Your 9 Inspirational Ideas for YL Departments

by Andy McNeish

IH Madrid has been snooping on you! A bit like GCHQ, the CIA, the NSA, or the News of the World, IHM (IH Madrid) has been monitoring your communications. Before you get too worried, I should say that it’s all above board and that you should be very happy about this. So, it’s nothing like the News of the World then. All we’ve done is look at your websites to see what you are saying and selling with regards to young learners. No taps, wires or hacks, just old-fashioned Internet research. Why? I hear your say (in fact this is what I said when Frédéric Bourne asked me to carry out this world wide espionage scheme). Well, to find out if there are any exciting new ideas, products and gizmos that we could all use to our advantage in an increasingly difficult market where money is tighter than ever and competition from bilingual schools is increasingly fierce.

And we are not just keeping all these goodies we found out about to ourselves. Okay, okay, they are your ideas – it’s true! And you have some great ones – there are many brilliant and inspirational people and ideas in IH and here is a selection of some of the best ones in one place without your having to trawl through all of those wonderful IH websites. So, if you are looking for new key selling points or just something different / innovative / out of the box, look no further.

Perhaps you’ll recognise one of your own ideas (or something similar – I’ve tried to give credit / references but some ideas were already quite widespread and I could not say who came up with it originally – my apologies if I give credit to someone else). Or maybe, and I hope this will be the case; you’ll see something and think ‘hey, that could work for us. If we changed that and did this we could try that’.

So without further ado, here are 9 of the best from around the IH network:

Brush up your English!

This kind of course is offered just before kids go back to school (either to IH or their own schools) and allows them to shake off the sand and rust and get back up to speed with their English and study skills. Ideal if you have teachers and empty classes in September or whatever month just before the school year kicks off. /

1 to 1 Vouchers

Struggling students receive a voucher they can cash in for extra sessions with a support teacher (they could be 3, 5, 10 or any number of sessions).  This could help with homework, a specific skill, a language point or even work from their regular school.  It looks like a great way to offer existing clients a little bit more value and shows how you stand out from other schools in town. Again, the vouchers can also be sold as a stand- alone product to attract new clients.

Reports Online

In addition to parents meetings and hard copies – parents get a code and can check their child’s progress on the school’s website. Very clever if you have the know-how. If you don’t there’s always class-dojo.

IH Moscow – Flexible Course Start Dates

Why start all your courses in October? (No, don’t answer that – it’s a rhetorical question). Simply wait until you have the demand and start the course then. In a fluid market, this could be a winner (if you are fast).

Aim Higher

Having trouble bridging the gap between FCE and CAE with something meaningful for your high-flying teens? (OK, don’t get pedantic – I know that’s two rhetorical questions in a row – last one I promise). Offer them something a little different.

Here at IH Madrid we’ve come up with Higher C1: a course that offers students the academic English that they’ll find useful at school, college or university. Hence ‘higher’ – as in higher education.

It also gives students a slight side-step from unrelenting Cambridge exam preparation and gives them the chance to do something more practical with their English. Being able to talk about graphs, the media and knowing how to write a proper report as well as presenting your results on PowerPoint or Soundcloud should be appealing for your adolescent go-getters (and their parents). Additionally, it helped us increase our class average with this age-group which is always good news.

The course blends EAP material (e.g. IELTS) with themes that appeal to the age-group while providing the linguistic progress needed to start CAE prep after 1 or 2 years.

Have survey questions on your website

Pure genius. Change your website from just a simple sales pitch and shop window, and turn it into an online focus group -find out what your client and potential clients are actually after!  Is 4pm or 4.30 pm the best time to start a class? Trinity or Cambridge? (These are not rhetorical questions, before you start, they are example questions you could put on your website)

So simple and yet very few websites do it (there may be a reason – perhaps that’s why I’m not a website designer).


Many schools are offering free clubs to students as extra value, or for a fee to attract new clients. There are many art and craft clubs (such as our own ‘Why Don’t We Club’: ) or theatre clubs. This could almost be a separate article but here are a couple of the most original ideas we came across:

  • Reading Club

Like a book club for kids and teens (actually, ‘like’ there is redundant – that’s literally what it is).  Another great add-on for your students and gets them reading and using your library.

  • Write up

It’s the same principle and reading club applied to writing. Writing stories, poems, and essays etc is bound to help them get better at English (and writing). Who knows as well as offering a great add on you may be nurturing the next Salmon Rushdie or even JK Rowling!

Round Up

Hopefully there’s an idea here you’ll be able to use in your school or at least an idea that’ll give you an idea. Despite the difficulties we are facing in today’s challenging economic climate there are still opportunities for us if we are innovative and creative.

Author’s Bio: Andy has worked in EFL since 1999 and has been at ih Madrid since 2003. He is now Academic Director for Young Learners and a teacher trainer. This year he’s teaching primary 1 age kids and B1 teens and working on syllabuses (yes, syllabuses).