Demo Lessons: The Dos and Don’ts

Demo lessons, ah sweet, sweet demo lessons. I hate you. I hate demo lessons.

For those of you who are wondering, what the hell is a demo lesson? Let me break it down for you.

Finding a job as an ESL/TEFL teacher will typically consist of a demo lesson. Basically it is part of the interview process where you teach a class and your interviewee is watching you and seeing your skills as a teacher. Talk about intimidating.

My First Demo Lesson, the Lesson from Hell
After taking my 4 week intensive training course to get certified as a TEFL teacher, I was ready to start job hunting.

I had secured myself an apartment in Thailand, got myself a motorbike and scrambled up my best interview attire from my backpack. Now all that was left was to secure a job as a teacher.

I was smart enough to start my job hunt right in the middle of rainy season in Thailand. Doesn’t sound like a big deal right? Wrong. There is that one tiny detail that an umbrella cant help you with—driving a motorbike.
Demo Lesson Interview in the rain
At least we got to rock awesome panchos and look incredibly cool.

But really, driving on a motorbike when it is raining SUCKS. It sucks so bad. Especially when you are in interview attire and trying to stay looking nice. While also sitting on a manila envelope with your resume enclosed, trying to not let it get wet. Not fun.

Anyway, I had lined myself up with one of my first interviews requiring a demo lesson. I spent the entire evening beforehand preparing for my demo lesson and praying that it wouldn’t rain the next day.

The next day was clear skies, hallelujah. Now I just needed to nail my interview and demo lesson.

First was the interview, which went well. I feel that I’ve gotten better at interviewing over the years. I somehow was able to relate my un-related previous work to make it sound like I’m a kick ass teacher. I was feeling proud and happy with how the interview had gone.

Then came the demo lesson. This is where they get to put your skills to the real test. Instead of just answering how you’d react to a stressful situation, you are put in one. Instead of answering how you’d handle if a student did this or that, you have to handle it, right then and there in front of your interviewee.

I was so nervous. The only previous teaching experience I’d ever had was in my 4 week intensive course. In this 4 week intensive course I taught class sizes of no more than 8 students, all of which were adults. Now, for my demo lesson, I found myself for the first time EVER teaching children. Forty children to be exact.
Demo Lesson TEFL Teacher
If you are thinking to yourself, “so what?” My guess is that you’ve never taught children before. Let me reiterate, I WAS TEACHING 40 CHILDREN AGE 9 FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

I was so, so nervous. Not to mention, the lesson I had worked so hard to prepare was almost identical to a lesson that I taught to adults. What was I thinking?

I started in with a quick engagement activity, asking the students to roll a dice and tell me something about themselves depending on the number on the dice. Simple things like, “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” etc..

This engage activity had worked for me previously when there were 8 students in my classroom. When there were 40 students in the classroom, um, didn’t work quite as well. This warm up activity also worked well with adults who chose and wanted to learn English. These kids were being forced to learn and I was the only thing holding them back from their lunch hour.

The very first student I called on rolled the dice, then just sat there in silence. I kept repeating the question and giving personal examples but the child sat there in complete silence. Classroom laughter and chatter started.

This was about 1 minute into my lesson.

I watched my interviewee in the back of the classroom jot something down on his notebook. The sweat started forming on my forehead. “Ok, quiet down everyone,” I said nervously. I asked the student again and nothing, so I called on someone else. However, by this point the students had sensed my nerves and captivated on them immediately.

I lost classroom control about 90 seconds into my lesson.

Losing classroom control happens when you teach, this I’m now well aware of. The key is learning to gain it back or key moves to not lose it in the first place. During my demo lesson I had absolutely no idea how to gain classroom control back. I had one of those “please stop crying little baby” moments. You know, the one where you’re holding someone else’s baby and they start crying and you bounce them sort of awkwardly while hoping they magically stop crying.
Yeah, one of those moments, except I couldn’t just hand them back to their mother.

After a few more VERY LONG minutes, my interviewee waved at me from the back of the classroom. He had seen enough. I clearly needed more experience. It was incredibly embarrassing. I felt like going and hiding in a closet and crying.

I had a lot of improvement to be done and now that I have some experience doing demo lessons, I’d like to think I’m much better at them. Here are a few of my key dos and don’ts:


1. Prepare yourself, physically and mentally.

  • Make sure to plan a good, well thought out lesson. Make sure to ask how many students you will be teaching, their age group and their English level. Know these things beforehand and plan your lesson accordingly.

2. Set ground rules at the beginning of your demo lesson.

  • Typically on the first day of class as a teacher you would set rules for your classroom. Just because you are only doing a demo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lay down some rules. The next demo lesson I did, I started with a “game” a.k.a. a way to gain classroom control back when it gets out of hand.  It wasn’t even really a game, but since I titled it that, it grabbed the students attention and they were more than willing to participate. It is called “Quiet Coyote.” (Which is a hand gesture that the kids follow when they see me doing it and it means “mouths closed and ears listening.”)Demo Lesson quiet coyote

3. Be silly, quirky and fun.

  • Just because you’re in an interview doesn’t mean you have to stay so strict. Especially if you are teaching kids. They are kids for goodness sake! Be silly, entertaining and fun while you teach them. It will help you maintain better classroom control. If the kids think what you’re doing is silly, their attention will be focused on you.


1. [Don’t] Create a boring lesson plan.

  • The demo lesson is more to show how you teach, not what concepts you know. Keep your topic simple and fun. The more entertaining it is, the more it will keep the students interested. It is still important to show you know English concepts but don’t make it your only focus.

2.  [Don’t] Have a lot of board-work.

  • I prepared how my entire board would look beforehand, color coordinated and all. However, in a lot of cases you won’t have prep time to write things on your board beforehand. When you start your lesson, you don’t want to start by turning your back on the class to write.

3. [Don’t] Act like you are someone applying for the position.  [Do] Act as if you are their new teacher already.

  • You need to act like you’re boss. They will have more respect for you. Don’t show fear, as hard as that may seem, try your very best to at least hide your fear.

Have fun, try not to be so nervous and good luck! You can do it!

Demo Lesson Teaching English
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