Cecilia Nobre ELT Blog

Home » Professional Development » Twenty Practical and Affordable Tips for Professional and Language Development for Freelance Teachers

Twenty Practical and Affordable Tips for Professional and Language Development for Freelance Teachers


I’ve been teaching English in Rio de Janeiro for 17 years (wow, I feel O-L-D!) and I decided to work “solo” 6 years ago. Some freelance teachers might have a feeling they don’t belong to a community; after all, there isn’t a staffroom to hang around in for a chinwag or coffee, or no teachers’ or parents’ meetings – which can lead to lack of motivation for professional and language development (PD), right?

“Why bother with Professional Development if I have my private students and charge whatever I want?”

 Here are some reasons:

1.You are indeed part of a huge community, a huge staffroom – just see how many fellow teachers you can connect and collaborate with on Facebook and Twitter, for instance.

2.We teachers should evolve – English does, and so do our students. What makes you believe you don’t need to learn the language and find opportunities to be the best that you can be?

3.If you want to stop the auction culture among some private students (“I’m going to hire teacher X because they charge 3 times less than teacher Y”) you should stand out from the crowd and look for professional development opportunities.

4.We are lifelong learners – as cliché as it might sound, learning never ceases.

I have compiled 20 practical and free of charge tips on how to find professional development ideas as well as language development ideas for freelance teachers (they actually work for any EFL/ESL teacher!)
Disclaimer: Some tips do require a sort of investment, but they are generally pretty affordable.

Part 1: Professional Development tips

  1. Read teaching blogs 

There are amazing teachers out there who write their own blogs or who collaborate with others. They usually share lesson plan ideas, tips on how to teach certain age groups, goals, and topics to debate. Some names to look out for are Luiz Otávio Barros, Lizzi Pinard, Ricardo Barros, Rachel Roberts, Sandy Millin, Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul.

    2. Read specialized magazines

 Reading might give you further motivation to reflect on your experiences inside and outside the classroom. 

Some free ELT magazines are BrazTesol Newsletters ( printed version if you are in Brazil), EFL magazine, Humanizing Teaching magazine, Voices Magazine by the British Council.

   3. Read an essential ELT/ Applied Linguistics book

A bit of theory does wonders for our practice. It goes without saying but some of the big names in ELT are Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer, Penny Ur, Jim Scrivener.

   4. Join a #Twitter #Chat

You can join weekly Twitter chats by using different hashtags. The best ones, in my opinion, are #ELTchat and #eltchinwag. The conversations are based on various ELT topics chosen by us (that includes you if you join Twitter!)

    5. Write a blog

That’s a good way to engage with a wider ELT community as well as finding your voice in the industry. 

   6. Learn another language

One of the most effective ways of reflecting on our own practice is putting ourselves in our  students’ shoes. What I most like about learning Czech is that I step out of my comfort zone – and this is where learning happens.

    7. Give a talk or a webinar 

Become a member of your local or national Teachers’ Association and show interest in giving a talk at their next conference. If you are looking for online opportunities, you must check out  EFLtalks. Discuss a topic on which you are passionate and have worked on and share your insight with the world. 

    8. Engage in Facebook groups 

Exchange ideas, meet other teachers, make questions, engage in conversations on ELT issues. You can check out BrELT and Private English Teachers Reloaded

    9. Observe a colleague’s lesson

Ask a friend you trust and admire to watch their lessons, take notes and discuss this with them. 

   10. Reflect on a given lesson

Reflect and change if necessary. If possible, record your lesson ( always ask for your students’ authorization) and watch it later. 

   11. Attend conferences,Online Courses and webinars

There are a great number of webinars and online courses free of charge ( Coursera  and FutureLearn, to name a few). Besides that, become a member of local and national Teachers’ Associations and check their calendars for conferences and talks. They can be transformational. 

   12. Subscribe to ELT YouTube channels

Lots of teachers forget about or just overlook this amazing facility when watching YouTube channels. Most ELT publishers are on YouTube. Most ELT publishers are on Youtube : Macmillan, Oxford, Cambridge, The New School, TESOL Academic, TEFL Equity Advocates and IATEFLtalks.

   13. Subscribe to ESL Teachers’ YouTube channels

It is refreshing to see what other English teachers are doing on YouTube. I highly recommend Papateachme, Engvid, BBC learning English, London Language Lab and Jamie Keddie.

  14. Connect to educators you look up to on Twitter

Most of the ELT specialists are on Twitter and they are quite approachable and friendly. Who knows you’re lucky enough to be followed by Scott Thornbury ( yes, you can tell I’m one of his biggest fans!). 


Part 2 : Language Development for teachers

  15. Hire a private teacher or attend group classes

If psychologists need to do therapy, why can’t we hire tutors or attend English classes? Search for a qualified and experienced teacher who truly understands and meets your linguistic needs. Why not giving it a go?

   16. Study independently using a grammar book

If we expect our students to take ownership of their learning, we should be the first to set an example. I’ve recently bought The Teacher’s Grammar of English written by Ron Cowan (Cambridge). Other useful books are Idioms and Phrasal Verbs by Cambridge and Sound Foundations written by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan).

   17. Keep a lexical notebook

We hear and read new words, expressions and chunks all the time. Keep a record of them in a notebook  and revisit your notes each week. You can read more about it here and check out Natália Guerreiro’s Fanpage Vocab Notebook.

    18. Listen to non-ELT podcasts

This is a great listening practice – you just need to choose a topic of interest ( say you like indie music, fashion, technology and google it. I highly recommend A History of Ideas by BBC radio and hilarious My Dad Wrote a Porno ( it’s not what you think, I promise!)

  19. Subscribe to non-ELT YouTube channels

YouTube subscriptions are usually overlooked by teachers but they are so valuable. Just pick up your favourite topics and look for them on YouTube. As a subscriber, you’ll receive an email each time there is a new video.

  20. Make new English speaking friends through Facebook and Twitter

Here you’ll kill two birds with one stone 🙂


How about you? What are your tips for professional and language development? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂


  1. ricbarros says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog, Cecilia. This is definitely an important topic to tackle. Teachers often shy away from PD because they assume it will cost them a lot of money (which is not true, as you have shown!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic tips Cecilia !! I was thinking about taking up Italian and your push was just what I needed, now lets make the time. Bjs

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cecilia, your compilation is so down-to-earth! Thanks so much for sharing your amazing tips. No doubt you’re helping our community become its best version. Kudos kiddo!!! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. PR says:

    A nice list! Thanks! One of the hardest things for me is keeping abreast of technology and digital resources. My students are always asking me to suggest apps and websites that they can use to practise their English. New apps, blogs, website etc pop up like mushrooms after the rain, so it is a constant struggle to keep up with them!

    One investment I certainly don’t regret is going to London for a few days to take a phonology course for teachers. When I originally did my certification (1999-2000), we almost ignored the whole topic of teaching pronunciation and I didn’t even know IPA when I started out. Now I include aspects of pronunciation in almost every lesson and I am much more confident about helping students with intelligibility issues.

    And one more suggestion for the list is “binome” teaching. Share your courses with other teachers. As you point out, it can be lonely as a freelance teacher. Observation is important but binome teaching means you actually have to work with another teacher: planning, teaching, assessment, feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this thorough comment, PR. Pronunciation is definitely important in CPD – out of curiosity, where in London did you do the phonology course for teachers you’ve mentioned?

      I liked the concept of binome teaching – I admit I had to Google it as I had never heard of it before. Collaboration is important and I guess binome teaching is like working with a mentor teacher, is that right? Great idea!


      • PR says:

        I did my course at the London Pronunciation Studio. It focused mainly on phonology and also looked at teaching pronunciation (especially how to use drilling effectively). It didn’t really address things like how to embed pron teaching in regular EFL lessons but that wasn’t the aim. I’ve been able to work on that myself especially now that I have a better knowledge of phonology and phonetics.

        The binome (pair) teaching is not necessarily a mentoring scheme. The aim is primarily to give the students more variety – different teachers with different skills, different accents, different personalities. But the outcome is also positive for the teachers since we have to organise our work and communicate on our classes together which ultimately means we are sharing information and ideas. The students seem to like it.

        Binome teaching also works well in CLIL classrooms and in vocational education where you could have 3 or 4 teachers on one course. I’ve taught on business courses (eg entrepreneurship, business communication etc) where we have marketing, law, finance and English teachers all working together.


  5. Dr Akbar Ali says:

    Excellent suggestions by an excellent language teacher. I think having one hour coffee and chat time once a week at schools and language centers will also help teachers share and sharpen their teaching skills.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cristiane Vidiri Manzato says:

    Cecilia, Thank you for everything. You have been helping me so much. Your tips are amazing.


  7. patricepalmer says:

    A great post with great content! There is so much out there that is helps to have it consolidated in a nice, neat and organized package! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ruben says:

    Wow! That was a fantastic reading! Thanks for sharing your ideas with us. Keep up the good work.
    Look for my free website: Practical English by Ruben
    Looking forwar to hearing from you! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. annforeman says:

    Hi Cecilia,
    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on Sunday’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Miriam Joacel says:

    Hello Cecilia,
    I really like all of your ideas to help us teachers improve our teaching and learning skills. After a few years of being teaching in secondary, I have gotten stucked with the same activities to teach a lesson, I can’t wait to try out some of your ideas.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Matthew says:

    The idea of the “virtual/global staffroom” is really important and at this point I see non-use of the available resources, dialogic spaces, and engagement with the greater ELT PLN online as a kind of malfeasance! 🙂 Thanks for the post. (I also think it’s important to add that in general engaged professional teachers deserve more support for the ‘off the clock’ work they so often do for CPD; it’s potentially dangerous to insist on autonomous, personalized CPD w/out taking into account the roles and responsibilities that institutions and employers have here).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Matthew.
      Thanks for your comment! You put it perfectly- global staffroom. I see that teachers usually look for formal instruction only through an institute and they usually forget there are alternative opportunities for CPD.
      That leads to a more engaged and responsible roles from employers and the management staff as you highlight, teachers and employers should go hands in hands when it comes to CPD.
      Do you work as a freelancer or do you work at an institution?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. vanessasgroups says:

    Great post! Thank you for the tips! Some of them I’ve been meaning to put in practice for a while and now I feel more motivated to do it. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Kris Jagasia says:

    Love this post! I run a software company for ESL teachers, I would love to collaborate somehow, get in touch Cecilia!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Cintia Rodrigues says:

    Excellent post, Cecilia. You gave us loads of ideas to keep on developing. Thanks for that.


  15. Kim says:

    Great suggestions, Cecilia! One of the things I enjoyed about working in language institutes was the access to theory books, but I can and should certainly seek out this information for myself to keep growing and improving. Also, I just wanted to applaud you for mentioning that English teachers should continue improving their English language skills! I worked with a lot of non-native English teachers in Chile, and those who were truly committed to refining their English from working closely with me and my American volunteers were surprisingly rare (I think English teaching is quite competitive in Chile). The other upside to getting an English tutor even if you’re an English teacher? You can actually learn more about the latest teaching methods in another country and get some fresh perspectives, which in turn helps give you more confidence. Come to think of it, maybe you could even do a language exchange with an English teacher if they’re learning your language. 🙂


  16. Angela says:

    I am newly qualified but been teaching for years. I want to teach a high professional level of English. At present I have been ‘winging’ it as cannot afford a degree. I love this article. Many thanks for the tips, I already do several of these things

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Dev Garg says:

    Beautiful article!! I agree that PD doesn’t have to be too costly and boring. We learn so much from each other every day. I believe every educator is an EdHero and there is something to be learned from each other.

    We are building a platform of edheroes around the globe so that they can build their online portfolio, collaborate with other educators for PD – (like a global virtual staffroom as you mentioned), sell their educational resources and offer their freelancing services to organizations around the globe.
    We call it http://www.edhero.com
    I hope this is something that your readers might like too. We want to connect all the educators around the globe. It’s free to be a part of the edhero moment.

    Keep doing the great work!!


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: