Following a recent job interview, I was invited to give a demo lesson. As is mostly the case, I suppose, the hiring staff are going to pose as students. The school did not give any specific instructions except that it should be between 10 and 15 minutes. By asking, I found out that competence levels of starting students range between A2 and B1 (CEFR).

The way I see it, I have two options: either to fully address a simple theme that could lend itself to being taught in 15 minutes; or to partially tackle a more complex topic. At first I was leaning toward the latter, because it would allow the committee to decide how successful I am at breaking down complexity. A much more experienced teacher than I am also advised me to take this route: ‘If I was a hiring manager, I would definitely give you extra points for not choosing something simple.’ I was thinking of doing the difference between the present perfect simple and past simple. But then I thought that such a lesson would have to assume the students are comfortable with a wider range of structures (Affirmative, interrogative and negative structures of both the PP simple and past simple; irregular verbs; WH-questions, strong and weak forms …). It would not go well if, after the lesson, each time the committee asked me why I did not address a certain point, I responded by saying I ‘assumed’ the students had already learnt it.

Now, I am considering going with the first option. I am thinking I could do some/any, gone/been, should/shouldn’t … These subjects require much less background knowledge and can fit a 15-minute time frame.

Here are my questions:

  1. If you were in my place, which option would you go for?

  2. Could you suggest some additional topics?

Any general advice would also be highly appreciated.

Many thanks,


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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about teaching, not the English language, and would probably be better off on a different SE site. – ColleenV Sep 13 '14 at 20:47
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    @ColleenV Actually, the consensus is that pedagogy questions are on-topic for ELL. – 200_success Sep 13 '14 at 22:21
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    Since this is a demo, and your interviewers did not specifically stipulate the experience level of your intended audience you can give a demo at any skill level you like as long as you preface your demo with the a statement like: This is an example of subject I might teach to a class with <such and such> level of experience" But I'd also make sure that that level of experience is one that you anticipate at least some your students to have if you were to get the job. – Jim Sep 13 '14 at 23:38
  • Exactly. If I am way off about the actual competence level of starting students at the institution, it can only be interpreted as a weakness. Furthermore, after asking them they told it would be 'preferable' to plan a lesson with an A2-B1 cohort in mind. – samizdat Sep 13 '14 at 23:58

What is the class size for which you are interviewing? I assume that the committee won’t be much more than five people. In this case I would say that your lesson should be designed for a five person classroom. A smaller class size gives you some flexibility to adapt a lesson to the relative skills of the students.

To this end, I would recommend my tutoring philosophy: start ambitiously and be well prepared to adjust. A discussion of the differences between PP simple and past simple is sufficiently ambitious. It has been my experience that the students will most clearly show their deficiencies when required to draw from previous lesson concepts. If you begin your discussion and find that students are completely confused about irregular verbs, then change your lesson to reflect that.

With this strategy you shouldn’t get attached to finishing the original lesson within the 15 minutes. Discovering debilitating lapses of knowledge that must be addressed is part of being a teacher. Never say that you “assumed” that students already learned a certain point. Merely say that you chose the most efficient way to discover student proficiency and knowledge holes, and then went about patching those holes. In a normal classroom you attempt to teach the curriculum in the allotted time. If lack of fundamentals on the part of the students forces you to adjust a little bit, then adjust.

I recognize that the strategy stated above might be the completely wrong way to go about it, depending on the context of the job. A 15 minute discussion that perfectly explains low-reaching fruit might be just what the job requires. However, I would much prefer to hire a teacher that knows how to adapt when concepts get tough and students have knowledge deficiencies.

Most of all, explain your reasoning! Don’t leave the committee wondering why you did something. They might assume you missed something for which you in fact accounted.

  • Thanks so much for your reply, John. At first, I wanted to go for the tougher-to-reach fruit. There being no actual students, however, makes determining knowledge gaps rather difficult. I know the committee could act that out, but then they might not, and 15 minutes would not suffice to address them. I actually suggested that instead of a 15-minute lesson, I could explain the rationale behind each segment of one or two lesson plans and describe my experience with them, but they told me I could do this during the Q&A. Now, I am thinking of addressing a topic in L1-interference. – samizdat Sep 13 '14 at 20:42
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    Seems like a good plan. It is hard for me, as an outsider observer, to know they best route to take in your particular situation. It seems like one of those things in life where you figure out what "the person" wants (AKA the committee), and give them exactly what they want. Good luck! – John Kraemer Sep 13 '14 at 20:47
  • I actually happen to agree with your educational philosophy. It is easier to scale back than to scale up. In some cases, however, students might be repelled by this approach. Thanks again. I would have accepted your answer, but I will leave it open just so that more people could weigh in. Good luck to you, too :) – samizdat Sep 13 '14 at 20:54

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