There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I started studying for my Delta, and I thought I’d put it all into a post for anyone else preparing for the course. If you’ve got any tips you’d add, feel free to put them into the comments.
1. Take a holiday
Before you start the course, make sure that you’ve relaxed as much as possible. However you do it, the Delta is incredibly intensive, and if you go into it already tired, like I did, you’ll regret it.
2. Get reading
Start reading a few general books to get you in the zone. This will also give you a starting point when you are doing the course. Reading is something you probably won’t be able to take the time over during the course, so the more you can do before you start, the better. You’ll definitely return to the books again and again, but if you’ve read them once, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later.
Some books which I found useful were:
- Tricia Hedge: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom* – a good Delta-level overview. It covers each area of ELT in separate chapters.
- Michael Lewis: The English Verb - one of the few books I had time to read cover-to-cover during my Delta, I can honestly say that this book changed the way I thought about English grammar.
- Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations - a great guide to all of the sounds of English, designed to raise your awareness of how they are produced.
- Scott Thornbury: About Language - half of the book has tasks to make you really think about English in depth, the other half has commentaries to tell you if you’re on the right track.
- Scott Thornbury: An A-Z of ELT - not necessarily one to read from cover to cover, but good to open at random and test yourself. It will quite possibly become your bible during certain parts of the course.
*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!
ELT books are pretty expensive, and it all adds up, so think carefully about which books you really need to spend money on, and which you can borrow. Ask around the people you know, especially if they’ve already done the course, and you may find you can borrow some of them. You might also be able to get them from your school or from a library. In the UK you could also try inter-library loans at a public library.
You should also use the resources available on the Cambridge website to find out more about the course criteria.
3. Brush up on your Word skills
You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. I’ve picked out some of the things I found myself doing all the time.
- All the posts
- How to use headings
- How to automatically create a table of contents
- How to use ‘Track changes’ to add comments to your work (useful if you want to make notes to yourself along the lines of ‘Don’t forget to finish this!’)
- How to create and format bullet points
- How to count the words in your document (the title page, contents and appendices are never included in your word limit, but tables and diagrams should be)
- How to create page breaks and section breaks, meaning you can have portrait and landscape pages in the same document (great for lesson procedure in your plans, and for the appendices in Module 3)
- How to repeat header rows in tables across pages
- How to change your margins (Module 3 has specified margin limits)
- How to add page numbers
- How to use the split screen view so you can see two parts of the same document at the same time
Two more things you might find useful, taken from other sites (not Liz’s):
- How to check the size of a file – Windows / Mac (Cambridge have a 10MB upload limit, especially annoying for Module 3)
- How to add footers
4. Start learning phonemics
In the Module 1 exam you must use phonemics in question 4. If you don’t, you will lose marks. You may also need them for question 5, and you will probably also need to include them at various points in your Module 2 and Module 3 work. Even if you’re not comfortable with them and would never use them in the classroom, you MUST learn them.
Adrian Underhill has all the best materials for making you aware of how phonemics work. Try these to get you started:
- Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation on YouTube – one hour, but well worth it
- Sound Foundations – the book mentioned in part 2 of this post
- Adrian’s Pron Chart blog - breaks down the phonemic chart into easy sections, often comparing two or three sounds, and goes into depth about how the sounds are produced
I learnt phonemics largely thanks to the English File pronunciation chart. I found the pictures really helped me to remember the sounds. However, my accent is largely standard British English, so most of the sounds aren’t a problem for me – I find the ‘u’ in ‘bull’ and the ‘ou’ in ‘tourist’ the most challenging sounds, and most of the time drop the latter, as it’s dying out in British English.
If you have an iPad or iPhone (possibly Android too, but I’m not sure), you could also try these apps:
- English File Pronunciation - £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to the original.
- Macmillan Sounds – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Read and write phonemics throughout the app – great for forcing you to match sounds to symbols.
- British Council Sounds Right - free, but no activities.
You can type IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet) using various typewriters online, for example here, then paste it into Word. When typing your documents, use a ‘Unicode’ font, for example ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’. If you’re not using a Unicode font, it may well turn into boxes like this  when printed.
5. Choose the four areas you’d like to focus on in Module 2
During Module 2 you have to teach four observed lessons (LSAs). These are divided into systems (grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse analysis) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).
The four lessons you teach are made up of two systems and two skills lessons, one of which should be receptive (reading/listening) and the other productive (writing/speaking). To pass the course, you need to pass a minimum of two of your lessons, one systems and one skills. You cannot repeat an area, i.e. if you have done a lexis LSA, you cannot do another lexis one during the course.
If you have at least a rough idea of the four areas you’d like to investigate, you can start to read some of the most important books in those areas. For example, if you know you want to do a listening lesson, you might want to read Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.
Note: please check with your centre before setting your heart on your four areas. They may have set rules about which areas they want you to focus on. For example, on Distance Delta, your first LSA is always grammar, and for the second you have to choose between listening or writing. You have free choice for the other two.
6. Choose your specialism for Module 3
In a similar vein, if you know the general area you will look at for Module 3, you can also start reading some of the books that you need. You can find the list of specialisms to choose from on page 68 of the Delta handbook. The handbook is generally a very, very useful document to have. The 2010 version is here (if there is an updated version, please can you let me know!)
I chose Teaching Exam Classes, which I then narrowed down to reading and writing for IELTS. The first section of Module 3 is (loosely) about teaching general English is different to teaching students within your specialism, so in my case it was how general English classes differ to exam classes. You don’t focus on the specific exam until later. I found How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burgess and Katie Head particularly useful as a general overview.
7. Read up on needs analysis and diagnostic testing
While this is most useful for Module 3 (the whole of section 2 revolves around it, and it’s the basis for the whole course you put together), it’s also good to know to help you identify the needs of your students and justify your choices when putting together your LSA lesson plans in Module 2. I found Curriculum Development in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards to be the most useful book in this regard, although they’re obviously covered in many other books. The same book was the one I referred to most when it came to justifying my course proposal too.
I didn’t really find out the principles of good needs analyses or diagnostics tests until very late in the course, meaning that my needs analysis and diagnostic test were thrown together very quickly for Module 3, and I then had to retrofit the theory to it – not easy!
(Sidetracking a little – I bought Syllabus Design by David Nunan to help with Module 3, but found it pretty confusing and not very practical. Could just be me though…)
Last, but definitely not least, start networking! Join Twitter and facebook, and find other teachers around the world on there. The Teaching English British Council and Cambridge Delta facebook groups are particularly useful. I could not have survived my Distance Delta without the support I got from my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). This may be different if you study face-to-face, but it’s still useful to have a set of people who can respond to questions you may have at any hour of the day or night.
With all that hard work, don’t forget to take time off, be with people and to find things to laugh at.