Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

First Day Teaching English

First Day of Teaching English in Thailand


The first day of teaching English at a Thai school is intimidating. With a 120-hour TESOL course behind me and no prior teaching experience, I dove in head-first. The only administrative guidance I had was a piece of paper with my class schedule and a “good luck!” by my department head. No curriculum, no lesson plan, no worries. Right?

First Day of Teaching English in Thailand

One of my Mathayom 3 (9th grade) classes acting a fool.

For most ESL teachers, the first week of teaching English is just an introduction week. Since you’ll likely teach each class of students once per week, the same lesson plan is retaught all week. For the first meeting with each class, the school won’t expect you to jump right in to a strict lesson guideline. Your only job is to show up and keep each of your classes engaged and speaking English for 50 minutes. Sounds easy enough.

The hardest part about teaching English is getting the students to actually speak English. Thai students are just so darn shy. They have no problem talking to each other during class, but when you ask one of them a question in English, their eyes widen and they freeze up. That’s where improvisation comes into play. If one method isn’t working, you’ve got to change it – fast. Adaptability is key.


Thai students have hilarious nicknames

All Thai people have nicknames. Adults and kids alike have an alias that’s much shorter than their full name, partially for convenience. Many of their nicknames are short English words. If you opt to teach abroad, you’ll likely be given a roster with the student’s full names, and a space to write each of their nicknames next to it.

Here’s where it gets awesome. Most Thai nicknames are short and simple like Gap, Tom, Milk, Meow, etc. But sometimes, Thai student’s nicknames are out-of-this-world funny. Having a class roster provides ample opportunity to revel at loads of hilarious nicknames. Check out this class roster…

Teaching English

This is one of my colleague’s class rosters.


Looking at her roster for the first time, Ann, my colleague, asked a Thai teacher in our office, “Is this name a joke? Pooping?” The totally straight-faced Thai teacher responded “No. It’s Poo PING.” Emphasis on the Ping. Okay, that’s a little more bearable.

Improvisation is essential for teaching English

The best trait a teacher can have is the ability to improvise, especially on the first day. And especially if your school doesn’t provide a curriculum. Each class’ English language ability is going to vary widely. You’ll inevitably need to change it slightly for every class you teach. For your first day of class, it’s helpful to have a brief introduction lesson plan in your back pocket, then you can make adjustments on the fly.

First Day Teaching English

When they see a camera, Thai students immediately strike a perfect pose. You can’t teach that. It’s genetic.

“My name is Kevin. I am from America. My favorite hobbies are sports, reading books, and listening to music. My favorite sport is basketball. Once, I scored 25 points in one game. I’ll never forget that game! I try to play like Michael Jordan because I think he’s the best basketball player ever. I like Thai food, but my favorite food is steak. Dogs are my favorite animal. In America, I have a pet dog named Ozzie. I taught him two tricks: roll over & sit. Ozzie is a very good dog.”

You’d wanna punch me in the face if I read that story aloud to you. But when English isn’t your first language, that shit’s challenging! By day three, I must’ve read that story aloud a thousand times. But what ensued was pure awesomeness. The students in each of my classes viciously competed with each other to answer questions about specific details from the story.

The team with the most points at the end of class was the winner, and they made sure the whole school could hear. They mercilessly taunted the other, inferior teams with loud chants that, funny enough, were in English. All while getting high-fived by yours truly. I’d say that’s a pretty awesome winning prize.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. When I taught French one of the most fun and productive ways i got the kids to use French was to act out fairy tales — like the Three Bears, etc. Their inhibitions went away when they focused on “acting.” Maybe there are some Thai fairy tales. Sounds like you are off to a great start!!!

    • That’s a great idea! Many Thai kids are familiar with American fairy tales and super heroes. I’ll definitely try to incorporate some familiar stories into role playing and acting in class.

  2. Felt like I was in the classroom with you! The content is informative and interesting… but the way you kept wandering off and then coming back to your theme is just an engaging piece of writing. I look forward to each and every new Post. Bet those young Thai girls can hardly wait to attend your English class!

  3. Hi, I am Thai and just start my volunteer teaching career here in Thailand this semester as well. Reading your make me feel like I am not alone on this bumpy road. : ) Enjoy teaching!

  4. Hey, I have just done my first day of teaching in Thailand and it was an absolute car crash! I wasn’t told I’d be teaching, just that I was going in for a meeting and teaching from Friday… This morning however, I was handed a syllabus and told to just teach what I like, The ability level appears to be very low, but I’m not sure if this might be partly down to shyness.. I’ve spent my entire day getting the children to say their name, tell me where they live and how old they are (whilst sweating profusely under pressure!) Your idea sounds absolutely brilliant, but can I still use that if I’ve already met my class I wonder?? Will they start to see me for the novice that I clearly am! 🙂 Any suggestions for blagging my first week and getting a sense of what the kids already know would be great, as my English department can’t speak English!? Wish me luck!

    • “Any suggestions for blagging my first week”
      Really? You do not deserve to be put in front of a class. I have been an ESL teacher for 15 years and have never ‘blagged’ anything. Lesson planning and organisation is the only way forward.

    • Emma – I know this was from ages ago but I hope you did survive your first week/term/year of teaching! I am an experienced EFL teacher (I have both the CELTA and Delta and have taught for 8 years). I have just started a short term teaching job in a high school in Thailand and I am exhausted already even though it`s only the second week! Big big learning curve for me too as I had never taught big groups of kids before. Hopefully you ignored the nasty comment below!!

  5. Great post! This pretty much sums up exactly how my first day went, with the exception of being at an all boys mathayom school. They are such good sports though that it was a lot of fun. I feel like most days I am just there to entertain my students rather than teach them.

    My all time favorite student nicknames that I’ve had are ‘Shutter’ and ‘Dumbbell’. Seriously hilarious!

  6. I enjoyed reading your post. I am giving informal English lessons to the trainers at the Muay Thai gym I train at. Looking for any help I can get as I did not take any teaching English as a second language classes. Thanks for your insight.

  7. opps she is lucky , hope you could help me either ;(

  8. You said the hardest part is getting the students to speak English. Sure they can be shy, but sometimes the hardest part is getting them to listen, especially when you have 40-50 students in a room. Do you think the TESOL was directly beneficial to your preparation? Regardless it looks like you did a really good job.

  9. Hi! You mentioned that you took the 120 hours TESOL. Are you a graduate of a Bachelor degree or Bachelor of Education? Because I’m planning also to teach but I’m not yet graduate. I’m wondering that maybe If I take the TESOL, I can be qualified to teach. 🙂

  10. Hi, Great insight. I am teaching in south Thailand now and love it. It is nothing like your experience. We have full curriculms, super Thai staff and very helpful managment, teacher trainers and lead teachers. Our school EPAMC or Srithammarat Suksa is great. I think I will share you blog with other teachers here so we will all know how good we have it and how much fun you had.If anyone is ready to come to Thailand I can not recomend Epamc enough. So much fun.

  11. Taught in Thailand for 8 years. You’re right, Thai kids can be a bit shy at first, but man, once they get going it’s hard to get them to stop. Now Japanese kids, crickets.

  12. I’m planning on teaching English next year in Thailand after I complete my online TEFL. Thanks for sharing your insights on your first day of teaching.

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