Private lesson phenomenon

Here comes a really general opinion: People in the U.S don’t take private foreign language classes. At least not in such amounts that we could supply so much work for Spanish speaking people that they’d have to start rejecting offers to go to people’s houses to talk and play with their children for an hour in Spanish. Or any other language….

Not knowing how far 700 euros could take me per month living on my own in Spain with the desire to travel and go to Zara every other day, I was counting on having two or so private lessons to keep me afloat because I heard that was common. Two is common if you do absolutely nothing and live in a cave. I have 14 extra students (some meet in 2’s) and I’ve rejected MANY because I don’t have time and I like to eat and sleep on occasion. That’s not including the Academy I teach at four days a week.

I’m not trying to sound like I’m all that and a bag of chips, it’s just to show the insane desire of how many people want to, and are learning English over here.


This means I spend a lot of my free time thinking up dorky things to do and read with all of these over achievers. HA HA.

Some are over achievers, and some are obviously forced by their parents to be with me because I have to think of so many games to trick them into speaking English. Sometimes it works.


Last year I had no idea what I was doing and with most of my classes I’d make them watch a video and then summarize it, or tell me about their weekend for a really long time, or describe their whole day from the moment they woke up in the past, present and future.


This year I came prepared, knowing more or less that the style of Spanish kids left a lot of creative thinking to be desired. I’d say that’s a big thing we have over other countries- maybe we aren’t as good at math as China, but I think that we are good at fostering creativity. I hope we don’t lose that trying to “compete.”

Anyways, here are some of my favorite ways that I force my students to stop being cool.  (In no particular order).


1. Scattergories (at least the dice)

I found the “coffee time” version of this game over the summer, and thought, “how perfect for travelling to bring over to my kiddos in Spain!”  ( I know, I know, I’m great).

Well some of the lists are quite hard, even for me when I’m feeling lazy. But, as soon as I tested out all of the ready made lists out with my students I started having us create our own lists together.

Then I just started rolling the dice and saying “write as many words as you know that start with that letter.”

Then sometimes I’d have them say a few of the words in a sentence.

More recently I had them try to use all the words they put down (from about 5 different letters) into one story.

Most of my games end in, “And now write a crazy story.”


2. Bananagrams 

I must thank the previous teachers of my students for opening my eyes to this game. It’s like scrabble, but without the board, and it’s in a banana! How much cooler could it get?

There are probably endless possibilities of what you can do with a bag of letters, and usually I just use it as a final activity where we each make our own crosswords.

It’s also fun to have each person take a turn putting one word in the middle and then trying to add onto it like the real Scrabble game.

With younger students I just let them see what words they can make. It’s good for the shy ones that don’t answer my questions directly because I can say, “show me what you had for breakfast in the letters (you little weirdo).”

It really helps with spelling so, I love it.


3. Mad Libs

I have good memories of this game being played at sleepovers when I was younger. We thought we were so crazy when it asked for a part of the body, and we’d put “Butt” or if it asked for the name of a person, we’d put the boy that we liked hoping the sentence would say something like, “And then Matt saw your butt and fell in love.” Obviously Mad libs also predicts the future!

For learning English it’s good because you can really test your students knowledge on the parts of speech…noun, verb, adverb. Luckily the mad libs comes with a refresher page of what each one means in simple terms and some examples.



4. M.A.S.H


This game CAN accurately predict your future. MASH stands for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House, and depending on how many seconds the person waits to say “stop” as you hover your pen over each one, they will then know where they are going to live in the future.

You ask them to tell you 3 boys or girls they like (famous people count), 3 jobs they want, 3 pets, 3 cars, 3 cities they would live in etc. etc.

Sometimes you can add in your own secret 4th option that can make their future more interesting.

I couldn’t get enough of this game, on the bus to school, field trips, in class, sleepovers, camp….memories.

It’s a good game if you have 5-10 minutes left and don’t know what else to do.

5. Hangman 

I personally do not like this game a lot and I think it’s boring, but maybe as a kid I liked it and can’t remember because here they go crazy for it. Whenever I give them options of games we can play they choose this. Every time. Over everything….What. The. Heck.

At the very least it helps them with their alphabet, because I have many students who, although they may have great vocabularies, still do not know the alphabet in English.



6. 20 questions 

This is good practice with forming questions. You just tell your student that you are thinking of a person, a place, a thing, whatever, and then they ask you questions to figure out what it is.

You can also do this by putting post its on each others fore heads that say the person, place or thing. Then you at least look ridiculous which is always nice.

7. Fold over story 

Another way to make a crazy story. Someone chooses a person to write about and writes their name on a piece of paper, and then folds the paper so that their name is a secret. Then the next person writes one sentence of a story, folds it over and passes it. You go back and forth until you reach the end of the page, and then unfold it to discover who the story is about. It’s a hoot.


8. Read a boring article

Then they’ll think your games are pretty fun.


Those are all the games I can think of that I do at the moment. As a teacher I love sharing, and I like it when other people do too. It’s just up to you in what way you present it. Hopefully with a smile because even though your students may not smile back I think it just makes the hour go by less painfully.






  1. Hey Emma, I like your “fold over” game, but if you want to be really “teachery” you can tell you students that the game is really called “exquisite corpse”! It was a poetry game started by the surrealists, early 1900’s. they would hold salons and were probably all drunk or high, and they liked the idea of randomness so,this game was started. Supposedly the first time it was played the first three words were “the exquisite corpse”. Of course they were in France, but I’m sure Picasso and a few other Spanish artists must have played it at one time or another. Google it if you want more info. I love this game and play it as a drawing game with my kiddos. Keep blogging!

  2. Bahaha, private lessons. I came with loads of money saved up and only gave two hours of class that first year. The next year I was broke, and doing the lessons was the best way to work on my own schedule, get invitations to casetas during the Feria and make extra cash. In fact, I’ve mentioned it to my funcionario boyfriend!

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