avoid nightmares might be the 'dream- catcher': a sort of dream filter, originally used by some Native Americans, which keeps nightmares out  and lets good dreams enter our sleepy heads.

By the way, once you've got your issue, don't miss Oliver and Clara's dreams and the strange case of Raya, the doll that one morning decided to come alive!

As always, Anorak comes loaded of fun and interesting illustrated stories,  and if you are a teacher you can surely get some inspiration for cross-curricular projects.

Furthermore, don't forget that any child, aged 6 to 12, as well as 'obsessed' with reading, writing and drawing, has the possibility of becoming a Little Editor. What does that mean? Take a look here.

Have fun!

Find more writing tips here . Book reviews and lesson plans here


A card game to succeed in Cambridge YLE Flyers!

It's almost June and official exams for children who attend primary school are on their way! 

Is any of your students sitting the Cambridge  YLE Flyers exam?

If the answer is yes, but also if it's no, here you'll find a game to review the most difficult words from the official vocabulary list.

Divide the class into teams, and have children from one team reading the definitions while children from the other teams try to guess what it is being described.

If you'd like to buy the paper version of the game you can place an order on my BigCartel shop. I'll personally send you the .pdf file!

The digital version of Guess What?!? is also available on Amazon.com, Amazon.es, Indigo, Kobo  and Libris

Never underestimate the power of a quiz game when you're teaching English to children!!!

Actually, I think that many adult students could also get some advantages on using this game. 

Have fun!



The Life Cycle of a Dandelion

Science is one of the subjects that children who attend bilingual schools here in Spain have to study in English.

Most science books present just boring descriptions of things that children don't understand but have to learn by heart anyway to pass a monthly test.

I personally love science, especially because it's connected to real life, but, over all, because it's based on the scientific method, that let reality speak for itself, while we only have to make predictions, observe a phenomenon, and take notes to decide whether our predictions were right or not.

This means that science classes might potentially be something really engaging for children.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least according to my personal experience.

But, I won't complain about the missed opportunity of saving Spanish children from their boring science classes. Not at all!

Instead, I'll post about an experiment I personally conducted to observe the life cycle of plants and particularly of Dandelions (click on the picture above). Something you can easily do in your classes or at home to help kids understand and remember scientific terms in English.

Find some useful flashcards here. and a complete lesson plan here

More about science and the scientific method in the excellent children's book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

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Spring - Lesson Plan 2 - Plants

It's still springtime, isn't it? It's time for another post about it. Have you already read the first one I published in March? If you're looking for original ideas to use in your class you should definitely take a look at it.

'Plants' are another trending topic during this season and also a good excuse to teach eco-friendly habits!

I introduced the subject using, of course, a book illustrated by Eric Carle: The Tiny Seed.

It's kind of a long story for the short attention span of my preschoolers, so I had to illustrate a shorter version of it with finger paint. I selected 8 scenes and kind of rewrote it using repetitive patterns and questions  to keep the children's attention.

The best part? When they saw the giant flower, taller than the house and the trees.
They all screamed stuff like '¡Alá! ¡¡¡Es gigante!!!' 

I don't know if I've ever told you this, but I usually read a story twice, because the second time, since they remember some parts of if and already know some of the key words, they are more attentive and interactive.

Then, we learnt The Flowers Growing Song, to feel like a tiny seed!!! 

OK, the kinesthetic learning style is one of my favorites. I admit it.

Then, we took a much closer look at the different parts of a flower using this puzzle on page 8 of this Garden Pack 2, and we play with this fun game, on pages 9 and 10 of this other Garden Pack, that teaches children what a plant needs to grow

The 3 packs (the link to the first one is in the previous post) are full of ideas and activities. If you have a lot of time to spend with your kids--that's not my case--I warmly recommend you make the most of them.

Finally, I gave them a precious gift: a little transparent bag with 3 sunflower seeds to plant at home.

They were all very impressed.

More activities about plants and gardening here and here.

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Popsicle Shapes

'Shapes' is a well known topic when you teach EFL but there's certainly more beyond the 6 or 7 nouns that we usually teach.

Since this year I decided that my Spanish students can learn almost as much as a native speaker in terms of content, I've been designing my classes in a totally different and definitely more interesting way.

One lucky day I came across this page and I had a sort of an epiphany, because popsicle sticks is one of those things that I've always seen in the supply shop where I buy stuff for the classes, but I couldn't imagine a 'real use' for them.

When I say 'real use' I mean that children can use them.

Finally I got one possible answer and this is what I came up with. 

If you follow my FB page you'd have noticed that it took me the whole month of March to complete the activity, but don't worry! It's not a slow and painful process, it's just that I don't have too much free time. Perhaps, a whole afternoon (3 or 4 hours) available would be enough.

Using them with the kids I noticed that it's important to show a picture of the shape you want your students to reproduce in order to point out the number of sides of that same shape.

Around that simple concept of sides you'll be able to work on everything else. Take a look at the picture above for some ideas.

After that, you can leave your children free to create whatever shape they like (irregular ones too) and keep working by themselves on adding sticks and talk about their creations.

More about shapes here and here

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