Teacher Tuesday: Biography cubes

Biography cubes lesson idea
Completed biography cubes.

An excellent activity for any classes studying within the topic Talking about other people which seems to crop up in any TEFL textbook I have had thrust on me.  I have used this lesson multiple times with various classes and it has always been really successful.

Students choose their favourite celebrity and complete a worksheet with five basic sections;

What is his/her name?  Where was he/she born?

What does he/she look like?

What is his/her personality like?

What are his/her likes and dislikes?

Write three sentences about your chosen celebrity.

The sixth section requires a printed photograph of the celebrity.  Six sections = 1 section for each side of the biography cube you will be making!

If you have internet access this can be completed in class, but I preferred to do an example on the board and set it for homework.

Once the worksheet is completed and the students have a photograph, use the cube template and write the information from the sections on the cube (1 section = 1 side), sticking the photograph on the sixth side.

Et voilas!  Biography cubes!  I like to hang them from the back of the classroom (to show them off and also to stop them getting damaged).

The concept of using a 3D paper cube to display work can easily be adapted to fit within plenty of topics; it’s a nice creative way to explore an otherwise dry subject.  Have a go yourself and let me know all about it in the comments below.

This is part of a weekly feature on the Cornish Kylie blog.  If you have a lesson idea you would like to share, please get in touch!


TEFL FAQs: Getting a working visa for Thailand (Part 1)

What kind of visa do I need to work in Thailand?  How do I get a working visa before I leave my country?  Can I arrive on a tourist visa and change to a working visa?  These are some of the questions that I am asked time and time again.  I am no visa expert but I am able to tell you how I got my visa.  I have had to split this into two parts as I have now had two very different visa experiences.

Part 1 – Gaining a non-immigrant B visa in my home country

Part 2 – Changing from a tourist to a non-immigrant B visa – AKA the visa run

Read on for part one…

TEFL FAQ visa part 1

When I first decided to come to Thailand, I signed up to a TEFL programme that promised to hold my hand every inch of the way, from the interview right through to job placement and beyond.  This meant that the visa process was completely issue free for me, I just had to send the right documents with the correct form and it was all sorted before I had got on the plane at Heathrow.

A letter (in both English and Thai) confirming my upcoming employment was provided by the TEFL agency, and together with my passport, degree certificate and transcripts and police check, this was enough to get my non-immigrant B visa in my home country, trough the Royal Thai Consulate in Hull.  Aside from the wait, and the ever so slight worry that the good old Royal Mail were going to lose my documents, it was a completely stress free process.

That isn’t the end of the process however.  You are usually issued an initial 3 month non-B visa which you then need to get extended to the full length of time required (up to one year).  To do this you need to get a work permit.  Luckily for me I was was with a teaching agency who once again arranged most of this for me.  I had to provide them with a copy of my teaching contract, my TEFL certificate and I had to go and have a 20 baht medical check which consisted of the doctor asking me in broken English if I had any diseases, to which I said no, and was on my way.  Once I had my work permit in hand, I was able to go to immigration in the city I was living in and was granted an extension of stay, extending my initial three month visa to an almost-full year (up until the end of my contract).

OK, so I have my visa, I have my work permit.  I’m done!

Not quite, that still isn’t the end of the process.  In fact, the process doesn’t ever really end…

Once you have your work permit and your non-B visa has been extended to enable you to stay working in country until the end of your contract, you are now required by law to report at immigration every 90 days (note: some people on non-B visas have to leave Thailand and come back every 90 days – check which you have).  This has to be done on a work day and so involves arranging a morning off (some schools will do this all for you if they have a big cohort of foreign teachers and a member of HR staff who understands the visa process – I wasn’t quite so lucky).  You just have to go in to immigration and fill out a form confirming your address, and they staple a piece of paper into your passport confirming that you have reported.  It’s just to keep tabs on your whereabouts and to make sure that you are still in the city you are supposed to be working in.

You may have noticed that throughout this whole process, I didn’t have to leave Thailand.  But what about the infamous visa runs that teachers are always going on?  That is because I had my visa approved in my home country and was lucky enough to have my work permit issued and my visa extended before the initial three months granted were up.  Some are not so lucky.  Some come into the country on tourist visas and then have to leave the country to apply for a non-B once they gain employment (in fact, it is possible to have your visa changed over if you go in person to immigration in Bangkok and you have a contact with the know-how – so this rarely happens).  Some don’t get their work permit sorted in time and have to leave and come back on a tourist visa and start the whole process over again.

Every situation for each person can pan out differently and this is just my experience.  What I would say is common among many is that the process can take a while, so it is most definitely recommended to arrive in Thailand with some sort of visa – whether that is a pre-approved non-B like I had, or a 60 day tourist visa – don’t arrive with nothing and think that you will have everything sorted within the 30 day visa exemption you are granted on arrival – it probably isn’t enough time and with the current clampdown on visa runs you might have a pretty stressful time sorting it out.  Save yourself the worry!

If you have any more questions, here are some useful websites that may be of help;

For UK residents applying for a visa in your home country – The Royal Thai Consulate, Hull

For more information on different types of visa in Thailand – The Thai Embassy English language website

For discussions on visa issues check out Thai Visa – but be warned, some of the forum users are bitter old expats who are angry at everyone and everything – you have been warned.

Check back for Part 2 – Changing from a tourist to a non-immigrant B visa – AKA the visa run.

Teacher Tuesday: first lesson introductions

Teacher Tuesday returns after taking a six week summer break.  So it’s back to school for me and back to sharing some teacher tidbits each Tuesday.

As a student I always got excited when that back to school feeling started to creep up and I’m still the same now.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate my six week break but six weeks is a long time to have no structure or daily routine.  I’m definitely glad to be getting back in the classroom!

As I am gearing up for the first day back at school tomorrow (who starts on a Wednesday?  I supose it eases us back in with a nice 3 day week) I thought I would share some of the things I have done in the past in those first introductory lessons.  These are perfect little ice breakers to introduce yourself to the class and break down any awkwardness or shyness.

Introducing the teacher

Name Hangman

A nice simple activity to create some mystery and introduce yourself.  I do this with every brand new ESL class I have, and I execute it in the same way.  Once all the class are seated and settled down, I don’t speak (this seems to add a level of mystery and excitement…)  I turn to the board and I mark out _ _ _ _ _ on the board.  I don’t even introduce the fact that I’m playing hangman.  I like to leave it to the class to figure it out as it gives me a chance to observe how they work, who takes charge etc.  Usually they will recognise the game format and will start suggesting letters.  For the odd class who didn’t get it, I would write “My name is…” above the lines, and then they would cotton on.

The great thing about this for me is as I have quite an unusual name, they are guessing right up until the end.  Actually, even when all five letters are up there, they are still guessing how to pronounce my name, which always ends up being pronounced Kylieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee for the rest of the school year.

All About Me

Students love to hear all about your life, especially in the ESL environment as your life is seen as glamorous and exotic.  The good thing about working abroad is I feel like I can give more personal information about my family and home, than I could if I was in my home country.

Another activity I do in every first lesson is I show a slideshow of pictures all about me, my family, my home etc.  If there isn’t a projector I have taken my iPad and walked around with it.  Again, I try to not talk very much, and try to elicit as much language from the students as I can.  This is really helpful to guage the level of previous knowledge and what topics they have covered.

They love seeing photographs of my family home, my car, the town I come from (especially a picture of it after a snowfall).  Most of the time when I show them a picture of the Union Jack (Great Britain’s flag) they have no idea what country I come from, but if I show St. George’s Cross (England’s flag) all the boys start shouting out ROONEY or GERRARD and suddenly they are all too aware of what country I come from!  And then the ubiquitous question that seemingly all Thai students can ask regardless of their English language level; “Football team?”  – always have a football team, don’t disappoint them!  I usually ask who they support and lo and behold, that’s my team too!  So far I have supported Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea… I don’t even watch football!

Getting to know the students

The Sun Always Shines On

For this to work, students need to be able to speak some English, and the teacher will  need to tailor the game accordingly.

Clear a large space in the room and make a circle of chairs (one less than the amount of students) and a chair in the centre of the circle.  I usually start with myself in the centre of the circle to demonstrate.

Everyone sits on a chair.  The person in the middle says “The sun always shines on…” and then something about them that they may have in common with other people e.g “…people with long hair.”  All people with long hair have to get out of their chair and change places with someone else who has stood up.  Meanwhile the person in the middle tries to take the place of someone standing, leaving someone different in the middle, and the game continues.

This game is great for finding out about students and for them to find out about each other.  And they get to run across the room and fight over chairs, which is always fun.

Human Bingo

This game is excellent when the students are new to each other.  You need to prepare some grids with questions in them and space for signatures – here’s an example of one I have used before;

human bingo

Students need to walk around the classroom asking each other the questions.  When they encounter a student who answers ‘yes’ to a question, they ask the student their name and write it in the space of the box containing that question.  I always say that students can only use one person once.

Prizes can be given for getting a line, or you can wait for someone to fill all of their boxes.  Get students to shout BINGO when they have filled all their boxes.

What I like to do then is call up all of the students whose names are in the boxes on the sheet, asking them the question and getting them to prove it if they can.

Some more useful links

A nice round up of first lesson activities from Education World.

Over 200 back to school activities and worksheets on Busy Teacher.

Articles, lesson plans and activities for the first day over at TEFLtastic blog.

Check out wilderdom.com for hundreds of ice breakers and warm ups – this website was my go-to when I was a youth worker.

Hopefully these activities have inspired you to make your first lessons fun and memorable.  If you have any first lesson tips or tricks, leave them in the comments below!


This is part of a weekly feature – Teacher Tuesday – make sure you come back next week for another lesson idea.  If you have an idea to share as part of Teacher Tuesday feel free to get in touch.  


Mixed up Mixtape: back to school

It’s that time of year again.  Summer is drawing to a close and it’s time to go back to school.  As a teacher, I get to relive those back to school feelings every year.  Be it excitement to see friends again, anxiety of upcoming tests, the pure agony of those early, early mornings or sadness at the end of another summer; these are some of the tracks that will be helping me ease myself back into school life.

The Cure – Last Day of Summer

Time to mourn the end of the summer holidays, wave goodbye to late mornings and lazy days.  It’s term time baby.  Set that 6am alarm and don’t press snooze.  OK, you can press snooze but only once.

Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays

Actually, this song is pretty much applicable throughout the year.  Monday mornings are the hardest.  I have to drag myself out of bed and I’m still not awake after a shower or coffee.  Usually by Monday lunchtime I’m starting to become human, until then it’s Zombie Teacher survival mode.

Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive

It’s not only the early mornings, the start of term sees the to-do list multiply with planning and printing and laminating and cutting and, and, and… sometimes I just have to remind myself in full Gloria Gaynor karaoke style that I CAN and WILL do it.

Jack Black – School of Rock

We can all dream of being that life changing teacher who manages to bring together the students to overcome life’s barriers.  Aaaand we can keep dreaming.  It’s nice though, and for the first few weeks, or maybe even months, the cloud of positivity remains around my head until it starts to drift away…

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)

Because lets face it, what can we really achieve when we are all part of a system?  We’re just cogs in the machine…  OK so I’m definitely not that pessimistic at all but I had to squeeze this song in, obviously.

Usually I only choose five songs but I just had to get this last one in as a bonus track;

The Replacements – F*ck School

For those harder, more challenging days.  Thrash it out!  And sing along at full volume!  Best save this one for when you get home though….


As usual I am inviting you to share your mixtape within this week’s theme.  Make sure you put a link back to this post so I can see it, and use the tag: mixed up mixtape.  And a special thanks to those who contributed last week!

Missed last week’s mixtape?  Listen to it here.