An Interview with Dan Leary, author of Explosive Conversational Activities


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Daniel Leary is the author of ‘Explosive Conversational Activities: Survival Guide for ESL Teachers’, tried and tested communicative activities designed to excite, engage and interest all ESL learners. Get a copy here and bring your classroom to life!

GS: Can you tell us how you first heard about teaching abroad and what made you decide on China?

DL: I was a navy officer in Australia and started working at a supply school at one of the bases for a short period of time. In this role I was actioned with a few tasks that were teaching related and this is where I started to imagine a life as a teacher.

I enjoyed the idea of travelling as part of my job in the Navy, however the job lacked the freedom I wanted. This was the light bulb moment when I realized I could do both as an ESL teacher. Shortly after this I was on my way to China. I chose China because it has a rich history and loads of spectacular locations you can hike and photograph.

GS: You have been working in the ESL industry for 10 years now. Can you give us an overview on the jobs you have had over the years?
DL: My teaching career began in Wenzhou a city close to Shanghai in China. I was lucky enough to be recruited by none other than Jim Althans and then work for him in this school in Wenzhou as he was the DoS. He helped develop my love of teaching and created an amazing atmosphere for the expats at the school. It was also where I met my amazing wife. I was supposed to only stay in China for 6 months. It’s 10 years on now and I don’t see myself heading home anytime soon.

After a few years in Wenzhou I made my way to a language school in Shenzhen near Hong Kong. I loved the weather, beaches, hiking and overall green environment. I was shortly promoted to Senior Teacher and then soon after DoS. I stayed in Shenzhen for 3 years and loved my life there!

Next my wife and I headed to Sydney Australia where I began working at inner city primary schools, teaching for a few years. I learnt a lot in Sydney about how to teach ESL students in mainstream classes. We were there for a few years and my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter Maddie. Although we loved Sydney we still couldn’t get enough of the good life overseas, so we applied for international teaching jobs and got teaching positions in Beijing.

I have been at this international school in Beijing for 3 years now and was promoted after the first year to Head of Language and Learning (HoD of L&L). My role involves training and supporting teachers so they can teach ESL learners effectively in their classes. We love Beijing, The Great Wall is my favourite place here and I have been to see it many times. The only way to describe it is jaw dropping and I even camped under it with my students last year.

GS: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about teaching English in China?
DL: My advice would be to take a risk and be bold! It could be the best decision you have ever made, however, like anything in life you only get out what you put in! If you have the opportunity to go overseas and teach, then you should take it. Even if it is only for a few years, the experiences you have will last you a lifetime. Opportunity only knocks once!

GS: You are currently working as Lower School Head of Language & Learning at Harrow Beijing, what does this job involve and what do you like about it?
DL: As I mentioned previously I am the HoD of L&L for ESL to over 25 international primary school teachers from all over the world. Other than my class teacher role my main responsibility as HoD is to train and educate staff about teaching EAL learners. My training for this was developed as an English teacher overseas together with my professional development in mainstream schools in Sydney.

What do I like about my job? I like being able to teach and help teachers grow. It is such a rewarding job and there is great satisfaction watching a student grow and improve due to your influence. I have also been able to develop my teaching career. ESL really opens a lot of doors. Recently I jointly organized and led an international teaching conference here in Beijing, educating teachers from around the world about strategies for teaching ESL students in mainstream classes.

GS: Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to write “Explosive Conversational Activities”, what it contains and who it is for?
DL: I began working on the book whilst I was living and working as a teacher in Sydney. During the summer holidays I worked part time in a famous Italian Language school, teaching English to Italian students that travelled to Sydney to study English and travel. I wrote a spoken English course based on everything I had learnt thus far for this school.

The goal was to make English lessons engaging and interactive. With an aim to provide a framework so students could practice their English through role plays and other fun activities. Students on holidays are the hardest to teach. Making the lessons fun, engaging and allowing them to take risks was the key to success. All these lessons are in my book.

The lessons in the book all come with resources ready to go and put the student at the centre of their learning so they can practice their spoken English in a fun and sometimes hilarious way! The activities are suitable for adults, teenagers and even younger students. The book is a spoken English program, but the lessons and activities can obviously be used as warmers in any classroom. I have even used some of these lessons with my current students here in Beijing and they loved them!

New or experienced teachers should buy the book. It provides students a framework for practicing their spoken English. But more than that it helps motivate and engage students so that they enjoy practicing their spoken English. This makes the teachers’ job easier and way more fun!

GS: When you are not working, how do you spend your time in Beijing and do you have any exciting plans for this year?
DL: I’ve been getting into photography a lot lately. The hutongs in the city and the amazing scenery around The Great Wall make for stunning photos and an interesting day out. I also do a lot of trail running around Beijing near Fragrant Hills and have a 30km trail run coming up in Hebei this May, so I have been training for that recently.

We are also expecting our second child in September which is awesome, making our expat family a little bit bigger! In general, everyday living overseas is an exciting one. I am constantly experiencing things for the first time. Living and working overseas really does broaden your mind and give you a new way of looking at the world and yourself. I recommend it for sure!

Daniel Leary is the author of ‘Explosive Conversational Activities: Survival Guide for ESL Teachers’, tried and tested communicative activities designed to excite, engage and interest all ESL learners. Get a copy here and bring your classroom to life!


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