If you have other projects in mind which you think I might be a good fit for, please feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you. Please note that I am unlikely to accept work which does not have a fee attached to it.
On Friday 24th March 2023, I did a workshop for Everyone Academy. This was the blurb:
What do good readers do?
As teachers, we’re often guilty of testing our students’ reading abilities through comprehension questions, without actually supporting them to become better readers. But where should we start? How can you move beyond a comprehension focus and help students to become the best readers of English that they can be? What might be stopping them from developing? In this webinar, I’ll aim to answer all of these questions, by looking at what good readers do and demonstrating how to support students to build those skills for themselves.
As I was putting together the presentation itself, I decided that ‘good’ wasn’t a clear enough word and decided to change it to ‘successful’. In this blogpost I don’t focus specifically on reading skills for learners with Special Educational Needs, though many of the tips may help those learners to feel more confident.
These are the slides:
Note that most of these tips are also relevant to listening.
Successful readers understand the context
Outside the classroom
Outside the classroom, reading is always a contextualised act. If you’re reading something physical, you know what it is you’ve picked up: a book, a magazine, a food package, a report… If you’re reading something digital, you know what you clicked to take you to that text: you opened your email, you launched your ebook reader, you clicked on a link on social media…
As you prepare to read in that context your brain accesses and builds on the information it has about what to expect from that kind of reading. For example, when you open your work email, you probably expect to see mostly short messages, language relevant to your profession, perhaps the occasional longer attachment. Depending on the person who’s writing to you, you might expect particular types of information, or particular stylistic features in their language. Your brain is tapping into those memories and that knowledge you have related to previous emails you’ve read, and forming expectations about what might be in your email this time. This is what we mean when we talk about schemata, the mental map you have relating to a particular situation.
What can go wrong?
You think you’re reading one thing based on the context, and then are surprised to find you’re actually reading something quite different. For example, you open an email at work, and are surprised to see it contains a joke from somebody who’s never sent you a joke before. Or you expect a formal tone, and do a double-take when the email is surprisingly informal. This slows down your reading, as you might have to re-read the message.
In the classroom, context is often removed. Texts might be presented in the same way regardless of the context they appeared in originally. By removing these contextual clues, learners are deprived of the chance to build up wide-ranging schemata which might be useful outside the classroom. Instead, they are largely building up schemata related to ‘texts I’ll see in the classroom’ or ‘texts in my coursebook’.
Inside the classroom
When you start a reading lesson or activity, make sure the context of the text is clear. Tell learners the type of reading: is it a magazine article, a research report, a blog post…? Alternatively, encourage learners to guess the context based on the clues they have available. Where would they expect to encounter this text outside the classroom?
If you’re creating your own materials, provide visual clues regarding the context. For example, lay out a newspaper article [if you still work with them!] in columns, using a typical newspaper font. If you’re working with an email, include the To / CC / Subject line boxes at the top.
Once you’re nearing the end of the reading lesson, encourage learners to reflect on the genre features of the text they’ve read. Here are some questions they could consider:
What is the layout of the text?
What kind of grammar can they see? For example, are there lots of extended noun phrases? Are there any typical tenses?
What lexical fields (areas of vocabulary) are featured?
What register is used? Formal? Academic? Scientific? Chatty, more like spoken than written language?
Successful readers know why they’re reading
Outside the classroom
When we start reading, we always have an aim in mind, questions in our head which we would like the answer to. These depend on the context: they might be more explicit, especially when reading for information, or less explicit and perhaps even subconscious, especially when reading for pleasure. Here are a few examples:
Leaflet about a castle: Do I want to visit? What can I do there? When does it open? How much is it?
Food packaging: Is the ingredient I’m allergic to in here? What are the cooking instructions? Can I recycle this?
Book: What happens next? How will it end? Who else do I know who might enjoy this?
Email in reply to one you sent: Does this answer my questions? What information does the other person need from me?
Facebook post accompanying some photos: Where did they go? What did they do? Do I want to add a comment? How does this add to what I know about that person?
Sign: What does the sign say? Is it relevant to me? Do I need to change my behaviour because of it?
These questions give us a focus when reading. They determine what level of attention we dedicate to a text, for instance whether we skim it for the general idea, whether we scan to find specific bits of information, or whether we read and reread to check we’ve understood in detail. They also determine how long we spend reading, and to some extent they help us to decide what we do in response to the text.
What can go wrong?
Without having questions in mind, we are unlikely to have the motivation to start reading at all. We all know people who read a lot and people who read very little: one reason for wanting to read more could be about having the desire to read prompted by having questions which you know that your reading might answer.
In the classroom, learners largely read texts which have been given to them by the teacher, accompanied by tasks / questions which are also supplied by the teacher. Their curiosity is not piqued, and the motivation to read becomes reduced to doing it because the teacher told them to.
The same types of tasks often accompany texts, rather than being tasks which are relevant to how that genre might used outside the classroom. Think about the widespread use of true or false and multiple choice questions. While you might sometimes want to read to check if something is correct, or you might have a few possible answers to a question in your head which you’d like to narrow down to one answer as you read, this is not how or why you do the majority of your reading outside the classroom.
Inside the classroom
When setting reading in class, make sure learners have a clear task. This will tell them how much attention to pay, how much depth to read in, and how much time to spend on it. You can provide time limits to help with this, though check they are realistic. One way to help you remember is to always say ‘Read this text and…’, never just ‘Read this text.’
Learners can also set their own tasks. After helping learners to understand the context the text would appear in, you can then encourage them to come up with their own questions to answer. Banana. This is a skill learners can use in their own reading outside the classroom to help them decide how much attention to pay to texts, and to understand what kind of information different texts might be able to provide them with. By doing this, there is likely to be a wider variety of task types covered within your lessons.
Successful readers make predictions and test them
Outside the classroom
As we read, we have an approximate idea of what we are likely to read next. These are our predictions. The accuracy of these ideas will partly depend on our familiarity with the genre, and partly on our familiarity with the topic. In some situations they might also be influenced by our familiarity with the writer. The predictions help us to activate relevant schemata, tapping into our knowledge faster than if we come to a text completely ‘cold’. As we read we test these ideas, or predictions, against what we’re reading, and tap into different schemata. Orange. We then assess how accurate they were, and reform our ideas about the next part of the text, or how to approach that kind of reading the next time we encounter it.
We often make this prediction explicit when reading a picture book with a child. When we look at the cover, we might ask the child to suggest what will happen in the book. As we read, we ask questions like ‘What happens next?’ and ‘What do you think they’ll do now?’ to elicit predictions, and questions like ‘Did you think that would happen?’ to encourage the child to compare their predictions to what happened in the story. Apple. As we become confident readers, this process of making and testing predictions becomes largely subconscious.
What can go wrong?
Whenever we come up against something which we weren’t expecting to read, we do a double-take, and we might have to pause or reread to check why our predictions were wrong. Peach. At this point, we reassess and create a new set of predictions about what might happen next. For example, have you noticed the fruits in the previous four paragraphs? Each time you did, how did you respond? Did you stop? Did you reread the text at all? Did you respond in the same way the first time you saw one as you did the second, third, fourth time you saw one?
If a learner finds reading challenging, they may give up when they realise their predictions are wrong, especially if they feel that they are consistently wrong. It can reduce their confidence and make them feel like they are unsuccessful readers.
Inside the classroom
Rather than giving learners the whole text at once, give them a part of the text or something which accompanies it. This could be a headline, the first paragraph, a picture, or even a word cloud. Ask learners to make 3-5 predictions about what information they think will be included in the text.
Give them the first section of the text. How many of their predictions were correct? Do they want to add to, change or remove any of their predictions? Repeat the process with the next part of the text. Continue this process until the end of the text.
Once you’ve completed this process, ask learners to reflect on how they made their predictions. What clues did they use to help them? Remind them that this is a process they can use in their reading outside the classroom too.
By making the process of creating and checking predictions more explicit to learners, we can help them to understand how to use this strategy. By showing them that not everybody’s predictions are correct in class, and that it’s OK to make a mistake with a prediction, it can boost their confidence too.
The absolute basics of what it means to read are understand the relationship between the sounds we’re already familiar with in our language and the way that they are communicated on the page. When we learn to read in English, we might start with single letters with single sounds, for example ‘s’ /s/ or ‘t’ /t/. We use these to learn to spell simple CVC words like ‘cat’ or ‘pat’, where the sound and spelling have a clear relationship with each other. We also learn some common words by recognition, rather than by sounding them out, like ‘go’ or ‘the’. In UK schools, the order in which these sound-spelling relationships are introduced is mandated by the Department for Education’s Letters and Sounds programme. Spelling tests are a regular feature of life at primary schools – I remember being tested on 10 words every week throughout my primary education, and recently rediscovered my Year 3 spelling book in our attic at home. ‘bottom’ was a challenging word to spell when I was 8!
At first, we are encouraged to sound out words and corrected on these by our parents and other knowledgable others. Over time, we move to reading silently, though we might still sound out the occasional challenging word. Eventually we read entirely silently, and the relationship between the sounds and spellings of words becomes mostly unconscious.
What can go wrong?
Sometimes we have read a word, but we’ve never heard it pronounced. The first time we try to say it people listening to us realise that we’ve only ever read this word and don’t know the correct pronunciation. This isn’t a problem with reading per se, but it does highlight the importance of understanding sound-spelling relationships.
The other direction is much more common though, especially for readers with less experience of reading in English: they’ve heard a word many times but they’ve never seen it written down. Learners may know the word if they hear it, but not recognise it when they see it.
Inside the classroom
When learning to read in English, we can support learners in developing their early literacy by providing opportunities to read aloud. Ideally these will be in low-pressure environments, such as whole class reading, or pair reading working with a partner. However, it’s best to avoid situations where students take turns to read aloud to the whole class, especially if they haven’t had a chance to practice their reading beforehand; this kind of reading can be very demotivating and stressful for learners, and can lead to other students in the class switching off. Another technique to avoid is reading full texts aloud when learners have already developed the ability to read silently in the language – this is time which could be better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, supportive reading aloud where there is a clear focus for the reading can develop learners confidence in connecting sounds and spellings together. For example, learners can chorally read a series of short sentences while the teacher indicates the relevant sounds. The ultimate aim with this kind of reading aloud is to enable learners to be able to move towards silent reading themselves – it is a transition stage rather than an end in itself. For more information about reading aloud, see Jason Anderson’s summary.
As learners are developing their literacy in English, it’s useful to teach them common sound-spelling relationships. Young learner books commonly have a phonics syllabus, but this is a useful area to work on with all age groups until they have developed the ability to read fluently in English. While it might not be necessary to go through as many stages as for the phonics programme linked to above, you might still wish to introduce small sets of sounds and their associated spellings, or vice-versa. A useful tool here is the English File sound bank which lists examples of the most common spellings (left) and some common exceptions (right):
I taught a one-to-one pre-intermediate Czech learner who tended to write English using a version of Czech spelling, following the conventions of Czech sound-spelling relationships. I showed her this chart and over the next three months she decided to systematically learn all of the different relationships. By the end of that period her English spelling had hugely improved, and she had also become a more confident reader as she could recognise words more consistently.
Another idea is to encourage learners to spot sound-spelling relationships in texts they’re reading. Once learners have finished reading a text for comprehension, they could underline all of the spellings with a particular sound, for example /i:/.
Successful readers know how to deal with unknown vocabulary
Outside the classroom
When we meet a word we don’t know as we’re reading in our own language, we generally have four options:
Guess what it means from the context.
Look it up.
Ask somebody what it means.
The decision we make about which strategy to use will depend on the context we’re reading in, the amount of vocabulary we understand in the rest of the text, our desire (or not) to understand it, and the availability of reference materials / people around us.
What can go wrong?
If there are too many words we don’t understand, reading a text can feel somewhat like wading through mud – we keep pushing forwards but we never seem to get anywhere. When we try to figure out a word from context, we don’t have enough information to help us guess the meaning. We may end up giving up on the text if we think there are too many words we can’t read.
If we decide to look up a word, we might not be confident in our dictionary skills. We might not be aware of how to identify the relevant meaning of a word, or we might not understand the definition itself. The people we ask about the word might not be able to give clear, succinct, relevant definitions.
Ignoring the word can seem like a useful strategy, but we may realise that without that word it’s not possible to understand the wider text.
Inside the classroom
It’s important to teach students the difference between reading to read and reading to improve vocabulary. Both of these are valid ways of using a text, but in my opinion it’s generally better to focus on reading to read before you do any work on improving vocabulary. If you’re reading to read, the focus is on general comprehension and being able to get what you need from the text. This goes back to knowing why you’re reaidng – if you can answer the questions you have related to the text without understanding that vocabulary, then it’s not essential and you can probably ignore it. If you can’t answer your questions, then you need to decide which strategy to use to understand the word(s). This can help learners to make informed decisions about which vocabulary it’s worth spending time on. It’s also useful as it helps learners realise that it’s OK not to understand everything they read, like me reading Harry Potter in Polish.
In this era of easy-access translators, it’s still important to work on dictionary skills with learners, showing them what information they can find in a good learner dictionary. It’s also useful to help learners understand how to make the most of the translation software they’re using.
Successful readers know how they read best
Outside the classroom
You might read a book faster on paper or faster on an e-reader. You might prefer to have our computer or phone set to dark mode (I certainly do!). Perhaps you find it easier to read larger text or sans serif fonts. You may not have realised this as a child, but over time, you will have realised which formats you are more or less comfortable reading, and you might even have figured out strategies to make it easier to read when you are working with a format you don’t really like or don’t find easy to navigate.
Another difference in reading preferences might be the place where you read, for example wanting to sit in a comfortable chair to read a book, or to sit at a computer desk when reading on a laptop. You may be willing or able to read some types of text for longer than others, or you may need to spend longer processing certain types of text.
What can go wrong?
If we mostly read in one format, such as on a computer or phone screen, we might not feel comfortable reading in other formats, such as on a page. This is also true of different types of writing: if we mostly read printed text, it can be challenging to read handwriting, especially if it’s in an unfamiliar hand.
In the classroom, learners may be asked to read in formats which they are less familiar with, or in places or for time periods which they are not comfortable with. For example, learners might feel rushed and unable to spend as much time as they would like with a text.
Inside the classroom
Encourage learners to reflect on their reading habits outside the classroom. They can reflect on when, where and how they like to read, and how this might differ between genres and formats.
You can encourage learners to experiment with different text colours, fonts, and sizes. They could also try reading on different coloured paper, or reading on a screen. Some learners might prefer to take a photo of a text on paper and make it bigger using their phone, for example.
One technique that can help learners when they feel overwhelmed by the amount of text on a page is to mask part of the page with a piece of paper. They can put the paper above the text being read and gradually move it down the page as they read, hiding what they’ve already seen.
Learners could also have a piece of paper with a window in it which would reveal 3-4 lines at once, which they can move down the page as they read. In both cases, the idea is to allow them to still see upcoming text, but reduce the distraction of the text which isn’t their immediate focus.
On a computer this can be done by reducing the size of the window so that it only shows part of the text. Some assistive software can also highlight part of the screen as learners read to help guide their eyes.
Successful readers read more!
Outside the classroom
You probably know somebody who has a passion for reading: they devour the written word, and you might marvel at how much they are able to read. It might even be you!
Christine Nuttall describes a virtuous circle of reading. When you understand better what you are reading, you enjoy reading more. When you enjoy reading more, you read faster. When you read faster, you read more. And when you read more, you understand better.
While we might think that this is only relevant to the reading of fiction, it’s true for reading across all genres and formats. The more you read that genre, the easier it becomes to understand, the more you are likely to enjoy, the faster you are likely to read it, and the more you are therefore able to read.
What can go wrong?
The opposite of this virtuous circle is a vicious circle: somebody who doesn’t understand what they read and therefore they read slowly. Because they read slowly, they might be more likely to not enjoy reading (though there’s nothing wrong with reading slowly!) If they don’t enjoy reading, they probably don’t read much, and therefore they are less likely to develop their ability to understand written texts when they read.
For learners, this can lead to them believing that they ‘can’t read in English’, and perhaps even that this is a skill which will never be attainable for them. It can damage their confidence. For some learners this can be limiting as they might lack the level of literacy they need to be able to use English in the way they want or need to in their lives outside the classroom.
Inside the classroom
Supporting and encouraging learners with their reading is key. It can boost learners’ confidence if they can read even very short texts in English: they get the feeling that it is possible to read in English, and start on the virtuous circle.
Encourage learners to regularly talk about what they’re reading, whether they’re enjoying it, and whether they would recommend it to others. Please don’t force them to read particular things if possible, though do encourage them to try things outside their comfort zone if you think it would be interesting for them. If learners are enjoying it and reading more, then it’s good reading.
Find out more
Teaching Reading Skills In a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall is a very accessible guide to working on reading with your learners. Here are links to buy it on Amazon (affiliate) and Bookshop (affiliate).
Teaching and Developing Reading Skills by Peter Watkins is another useful guide to activities you can use to train learners in reading, not just test them. Here are links to buy it on Amazon (affiliate), Bookshop (affiliate) and BEBC.
I hope you and your students find the ideas in this post useful. What ideas would you add?
When Dave told me about this project, I thought it was an interesting way for learners to find out about other cultures.Over to Dave to tell you more…
What is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? How did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch?
The answers to all these questions and many more can be discovered in the stories of Barcelona, Brno and Split (in that order above!). Welcome to City Stories, where the history and culture of three iconic European cities meets digital technology, cognitive science and modern teaching methodology.
When you go to the ‘Stories’ page of the City Stories website you can scroll through stories from the three cities, or search according to level. Clicking on one that takes your fancy drops you right into the start of the story. But this is not just another reading text. Each story is a DER – a Digital Escape Room – where progress requires reading (or listening) to the text and then answering some questions. Once you have answered all questions in any one room correctly you can move onto the next room. You ‘escape’ when you clear the last room in the story.
A DER is an exciting, interesting and engaging way to collaborate and learn. Technology plays an important role in the creative engagement and motivation of students. Using the innovative concept of Digital Escape Rooms encourages students to participate in telling the story.
Language teachers know that good stories are an amazing learning tool as they engage the audience and challenge them to think about and comprehend the information they are presented with. Furthermore, culture has always been an integral part of language education. Our project uses stories from different cities and countries, sending students on a unique cultural journey through our interactive digital platform.
Particularly when it comes to reading and listening texts, classes all too often move at the speed of the quickest students, leaving behind too many; or the slowest, leading to boredom and disinterest. DERs allow students to work at their own pace, get a real understanding of the text and be sure they have the correct answer before moving on.
This unique resource works on any mobile device, can be done individually, in small groups or projected for the whole class to see, giving the teacher genuine flexibility in using the stories.
Our project was a part of the Erasmus+ KA2 call for proposals themed around Creativity and Culture. DERs we produced during the project tell stories from three iconic regions of Europe, focusing on the main cities within each of these: Split represents Dalmatia and the beautiful Adriatic coast; Moravia is right in the heart of Europe with Brno as its cosmopolitan capital; Barcelona is the cultural centre of Catalunya. Discover hidden secrets about these cities and regions through 18 unique stories written by our teachers.
There is a strong demand in the language teaching industry for resources that are meaningful, motivational, modern and innovative. The City Stories project allowed us to develop resources that meet this demand.
Interested? There’s more!
We didn’t just create the City Stories, we have also designed and made a Story Builder for you. This means you and your students can write, design and create your own DERs! This could be a story from your local city, but it can be about anything, any topic, any language. There is a handbook to guide you through using the Story Builder, or you can just dive in and try it out.
We hope to see new stories from many different places, allowing language students to explore both language and culture, and improve their understanding of the world we share.
If you want to know what is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? Or how did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch? Just click on the links to try the story.
Have fun learning 🙂
Dave Cleary is a DELTA qualified English language teacher and teacher trainer living and working in Brno. He came to the Czech Republic in the summer of 2000 and has worked here ever since. Dave’s first teacher training experience was to his peers, and for more than a decade he has written and delivered teacher training sessions at both international conferences and on local training courses. He is now Director of Projects and Innovation at ILC International House Brno.
On 14th February 2018, I launched my first completely self-published book, ELT Playbook 1, meaning that today is the book’s 5th birthday.
Over the last 5 years, I estimate that I’ve sold over 400 copies, which is very exciting 🙂 Thank you if you’ve bought one of them!
If you haven’t got one yet, I’m offering a 10% discount on ebook versions available through Smashwords [affiliate link], using the code CC92X. The code will be valid until 14th March 2023. If you’d like a paper copy, find out how to buy one on the My books page.
I’m particularly grateful to everyone who’s told me how they’ve used ELT Playbook 1, as it’s great to know that it’s actually useful, not just a book which sits on a shelf never to be read. I’d love to know more about how you’ve used it, so if you have, please let me know in the comments.
Two small requests
One of my hopes when I launched the book was that teachers would be able to use it as a way of getting some structured but affordable development, and that a community would grow around the #ELTPlaybook hashtag on different platforms. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time! Jim Fuller has shared some of his responses to tasks in the book on his Sponge ELT blog, so you can see what an in-depth response to them might look like, but you could also share something as quick as a picture or a 30-second video. It could be a great way to share what you’re learning and join in with a community of other teachers doing the same tasks. So request 1 is: please share your responses to the tasks! Remember that if you share responses to all 5 books in a section, you’ll get a badge which you can add to your CV or social media pages:
Request 2 is marketing-related: please review the book if you’ve bought / used it. I’d really like to build up the number of reviews for the book on different platforms, including GoodReads, Amazon and Smashwords [the latter two links are affiliate ones!]. Getting reviews is both useful feedback for me, and a way of encouraging the algorithms to recommend my book(s) to other people 🙂
I’ve already added ELT Playbook Teacher Training to what I hope will eventually be a much longer series. I’ve got half of one book and the contents page for another book written, but everything’s on hold until I’ve finished my dissertation in October this year. Here’s the (quite long!) story of how I wrote ELT Playbook 1, so it might be a little while until those two titles are done. Hopefully the next one will appear in 2024 though, so watch this space 🙂
I found it really difficult deciding on a rate to start with, and I think I charged too little more than once. There are lots of factors involved, and it will be different for everyone. These are some of the things I did when I was working out how much to charge for workshops and consultancy and mentoring, as well as for my Delta Module 1 and Module 3 courses. Please note that this is just from my personal experience, and other people might do things quite differently.
(Update: the comments on this blogpost and this LinkedIn post share how a few other people have approached this, and reminded me that I included non-billable hours when I was thinking about hourly rates, but can’t remember how I did it!)
The way that didn’t work!
Step 1: How much do you want to earn?
I started from working out an annual salary which is reasonable for my country and which I think would pay me enough to do everything I want to do. This can be influenced by lots of factors:
Family commitments Do you have dependents, like children or parents, who you need to cover costs for?
Other income Are there other earners in your household? Is there other money coming in, for example from investment or benefits?
Outgoings Consider housing, bills, food, transport, but also leisure time. Search for ‘average outgoings [country name]’ to find some guides to help you if you’re not sure. Here’s an example for the UK.
Savings How much do you want to be able to save? How much will you put into investments or pensions?
Let’s take £25,000 as a starting point.
Step 2: How much do you want to / can you work?
I decided that I would like to have about 6 weeks, or 30 working days, off work a year, plus bank holidays. In the UK that gives me about 38 days off, or 7.5 working weeks.
That leaves 44.5 working weeks in the year.
I also decided I’d like to work 09:00-17:00, or about 7 hours a day with a 1-hour lunch break. I don’t want to work at weekends, so that’s Monday to Friday, or 5 days a week.
I don’t expect I’ll do this all the time, but this is what I’d like to work towards.
Adding that all up gives me:
44.5 weeks x 5 days x 7 hours = 1557.5 working hours in a year
Step 3: How much do you need to earn an hour to meet your target?
Now some simple maths:
Step 1 divided by Step 2 = Step 3
In this example, that’s:
£25,000 / 1557.5 = £16.05 / hour
There’s a problem here!
When I made those calculations, I realised that I was barely doubling UK minimum wage. I’ve definitely invested enough time and effort into building my experience and knowledge and money into getting qualifications to be earning far more than that.
I made a pretty table in Excel to show different possible scenarios:
(I have to have some 30 hour working weeks because of medical needs, so I included both in my calculations, and I made this table before I remembered about bank holidays.)
A much better way
I looked around at average hourly rates for other skilled professions in the UK. For example, the Society of Proofreaders and Editors posts suggested minimum rates.
These were generally higher than any of the numbers I’d come up with so far. I realised I could charge more than I was considering before. Having said that, I also knew that whatever figures I charged wouldn’t be what I earned every day, but that these would be the ideal days when I was earning the maximum possible.
I then went through these steps.
Step 1: How much do I think my time is worth a day?
I decided that £350 is worth giving up a day of my time for, bearing in mind that there would probably be preparation and more involved, meaning it’s likely to be about 2 days’ worth of earnings, not just one.
Step 2: How much is that an hour?
£350 / 7 working hours = £50 an hour
£350 / 6 working hours = just under £60 an hour, but let’s round that up
Step 3: What does that mean for different lengths of time?
At this point I’m starting to think about different fees for different types of work, and the extra work around each of those types of work.
For example, a 60-minute workshop also requires a lot of extra work around it. This includes setting the time and date, meeting the person who’s requested it to clarify what the workshop will include, and planning/preparing the workshop itself. That’s why there are separate fees for workshop preparation. On the other hand, consultancy requires much less extra work around it as a rule, so I can charge less for this time.
I also wanted to think about discounts if people pay for a block of more of my time, both as an incentive and because it requires a little less work for me each time.
Cue more Excel tables, playing around with amounts and calculating the price per minute to check how the discounts work:
In every case I’m charging around £50 an hour, the price I’d decided at step 2.
I also made similar calculations for Delta modules, based on the amount of work, the number of participants, and the number of hours of face-to-face sessions to help me calculate what would be financially viable for me to justify running the course.
Keeping track of hours and money earnt
I use Toggl.com as a time tracker for everything I do in my working day.
When I get money in, I record this on a spreadsheet with the hours I’ve worked on that project, the date and amount invoived, and the money I received. The spreadsheet then calculates my hourly rate:
As you can see, the hourly rate can be vastly different from one project to another. £128.00/hour for writing something, but only £25.11/hour for some contracted work.
I have another spreadsheet which can show me how much I earn on average from different parts of my freelancing so that if I have to make decisions about what work to keep and what to drop, this can be part of what informs it:
Here the differences in hourly rate are much starker, and you can see that £50/hour for all of my work is not unreasonable at all, as it pushes up my overall income.
Looking for help?
If you’re looking for help with freelancing in ELT, I’d recommend following Rachael Roberts and her EarnLearnThrive business on LinkedIn and looking around her blog. She runs courses for freelancers and has done a lot for the community – so many people have benefitted from her help!
Exciting times! The second edition of The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer Manual are now available. So happy to have worked on this with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury, as well as Jo Timerick at Cambridge. Can’t wait to hold it in my hand (this photo is borrowed!)
Finding the Heart of the Nation: The journey of the Uluṟu Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth by Thomas Mayor, is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.
Here is a video of Thomas Mayor reading the Uluṟu Statement:
The Uluṟu Statement was issued on 26 May 2017 as an invitation from First Nations Peoples (Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders) to all Australians. It was the culmination of a series of twelve Dialogues across Australia, from which over 250 delegates were selected to attend the meeting in May 2017 to finalise the Statement.
Finding the Heart of the Nation introduces and explains the Uluṟu Statement, and shares the voices of 21 different First Nations people, including Thomas, and through them the stories of many more. It shows the extent to which colonisation and subsequent government policies have impacted on the people, the land and their culture over time, not just in the distant past, but right now. This includes policies which are still in place as I write this in 2022, and ones which have been brought in as recently as since 2000. This demonstrates why a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution is so necessary, and is a tiny part of the truth-telling which the Statement demands: showing what has really happened.
I bought the book during my recent trip to Australia because I wanted to learn more about First Nations culture and people. Growing up, I had heard Dreamtime stories told by both indigenous and non-indegenous storytellers, and I now know that Dreamtime is not the best term, but rather Dreamings. I had done an art project at school where we had to produce a piece of art in ‘an Aborigine style’ which I understood to be made of dots. Through my trip and this book, I understand that First Nations culture is so much richer and deeper than this. Of course it is: it goes back over 60,000 years.
Dancing, storytelling, and visual arts are the way that history, law, ethics and knowledge about the landscape are passed on. Every element has a meaning, which can only be understand if culture is allowed to be shared and passed on without interference. There are trustees of particular stories and dances (Songlines) who are responsible for maintaining them and passing them onto the next generation. This rich and peaceful culture cannot be lost because of the way that First Nations people have been treated and mistreated: too much of it already has been.
If you’ve read this far, you might think that the book is depressing, but it’s not. It’s a story of hope, resilience, and human ingenuity. It tells stories of tireless campaigners, pushing back against what has been done to them, with the aiming of making life better for the generations to come. Often this has been done in isolation, with small communities fighting locally to get better conditions. There have been national movements in the past, such as towards the referendum in 1967 which changed the Constitution to count First Nations people as part of the Australian population. However, the Constitution still allows race-based discrimination (in 2022!), which is why changes still need to be made.
I chose the hardback copy of the book, which is full of beautiful photographs and illustrations, showing the diversity of people and Country affected by the Statement. If you have a choice, I would recommend this copy, as it brings everything to life.
The book changed my perceptions of what it means to be First Nations in Australia. It gave me an insight into both the struggles and the triumphs that these communities have experienced, and the importance of joining together to fight for progress. It made me reconsider how I feel about trade unions, and made me understand better how they can work and why they are important.
I would urge anybody with an interest in Australia to read this book, and anybody in Australia to support the Uluṟu Statement and the referendum that I hope will come one day. I would urge everybody to find out more about First Nations culture, and to consider what non-indigenous cultures can learn from indigenous cultures all over the world.
Find out more
AIATSIS is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Their website contains a wealth of information to explore, including about Country, songlines, stories, art and Aboriginal astronomy. One of their publications is the AIATSIS map of indigenous Australia, showing the diversity of languages, tribal and nation groups across the continent and in the Torres Strait Islands. I recommend visiting their site to see it.
Apart from the book I wrote about above, I bought two others in Australia, both of which were fascinating and which I would recommend:
Astronomy: Sky Country by Karlie Noon and Krystal de Napoli is part of the First Knowledges series which is currently being published by the Australian National Museum. It’s a short read that will introduce you to the depth of Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders knowledge about the sky, and the connections between the sky and the land. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in science, particularly astronomy, or anybody who wants to find out more about how people have successfully lived in Australia for so many thousands of years.
Making Australian History by Anna Clark gives an overview of various events in Australian history, but not in the typical chronological manner. Instead, each chapter is based around a theme, such as Gender, Country, or Emotion. The chapter starts with a particular ‘text’, which may or may not be a written text, and explores that theme, its connections to Australian history, and to the recording of History (capital ‘H’) itself. It made me rethink my understanding of what History is and how it influences people. It also holds questions for the future of History, including how the Western idea of History can be reconciled with the First Nations way of passing on History, or even whether it should be. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in History on any level, whether or not you’re interested in Australian History specifically.
Finally, I would strongly urge you to visit Darwin if you ever get the opportunity. If you’re in Asia, you’re most of the way there already! The four pictures above are the smallest taste of the amazing street art all over the city. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory showcases indigenous art and tells First Nation stories (and has amazing food too!) Darwin is completely different to any other part of Australia that I visited during my trip, and I could have spent much more time there. Highly recommended!
If you’ve never heard of it before, IATEFL is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. It was started in 1967, so at the time of writing it has existed for over 55 years. You can find out more about the history of IATEFL in the free publication by Shelagh Rixon and Richard Smith, available on IATEFL’s About page. I read it a few months ago and found it utterly fascinating!
My IATEFL story
In 2011, I became active on Twitter just before the IATEFL Brighton conference happened. The community I was part of suddenly went crazy, with tweets from the conference letting me know about the huge range of talks people were attending, and the meet-ups they were having. I learnt so much from reading those tweets, felt a huge amount of FOMO, and promised myself that in 2012 I would be there.
The next step was to work out how. As a third year teacher, I didn’t think I could afford the conference fee myself, so I investigated scholarships. I decided to apply for the IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, as part of which I had to write a conference proposal and abstract, neither of which I’d done before. Thanks to the help of Ceri Jones, for which I’m eternally grateful, I was able to submit a strong application, and was lucky enough to win that scholarship. That took me to Glasgow 2012.
Since then, I’ve been able to attend every IATEFL conference. Here’s a 2020 post sharing photos from the conferences, along with links to my summaries of talks I attended each year. These are the posts for the 2021 summary and 2022 summary. I’ve learnt so much from the conferences, and made so many friends there. It really is the highlight of my year every year!
Special Interest Groups
IATEFL’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) cover 16 different areas, and I think I’ve attended events run by most of them! I’ve been to both face-to-face and online talks, workshops, and pre-conference events, all of which have been great for my learning and for networking with others interested in that area.
Since 2021, I’ve been a member of the committee for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is probably the one I’ve learnt the most from. It’s really helped me to understand how language learning materials work, how they influence teachers and students, and how they can (and should!) be improved. The people I’ve worked with on the committee and met at the events are also a super-supportive bunch. Through being on the committee, I’ve met a whole range of new people, and learnt new skills, including designing the updated MaWSIG website using Divi, something I had no idea about when I started!
Before being on the MaWSIG committee, I spent a couple of years on the Membership and Marketing Committee, which offers advice to IATEFL on how to make the Association as relevant and interesting to current and potential members as possible.
Apart from the SIGs, IATEFL does many other things. This 4-minute video will show you some of them:
In 2022, I was priviliged to be asked to become an IATEFL Ambassador. Along with Evan Frendo, Sarah Mercer and George Pickering (and hopefully others in the future), I’ll be working to let people know about IATEFL and how it can help them. To that end, please do ask questions in the comments below, and share what you’ve learnt from IATEFL if you’ve been a member or been to one of the conferences.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m currently working on my MA in Professional Development in Language Education (MAPDLE) with the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE).
I’ve already completed modules on teacher training and materials writing, and am now working on my dissertation:
An investigation into the production of a competency framework for language learning materials writing
I’ll be writing a lot more about the dissertation itself down the line, and (hopefully!) sharing the competency framework I create, but in the meantime, I need your help.
Please complete my survey! It should take you about 20-30 minutes to complete, with the 2nd section the longest. If you’re reading this on a computer, the survey is embedded below. On a tablet or phone, you can click on the link to open it in a new tab.
The closing date for the survey is Thursday 5th January 2023, at 10:00 GMT.
Please also share the link with as many people involved in materials writing/creation/development as you can from around the world, regardless of whether they’re beginners new to language teaching, seasoned materials writers, or anywhere in between!
On Sunday 27th November 2022, I presented at the first LanguageEd Day, as part of this programme of speakers:
Here are the slides from the day:
This was a slightly different version of a talk I’ve done a couple of times before. Here is a full list of all of the activities from a May 2019 post, which you can also download them as a pdf or a .docx handout. You can also find slides from a similar webinar I did for IH Bucharest, plus a few extra links, in this post from June 2020.
I’ve set this up to publish in two year’s time in the hope that it will all be a distant memory by then.
It’s Sunday 25th October 2020. About 17 days ago I still lived in a green zone. Two Saturdays ago all of Poland became a yellow zone. 8 days ago all of the cities in Poland became red zones. Yesterday the rules became even stricter again and now the government’s recommending everybody stay at home as much as possible.
When we changed to a red zone all of the universities and high schools shifted online, so we changed our lessons from once a week in the classroom and once a week online to fully online for all adult and teen groups. Yesterday primary schools closed too. However, we have already shifted online due to events from last week.
On Sunday I got a phone call from a teacher saying they thought they had lost their sense of smell, one of the earliest signs of Coronavirus. Everybody he had been in contact with went into self-isolation. Obviously he did too and so did his flatmate, another teacher at our school, newly arrived in Poland. He had a test on Monday which came back positive on Tuesday, so we asked all of our teachers to start working from home. On Tuesday a teacher’s partner tested positive too so she also went into self isolation. At this point the count was 7 of 20 teachers in self isolation, plus another teacher off sick with something else. Thankfully we could continue teaching most of our lessons and the cases in school were mild.
On Wednesday and Thursday two more members of admin staff tested positive, although luckily I had not had contact with them for a few days before the first symptoms so I didn’t need to self isolate. I continued to work at school because it seemed easier to do that when I was the only person at school and could find things that the teachers needed and refer to a whole range of things in my office. Tomorrow I will be the only person at school, in what feels like a ghost town.
It’s been a real rollercoaster of a week, although I feel a lot better now I know that the teachers are all safer because they are working at home.
We’re lucky that it took so long for cases to arrive in the city and the school. As I write this numbers keep going up and up. I know that it will end at some point, hopefully before this post is published on the blog, but who knows? The important thing is to stay safe and wear masks, washing hands regularly to protect ourselves and others.
The world is already a very different place to this time last year, and who knows what it will be like in two years’ time. I hope this post finds you happy and healthy and lockdown and coronavirus are just a distant memory when you read this.
Here’s a nice picture of the forest where I’m sitting to write this and breathe a little before we see what next week throws at us…
This is the first post in what I hope will be an occasional series, clearly up some areas of confusion with terminology. If anybody would like to correct what I’ve written, please do!
How do you classify different kinds of practice activity? Is it controlled practice? Semi-controlled-practice?Free(r) practice? What’s the difference?
First up, what exactly is a ‘practice activity’?
For the purposes of CELTA and Delta, a practice activity is one which gives learners the opportunity to use target language (grammar, vocabulary, pronuciation, or less commonly, discourse features) after they have been introduced in some way. They typically feature in a Present-Practice-Produce (PPP) model of teaching, though may appear in other models too.
Not every exercise is automatically a practice activity – there has to be some element of target language which is specifically being focussed on. It can also only practice something which has previously been introduced, so the initial ‘test’ activity in a lesson staged using Test-Teach-Test (TTT) is not a practice activity, because the target language hasn’t been introduced yet.
Practice activities are common features of coursebooks, and this is where Delta candidates need to know the difference: Paper 2 Task 2 asks you to analyse a set of materials, normally a coursebook spread, and you need to be able to identify what is and isn’t a practice activity, and what kind of practice activity it is.
Controlled practice (a.k.a. restricted practice) only has one correct answer to each question / item. There are right and wrong answers, and these are unambiguous. There is a focus on accuracy.
Drills are examples of spoken controlled practice focussing on pronunciation, and sometimes form (in the case of a substitution drill).
Most grammar exercises which appear in the back of a coursebook, in a workbook, or in a book like Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, are written controlled practice. They might focus on form, meaning, use or a combination.
Complete the sentence with the past simple form of the verb in brackets ( ).
I ________ swimming yesterday. (go)
Written controlled practice with a focus on the form of the past simple
Underline the correct option.
1. I went / have been swimming yesterday.
2. I went / have been to the gym three times this week.
Written controlled practice with a focus on the use of the past simple and present perfect simple
Complete the sentences with the past simple or present perfect form of the verb in brackets ( ).
1. I ________ swimming yesterday. (go)
2. I ________ to the gym three times this week. (go)
Written controlled practice with a focus on the use and form of past simple and present perfect simple
Semi-controlled practice has a limited range of correct answers to each question / item. There are right and wrong answers, but there might be more than one. There is a focus on accuracy.
Complete the sentences with can or can’t so they are true for you.
1. I ______ ride a horse.
2. I ______ play the piano.
3. I ______ swim 20 metres.
Written semi-controlled practice with a focus on the use of can / can’t
The same activity could also be spoken as a kind of drill, with students standing in a circle. The teacher gives the first sentence. In turn, each student says the sentence so it’s true for them. ‘Starter’ sentences could also be suggested by the students (the original sentence would be chosen freely, but the drill part of it is semi-controlled as there are only two possible responses for each student).
Student A: Say the sentence below. Choose which word to stress.
I don’t think he should get that job.
Student B: Decide what student A means:
Somebody else thinks he should get the job.
It’s not true that I think he should get the job.
That’s not really what I mean. OR I’m not sure he’ll get that job.
Somebody else should get that job.
In my opinion it’s wrong that he’s going to get that job.
He should have to earn (be worthy of, work hard for) that job.
Spoken semi-controlled practice with a focus on pronunciation – stress for emphasis
Freer practice allows students to use whatever language they have at their disposal, though if the activity is designed well, it should encourage / enable them to use the target language. There are no correct answers. There is a focus on fluency, though the teacher may choose to do some error correction. This will most often be delayed error correction to maintain the flow of the practice activity.
Complete the sentences so they are true for you.
1. If my tooth was hurting…
2. I would visit my dentist more often…
3. If I ate less chocolate…
Written freer practice with a focus on the form of the second conditional
Write something for FIVE of the things in the list.
something you are planning to do in the summer
a country you’d like to visit in the future
somebody you wouldn’t like to go on holiday with
a job you’d love to do
a job you hate doing in the house
somebody you find very easy to talk to
something you’re afraid of doing
a sport, activity, or hobby you love doing
something you enjoy doing on Sunday mornings
something you must do or buy urgently
[Taken from English File Intermediate 4th edition, p77 Ex 3f]
Written freer practice with a focus on the use of gerunds and infinitives
Work in groups. Tell the others about what you have written and answer any questions they have.
[Taken from English File Intermediate 4th edition, p77 Ex 3g, following on from the exercise above]
Spoken freer practice with a focus on the use of gerunds and infinitives
One of the presentations I saw during the EVE / LACTESOL mentoring sessions was by Larissa Nuñez, talking about how she uses TikTok with her learners. I’m really interested in social media and how it can be leveraged for professional development and learning, but I’d never even joined TikTok, much less watched videos on it, until Larissa suggested it. I asked her to write a post to share more about how she uses it. Over to Larissa…
I’d like to tell you a story. Last year I had a tough time teaching English to a teenager. I thought I wasn’t born to teach teens. He used to joke around mispronouncing words on purpose. I wanted to teach him the importance of pronouncing English words correctly, but I didn’t know how. One day I posted this funny video on Tiktok to see his reaction. When he saw the video he opened his eyes and couldn´t believe that his teacher had made a funny and cool TikTok video. He suddenly realized I was not an old lady and I became his instant hero. After a few weeks, I remember he actually started repeating the words correctly. Ever since when he pronounces a new word he looks at me and smiles. That’s just one reason why I love to use social media as a way to promote education.
What happened next?
This experience made me wonder, what if there is more? I started searching for information about using social media to promote education among teenagers and adults. To my surprise, there are more and more teachers making TikTok videos about their everyday lives, hacks, ideas, and tips and also giving online lessons in real time.
As teachers, we promote learning, curiosity, perseverance, and effort, but that becomes obsolete when we aren’t as curious or innovative as we want our students to be. That is why I started posting interesting tips, ideas, grammar, and vocabulary exercises as a hobby to support my students, on Instagram at first, and then when I gained more confidence, on Tiktok @misslarinf.
There are a few activities you can do with your students using Tiktok as a tool. I divide these into two categories:
direct app interaction: your students actually making videos, duetting them, answering questions directly on Tiktok
indirect app interaction: doing research or just talking about the videos they saw.
Direct app interaction
Let’s talk about the first one, students making videos. Students can create short videos on TikTok using the target language. For instance, teachers can model some language and students can duet the Teacher´s videos. Here’s an example duet I recorded.
Teachers can write dialogues, saying one part of them and asking students to duet (record themselves repeating) the other part.
Teachers can also write some words down and ask students to read some words or phrases out loud.
It can also be used when recording the steps of a project and encouraging them to do the same.
You could put math problems in a video and ask them to comment on the answers.
Indirect app interaction
First of all, TikTok can be used for research. Students can look for information about certain topics and write a paragraph describing what they have learned. We can all agree that using Tiktok and other social media nowadays is a life skill, and you are encouraging students and teaching them to filter all the information they receive. For instance, it is very good to teach critical thinking to our students. Teachers can collect many videos about a certain topic and use them for discussion or debate in the classroom.
Another activity could be replacing the famous question ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘What did you do at the weekend? Instead, you can say, ’Tell me about a TikTok you saw that inspired you this weekend.’ or ‘Tell me about a TikTok that taught you something new.’ Or even better there could be a ‘TikTok moment’ every week for students to share what they learned that week. Examples: study techniques, new English expressions, or words you learned on TikTok.
This platform has an algorithm, and if you tell students to look for certain videos that will teach them something, more of these types of videos will show on their TikTok, and their feed won’t be all about silly dances, but instead, useful suggestions will appear on their page.
TikTok for professional development
Tiktok is not only for children and teens. During the pandemic, TikTok has emerged as a critical platform for teachers to connect and share their experiences. As teachers, we also have a huge community where we can learn new tips, ideas, resources, and ideas not only for students but for you as a professional. More and more teachers are now open to sharing their resources and useful tools that worked for them, and this is how I found Coach Jordan Cotten. Her resources were very useful. I recommend you look for her. The more I looked for teacher tips and ideas the more I liked the teacher community.
I also reached out to some amazing teachers from Paraguay, Easyngles, Teacher Jhon, and English Pro, who also believe that TikTok is a wonderful tool that allows ANYONE to learn something new. They are constantly uploading valuable content that helps Paraguayan teens and adults to learn useful English idioms and phrases.
Why use social media in education?
That is why now I would like to talk about the advantages of using social media in education. As Greenhow, C. mentions in Educational benefits of social networking sites students who use social media in their courses increase their communication skills, are more creative, and are more open to diverse ideas. They can also master the course content more efficiently.
The biggest advantage of this social media, specifically TikTok, is that learners can exchange questions through videos. It’s a fun way to learn and collaborate. If a student is stuck with homework, they can always communicate with their friends or other students who went through the same problems and they can offer some ideas, tips, and resources as students to help each other. I am emphasizing the idea of sharing from student to student because sometimes we give the same tips to them but they don’t listen. They like listening to people of the same age. I often share TikTok videos of tips I find useful but which were created by others, and somehow THOSE seem to have more impact than me saying something to my students.
Another great advantage of social media in education is distance learning opportunities. There are many disadvantaged students who are not able to acquire formal education by attending regular classes in an educational institution. With the help of TikTok, modern educators are able to attract students through distance learning programs. Soon, this will be an inseparable part of our modern education system. Today, hosting live lectures is the way forward to allowing students who live in remote areas of the world to access education. They can be sitting on the couch learning something new every day.
What are you waiting for?
Tiktok is no longer just about sharing silly dances. It has spread its wings to various other fields and education is one of the new sectors where the concept of social media is making a great change. So, it’s up to students and scholars to decide how TikTok can be used in a brighter way; how to avoid being distracted and wandering aimlessly through it and instead, promote actual learning in the virtual world by setting real tasks that will benefit students and also teaching them how to filter all the information they receive.
In conclusion, Tiktok doesn´t only work as a video editor, and we teachers have the power to influence and promote learning through it. Before I leave I would like to give special thanks to all the teachers of TikTok who take the time to educate people with their free live lessons. Thank you for your contribution to education. I have learned so much from you.
Larissa Nuñez has a BA in Education and Applied Linguistics and a CELTA certificate. She has been an EFL teacher for 12 years in both Paraguay and Russia. She teaches business English at a company in Asuncion and general English courses to students of different ages and proficiency levels. She is a Teacher Assistant at the Instituto Superior de Lenguas of the National University of Asunción. Apart from being a teacher, she is a volunteer at PARATESOL as head of the marketing department and coordinator of volunteers.
On the CELTA course I tutored on back in August 2021, I ran a session on teaching under 16s. As part of it, I asked the trainees to create a list of questions they wanted the answers to. I promised them a blogpost with answers, but it’s taken this long to get round to it!
It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:
The age brackets may seem a little arbitrary – I selected them as they reflected to some extent the age ranges at schools I’ve previously worked for. The posts themselves are mostly a selection of links to answer the questions, rather than my own answers. Please feel free to add extra links in the comments, and let me know if any of the links are broken.
How can they practice fluency if they usually answer all the questions “yes/no/I don’t know/maybe/I don’t remember/ etc.)?
If this happens regularly, I would suggest audio recording part of a lesson or asking somebody to observe you, and making a note of all of the questions asked during the lesson. Do the questions lend themselves to longer answers? If they do, have learners been given enough preparation before the task to be ready to answer the questions? For example, have they had any thinking time? There are ideas for activities to work on preparation time in Richer Speaking, my ebook (which costs less than $1!)
I do understand that at this age they are not very talkative in general (in every language) so is it better to focus on accuracy rather than on fluency?
I don’t have a clear answer for that, but I suspect that if you only focus on accuracy, students will become even less engaged in the lesson and switch off more. How would you feel if somebody made you do everything correctly without making a mistake? I think it’s important to let out learners be creative, and if they feel comfortable in the lessons, sharing their creativity will hopefully encourage them to speak more. It’s also important to ensure they feel comfortable in lessons (see links connected to atmosphere and classroom dynamics below).
How do I keep them engaged?
Whatever age group you teach, I recommend reading this:
I think it’s fantastic (and I’ve been meaning to write a review of it ever since I finished it a few months ago…) I think I’ve referred to it in every workshop or training course I’ve done since I read it. Buy it from the independent bookshop BEBC or, if you’d like to give me a few pennies when you buy it, here are affiliate links for Amazon and Bookshop.org (in the UK).
I know it’s a good idea to use their interests, but they either don’t want to share their ideas or just simply say that they don’t have any hobbies and they do nothing in their free time. What do I do?
One idea is to flip everything. Rather than asking them what they do in their free time, ask them to list all the things they don’t do. Ask them to list the hobbies they don’t have. Ask them to say three things they didn’t do at the weekend.
You could also play around with the questions you ask and the tasks you set in other ways. Here are some zero prep ideas from Monika Bigaj-Kisała.
How can I help them to be more open and less reserved?
When would a teenager describe his/her house to friends? They may describe a new house – if it’s ‘amazing’, to the whole tribe; if it’s a dive compared to the previous one, to parents (criticism) or intimate friends (confidential complaint) – but do they ever sit around, describing where they’ve always lived? Do they even think about it? Is it even a place they want to think about? Is home-life all sweetness and light when you’re 14?
I teach teenagers at a public school. A lesson lasts 45 min – how should I allocate time?
Without knowing more about the context it’s difficult for me to say. I’m also not sure if the problem is time management (which this might help with) or deciding what to include as routines in your lessons. I’d suggest setting up some kind of starting / ending routines with the groups to make the most of the time. For example, you could have a 5-minute revision routine at the beginning of every lesson. Apart from that, I’d suggest aiming for variety across the year. If you’re using a coursebook, you’re unlikely to be able to work with more than one page in 45 minutes, so look carefully at your book and the page and prioritise the things you think your learners most need to work on. Include as much pair and group work as you can to maximise opportunities for speaking – I tend to reduce open class work as much as I can, as this is often a recipe for a lot of teacher talk (compared to student talk) and/or one or two students dominating discussions. If anybody who has more experience with this than I do has useful ideas, please do share in the comments!
How do I make them use cameras when having online classes?
I don’t think it’s possible to ‘make’ anybody do anything. We can discuss the benefits of using cameras during online classes, making sure it’s an open discussion and you acknowledge the disadvantages of using cameras too, not just lecturing the students (something I’ve definitely been guilty of!) We can have a mix of camera on / camera off activities, so that students get some privacy during the lesson, but also benefit from cameras at other points. We can also do activities which only work with cameras on, for example show and tell or ‘spot the difference’ based on what’s around them in the room. You can read more about how we worked with Zoom at IH Bydgoszcz during pandemic restrictions – there are links at the bottom of this post.
How do I deal with mixed-level classes, where there’re some teens, who are almost beginners, and some of them are ready for CAE, taking into consideration that a group might be quite large including up to 18 students?
Laura Miccoli talks about multi-level classrooms in two posts: part one and part two.
Naomi Epstein shares a tip from Penny Ur’s book 100 Teaching Tips, from a section about teaching heterogenous classes. [If you’d like your own copy of the book, here are links: non-affiliate BEBC, affiliate Amazon and Bookshop.org (UK)]
What do I do if they struggle to understand? What if they start crying because of it? Should I focus on productivity or empathy?
I’m sorry to hear that this might have happened in a lesson. Empathy is incredibly important, because if the students don’t feel you understand why they’re struggling, they will probably mentally ‘check out’ of your lessons, and productivity will never happen. Communicating aims and objectives clearly, helping students to understand why they’re learning, training them to become independent, and using some of the mixed ability techniques in the previous section should hopefully help too.
At the other end of the scale, here’s what you could do if your teenage students are better than you at English.
How do I work with multilingual groups of younger students?
I couldn’t find any specific resources about this (please add them to the comments if you know any!)
Jade Blue recommends ways of helping teens to feel more socially connected to other learners. It was written during the peak of online teaching, but is relevant in any kind of teaching.
How do I encourage them do homework?
First, make sure you’re clear on why you’re giving them homework. Is it just a routine? A tick-box exercise? Or do you have clear purposes in mind? Do they know the purposes too? Anya Shaw’s slides encourage you to rethink your homework routines.
Hana Ticha asks ‘Homework or not?‘ – there’s an interesting discussion in the comments section too.
Klara talks about a whole class following a mini series together as homework, as a kind of alternative to a reading circle / book club.
One thing I’ve tried with young adults (16-18 years old) which could also work with younger teens is ‘5 minutes a day’, which you’ll find in this post. I tell learners I don’t mind what they do, as long as they do it every day, there’s some variety, and they’re pushing themselves (not just listening to the same music or watching the same series).
If you have to use a coursebook / workbook for homework, try allocating a certain amount of ‘stars’ for the learners, rather than having them complete everything on the page. That encourages them to make choices for themselves. Many workbooks already have a star rating for each exercise. For example, on a page with 1 x *, 2 x ** and 1 x ***, I might ask learners to do 4 * worth of activities.
Checking homework – how do I make it effective and not boring?
Hopefully if homework feels more purposeful, homework checks will also be more engaging. If learners are sharing personal experiences or something creative, then they are more likely to want to check their homework.
If you’re checking exercises, try tips like:
Make one student the teacher. They have the answers for everybody else.
Ask one group to be responsible for the answers for each task. They write the answers on a piece of scrap paper, as big as they can to fill the page. Everybody else uses that key to check the answers.
Display the answers on the board. Ask students to find your mistakes (add challenge by not telling them how many are there).
If you have other tips or resources for this, please add them to the comments.
What blogs can I read?
I added this question 🙂 You’ll notice that a lot of the links come from a limited range of sources, because they’re the blogs I follow which deal with this age group. Please let me know about others!
It makes me very sad that so many people who ‘only’ get a Pass grade are disappointed with their Delta results. Please don’t be! You worked very hard for that Pass, and you should be proud of it! As far as I know, all most employers care about is whether you have the Delta or not, rather than what grade you got for it.
I got a Pass in Module Two (including failing LSA1 and LSA3 lessons), a Merit in Module Three, and a Distinction in Module One (because I had plenty of time to focus on it, and it was the only thing I was preparing for at the time). I’m proud of all of my results, and learnt a lot from all of the modules.
I was really shocked to see the fail rates for Module One. I suspect this is partly because a lot of people do the exam without any preparation, or with only very minimal preparation. There’s no obligation to do a course before you sit the exam, but as you can see, it’s probably a good idea!
This module has the lowest fail rates – I suspect this is because some people withdraw before they complete the course if they’re struggling (I don’t think withdrawals are counted in the statistics).
Again, there’s no obligation to get tutor support during this module, though it can help you to get feedback on your writing so you know whether you’re meeting the Cambridge requirements. I definitely wasn’t in the first draft of some of my sections, and found it really useful to have that support.
A little advert
If you’d like to complete Delta Module One or Module Three with me, I run courses which last for a full academic year, meaning you can Take Your Time, and really apply what you’re learning to your own teaching / context. I don’t have any grade statistics from my own courses yet, as they’re still very new, but everybody who has completed the Module One mock exams half way through the course has passed. 🙂
Having participated in one EVE mentoring program, working with teachers from Africa, I was very happy when the opportunity came up to do it again. This time there are 8 teachers from across Latin America, presenting on a range of different topics. My mentee was first to present.
[I will add a link to the recordings when they become available]
#Memes: preparing EFL learners for intercultural communication on social media – Jessica Rivas (Venezuela)
Jessica started by reminding us that memes can be offensive and not for everybody. Not every meme we see is one we can identify with.
Do we prepare our studenst to face intercultural communication on social media? To understand that social media is a bridge between different cultures? It comes with risks, challenges and threats like those of memes above.
Here are some ideas you can use to help our students to understand this:
Discuss. What are the characteristics of memes? What is the process of their creation? What is their relationship with culture? What concepts are involved in the meme?
Reflect. What is the purpose of the meme? Who is the intended audience? Who created it?
Introduce. What memes are related to the learners’ culture? What stereotypes or prejudices might they be sharing?
Compare. How does this meme relate to memes from similar or other topics? How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to other people’s lives?
This could also be a starting point for research done by students about memes they have seen.
An English teacher in a Honduran town with limited resources – Luz Milda Bohorquez Paz (Honduras)
This map shows were Luz lives in Honduras.
As English teachers, Luz says that we need to be empathic, adaptable, creative and tolerant. Love and passion should also be part of our job.
She works in an incredibly challenging context, with 620 students in public school, with only 2 x 45-minute lessons with her students each week. There are limited resources, no books, no copies, and a lack of government support. There are high levels of poverty, and many learners work in agriculture and go to school as well. There is limited connectivity. Luz has a high workload, and there isn’t enough practice time for her students. She has to find resources on her own, and be creative to design engaging lessons. She aims to empower learners so they know English is useful, and sometimes uses her phone to provide an internet connection. Luz encourages her students to create project work and work on topics.
In the future, Luz would like to create an audiovisual lab for her students. She is hoping to apply for grants and/or work with her learners to bring technology closer to her learners, engaging them more, exposing them to innovation, and providing access to opportunities with learners in other parts of the country of the world.
Prioritising Mental Health in a University Context – Patricia Gomez (Paraguay)
This is a definition of mental health. Patricia believes this is vital for university students to have, particularly to stop them from quitting their courses. At the university where Patricia works, only 10% of students graduate. Only 1% of the health budget in Paraguay is dedicated to mental health.
Patricia studied at the same university and felt very supported by her professors and classmates, but she felt the need for institutional support too. When she started her research she discovered that a Bienestar Estudiantil (student wellbeing) department exists, for wellbeing, but the office is 6km away from their faculty, and it’s hard to get around! The service has existed since around 2009, offering support with academic and administrative processes, and helping disabled students with access.
She interviewed some of her students in the English language program to find out what they knew about it. More than half of the students didn’t know it existed, and 94% of the 18 students didn’t know how to access the department. These are some things students said in her survey:
This is what the students wanted from the department:
Most of these things are actually provided by the service, apart from mental health professionals, but there is only one person responsible for a whole department.
Create a wellbeing hub. She recognises it might not be possible to build an office or hire more staff. The University of Oxford describes this as “an online gateway that makes it easier for all to find and access wellbeing and support services.”
Build peer support networks. Train students to volunteer to be good listeners and help those who are struggling, and how to redirect students if they need professional help.
Promote wellbeing activities. For example sports, exercise and recreation, as well as socialising.
These should have a positive impact on our students.
Intentional teaching: engaging students with ADHD – Anabell Rodriguez (El Salvador)
Classroom management is often a challenge, especially for new teachers, and many teachers have little or no training for working with students with special educational needs. This can be discouraging for both students and teachers.
Before we start, Anabell reminded us that all our students have superpowers. We should see them with eyes that see what they CAN do, not what they can’t. We also need to work with other people in our organisation, and in our networks to learner more about strategies to help us work with our students. We need to work from the heart, and remind students that we love them and we want the best for them.
What happens in our classrooms and why?
Obtain adult attention. Students want adults to talk to them or look at them. Criticism and yelling are also attention, though it’s for negative reasons. We need to provide them attention for things that are positive, for example praising them for opening their books and being prepared for the lesson. They get a boost for this, and we reinforce positive behaviours. Students will then tend to perform these positive behaviours more.
Obtain peer attention. Students want other students to talk to them or look at them. Laughing, touching and fighting are also kinds of attention. Ask the students to do things which play to their strengths. For example, if a student is great at drawing, ask them to draw flashcards for you, then tell the other students who did it. In Anabell’s experience, that meant that a student was then asked to draw things for other students, and became much more engaged in the whole classroom environment.
Avoid or escape. The student doesn’t want to do the work or be in the room. They may also not want to be with certain peers. Students don’t have intrinsic motivation, so we need to work with extrinsic motivations. Encourage them based on what you know they like. For example, tell them that they can listen to some of their favourite music at the end of the lesson if they’ve worked successfully. Or let students work alone rather than making them work with peers.
Functional Behavioural Assessment and Behaviour Support Plans:
A: Antecedent e.g. when Maria is asked to do work in a group…
B: Behaviour e.g. …she gets out of her seat and walks around the classroom…
C: Consequence e.g. …As a result, she does not work with the group.
The hypothetical function of her behaviour is avoiding group work. Here are some possible solutions people came up with for this situation:
Ask her how she prefers to work, for example individually.
Assign people roles within the groups, so they are all clear what to do. Make sure she understands that she is needed in the group too.
Let her monitor the class with a specific role during the activity.
It’s important for us to identify the antecedents and consequences, not just the behaviours, to help us come up with alternative solutions.
The highlights of my teaching experience with young learners at Escuala Vera Angelita in Nicaragua – Fernanda Polanco (Nicaragua)
Fernanda’s school is in a rural area, and is a sustainable school, the first in Nicaragua. They are aiming to integrate all of the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. It’s located within a farm, producing organic food, which is used to feed the students and teachers, some of whom live at the school. There are also donors from the USA who provide things for the school. All of the students are girls who live on campus, who receive everything they need at the school, including food, clothes and healthcare.
Fernanda works to create classroom routines, including using technology like QR codes regularly. She uses a lot of collaborative work to promote interdependence between students. She makes use of the space in the classroom and the outdoor areas of the school to vary lessons.
To help students adjust to the classroom, she uses a ‘sandwich’ of English / Spanish / English. Later she reduces the amount of Spanish she uses once she knows that students feel comfortable.
Own languages are used by learners, regardless of what teachers do or say and they can also be used productively when children / teenagers work together in pairs or groups.
There have been other challenges. Some of her students are complete beginners in English, and some don’t have Spanish either as they come from indigenous groups.
Practical ideas for pure beginners:
Guessing games (like mime)
Recording – students like to listen to their recordings, and this serves as self-assessment
Board games – online and in-person
These are some of the resources Fernanda uses:
The use of social media in education – Larissa Nunez (Paraguay)
Larissa started by reminding us of some potential disadvantages of social media:
Can facilitate cyber-bullying
Can promote laziness
Can distract learners
Larissa talked about using TikTok for education. She started creating TikTok videos when working with a teenager, and this improved their relationship. There are lots of people using social media for education, including giving live online lessons.
We need to be as curious and innovate as we want our students to be.
She started to promote interesting tips to support her students, first on Instagram, and then on TikTok.
Direct app interaction activities:
Making videos – creating short videos using the target language
Duetting teacher’s videos, dialogues
Recording steps of a project
Putting math problems on video and asking to comment on the answers
Answering questions via the app
Indirect app interaction activities:
Researching a topic and writing a paragraph
Critical thinking – using videos for discussion or debate after watching videos
Telling the teacher about a TikTok that was funny, interesting, inspiring, that taught you something new, etc. (rather than ‘How was your weekend?’ as an opening question!)
‘TikTok moments’ in the classroom: students can share a TikTok video for other students to see, e.g. study techniques, words they’ve learnt, or something fun in English.
TikTok is also somewhere teachers can learn tips and ideas. Jordan Cotten was one person Larissa found it useful to follow. She also found other teachers from Paraguay, sharing tips relevant to her context.
Advantages of using social media:
Communication and collaboration
Finding tips, ideas and resources created by other students – students are more likely to listen to each other than to their teacher!
This was a very fun presentation, featuring puppets and magic tricks 🙂
Kris tries to make use of painting, singing, dancing and magic to motivate and engage her students. She was highlighted as an outstanding teching by the Ministerio de Educacion in 2021. Now she’s an instructor for Platzi, helping public school teachers.
Using magic tricks can help students to realise that it’s OK make mistakes. It fosters their imagination, boosts their self-confidence, and can help with content explanation. It encourages students to explain outcomes, going beyond surface explanations.
Professor Richard Wiseman, Jody Greig, Miss Nan, and Xuxo Ruiz are all teachers you can find online who talk about teaching with magic. Xuxo Ruiz has written a book called Educando con Magia.
[It’s best to watch the video of this one, as that will make the tricks and ideas clearer!]
Webcomics: in the EFL classroom – Analys Milano (Venezuela)
A webcomic is the younger sibling of comics. There is a sequence of frames with narrative development, with a link between images and text, in both. But webcomics are mainly made to be viewed via apps or websites and consistently published.
Vocabulary is learnt in context.
They are visually attractive, including having distinctive styles according to the authors.
They can motivate and inspire through their stories.
Students can relate to the stories and talk about their own related stories.
They promote reading comprehension.
They provide meaningful input.
Webcomics require intensive and extensive reading skills. They require critical reading, and understanding the relationship between context and experience. They also promote critical thinking.
How can you integrate webcomics into your classroom?
Focus on grammar: Find a grammar point within the comic and explain it to your classmates – why was it used there?
Complete the story: Missing frames, missing lines. Who got the closest to the original story?
Fandub: Take a part of the story and ask students to voice the characters themselves. They have to understand the feelings too, not just the words.
Translations: [I missed this one]
Focus on comprehension: You can link comics to other media, like related videos.
On Webtoon, there’s a comic called ‘Let’s play’, which Analys uses to help students understand social media influence:
We need to take our students’ interests into account – there are many different genres of webcomics. We can create webcomics to create reading habits. Comics can also help with mental health and self-awareness, for example as distraction during the pandemic.
Last week I organised an ELT picnic in Reading, my first attempt at setting up networking for Reading English Professionals. One of the attendees was Gonzalo Galian-Lopez, Director of Studies at Eurospeak in Reading, and he told us about an event he was organising to share the results of Erasmus+ projects he’s been working on. I found the idea of these projects to be really interesting, and I hope you do too. Thanks for writing this Gonzalo!
I work for Eurospeak, an educational institution based in the UK and Ireland which is currently involved in over 40 EU-funded projects. The Erasmus+ programme makes it possible for language teaching professionals to participate in EU projects funded to develop innovative resources for teachers and learners. First, I’ll provide a brief introduction to the Erasmus+ programme and then presents an Erasmus+ project that has seen the development of resources for grammar teaching. Next, I’ll outline a few other projects that are currently working towards the creation of more tools for teachers and learners.
What is the Erasmus+ programme?
Erasmus+ is an EU programme that aims to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe. With a budget of over €26 billion, it provides opportunities for mobilitiy and cooperation in the contexts of school and adult education, vocational education and training, and more. Some of the programme’s goals relevant to language teachers include (1) promoting language learning and linguistic diversity, (2) improving the availability of high-quality learning resources, and (3) improving the competences of educators. The programme is open to any organisation established in an EU member state, including such organisations as language schools and higher education institutions.
What does an Erasmus+ project look like?
Erasmus+ projects typically involve several EU organisations working towards the development of resources and products. They last between 12 and 36 months and include four stages:
implementation of activities;
In the context of language teaching, Erasmus+ projects are often carried out by consortiums comprised of institutions with expertise in language education and result in the development of innovative resources for language teachers and learners.
An example of an Erasmus+ project for language teaching
Second-language learners generally achieve a good understanding of grammar rules, but their ability to use these rules in fluent, spontaneous communication is often very limited. The Teaching Grammar for Spontaneous Communication project is an initiative to address this issue. More specifically, this project aims to help language teachers gain new insight into how to promote the development of grammatical knowledge that learners can use fluently and spontaneously in real-time communication. The project launched in November 2020 and is now approaching its end. Led by Eurospeak, a UK-based language school, the project has seen the development of three innovative tools for language teachers and teacher trainers:
These resources have been informed by cutting-edge research and are packed with sample grammar practice activities. They will soon be available in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Romanian, and Latvian. To access the all the project’s materials and to find out more about the project, you can visit the project’s website or Facebook page.
More Erasmus+ projects for language teaching
There is a vast array of Erasmus+ projects related to language teaching. These range in aims and target audiences, which can go from upskilling teacher trainers to supporting self-directed learners. They also range widely in project results, which can include, for example, e-courses, curricula, handbooks, apps, websites, and games, to name a few. The table below provides an overview of a selection of projects to give a sense of what Erasmus+ projects for language teaching may look like and, in turn, to encourage the reader to find out more about these projects and make use of their results:
The aim of this article was to provide an introduction to the Erasmus+ programme and to share some projects relevant to language teaching professionals. I hope that this article will arouse some interest in the Erasmus+ programme among the language teaching community and possibly create opportunities for future partnerships and collaboration with Eurospeak. I also hope that the projects presented in this article, and the Teaching Grammar for Spontaneous Communication project in particular, will be of interest and useful to language teaching professionals across the EU.
With a background in ELT and EAP, Gonzalo Galian-Lopez is research lead in several language-learning related EU-funded projects. His main research interest is in the role of practice in the development of grammatical knowledge, and he is currently pursuing a PhD in this area of SLA. His main professional aims are to continue working in projects which bridge the gap between SLA research and the needs of language teachers and learners.
I was also saddened by the Cambridge grade statistics, which show that as many as 42.9% of people taking Delta Module 1 fail (in 2019). This is a huge percentage, meaning something must be going wrong. I know a lot of people take the exam without a preparation course, and though I suspect much of this is due to the cost, I also think that some of it is knowing how stressful the course might be. I don’t think they’re failing because they’re not good teachers, or because they’re not capable of success in the exam, but because they don’t understand how the exam works and don’t necessarily have the level of methodology knowledge required to take it yet. That’s not to say you have to take a preparation course: just that it will probably increase your chances of success if it’s a good course.
I decided to put together a year-long course, in contrast to the three- or four-month courses which seemed to be the norm. I wanted course participants to have the chance to apply what they learnt to their work, and not just cram for the exam. I also wanted them to have time to absorb the structure of the Module 1 exam and feel confident when walking into the exam room, so that they could concentrate on showing what they knew, rather than trying to remember exam technique.
My first course started in October 2021, with three participants, and a fourth joining us soon after the start. I’m so grateful to my first group for working with me on this experimental course, and giving me excellent feedback throughout to help me refine it. It’s been a really enjoyable experience, and I think I’ve easily learnt as much as they have about Delta Module 1 and what candidates need to know to take the exam. I’ve also learnt a lot about how to structure my course.
I started out with a syllabus for the first 13 sessions or so, covering one part of the exam per session. I expected that we would work through these sessions, do a mock exam, then be flexible in the second half of the course, focussing on the areas which the participants most wanted/needed to work on. This is largely what we did, but I’m not sure if the specific sessions I ran the first time round were always the most effective. It took some experimentation to find session formats which worked well, combining exam practice with reflection on teaching. I also needed to work out / remember what level of methodological knowledge pre-Delta teachers are likely to have – this really made me appreciate how much I’ve learnt about teaching because of and since completing my own Delta. I sometimes pitched things too high, or expected to get through a lot more in a session, because I forgot that this was likely to be new information for these teachers.
Homework was very flexible. Generally it was designed to feed into the upcoming session in some way, but sometimes it revised what we’d done in the past or introduced new areas of language. Based on a suggestion from the group, there were also optional extension tasks, normally something to read or watch, which they could do if they had extra time or were particularly interested in the subject. If the participants didn’t do the core homework, it didn’t stop us from completing the session. I think it’s important to recognise that teachers (all adults!) are busy, and that whether they complete homework or not is their responsibility – if they do, great, if they don’t, I tend to say that’s their problem! Most of the homework was something they could check themselves, and I started to factor in time for discussing their questions a couple of sessions into the course when I realised it was sometimes taking over the session but I hadn’t planned for it.
The course ran for 30 sessions, and ended up finishing three weeks after the Module 1 exam in June 2022, since all four participants decided not to take the exam in this sitting. They may take it in December, or they may not take it at all. Part of the joy of a course like this is that it can be very flexible, and respond to the participants’ needs. They made this decision in early April, so the final 10 sessions or so have been very relaxed, and have focussed on areas of their teaching which they wanted to work on, for example how to teach listening, not just test it, or how to choose a coursebook. We’ve also had general discussions covering lots of areas of teaching which have wandered all over the place in the session. Even though they haven’t taken the exam, all four participants have commented on how much they’ve learnt from the course, which is what I really wanted people to get out of it. The 90 minutes I’ve spent with them each week have been the highlight of my freelancing so far – I’ve enjoyed it so much 🙂
We’re already 10 sessions into the March to December course, for which I have two groups, and the lessons I’ve learnt from the first cohort are being put into practice. The sessions for the second cohort have a more consistent structure, and I feel like I’ve been able to scaffold their understanding of each section of the exam more solidly based on the questions the first cohort asked me. I then fed some of these new sessions back into the course for the first cohort, as there was three months of overlap. I’ve pushed the first mock exam to the midpoint on the course for the second cohort (after session 15), to give us a little more time to go over each section of the exam first, and particularly to focus on the more problematic areas. This still leaves us 50% of the course to be flexible and respond to the needs of the participants. Of course, because they are small groups, all of the sessions can be flexible to some extent too!
I’m really pleased that the idea of the Take Your Time Delta course seems to be working. I’ve had really positive feedback so far, and the course continues to evolve. If you’d like to join me on the next course, I’ll be starting both Module One and a brand new Module Three course in September. You can find all the information and sign up on the Take Your Time page.
And if you’d like to do some form of development but my course isn’t for you, why not take a look at the Courses by ELT freelancers page to see what else is on offer?
The first time I wanted to go to the IATEFL conference, I applied for a first-time speaker scholarship. As part of it, I had to write a conference proposal, including an abstract and summary, but I had no idea what they actually were. Thankfully Ceri Jones came to my rescue, talking me through what I needed to do and giving me feedback on what I’d written.
While I can’t give you feedback (unless you decide to book a consultancy slot with me), I can hopefully offer you some tips to help you with your own applications to any conference, not just IATEFL. I also can’t guarantee that your application will be accepted, as there are often far more applications than spots for speakers, but hopefully these tips will improve your chances. I like the idea that ‘it’s selection, not rejection’, which I heard on this podcast.
[Note that scholarship applications for IATEFL Harrogate 2023 will close at 16.00 (UK time) on Thursday 23 June 2022. Speaker proposals are not yet open. They general open in July and close in mid-September, though please look at the IATEFL website for details.]
I think word count is the most challenging thing about writing a conference proposal: either being concise enough, or finding enough to say! I use wordcounter.net to keep track.
Make sure you save a copy of everything you send. I normally create a document for each proposal, including the title, abstract, summary, and any technology requests I’ve made. Then when it’s time to put together my talk, I can remember what I said I was going to do!
If your proposal seems interesting to the conference committee, but not quite what would fit, they may ask to revise parts of it. This is what happened to me for the 2019 conference. This won’t give you a guaranteed acceptance though: my proposal for 2017 was turned down, even after I rewrote the abstract.
What is an abstract?
The abstract is what people attending the conference see in the programme. This is how they choose which talk to attend. It is typically around 45-60 words long, or about 3-4 sentences. The exact requirements will depend on the conference you’re applying to, so it’s important to read their guidelines carefully. You will generally be automatically removed from the selection process if your abstract is too long or too short. The guidelines for IATEFL speaker proposals are available on the conference website.
The best way to get a feel for what to write in an abstract is by reading other examples of them. On the IATEFL Past and future conferences page, you can find links to programmes from previous years. When you read enough of them, you start to spot patterns of structure and typical phrases which are used again and again. Why not read 10 different abstracts from a past programme and see what you can ‘steal’ from them?
A more technical analysis
In About Language 2nd edition [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC], Scott Thornbury analyses three examples of real conference abstracts (on p190-191) from the English UK Teachers’ Conference:
Express yourself – getting students to communicate!
Students often struggle to express themselves and may lack confidence in their own opinions and insharing them. This workshop offers easy to use activities requiring few or no materials that will build students’ confidence and language skills and will get them talking and sharing their ideas. It is a practical, fun session and teachers will leave with a range of ideas that they can immediately use in the classroom.
‘The ear of the beholder’: helping learners understand different accents
The use of English as an international lingua franca means learners will be exposed to a wide variety of accents, both native and non-native. How can teachers prepare them to cope with such diversity? This workshop features practical tasks, informed by relevant theory, which participants could try out in their own classrooms.
Getting unstuck – stretching out of our comfort zones
Our daily teaching schedule often takes up so much of our time and energy that we don’t have the chance to take advantage of opportunities to stretch ourselves of take on challenges in other areas. This talk will explore why we keep doing what we have always done – the classes we usually teach, the style, methods and technology we are comfortable with – as a basis to work together and ‘get unstuck’.
He summarises their purpose like this in the commentary:
These texts all have the basic structure of problem – solution, hence they replicate the structure of [an] advertising text […] while not overtly advertising, they do perhaps have a persuasive as well as an informative function.
Thornbury (2017: 332)
He goes on to talk about the linguistic features of abstracts like these:
As noted, the purpose is to inform/describe the content of each session, while perhaps emphasising both its relevance and usefulness. The audience is likely to be practising teachers, who will recognise the professional terminology such as ‘English as an international lingua franca’. At the same time, the writers adopt a non-academic, neutral, even infromal, register: ‘fun session’, ‘get unstuck’. The use of first-person plural pronouns in the third text (our, we), is deliberately inclusive. The net effect is to reduce the social distance and power differential between speakers and their potential audience.
The basic structure of all three texts is, as noted, a problem-solution one: the problems are presented in negative terms (struggle, lack, cope, so much of our time…) while the solutions emphasise the practicality and usefulness of the sessions: easy to use activities; a practical, fun session; ideas that they can immediately use; practical tasks…which participants could try out; a basis to work together… etc. The transition from problem to solution is marked by the noun phrase this workshop/talk, which also identified the kind of presentation it is. The assertive use of the modal will for prediction (teachers will leave… This talk will explore…) reinforces the writers’ commitment and preparedness.
Thornbury (2017: 332-333)
What is a summary?
A summary is used by the conference committee to help them select which talks would be the best fit for the conference. They will generally be the only people who see your summary – it will not be available to the conference goers. If there are similar talks proposed by other speakers, the conference committee might ask you to speak in a forum, where three speakers cover closely related topics.
For IATEFL, the summary is 200-250 words long. You can’t repeat any information from the abstract or title. You can’t include biodata. So what could you include?
A breakdown of the structure of your session: list each of the main parts and what you will do in them, ensuring that they will fit the time available.
What the audience will be able to take away from your session: specific activities, or specific new information they will be able to use.
Why the session would be helpful to your specific target audience.
This is what grabs a potential audience member’s attention, so it needs to encapsulate your talk in some way, while also engaging their interest. At IATEFL 2022, the concise paper conference programme handed out to delegates only had session titles in it, with abstracts appearing in the pdf version of the programme which was available on the website. This put even more pressure on the titles!
All in all, quite a tall order! This is why I’ve left it until last. I think it’s a good idea to know what you’re talking about before you come up with your title, and often inspiration will strike while you’re writing your abstract or summary anyway.
As with abstracts, the best way to get a feel for possible titles is by looking at other examples of them. On the IATEFL Past and future conferences page, you can find links to programmes from previous years. You’ll probably spot certain patterns:
Colons and dashes are very popular: ‘advertising’ first, then a short description of what it means
These are the conference proposals I’ve submitted to IATEFL conferences since 2012. You’re welcome to use them as inspiration for your own proposals, but please respect my work and don’t plagiarise them.
Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.
I will begin the session with a brief explanation of how materials writing fits into my career, as well as why I decided to embark on an MA module related to materials development. I will then summarise general areas of theory which have caught my interest in my reading connected to the module. These include the evaluation of existing materials as a starting point for developing and adapting your own materials, possible frameworks for approaching materials writing, and what role different stakeholders (can) play in the materials development process. I will share top tips I’ve heard over the years for improving the quality of materials and their usefulness to students, including ideas of inclusivity and supporting learners with SEN, and some useful resources for attendees who’d like to improve their ability to develop materials. I also plan to discuss my own experience of the materials writing process, and how it has differed when working with publishers and self-publishing. Finally, attendees will consider how what I’ve learnt over the years could be applied to their own materials development. I will also briefly mention my own self-published materials. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.
I have recently completed the Trainer Development module of the NILE MA, meaning I’ve read a lot of theory about teacher education. In this session, I’ll summarise what I’ve learnt and how it has influenced my work as a teacher trainer and director of studies. You’ll also be able to consider how this theory might be relevant to you.
I will begin the session with a brief explanation of how teacher training fits into my career and why I decided to embark on an MA module on trainer development. I will then summarise general areas of theory which have come up repeatedly in my reading connected to the module. These include the importance of the apprenticeship of observation, helping teachers get at their beliefs, starting from ‘where teachers are’, balancing theory and practice, incorporating effective reflection into training, linking training to the classroom to increase its impact, and evaluating the effectiveness of teacher training. Throughout the talk I will link these ideas to my work as a teacher trainer and director of studies, showing how I have incorporated each into my practice. Examples include changing the structure of workshops in our school so that they begin with brainstorming of proper knowledge, adding explicit reflection training into our in-house PD, asking for written feedback at the end of every workshop, and including forward planning stages in training courses so trainees decide how they can implement what they have learnt. Finally, attendees will consider how these theories could be applied to their own contexts. I will also briefly mention my book of reflective tasks for teacher trainers. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provides the context for my reading.
[Note: I actually gave this talk at the IATEFL Online Conference in 2021.]
I was asked to revise the abstract: ‘The proposals committee has asked that you please rewrite your abstract (50-60 words) so it is clear how the session is relevant to an IATEFL audience .’ I changed my title at this point as well, as I felt it was clearer and better reflected the new abstract. The talk was then accepted.
Intermediate learner, beginner teacher: implications for teaching and training
I am an experienced teacher and intermediate-level speaker of Polish who has been teaching the language to beginners for 18 months. I will reflect on what my relatively low level of proficiency means for my teaching and my students’ learning, use of L1 and L2 in class, and how my experience might relate to that of low-level teachers of English.
What impact does a teacher’s low level of L2 proficiency have on their students’ learning? What strategies can low-level teachers use to maximise L2 use in class? When should they use L1? Is methodology or language development more essential for teachers? My experience teaching Polish informs my thoughts on these issues, relevant to anyone working with low-level English teachers.
The talk will cover how and why we decided that it was appropriate for me, with my relatively low level of Polish and as a non-native speaker, to teach the beginner lessons at our school.
I aim for the lessons to include as much Polish as possible. I will talk about the extra preparation I have to do before lessons to achieve this and compensate for my level, as well as how I continue to work to improve my own knowledge of Polish, modelling this for my students. I will cover the interplay of English and Polish in lessons and how it has changed as my level has improved, and as I teach the same lesson for a second time having reflected on which classroom language I lacked the first time round. The talk will also detail some of the compensatory strategies I use in class to reduce the amount of language I have to use, while still providing as much exposure as possible to my students.
My Polish students are all English teachers at our school, and I will also include their reflections on the lessons from the perspective of both their teaching and their language learning.
Finally, I will reflect on how my experience might be similar and different to intermediate-level English speakers teaching the language, and what they and their trainers or managers might be able to learn from my experience. This will include training they may benefit from to counter gaps in their language knowledge. (=249 words)
New teachers are often thrown in at the deep end. If they’re lucky, they are surrounded by supportive colleagues who can help them out. If they’re not, they need ELT Playbook 1. It consists of 30 tasks new teachers can use to learn to reflect on their teaching. I’ll also describe how trainers can base development programmes on the tasks.
ELT Playbook 1 is designed to fill a gap in the market for new teachers, regardless of whether or not they have a qualification. It’s a self-published ebook, which consists of tasks in a range of categories (such as upgrading skills, examining language and health and wellbeing), each supported by a quote from methodology books and a series of reflection questions. The tasks are rounded off with four different ideas teachers can use to round up their reflection: one each for a blog, a video/audio recording, an Instagram-style post and a private journal. It is designed to be accessible, almost like having a mentor/ trainer/ Director of Studies with you, even if you are freelance or in a school with no development. The price is affordable (£5), so it should be within the reach of as many teachers as possible around the world. There is also an associated community on social media so readers can start to develop a network of peers.
In the session, I will talk about why I decided to write the book, the way it is structured (as described above, and showing a few examples of tasks), how teachers have used it and participated in the online community since it was published in Autumn 2017, and how trainers and managers could exploit the tasks and reflection questions in their own professional development programmes. I will also invite attendees to suggest topics and tasks for possible future books in what I hope will become a series.
IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Stitching together roles in ELT
I was asked to revise the abstract. I can’t remember exactly why, but in hindsight I think the whole proposal seemed quite wishy-washy – I don’t think it was clear what I was aiming to do in it. The talk was turned down.
There are many roles it is possible to take on in our profession, from teacher to manager, from trainer to materials writer, and so much more besides. It can be difficult to know what non-teaching skills are required to move into each of these roles and how you can develop them. Fear not: I’m here to help!
There are many roles it is possible to take on in our profession, from teacher to manager, from trainer to materials writer, as well as volunteering with teaching associations. Whether you are new to the profession or more experienced, this presentation aims to make you think about how you can develop the skills to move into each of these roles.
The talk will suggest some of the skills which may be required for those who would like to try different branches of the ELT profession. These should encompass how to move into different teaching contexts, become a teacher trainer, step up to management level, get involved in materials writing and feedback, and (time permitting) volunteer with teaching associations. It will be based on my own experience of all of these roles, as well as research into other people’s experiences of working in each area.
I will look at how ELT professionals can build up their skill set in general, as well as specifically for each role, and how the roles can feed in to each other as part of a portfolio career. I will also offer tips about starting out in each of the other areas once people have gained teaching experience. Examples of skills to be covered include communication (upwards, downwards and sideways), time management, working with other people effectively, building up your professional profile and reflecting on your practice.
The talk should be relevant to early career teachers who would like to know more about different career paths available to them, as well as more experienced ELT professionals who are looking to move into different areas.
While I can’t give you Hermione Grainger’s Time Turner so you can travel back in time, I can give you tried and tested ways of getting those things done which demand your time and attention, or which you just never quite get round to, helping you to manage yourself and others and make the most of your time.
Time management is never easy – we’re all busy people with lots of things to do, from responsibilities concerning teaching, training or management to other people demanding our attention both at work and at home. How can we ever fit in everything we want to do? Through a combination of techniques, I have been able to successfully organise a team of 20 teachers, keep up my professional development through blogs and webinars, learn new languages and maintain a healthy work-life balance. In this talk I will share examples of these techniques and offer suggestions for how you can adapt them to your own situation. They include breaking down tasks to make them more achievable and less daunting, using to do lists, tracking what I do every day and creating new habits out of the things I want to achieve. I will give examples of how I use these techniques at work and at home and why they could work for you too, as well as how to apply different strategies to different goals. This talk would be particularly useful for managers and those interested in fitting professional development in around their current schedules, but would be relevant to anybody who ever struggles with only having 24 hours in the day!
I have used journal writing with students from all over the world, and have found that they are intensely rewarding for teachers and students. In this session, I’ll share ideas for how to set up a journal writing system and show examples of journals from my students and my own language learning.
Journal writing can be used in a wide variety of ways both inside and outside the classroom in order to provide regular personalised writing practice for students. In addition, they can serve many other purposes: providing a space for students to experiment with new language, encouraging them to reflect on their language learning, and helping the teacher and student to get to know each other better.
In this session, I will describe how I have interpreted journal writing with my students. I have implemented them with students aged 12-70 in both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I have also experienced journal writing as a student of Russian and have learnt a lot from the process. This has fed back into my teaching and enabled me to experience first-hand the benefits of keeping a journal in a foreign language.
I will share the advantages of such regular writing for the teacher and student, address some of the potential problems involved in setting up and maintaining a regular journal system, including finding suitable topics to write about. I will also describe how to encourage students to join in, and give ideas for how to use the language students produce. Finally I will give you links to find out more about journal writing in other contexts.
“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. This workshop aims to introduce you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English.
Listening is the skill we use most in a second language. We have to understand speakers in many different contexts, of different ages, genders, levels of education, and with a range of accents, both native and non-native. However, this is rarely reflected in the classroom, where listening tends to be focussed on other students in class or on scripted coursebook recordings in ‘standard’ forms of English, mostly spoken by young to middle-aged adults (or overly excited children in the case of young learner materials!). Teachers also tend to focus on testing comprehension, rather than on teaching better listening skills. This results in students lacking confidence in their listening abilities and/or lacking knowledge of how to approach listening in the real world.
The aim of this workshop is to introduce and try out a range of activities and materials which you can use in your classroom to teach listening, rather than testing it. Some of the principles discussed will be based on John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge 2008), as well as my own experience in the classroom and as a second language learner. The workshop will also look at how you can make the listening you use in the classroom reflect the real world as much as possible. Finally, participants will be given the chance to share activities and materials which have worked for them, as well as discussing how to apply the activities from the workshop to their own contexts.
What can we do to help students develop their autonomy? How can we encourage them to study outside class? How much input should teachers have in this? This talk will look at how these questions can be answered through the Personal Study Programme (PSP), created by International House Newcastle to support students in their learning.
It is well-known that teachers should teach learners HOW to learn, not just WHAT to learn. This is particularly true now that students have easy access to so much English online, and teachers are no longer always their first port of call for information about language. What teachers do have is knowledge of the language acquisition process and of the best way to use resources available to learners. Through this, they can help students become more effective learners. As well as learner training in the classroom, what else can we do? The Personal Study Programme (PSP) is an alternative to the Self-Access Centre (SAC), combining elements of more traditional teaching with autonomous study. This talk will begin by looking at how PSP is similar to and different from a SAC, and how IH Newcastle has implemented and developed it. I will discuss the teachers’ role in promoting learner autonomy and delivering PSP, how it influences the way that we teach our non-PSP lessons, and how it fits into the overall structure of the school. Most importantly, I will examine what exactly students gain from participating in PSP, based on feedback gathered from students at International House Newcastle. I will also consider what changes we can make to PSP to continue improving the programme in the future.
What factors help or hinder students’ uptake and continued use of online materials to aid their English learning outside the classroom?
What can teachers do in class to encourage students to take advantage of available materials and help them to overcome any obstacles?
This talk will detail the results of action research done in my classes.
For the last year I have been using Edmodo (a web-based interface designed for education and similar to facebook) to share materials, online activities and other links with students to extend work done in class. However, based on a survey I did at the end of the academic year only about half of the students have taken advantage of these materials.
As a result of this, I decided to research the factors which influence students’ use of online materials, as well as experimenting with activities and strategies which can be used in class to increase this usage.
In the session I will share the results of this research, in the following way:
a list of characteristics displayed by students who regularly use online materials to further their study;
a corresponding list for students who are more reluctant to use online materials;
a summary of the type of online materials which students find most useful;
practical ideas for teachers to use in class to encourage reluctant students to begin to exploit online materials.
By the end of the session, you should have the information and inspiration you need to encourage more students to exploit the wealth of materials available on the internet.
After you’re accepted…
Well done! I’d love to know which of these tips you found more or less useful when preparing your proposal.
I’ve been aware of the Renewable English website for a while, and the interesting work Harry Waters has been doing with it. Harry and I met at the IATEFL Belfast conference in 2022, and I asked him to tell me more about the story of the site and what he is aiming to do with it. Over to Harry…
People often ask why Renewable English came about. The truth is, there was no 1 single reason. Like most courses, companies, and language schools out there it was a plethora of reasons culminating in what we realised was an absolute necessity in the world of ELT.
Since I started teaching, a little over 15 years ago, I’ve always had a keen focus on the planet and helping my students understand what is now known as the Climate Emergency. Sadly, the first 12 of those 15 years there was little or no support within the profession and coursebook treatment of the topic was always one of doom and gloom in what felt like a far-off land.
There were plenty of units talking about melting icecaps but none talking about local issues. Not one coursebook I could find talked about working with local community groups to make a difference in your own area. They simply talked of how bad everything was and said nothing about how it could be fixed. This always led to a huge sigh when we reached the environment unit in our books and was leaving students not just apathetic about the climate emergency but often rejecting it completely because it was so irrelevant to them and had become boring.
So, reason 1 for Renewable English was to bring climate change awareness to “every” unit in the book. The first series of free online lessons looked at 12 common book units and how they affected the planet. Themes like the Home, Fashion and Food all came up. In the first series the aim was to look at oneself, to raise awareness of the small actions we could do to make a difference. We’re all aware that buying a bamboo toothbrush and doing a bit of recycling won’t save the planet. But you have to start somewhere and starting on yourself is a great place to begin.
The lessons provide vocabulary, environmental tips, functional language, expert interviews and some seriously unfun facts. It’s all done in a way to engage learners in the climate emergency.
Another reason for the inception of Renewable English was seeing the difference a teacher could make. While working at a primary school a group project with my 5th grade students led us to writing letters asking the school to do something about its lack of environmental care. No recycling, no healthy breakfast campaign, basically nothing. The campaign worked and recycling was brought in, solar panels were purchased, and the idea of a healthy breakfast was introduced. It showed the students that collective action worked.
Now Renewable English aims to empower students to go forth and take action, to work together with local groups to make a difference within their communities.
Our second series of free online classes is drawing to a close. This series was all about each of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, how they are going and what we can do to make them more effective. All lessons and materials are open access and free for anyone who wants to use them, students and teachers alike.
Series three will be released in October and will focus on Cultivating Change(makers). We’re speaking to 5 young changemakers and asking what we can do to emulate them and go out there and make a difference.
We work directly with schools across the globe, including schools in India, Mexico and Italy, as well as here in Spain and in the UK. We provide workshops and lessons to raise awareness about the climate crisis and empower students at the same time. We tackle the issue of eco-anxiety and try to harness it into agency.
The biggest issue is we’re very small and can only do so much. For that very reason we developed the Creating a Greener Mindset course. Its aim is to give teachers the power to spread the word of change and help students become greener more eco-conscious humans.
As teachers we are amplifiers of knowledge. We need to use that for the good and not simply help our students get to B2 level or figure out when to use the second conditional. If I had a magic wand, I’d give everyone the ability and confidence to tackle the climate emergency head on. Sadly, no magic wand.
If you’d like to know more about the training course or, in fact, anything else we can help with, our door is always open. Especially in summer because, you know, it’s really hot.
I only mentioned two reasons above, but the others are fairly simple. We want to make a difference; we love our planet, and we know that education is fundamental in making those changes. It’s been a learning curve for us, not just in terms of how to get things started but also in terms of scientific knowledge and understand of the climate crisis and how to approach it.
Jane Goodall said: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” What kind of a difference are you going to make?
Recently he’s been working hard with the Macmillan Advanced Learning team in their quest to help build a more sustainable future. He spoke on their behalf at this year’s IATEFL in Belfast (2022).
His climate activism within education and drive for reform led to an invitation to speak at the world’s largest climate summit ChangeNOW in Paris.
His passion for teaching and obsession with the planet led him to create Renewable English, an online English course, providing free classes and materials aimed at raising climate change awareness across the globe. Harry is also a passionate teacher trainer.
He is the trustee for the British charity Kids Against Plastic and a radio presenter for Teacher Talk Radio. He describes himself as an imperfect environmentalist with a love of flags and funky second-hand shirts
Cecilia Nobre is a regular tweeter, and has recently been accepted to do a PhD. When she tweeted tips for applying for PhD funding, I asked her to write it up as a guest post for my blog as I think it could be useful for some of my readers. Thanks Cecilia!
After 8 months of exhaustive work, no weekends and countless drafts written and proofread, I am over the moon to have received 3 PhD scholarship offers this year. It is surreal, but, at the same time, kind of expected (I wasn’t definitely expecting to get 3 scholarships, but I was hoping to get one at least). This has been my 3rd year applying and I guess the saying is right… third time’s a charm. I still got a few rejections this year and I am okay with them, we can’t win all the time. But I am proud to see that my hard work, resilience and strategies paid off this year.
I have received scholarship offers from Warwick University (through the Midlands ESRC), The University of South Australia and Dublin City University. Due to my previous studies at Warwick (I did my MA there), I have decided to complete the PhD there and I am thrilled to be able to work with Dr Steve Mann again as my supervisor. Besides these 3 universities, I have received PhD offers (no scholarships) from Reading, Newcastle and Open University. My project will investigate the use of a video analysis tool (VEO/ http://www.veo.co.uk) and its role in fostering dialogic reflection among EAP teachers’. It will also investigate if/how teachers develop through peer observation by watching and discussing their recorded lessons.
After these 3 years of experience in applying for loads of doctoral programmes, I have decided to share with other PhD applicants 8 lessons that I learnt which helped me write successful applications this year.
1) Start writing your research proposal and personal statement months before the application deadline – ideally 6/5 months. They are the most important documents, therefore, they must be meticulously well-crafted.
2) Before identifying your research questions (I would suggest between 2 and 5 – my proposal had 3), make sure they address these questions:
What is the main research question or issue that you want to address? (overarching question)
What are the specific objectives for the proposed project that follow from this? (keep a small number of objectives focused)
Why is your research significant and why does it matter either theoretically or practically? (you will demonstrate your awareness of the research that’s in the area you want to work in)
3) We have our own blind spots when proofreading our papers, so ask a friend who is/was in academia or your potential supervisor to proofread and give you feedback on content (I am still referring to the proposal and personal statement).
4) Invest in the pro version of Grammarly, but don’t rely on their suggestions 100% of the time. They don’t tend to like the passive voice, for instance.
5) Contact potential supervisors in advance (again); I’d suggest 5/4 months before the applications’ deadline. They are busy people who receive tons of emails and requests all the time – when contacting them make sure your email is brief, objective and relevant to their own research interests (you will find that information in the academic staff section of the university’s website). Ask them if they are willing to advise on your drafts. Look at the department research areas and the staff profiles on the universities’ websites.
6) Alongside the seminal and traditional works and articles in your field, make sure you also read the latest papers on your topic – from the past 10 years. This will show the scholarship committee that you are well-informed about what is being researched now and, therefore, you know the current challenges your research project addresses.
7) Apply to as many universities/programmes as possible. It’s just a simple probability equation: the more you apply for, the higher chances you have to be awarded a place. For instance, this year I’ve applied to 12 doctoral programmes, I got 3 scholarship offers and 3 PhD offers only (no scholarships).
8) Check the instructions or the application guidelines of each doctoral programme/university. You can use the same proposal for all programmes, but each university will have its own requirements, such as length, proposal format, submission deadlines, and a number of reference letters (usually 2 or 3, you must check), a few might ask you to add a budget ( especially if you’re applying for a Graduate Teaching Assistantship). I’d suggest adding this information to a spreadsheet.
I hope you find the tips useful. Feel free to follow me on social media for more conversations on PhD applications.
Cecilia is a teacher, Trinity DipTESOL and CertTESOL teacher trainer and an enthusiast materials writer. She has over 20 years of classroom experience and became a teacher trainer 5 years ago. She holds an MA in ELT from Warwick University and she will start her PhD at Warwick in October 2022. She has taught in Brazil, the UK and Turkey.
One aim of the Hands Up Project is to make language learning personal and intimate. The teachers give the students freedom to write personal stories, and afterwards to create a remote theatre performance which will be done globally. They can tell their stories to the world. ‘They’ are kids in Palestine, and young people from around the world. They create a sense of community irrespective of their location.
The image above shows how it felt like everyone was in the same place at the same time, despite working remotely.
We are responsible for the future of our learners, but in the future they are going to be responsible for our future tomorrow.
Why do we need to link students with their peers globally?
The children stand tall in front of the screen that they are able to do something so special.
Students in both countries are asked to write personal stories individually. Don’t worry about mistakes – they are the ‘golden gates towards learning’ (wonderful phrase!)
Swap the personal stories between you and the other teacher.
Both groups meet online through Zoom. They go into breakout rooms (or do this remotely) to turn the stories into scripts. This is when students start discussing ideas, assigning roles, negotiating. The teacher is there as a stage director, praising their efforts and scaffolding their learning.
The students from both ends meet in their local context (face-to-face) to edit and reformulate the script. The teacher supports them by supplying vocabulary and by editing the script, reformulating the language to a higher level, making it more accurate and authentic. Students can see before and after the editing process.
Rehearsing the story and assigning the roles. The teacher acts as a stage director and facilitator. Implicitly they’re showing intonation, pausing. Explicitly, they’re showing how to use the camera, how to work with the Zoom box as a theatre method.
Performing the stories in front of the screen.
The original authors along with other participants discussing the whole experience.
In the example Haneen shared, the children in Palestine didn’t have any awareness of Argentinian music or names. They started to learn this, and started to learn more about creating stage directions.
We were put into groups and given the story above, with 10 minutes to turn it into a play. It was so much fun! [This said by somebody who refused point blank to do drama activities until 3 or 4 years ago!]
It was great to see a performance by four members of the audience in the room (from the UK, India and one other country I don’t know), done live for the students from Argentina and Gaza who were joining us remotely in the session. One of them (Victoria) wrote the story you see above. Victoria told us how she felt about watching other people perform her story, then talked about her feelings when the police came to her house. Then the Palestinian girls told us about her feelings when performing the Argentinian story – it was a new experience for them. When they first met each other, they were very scared and didn’t know what to do, but after that it was an amazing experience.
We then watched recordings of student performances performing the same play.
Watching the videos, we saw how when producing the video, students took advantage of ‘hide non-video participants’, switching on and off cameras, changing names, using props around the screen, knocking on the camera, all to add to the theatrical experience of watching the plays. It was fantastic!
We also heard from the girls themselves talking about how they feel about being part of the project.
At the end of the session, the audience and the students who were joining us remotely sang the Hands up song together, which was a lovely communal experience, with inspirational words.
These children are the real stars, teaching us how to work together and learn from each other.
The Hands Up Project has been an amazing experience for me, and has inspired me. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to be here with you here today and to speak to you in English. I want to be a volunteer for the Hands Up Project in the future.
Dana, one of the students from Gaza
Haneen has given our students a voice. The students’ personal stories tell us about themselves, they are sharing their identities. They have created a bridge between our two schools, built from the bricks of our stories, stuck together with commitment and joy. We are honoured to be here with you today.
Maria Teresa Continental, the teacher from Argentina
There are three books of plays written by students as part of the Hands Up Project. You can buy them to use with your students or to inspire them to write their own plays. Get them at the Hands Up Project shop. I have all three of them, and can recommend them. Each play is very short – 3 or 4 pages maximum – and easy to learn and perform, but with endless opportunities for creativity from the students.
Amal is the creator of remote theatre, and one of the longest-standing volunteers on the Hands Up Project. She created a piece of remote theatre by accident as she thought it was necessary to perform entirely on Zoom, and later they made it a rule that the children couldn’t move outside the screen or edit the video.
Gaza has been under siege for nearly 15 years. It has a huge impact on everybody’s daily life, wellbeing, learning and sense of belonging in the whole world. The learners have no problem with a sense of belonging to their country and community, but what about the whole world?
A lovely term that Amal created
Students lack motivation. They feel that the world is deaf to them, that nobody is paying attention to them. This makes the work of the teachers very challenging. If they feel there’s no connection with the world, they don’t see the point of learning English, the language of the world. This meant the teachers wanted to find innovative ways to push the students towards learning and give them a reason to learn. Remote theatre seemed to be the way to do this.
What is remote theatre?
A short script that is created by students. They then rehearse it, and perform it live on facebook or YouTube to a global audience. It can be performed at conferences, at a literature festival, at schools or at universities.
How does remote theatre build a sense of global belonging?
Plays with global themes, e.g. pollution, refugees, bullying
Students and teachers conversations during the rehearsals – they work hard to communicate in English to say what they want to say, and this process really helped the students to learn, not just language, but respecting each other’s opinions, listening to each other, understanding different accents of English
Finding a global online audience to perform the play for – this creates a connection with the outside world, as the students can’t travel outside Gaza
After the play there is a lot more – discussions, what happened in the play, what experiences they had while practicing. For example: How do you feel when you’re acting?
COVID was an excellent opportunity to do lots of collaboration globally (though Hands Up have been doing this for many years).
Students don’t just learn the language because there’s going to be a test at the end of the semester. They learn because they’re motivated to communicate.
The Hands Up Project provides a safe channel to do this.
Students wanted to share their thoughts about the project, and we saw a video of them telling us in Arabic about what they got out of it: friends in other countries, people hearing their voice and caring about their talent, support from teachers and students, learning about other cultures and religions, noticing that their are points in common between their different cultures, becoming more aware of people around the world.
In 2019, Hands Up won the ELTon award for starting the play-writing competition.
A new aspect of the Hands Up Project focuses on how to empower the students, and change the teacher-learner dynamic. They want to create independent, powerful learners who are in charge of their own learning.
In most classes in Gaza, the teacher controls everything. From 1-10, how much of a control freak do you think you are in your classroom?
Raja’a started teaching 3 years ago. She is really enthusiastic about trying new ideas.
Students v. Teachers
The students come up with questions from Biology, Chemistry, Physics. They ask the teacher the questions. If the teacher can answer, they get a point. If they can’t, the students get a point.
The students are left to come up with their own questions, and the teacher doesn’t intervene until the students ask for it. Because the students have to be able to communicate the question and the answer, they are encouraged to reformulate and work with language to communicate what they want to ask.
The majority of Raja’a’s students aren’t motivated to learn English, because they feel that they won’t be able to leave Gaza, there’s nobody there who they can speak to, and there wouldn’t be a use for it in their lives. They are also studying in large classes.
With her 9-10 year old students with a very low level of English, Raja’a wanted to give them a reason to use the language from the coursebook in a communicative way. The students had to guess what the teacher is ‘going to’ do tomorrow. If the student gets the information right, they get a point. If the student gets it wrong, the teacher gets a point. The teacher can reformulate the language as needed.
The video Raja’a showed us demonstrated how excited the students were to do this activity. The atmosphere in the classroom was fantastic – if the students love the teacher, they’ll learn from you.
The reformulations Raja’a did as part of this activity are now an active part of the students’ language because they heard them in a relaxed environment.
The students got 5 points, Raja’a got 3 points. They were excited about this and felt empowered. The next day, they told the whole school that they had a competition with their teacher and that the teacher lost.
Collaboration, invisible connections, a little chaotic, powerful
Words Sara used to describe the Hands Up Project
Sara normally works remotely with a teacher who is in the classroom.
In the example video we watched, the girls were telling Sara the story of Layla and the Wolf (similar to Little Red Riding Hood). They worked together to say what they wanted to.
During the story:
Heba’s decision not to speak sets the tone for the class. Why is that important?
Jana tells the story with the language available to her – what effect might that have on the class?
Sara (the student) overcomes a moment of doubt to continue the story. How does that benefit her and the other learners?
The whole process is confidence-building and empowering. They decided how to be in the class, including making a decision not to speak. As a teacher, Sara didn’t make her speak – she created a safe space for the student to make the decision to be silent. It pushes other students in the class to speak because Heba doesn’t want to.
The next step was to prepare for a retelling of the story, changing the location, the characters.
When there was a misunderstanding, the students helped each other because the teacher encouraged them to translate the word in Arabic, and teach it to her. They were allowed to correct the teacher’s pronunciation, and the students worked together to offer help. They all needed help, and they all provided help. This affected the atmosphere because it was one of equals, rather than a teacher-student power dynamic.
This is a really playful process. You can play with the different languages in your power.
Sara then retold the story with the students’ changes. She did it because she thought it would be a challenge for the students to do this spontaneously. She asked the students questions to elicit the parts of the story so that they were involved throughout the process, and using language they’d learnt connected to the story. The teacher feeds in language throughout the process to collaboratively build the story.
Throughout the whole process, the students have personal control of the language. They’re playing with it, and looking for ideas in their head. They’re learning a language properly in a way that they can actually use it.
Whose responsibility is it to understand?
Learning isn’t one-sided
Opportunities to take personal control of the language
Choosing when and how to speak, and the teacher allowing this
Learners’ contributions to a class aren’t purely linguistic – acknowledge all of their contributions, whatever they are
During COVID, Dalya and Elena worked on facebook live to create lessons for students. Dalya’s worked with Elena since 2018, and this is the first time they’ve met face-to-face. Elena is a digital materials creator based in Mallorca.
The Hands Up Project team teaching project won an ELTon in 2021 for the innovative ideas of the way their project works. As Elena said, there are so many exciting things which HUP is working on.
Going to (with a puppet)
This is what one Live looked like on screen, with Dalya using a puppet to help with the language:
The Live chat allowed them to get feedback from students, teachers, parents, and get feedback about what’s happening in the lesson.
Afterwards, they re-edited the videos from the live lesson and used them again after the pandemic to create short clips. They had hours and hours of valuable materials which they didn’t want to lose. We saw examples of some of these videos during the presentation – I wish you could see them too!
They kept sections of the lesson which focussed on the key language, and added titles highlighting important structures. The clips also aimed to continue to promote interactivity by adding pictures and questions directed at the students. At the end of the video, there is a link to a digital activity, for example a WordWall matching activity. Absent students can still get practice opportunities.
Although the activity isn’t very complex, and won’t necessarily promote a huge amount of learning, the fact that students can watch a video and then do something successfully as a result of it can have a huge impact on the children’s confidence.
Facebook Live was selected to still have interaction, as children wouldn’t necessarily have been able to access a live Zoom lesson due to connection issues.
During the Facebook live sessions, when playing a game, Dalya and Elena took answers from the Live chat and called out student names so the students following the chat felt like they were part of the lesson. Using the clip again in a classroom lesson with the titles shows students how to play the game, and helps them to review the useful language.
Finding out about other people
When you have scripted conversations in a coursebook, but perform them on Zoom with a different person it brings them to life, especially when the two people are from different countries. It helps students to understand why English could actually be useful for them.
Principles to create quality videos(especially for young learners)
Short, no longer than 6 minutes
Need to integrate visuals, games and realia
Should serve specific purposefully engaging tasks
Use friendly language and body gestures
Use scripts and texts to clarify things
Advised to send PowerPoints to learners to build on what is in the video
One of the things the Hands Up Project does is to pair brilliant teachers from Gaza with brilliant teachers from other parts of the world to work together and play.
The first lesson that they learnt from their teenagers on this international communication course was the need to emphasise communication. How to communicate when language isn’t necessarily available, through other methods like mime, drawing and others. Mediating meaning wherever they can.
When we teach communicatively, the focus is actually often on avoiding miscommunication. Culture is seen as an iceberg with superficial differences (e.g. how you show appreciation for food by (not) leaving some on the plate), and underneath this there are hidden depths.
How true is this?
They’ve actually found that these differences are much less present than the commonalities between us. Those situations where there is a complete communication breakdown due to culture are actually relatively rare. This kind of approach can lead us to promoting stereotypes.
[I really like this term] This is what they’re really interested in, rather than thinking about superficial stereotypes as culture.
What does it mean?
Being open to learn about other cultures, institutions and languages
Having knowledge of other cultures, institutions and languages
Teens and children can approach others without prejudice. They have a curiosity when they meet others to find out more about how they learn, which adults might not have.
Course content is built around…
1. Comparing lives and environments
2. Understanding individuals’ situations motivations (like examining a tree and its roots, rather than an iceberg)
3. Opportunity for collaboration – allowing students to work together in problem-solving tasks
Online ICC course principles
Activities from the course
Words & language
What word or expression do you use most often in your language?
What’s your favourite word in English? Why?
What noise does a cat/horse/dog make in your language?
Teach me the most useful word or phrase in your language.
What’s a saying in your language that you especially like? Why?
Free word association (e.g. sport, family, cool, afraid)
Senses and abilities
This helps learners to find common ground, and it taps into their immediate environment.
What can you see and hear right now?
What’s your favourite smell, taste, view?
What ability are you proudest of? Why?
What special ability do you wish you had? What would you do with it?
Describe a journey that you make each day. Help me visualise what you see, hear and smell. Perhaps describe a person you see every time, the sounds you hear every time, the smells you smell.
Name 1 good thing about your house/flat. And 1 bad thing.
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of home?
What do you like about the area you live in? What do you dislike about it?
Are there more wheels or doors in the world? (Thinking fast and slow) Put a quick answer in the chat box, then go to breakout rooms to have a longer, more in-depth discussion.
Your best news headline 5 years from now. (Brainstorm)
An important problem in your community and possible solutions (Brainstorming: selling others’ ideas) – put possible solutions into the chat, but another person has to sell that idea to everybody. It helps you to see things from others’ perspectives.
Not enough conferencing this week 🙂 I had a free day in Belfast and found out that The Hands Up Project were running their online conference, so decided to attend. There will be separate posts for each talk to be kind to my iPad – I’ll add links here next week.
If you’ve never heard of The Hands Up Project, take a look at their website. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Nick Bilbrough set up a project to work with teachers in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. It’s designed to amplify the voices of young people in Palestine, and around the world. They run many innovative projects, including writing plays
Why Teach Play Love?– Scott Thornbury
Scott Thornbury, a trustee of The Hands Up Project, suggested the theme ‘Teach Play Love’ for this year.
Teach: Not just about the delivery of information, but it takes place in a particular place with particular people.
While other classes in the curriculum activate mostly the brain, the language class engages the whole body, its… [I missed the end of this]
Play: language play is good for learners, because they can experiment with language and functions.
A person who can play with a language in creative and socially-effective ways – to tell a joke or a story – could certainly also buy an airline ticket. The reverse is not necessarily true.
Drama is inherently good for language because it’s participatory, co-constructed, aural and oral, expressive, creative, transformative. Plays, like ‘Toothbrush’ and the rest of The Hands Up Project book, are a great way to learn.
Love: emotion is a very important vehicle for practising and learning language.
Things that made me go [emoji!] – Chris Sowton
In support of emojis
Powerful communicative tool, especially in challenging circumstances
Bridge gaps between teachers and students – a kind of inter language
Allow students the opportunity to express themselves in a way they might not otherwise
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
Here’s are some extracts from the book:
Countering dominant narratives about teachers
We need a more sophisticated understanding of what it means to be a teacher.
Ukraine: teachers as frontline workers
This was Chris’s first experience of working with teachers in a conflict area. They were webinars run by Cambridge – to have people in the same place at the same time talking about the same issues. Questions from teachers included:
What is the purpose of learning English right now? It speaks to a possible future, a brighter tomorrow. It gives parents respite from the situation they’re in.
How do I assess my students in a conflict situation? Moving away from traditional areas, thinking about progress in different ways. Just the act of being in class was a triumph.
What do I do when I hear an air raid siren going off in class?
What he learnt:
The challenge to think quickly and adapt
The value of collegiality and being in the same place at the same time
The importance of specialist skills and knowledge (e.g. drama, well-being, conflict) as teachers are on the frontline
The impact which making materials open source can have (thank you Cambridge) – we need to get great quality stuff out there so teachers can use it, and there’s so much great stuff which is sitting there not being used
It shouldn’t take a crisis to challenge widespread, systemic educational failure
Jordan: teachers as safe spaces
There is an emotional and psychological value place on learning language.
There is a strong motivation of students in refugee situations.
There is a difference in the way boys and girls are taught. In the girls class, there was much more engagement and a positive atmosphere. In the boys class, the teaching was much more teacher-centred.
Here are three extracts from a British Council report touching on these three issues:
What Chris learnt
The classroom can be a space for imagining different futures, which can reflect positively on the present
How talking about trauma in a second language can provide therapeutic benefit
Multilingualism should be valued more – and certified where possible (not just focussing on English). How can we create a certification process which values skills in multiple languages?
Languages are crucial for increasing all forms of capital, but the system doesn’t always support this: NGOs work in silos (due to funding), certification is hard to obtain, and tech-first/tech-only solutions (apps/websites will be the only answer – but it’s much more sophisticated than this)
Palestine: teachers as enablers of latent skills and knowledge
The extraordinary desire and demand for development.
When Chris does training, he has a 20/ 60 / 20 model in his head – 20% of participants will love everything, 20% will not be interested, and 60% will be in the middle. In Palestine, he had a 5 / 55 / 40 model – 40% were very engaged.
Teachers are agents of social change.
What Chris learnt
Even in highly challenging circumstances, teachers are willing to – and benefit from – play (e.g. a snowball fight)
There is a repository of latent creativity and skills which need – demand – an outlet.
Teachers can make the present palatable and the future desirable [I love this quote!]
The virtual world provides opportunities which the physical world isn’t always able to – and language is what can facilitate that. It allows for further support after face-to-face training, along with many other opportunities.
General: teachers as deskilled, disempowered, disregarded pawns
Individual constraints: a teacher who had been given training, but when she went back to her school her headteacher stopped her from implementing the training, even though she was keen and interested and wanted to do so. If other stakeholders are dragging you back, then your training can be more frustrating – you know what you want to do, but aren’t in a position to do it.
Stakeholder constraints: teachers in Nepal regularly feedback back about parental view on student-led learning = chaos and lack of discipline. We need to adopt a whole-school approach, and train everybody, not just the teachers.
Systemic constraints: emphasis on quantity rather than quality, we measure training in number of trainings run rather than impact they have. Start with the impact: what’s the change we want to see, and work back from that. This is particularly an issue with funding, including how frequently the funding happen – what change can you realistically make on a one / two year cycle? We end up with conservative approaches because the cycle is too short for experimentation.
National constraints: language policy in South Sudan (Chris’s EdD research), there is the choice of English as the Medium of Instruction for political reasons, but there are very few people in the country who speak it. This has an impact on people across the education system.
Geopolitical constraints: Somaliland – teachers are targets, and schools can be the locus of political violence. The school is often the only recognisable part of the state in a particular area.
Lebanon: teachers as humans with histories
People’s instinct is always to teach as they were taught. Breaking those habits is extremely difficult, especially in challenging circumstances.
Teachers greatly value the opportunity to share how they are feeling – but need prompting. Storytelling is one way to do this.
An activity Chris did:
Groups of 6
A piece of paper with 6 boxes per person: each teacher write a title
Next person: carry the story on – who are the characters in the story
Next person: draw a picture which represents that story
Next: write the first paragraph of the story
This is a way to explore how you feel through the cloak of anonymity. If you just gave a piece of blank paper to a teacher and said ‘write a story’, they would be unlikely to do this.
Another activity to link emotions to learning the alphabet:
What Chris learnt
The value of puppets – linguistically, pedagogically, psychologically – children make puppets, and teach them things, and learn hugely in the process
How learning materials can have positive psychosocial messages embedded – how important this is when other services are unavailable or severely constrained
Decontextualised research which has no clear practical impact and which is driven by outside interests is valueless. We have to engage with the people we’re researching
Indonesia: teachers as trusted guides
At a university: 60-70 people, arms folded, why are you here, resistant to change
At a language school: as soon as you walk into the school, there is an atmosphere of play. Children and teachers in the photos as you entered the school – what happens as you enter this space.
What Chris learnt
Teaching hierarchies based on longevity are complete and utter nonsense
Also true based on where you teach
Nigeria: teachers as professionals who need ongoing support
Little has changed in methodology over the past 20 years. This programme is new: TARL = Teaching at the right level. Mixing up 3 years at the school so that they’re split by level, not age, especially when there are very large classes.
However, lack of support in the field for teachers.
Multi-tiered cascades present challenges in the quality of delivery.
What Chris learnt
Radical thinking can help unlock ‘insolvable’ problems.
Delivering large programmes needs strong admin and structures – without this, it’s irrelevant how good the materials are
Materials can be a way of delivering support and CPD to teachers – the training is embedded
Like Sarah said, she’s never experienced a conference and a group of teachers who communicate love in quite the way this conference and this group of teachers have. It’s been an amazing day.
Sarah’s first confession: she loves watching Love Actually at Christmas (me too!) Why does she have to say it’s a confession?
If you make a film about a man kidnapping a woman and chaining her to a radiator for five years – something that has possibly happened once in history – it’s called a searingly realistic analysis of society.
If I make a film like Love Actually, which is about people falling in love, and there are about a million people falling in love in Britain today, it’s called a sentimental presentation of an unrealistic world.
Why are we so afraid to talk about love?
Boys don’t like French because ‘it’s all about love and stuff’.
It’s ‘not cool to be kind’, compassionate or talk about ‘love and stuff’.
Cf. Berlin, 2018; Williams et al., 2002
Age of reason and overdominance of ‘logic’
Hyper-rational perspective (disconnect from emotions)
Subordination of emotions
Devaluation of supposed ‘feminine traits’
Narrow view of ‘science’ – the scientific view of what counts as research (e.g. into emotions) has only very recently opened up
But if you talk to students and teachers in the classroom, they know that emotion is a key / unavoidable / essential [my adjectives] part of learning.
Love is conceived of particularly narrowly
When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities.
bell hooks – All about love (2001, p.54)
These characteristics of love are also characteristics of a good teacher and a good classroom.
Love is to take responsibility
You enact love, it’s not just a feeling. When we love somebody or something, we don’t just feel, we act. We feel responsible towards that person or thing.
Love does appear in education but under other guises
(Barcelona and Coehlo, 2016)
Here are some of the terms which could be replaced by ‘love’ in the literature:
Pedagogical care is caring that our students don’t just learn, but that they grow too.
Teaching with love…
Love for ourselves
For the language
For our colleagues
For our students
For others near and far
For animals and plant life
For the planet
Love expands far beyond a romantic relationship with another person. It’s commitment and action.
5 facets of love
There are many different possible facets of love, but Sarah selected 5 to focus on in this presentation:
This is the foundation of all kinds of communication. It’s being able to understand others and communicate with them.
You take yourself out of your own position and try to imagine how somebody else feels.
Walk a mile in their shoes, for example based on pictures, or stopping a film and thinking about the characters. You try to imagine other people’s lives. You don’t need to agree, but you can understand them better perhaps.
There are many ways to do this:
Use of literature and films
Role play and simulation
Questions to think about perspective: Why might they have said that? Why might they think that?
Teaching with empathy
How we teach: implicitly, we model it
Explicitly: we draw attention to it
Psychological safety: give people the space to make mistakes, help learners to support each other, take away the sense of risk, create a safe space in the classroom. The learners think about how each other feels, and learn to support each other. (Edmondson, 2019)
Enacting pedagogical caring: learners can see when we teach with love. They see it from our preparation for lessons for example. (Wentzel, 1997)
Attending to teacher and learner wellbeing (Mercer and Gregersen, 2020)
Being able to manage your emotional response to compassion is important. Compassion fatigue is a real issue.
Being motivated to provide care – for yourself and for others.
It has an action element, but also an awareness element.
Spheres of compassion
We need to think about compassion at different levels:
Sometimes when you understand what is needed, you need to be fierce about it. You need to be assertive about it. Compassion and love are not always soft and fluffy.
Mistakes are allowed! Fail first, then learn – fostering growth mindset. This is not just a message for our students. We need to apply this to teachers as well. We need to be kind to ourselves as teachers as well.
Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.
Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold, so the mistakes/problems are evident. We can share our best failures, and consider how to reflect on these failures.
What is your ideal colleague?
Choose three characteristics.
To what extent do you display these characteristics to others?
Sarah does this with pre-service teachers before they start team teaching. Since she started doing this with her teachers, they’ve had a lot fewer problems with the teams. Teachers reflect on what it’s like to build a relationship for teaching.
It is not the same as mental health.
Teacher wellbeing is the foundation of good practice. It isn’t an optional extra. (Amen!)
It’s irresponsible if we DON’T talk about teacher wellbeing.
What factors affect your wellbeing?
There are many different areas that can contribute to it, It’s not just self-care strategies and yoga. It’s not just happy fluffy things. It’s a serious area that goes beyond the personal, and into larger systemic factors which we should consider as well: precarity, lack of trade union support in many countries, working in challenging circumstances. We can’t necessarily control everything that might affect our wellbeing.
Social and contextual conditions
If we’re serious about wellbeing, we should be thinking about both of these. Wellbeing is a conversation we need to have at length and seriously.
What I focus my attention on
An activity we can do to give you a sense of control. This is not an activity to do as a solution, but this can help.
What you focus your attention on, is what you can see. We’re naturally drawn to the negative: negativity bias. We can become conscious of that. Our attention is valuable: think about what we give it to. Pretty much everybody who looks at the picture above focuses on the blue dot immediately, and has to think for longer to focus on other aspects of the image.
Focus on the positives. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can find little moments of positivity.
This is not about suppressing the negative, but learning to notice the positive too.
We can mentally time travel, and revisit things in the past. We can become very conscious of the present and savour moments. We can travel to the future and imagine possibilities. This can help us to draw attention to the positives in life.
This is not an instant remedy, but when you do it over time you start to see positives more easily. (My mum has definitely found this) 🙂
Planet A or Planet B?
Where do you think we live?
The research says it’s Planet A, but that doesn’t make the news. There are hundreds of examples of people being kind every day.
Humans are fundamentally kind by nature.
Human Kind by Gregman
Kindness can be political
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Random acts of kindness
There are great resources on the website, including for the language classroom.
Kindness doesn’t have to be huge. It’s little gestures.
Teaching for kindness
Here are some teaching ideas to give kindness a larger role in the classroom:
Sometimes there are difficult conversations to be had.
Transformative Social and Emotional Learning
This is relatively new. It’s not just about kindness, but also about fierce compassion, awareness, bringing in the political. You cannot talk about love without talking about these things as well.
What is fairness?
Understanding implicit and explicit bias
Recognising issues of power and privilege
Examining who has voice and in what ways
Reflecting on social structures and equity
Representation in the materials we use
There are many different factors we can consider related to representation:
And there are questions we can ask:
What or who are present and visible?
What or who is missing or invisible?
What or who are portrayed positively or negatively?
Who is positioned in stereotypical roles?
Who has power?
Sarah asks her pre-service teachers to examine the materials they use. For example: Can you find an example of image of somebody in a wheelchair where they just happen to be in a wheelchair, for example ordering in a restaurant?
Students are in the best place to create their own materials. This is also an act of love.
We have the right to bring in all five of these facets of love into our work. It’s fair when teachers are treated with love too.
Be brave enough to teach with love and teach to love.
Methodology: aligning more with SLA (second language acquisition)
Neil has boiled everything down to four specific criticisms of CELTA and other 4-week courses:
It privileges native speakers (by dallying the status of speakers with an L1 other than English)
It’s an inadequate entry into the profession (only 4 weeks)
It doesn’t keep pace with the times (DEI – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, use of L1)
It’s too coursebook-driven (item-by-item syllabus)
CELTA is open to everybody, no matter your first language. You have to have good C1 level.
The balance of L1 and non-L1 English speakers on courses has really shifted. The current Cambridge estimates for numbers are in the slide below:
L1 and non-L1 English speakers learn a lot from each on the courses.
Trainers tell trainees about TEFL Equity. We make candidates aware of these issues.
This is what a CELTA is.
The course is almost entirely assessed on classroom practice, which makes it a powerful course. We make trainees aware of how to select and adapt materials and bring things off the page. We teach trainees how to teach balanced lessons, with a balance of clarification and practice, how to keep students involved all the way through with good quality techniques. We teach candidates to set up and manage tasks well, to give clear instructions, to make sure tasks have a communicative goal, and to respond in a good quality way to student language. These are all important things, and are easier said than done! Candidates get a chance to analyse language.
The whole course offers a broadly immersive experience.
Even though the course isn’t very theoretical, there’s a difference between a course that’s informed by some theory and a course that’s informed by no theory at all.
If you think 4 weeks is inadequate training, how about a week? A weekend? None?
Rather than devaluing the status of professions, it’s a kind of driving licence for entering the profession. It’s a licence to teach.
Some Masters programmes have as little as 30 or 45 minutes of practicum on them – CELTA and CertTESOL have 6 hours.
Examples of feedback
Thanks for Gui Henriques for collecting these. They show how trainers are responding to current theory in ELT.
Referring to using the L1:
Decoding in listening:
Analytical evaluation of materials:
It’s the trainers who count. They’re not constrained by the syllabus in any way.
The wrong approach? CELTA and SLA
These are criticisms of 4-week courses from Geoff Jordan:
Raw material: the candidates who come onto the courses generally don’t have much grounding in language analysis, so they can’t do the kind of reactive teaching that experienced teachers can. They can’t offer that level of rich language language feedback.
Immersion: plenty of input.
Adaptation of materials: we teach candidates to adapt and select. They don’t have to follow coursebooks slavishly.
A balance of clarification and practice. We don’t train teachers to talk about language all the time.
We do want trainees to get students ‘doing things with language’. Courses often include TBL, and there are plenty of opportunities for fluency practice.
Examples of feedback
On the balance of clarification and practice:
On fluency tasks:
Any course offering that quality of feedback to beginner teachers is worth it’s salt!
Neil taught his trainees how to base a whole lesson around this activity, with a structure he calls Task-Teach-Task:
Jason Anderson’s TATE framework can also be used, which has an emergent language focus:
We’re not stuck in PPP – we can use other frameworks.
The criterion from the syllabus is:
Focussing on language items in the classroom by clarifying relevant aspects of meaning and form (including phonology) to an appropriate degree of depth
Explicit instruction can help learners develop their knowledge.
Explicit instruction and communicative practice together can help learners develop implicit knowledge.
[I missed the source for this quote]
Neil said he thinks there needs to be a fight back for explicit teaching.
A more radical approach?
An example of something Anthony Gaughan did on his courses:
CELTA depends on the trainer. There’s nothing in the criteria that should make it less radical.
Examples of trainee feedback:
It was a life-changing experience.
Very common feedback from trainees (I’ve heard this many times too!)
This was the closing plenary for the IATEFL Belfast 2022 conference.
Ceri and Geoffrey beamed in via Zoom, and Owain was in the room. Sarah Mount coordinated the debate.
Ceri is in Spain, where there is a May heatwave – with 40 degree temperatures inland today (it’s May 20th). She’s one of the co-founders of the ELT Footprint community. You can join in on social media, mainly on facebook, but in other places too. Go to the website to find out more.
Geoffrey is in Kenya. He’s a university lecturer in Applied Linguistics. He’s interested in traditional environmental knowledge.
Owain is based in Wales. He’s got a website called ELT Sustainable, with language lessons focussing on environmental issues.
Indigenous environmental knowledge
Geoffrey talked about community-based organisations who share traditional environmental knowledge.
The UN has declared 2022-2032 the international decade of indigenous languages.
There are a lot of opportunities to work around this area to come up with information to sustain and protect our environment.
Owain has been creating materials to be used globally, but one of the challenges is how to make it relevant across different contexts. It’s not always possible. You either have to make lessons locally, or make them adaptable for different local contexts if they’re global materials.
Sarah Mercer, Nayr Ibrahim, Kath Bilsborough and Ceri Jones recently conducted a survey which will hopefully be published in ELTJ soon. There seems to be a ‘place-based eco-pedagogy’, with lots of local action happening. Students are looking really closely at their own local ecosystems, and learning to think about the consequences of actions locally. This gives them the chance to grow eco-literacy and systems thinking.
The starting point for learners should be the world that they know.
Owain used to teach in Bulgaria, where rural to urban migration is very common. He wanted to do a lesson about this. In Bulgaria, you’re very likely to find abandoned houses as people had moved to the city, many of which had a big walnut tree. He found a poem called ‘An elegy to a walnut tree’. This lesson was used in Bulgaria and Algeria, and was relevant in those contexts, but you might need to change this tree / plant if it was in a different context. In the Kenyan village Geoffrey is from, it might be the mguwe (sp?) tree, but in other communities, it might be different. The learners might not respond in the same way.
In Kenya, many places were named after the plants which were grown there. Now the names are still there, but the plants have often gone. A conscious effort needs to be made to grow those plants there again.
Context is an important starting point for designing our materials.
An idea from the audience: the starting point is the local, and this is taken to the global.
Another question: how much should these lessons be developing over time? Over time, the situation is becoming more urgent, but there’s no sense of urgency to the lessons and materials. The focus is on the individual and what can the individual do, without a focus on collective action to pressure the big polluters. But it can depend on the age we’re teaching: we don’t want to create eco-anxiety in our learners. We can work together as professionals to learn more ourselves and to lobby within our sphere of influence in whatever way we can, and taking the action we can: walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.
Health and climate change
Many health problems which exist in the world today can be linked back to climate change. Geoffrey’s university is working with indigenous people in parts of Kenya to collect information about the plants they work with, including language information, usage of the plant, and descriptions of the plant covering as many areas as possible (sight, touch, if not poisonous (!) the taste). They are constructing a database. They thing that once this database exists they should be able to use machine learning to analyse what’s in the database, to create bilingual dictionaries (for example English can borrow from Ekegusii), to create materials based on these – making languages more relevant to the learners, by including references to these plants and how they’re used in materials, in texts, in stories.
This is a model of levels at which we can have responsibility:
Individual: e.g. not eating meat, not buying things in plastic
Family and friends: e.g. influencing people around you, so they start considering issues
Professional: e.g. influencing students, staff, institution – this is probably the level at which we can have the most influence to lobby for change or to be examples of action
Macro: e.g. when we’re voting, protesting, trying to exert pressure on governments and large businesses
Being part of a collective and a community can really support us, and also helps us to stay on track with remembering and using our professional responsibility. This is what Ceri has found connected to ELT Footprint (and I’ve found this too). She mentioned making materials for a training project (which I was lucky enough to work on) where because she knew there were other colleagues from ELT Footprint working in the team, it helped her keep on track when writing the materials and having a relevant environmental focus where she could.
‘Developing materials for the more-than-human world’ (I like this phrase!) and making environmental sustainability a social practice.
If it’s a social practice, it needs to start with the government creating the right policies, moving on to creating the right curriculum which integrates the environment. If the government aren’t doing this, environmental lobby groups should push the government to take up these issues.
Teachers can become researchers, but they also deserve support from organisations. However, teachers might feel overwhelmed by the scale of the topic and feeling a bit lost about the amount of information they might need to cover. We need to develop frameworks and support systems to help teachers, and relate them to linguistic and communicative competences – how do we integrate them? For example, Owain and Ceri have been involved in reviewing a sustainability framework which is being developed by Cambridge University Press.
We need to create practical examples of can do statements that teachers can take into their classroom.
I can understand, explain and give examples of greenwashing.
This is an example of a can do statement which combines language and environment. This develops into a practical lesson, which is practical, project based, and can be local or global.
Teachers also need training to be prepared to teach these topics, and do it in an environmentally-friendly way. This needs to come from teacher training colleges, and other courses. It also touches on the curriculum.
British Council are developing a MOOC connected to sustainability. Colm Downes reminded us that we need to keep an eye on general education too, not just our ELT bubble. The UN have replaced the term ‘Climate Change for Education’ with ‘Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and this could be a positive term for us to take into ELT.
In the past, Owain has been told that he’s trying a form of indoctrination through doing environmentally focussed lessons. He’s an English Literature graduate, not a scientist, which has also been considered a problem. But he said we have very relevant skills: we’re used to getting people communicating. Focus on your strengths, to facilitate a discussion where learners are going to come to their own conclusions, and to facilitate a classroom community.
If you want to start teaching about the environment, start from something that you know and that feel strongly about. This will be engaging for you and the students. Take the first step, and don’t worry about it too much.
Look for practical activities, for example helping students to do what they’re read about – litter picking, creating a seed bank.
What lessons have we learnt from the past two years and how do we move forwards?
Start with our learners. Give them a sense of empowerment to deal with this pressing crisis which is already upon us. These issues shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. We needs to empower our language learners to take part in a dialogue around sustainability and to feel that they can act.
Teachers can’t do this on their own. In training, we need to have a dialogue about what a (language) teacher’s role is in bringing sustainability into the classroom.
Publishers and materials developers should bring environmental issues in, not just focussing on individual actions, but what are the root causes of climate issues?
There is also a research agenda looking at the intersection between eco-literacy and language teaching.
Our health is dependent on the health of our environment. We need to create materials to make this clear.
Make sure that eco-literacy is given the same level of importance as areas like critical thinking and communicative skills.
Let’s not forget that the situation is really urgent. Let’s walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And let’s build hope by taking action together.
[I missed the start of the talk, setting the context – sorry Luis!]
In Chile, where Luis did his study most university teacher training courses didn’t include specific modules on materials design, though it might have been included in other methodology modules (I think that’s what was said as I arrived!)
Many of the methodology materials talk about how to use and adapt coursebooks, rather than how to make their own materials. So how do language teachers learn to do this?
The apprenticeship of observation is now seen as one of the main obstacles to teachers implementing innovations.
Materials – what do we know?
Materials as curricular artefacts: how can they promote the learning and teaching of English?
Materials as cultural artefacts: representational repertoires in materials.
Materials in use: use of the textbook as syllabus, textbook reification – novice teachers particularly assume things work without questioning it.
This is a kind of sociocultural theory which Luis used to frame his study.
The activity Luis is focussing on is ‘learning to design materials’.
(Luis explained this very quickly, and I couldn’t keep up!)
8 pre-service teachers in their final year in year 5, doing their practicum, and working to get their BA in English language teaching.
He used stimulated recall interviews based on materials the students sent him. For example: ‘What were you thinking about when you decided to create this activity?’
Much of the design of the materials by these teachers was mediated by the idea that the materials needed to resemble course books.
He found an important tension between the pre-service teachers and their use of coursebooks. There was a need to cover the textbook as it was used as the syllabus, which somewhat removed the agency of the teachers in creating their materials.
Teachers have an average of 27 teaching hours per week, and sometimes as many as 40. This creates big challenges.
Influence of the settting
Mentor teachers from the school sometimes critiqued the teachers for creating their own materials and moving too far from the coursebook.
The teachers are taught English at the university while they are learning to teach too. They experienced these methods in their own learning, so used it in their teaching too:
ELT as teaching the textbook
Many novice teachers rely on the coursebook. The coursebook becomes the goal. If I need to cover the coursebook, everything needs to be geared towards that.
Influence from the school setting
Classrooms often have 40+ students and 25+ hours, so there is very little time to plan. Teachers learn how to teach, but can’t use this in the context, so rely on the coursebook.
Their own learning of English is textbook mediated, and therefore their practice is likely to be like this too.
Is a school seen as only a place where students learn? Or is it seen as a place where teachers learn too?
This was the final day of the conference so was a little shorter. There was an opening and a closing plenary, and I attended a couple of sessions, all of which I have summarised below. If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.
Plenary: Education, English and the question of future in conflict areas – Asmaa AbuMezied and Hasna AbuMezied
Asmaa’s first questions:
Do you know of any conflicts around the world? (Everybody)
Do you know how many conflicts are currently happening? (Almost nobody put their hand up)
There are many different reasons for this: interstate, local, criminal violence and militias, social injustice protests, territorial disputes.
Gaza is one of the areas which is involved in a territorial dispute.
Over the past few years, fewer people are dying in conflict, but more conflicts are happening. The more we are losing our natural resources, the more likely these conflicts are to happen. Where does that leave us?
Survival as a state
As we meet today, one quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas. Two billion people.
Antonio Gutierrez, UN Secretary General, March 2022
Conflict isn’t just the state of active bombardment and strikes. It never leaves you, even when it ends. That’s what we’re talking about when we think about education and future generations. People find themselves in a state of survival, rather than living. Everybody is constantly looking around them to check, how can we support our families, our people to live another day.
The UN called Gaza unliveable by 2020. Asmaa and Hasna are here today. They are alive, but are they living.
It is 365km2, with 2 million people in this tiny place. It has been occupied for decades. There has been a blockade for 15 years. It is considered an open air prison. Asmaa and Hasna had a major journey to be here at IATEFL today.
If you know somebody from a conflict area: what did it take for you to get here? What are the restrictions that have stopped your colleagues from being able to come? We (I) are privileged to be here.
What kind of future are we building for our future? We are in a state of constant fear. That’s not a future we want to give to our children.
65% of the population is living on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
About 50% of the population is unemployed. You put a huge amount of effort into education, but can’t do anything with it.
53% of people live in poverty.
64% of the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme, and most of them are eating food which is unhealthy, affecting their mental and physical health.
96% of the water is undrinkable, and this is likely to increase.
There is an air strike somewhere in the Gaza Strip almost every month.
There is no feeling of safety or security.
To help with this, education is an area that people focus on. Without education, they will not be heard. It is a way of surviving, a way of living.
What shapes the journey of a Palestinian English Language teacher in Gaza?
Teachers face many different challenges.
Limited numbers of schools per capita and overcrowded classes (45-50 students)
Schools operate on double or triple shifts to cope with numbers. This leads to fewer hours for students too.
Limited resources including technology. Teachers often need to buy their own chalk for example.
Teachers try to use interactive methods, but this can be very challenging due to numbers and available resources.
They have 6-12 hours of electricity per day. There is an electricity schedule, telling them when they will get electricity.
They don’t just have to coordinate with other teachers, but with the electricity schedule.
This restricts students’ learning and study time.
Limited opportunities to use English in real life. Limited contact with foreigners. Loss of hope and motivation.
Disruption of education for teachers and students.
I will never be able to travel outside Gaza, so why should I learn English?
Typical student question
In the 14 years Hasna has been teaching, there has been a disruption in education every year. This puts great pressure on teachers: delivering 4 months content in 3 months. Teachers will take extra classes to meet the demands of the curriculum, and some classes may be cut (like PE or art). They know those are important classes for students, but they have to make these challenging decisions.
Trauma and mental health
In 2008, Hasna was waiting for an exam to start, when suddenly the school started shaking. She looked out of the right-hand windows and saw flames and smoke. She told them to go to the left side, and then they saw thick black smoke outside. Another teacher and her tried to keep the students in the school, but it was complete chaos. They had no idea what was happening. That was one of the saddest and bloodiest days in Gaza’s history.
For many people, schools are considered to be safe places. They are used as shelters during conflicts. 1047 students and teachers were killed during the 2014 conflict, and 46 public schools were damaged in May 2021.
There are daily triggers. Will the same thing again? Will I be able to help my students? What about my children? What if their teacher leaves them beyond? Should I go to them first? This is a constant – you are thinking about this all the time.
You might hear air strikes in the middle of a lesson, and students will get scared. They will hear drones and close their books. One student will start crying whenever she hears shooting, and the rest of the students start crying too, so now Hasna asks her to go and wash her faces. Every time Hasna has to encourage her students to continue. This is their daily life, and they have to adapt to it.
Every night, the teachers are soothing their children all night, and every day they have to go back to school and be able to support their students.
One colleague has a panic attack whenever she hears the word ‘invade’ in Arabic.
There is so much pressure for teachers to be positive all the time. They have become adept at hiding their feelings for the sake of their families, students, and colleagues. They cannot say they are tired.
We have all the reasons to collapse, but we don’t have the luxury to do it.
A teacher from Gaza
Economic challenges: poverty and marginalisation
Underpaid salaries – they only receive 40-60% of their salaries, in the past every 50-60 days though now it is better – now they get it every 30 days.
Poverty among teachers – teachers supplement their income with extra lessons or other jobs beyond education. Teachers walk long distances to get to school if they can’t pay for transport (which many can’t). 92% of employees in Gaza suffer from depression and deep sadness because they can’t give their children an allowance.
Drop out of school – particularly female students in 9th and 10th grades, some of whom are already engaged in 9th grade. There is seasonal dropping out due to agricultural requirements.
Inequality – being in a marginalised area, with buildings all built by donations from other countries, but very few people have access to smartphones or any kind of online provision so they can’t take advantage of technology for example.
Mum, you look so tired. You look like a crushed snail.
Hasna’s son, Suleiman
Future of education
The talk today leaves us with a lot of questions.
The pandemic has shifted a lot of education to the household. Educational labour in the household can leave families, and particularly women, feeling inadequate. Teaching is a feminised issue, and therefore can be undervalued and not appreciated. We need to bring this to the forefront.
Our students all experience education differently. It is our responsibility to listen to and consider what they need.
How do we make technology accessible and safe to our students?
What does it mean to be a teacher? We all have so many hats. As a psychologist, as a supporter, as a parent, as a human.
How can we ensure that we have a decolonised education system that values our indigenous knowledge? How we care for our environment? To what extent is the content of our education extractive to our cultures and to our environment?
We need to have a future to our education that encompasses us all.
Thank you to IATEFL for bringing such wonderful speakers to us today. They got a well deserved standing ovation, for an emotional and important talk.
Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.
These are the slides from the presentation:
A video clip
The British Council asked me to talk about using a materials checklist after my talk, which gives you a 10-minute taster of some of the things I discussed:
Like many teachers, I did my first materials writing in my early lessons, creating materials for my classroom. These were of somewhat mixed quality and resulted in lessons of somewhat mixed quality. With trial, error and student feedback I improved, but it definitely helped to get external input.
The first professional materials writing I did was for OUP, creating model texts for online content. Through this and other writing work, I received feedback on what I was producing and was pushed to improve the quality of my writing and/or to move it closer to the brief I had been given. I also got feedback on my writing from the editors I worked with on my self-published books, and informal feedback through materials I posted on my blog.
In 2021, I started the NILE MA Materials Development module. This gave me more of a theoretical grounding in materials writing, both through the sessions I attended during the course and through the two assignments I wrote. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.
The ideas in this talk are a distillation of some of the things I’ve learnt during this process. They’re not intended to be new or innovative, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for you.
Evaluating materials and using checklists
Looking at other people’s materials is a useful starting point for your own materials writing. By deciding what should and shouldn’t be on a checklist, then using it to analyse existing materials, it helps you to consider what makes materials work or not. You could use a similar checklist after you’ve written your materials to see what you might need to change.
As part of the MA, we learnt about different approaches to writing evaluation checklists, and through this process I thought a lot about my own materials writing. Here is the checklist I compiled for my assignment.
As part of my work as a Director of Studies, I had to guide the selection of coursebooks used at our school. I had never received any training in how to do this, so it was mostly a process of trial and error. Over time we built up a list of characteristics that we knew we needed to look for in the books we would use, but it would have been a lot easier to create a checklist to guide our selection.
Tips for writing a materials checklist
Define your context. Who are the students? Years of learning? Level? Purpose for the lessons? Educational background? Who is the teacher? Experience level? Subject knowledge? What is the lesson format? Online / face-to-face / blended? Lesson length? Course length? Without knowing the context, the materials evaluation will be generic. The context can make a real difference to which criteria are important to include.
Start with a list of ideas of what you think would make effective materials for this context. These ideas could (and probably will!) be guided by principles you believe (see below). Turn your ideas into questions. I found ‘To what extent…?’ to be a useful framing device.
Ensure each point is discrete / there are no overlaps.
Think about how many criteria it’s appropriate to use. I used 25 to analyse a full coursebook unit, which I found covered all the areas I thought were important, but remained quite quick to complete.
Use a scoring system. I scored each criterion 0-4: 0 = not at all, 1 = just barely, 2 = to some extent, 3 = to a large extent, 4 = to the greatest extent.
Add weighting to show which criteria are more / less important/desirable. I used 1-3: 1 = desired, 2 = preferred, 3 = essential.
Grouping the criteria into categories can help you to check for overlaps / missing criteria. It allows you to have sub-totals for different sections if you use a scoring system, and to compare different materials.
Include space for comments so you can make notes to back up your scores.
Collaborate with others during the process: when deciding on what to include, when weighting criteria, when editing the checklist, when using it.
Resources for writing checklists
There are examples of checklists and advice for creating them available in various materials writing methodology books and journal articles. You may need to have a subscription to access the journal articles. These are ones I found useful:
McGrath, I. (2016) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, 2nd edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]
Mukundan, J. and Ahour, T. (2010) ‘A Review of Textbook Evaluation Checklists across Four Decades (1970-2008)’ in Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (eds.) Research for Materials Development in Language Learning: Evidence for best practice. London: Continuum, pp.336-352. [Amazon affiliate link]
Sheldon, L. E. (1988) ‘Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials’. ELT Journal, October, 42(4), pp. 237-246.
Williams, D. (1983) ‘Developing criteria for textbook evaluation’ ELT Journal, July, 37 (3), pp251-255.
You can see a summary of some of MA notes related to checklists in this post.
Principles and materials writing
Discovering your principles
I first came across the idea of considering your principles when approaching materials writing in Jill Hadfield’s talk at IATEFL Manchester 2015. She wrote a journal while writing a set of materials, then used this to put together a list of ‘framing principles’ to guide her future materials writing. Here are some of them:
Mishan and Timmis (2015:1) define principled materials development as follows:
Materials development which takes into account current practice, but goes beyond it to consult first principles drawn from second language acquisition (SLA) and language teaching theory.
Materials Development for TESOL, Freda Mishan and Ivor Timmis, Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL [Amazon affiliate link]
This could sound quite complicated or difficult to achieve if you don’t have much of a background in this theory, but it is actually easier to consider than it might seem. You could start with a list of what you believe makes effective materials, perhaps supported by prior evaluation of materials (see above). This was the list I compiled when I started my MA materials evaluation assignment:
Materials should engage the learners’ interest through the choice of topics, and maintain it through varied activities.
Developing positive group dynamics are a key factor in effective teaching.
Materials should train learners to be better listeners and readers, not just test their abilities.
Materials should provide plenty of opportunities for learners to speak and write, as well as support to help them do so.
Materials should help learners to become more autonomous.
Language work should not be purely grammar focussed. It should also include work on lexis, including lexical chunks, on pronunciation, and on functional language to improve the quality of learner discourse.
New teachers need and guidance support with their teaching.
Materials should be inclusive and accessible to all. Learners should see themselves represented in the materials they use.
Chapter 2 of the Mishan and Timmis book includes a selection of key points which might help you to incorporate SLA and theory into your principles.
You can see more detailed examples of some of the beliefs I considered during my MA module and my thinking behind them in these three posts: week one, week two, week three.
How to use your principles
Once you have a list of principles, you can refer to these regularly.
Before you start designing something, remind yourself of your principles. Is there anything key to this context which you might also need to consider? Are any of the principles not relevant in this context? If it’s for somebody else, will the project require you to ignore some or all of your principles, and if so, do you still want to commit to it?
As you design, look at your principles occasionally. Are you sticking to them? Are there any which are hard for you to follow? Is there anything you could do or anybody you could speak to in order to change your approach to the writing to be able to stick more closely to your principles?
As you proofread and edit, use the principles as a checklist. Is there anything you’ve forgotten to include / pay attention to in the writing process?
Stakeholders in materials writing
When you’re in the middle of writing materials, it can be easy to get caught up in making them exactly how you want them to be. It’s important to stop occasionally and consider the other stakeholders in the process.
Ultimately, the materials have to be suitable for the user. This might be the learner, the trainee, or the teacher. Put yourself into the position of each potential user and ask yourself:
How easy is this for me to understand?
Do I have all of the information I need to make the most of these materials?
Please, please, please have somebody edit your work. This can make a huge difference to the quality of what you produce! It certainly did with my books.
I’ve learnt a lot from attending talks by and working with Penny Hands, editor extraordinaire. At the 2021 MaWSIG PCE, Penny talked about different roles an editor might have (see the final section of the post). When working with an editor, make sure you’re clear about which role(s) you’d like them to fulfil: whether you’d like them to focus on copy editing or proofreading. It can be easier to do these in two separate cycles. Before you send it off, read the manuscript again yourself with your ‘copy editor’ or ‘proofreader’ hat on, and try to resolve at least some of the problems. If you’re self-publishing, this saves you money too!
When you get edited work back, it can sometimes feel a bit depressing. You’ve put so much work into producing the materials, and now you find there are lots of things you need to change. Remember that the editor will only comment on things which should improve the end product. If they’re materials for your own classroom, it could make the difference between a lesson which works and one where the learners have no idea what’s going on. If you self-publish, it’s up to you whether you take the editor’s advice (in 99% of cases, I would!) If you’re working for a publisher, the editor will be helping you to meet the brief. In all of these cases, feel free to spend a few minutes being sad about the work you put in, but then let go and make the changes. The final product will be better for it!
If you’re working with a designer, learn how to write an artwork brief. Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included advice on this in their IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).
If you’re self-publishing, keep the design as simple as possible. You’ll thank me when you have to reformat it for different platforms!
Some very simple tweaks can make a big difference to how easy it is to navigate your materials. These are the ones I most commonly suggest to people:
Number exercises and questions within exercises.
Use a different font for rubrics. Having rubrics in bold / on a different coloured background can also differentiate them.
Add spacing before / after exercises and questions.
Use lines and / or boxes to separate sections on the page.
Use tables rather than text boxes to organise a word-processed document – they’re much easier to manage the layout of. You can remove the border of the table if you don’t want it to be visible.
Use page breaks and section breaks to create new parts to your document, rather than pressing enter lots of times. The exercise will always stay on a new page, regardless of how much you add above it.
Use ‘styles’, including Headings, to create a consistent layout across your document. Having headings also allows you to use the navigation pane to move around your document quickly and easily. [Note that some publishers prefer you not to use these as it can interfere with the design stage of materials production.]
If you’re not sure how to do any of these things, do a search for the relevant topic and there are normally accessible written and video tutorials for them e.g. ‘use a table in Microsoft Word’ or ‘page breaks in Google Docs’.
Many of these changes could make a big difference to learners with SEN and how easy it is to navigate your materials.
Think about who is represented within your materials and how. Can the target users ‘see’ themselves in the materials?
What names have you used?
Is everybody the same colour? Gender? Body type? Age?
The ELT Teacher2Writer books are a goldmine of useful information, covering a wide range of different materials writing topics. If you can only afford one, I recommend How To Write Excellent ELT Materials: The Skills Series which is 6 books in one: [Amazon affiliate link]
ETpedia Materials Writing is a one-stop shop of 500 ideas to help you with your materials writing. [Amazon affiliate link] Pavilion often have a discount on it, including during the IATEFL conference.
Over to you!
Was anything here particularly new or interesting to you here?
What tips would you add to the list?
Which resources have you found particular useful in your own materials writing?
Paul has been talking about using L1 for many years, going right back to IATEFL Brighton 1994, about 20 ways to use the mother tongue. He’d done a Masters degree at Reading University in 1985, counting the number of activities in a 45-minute lesson – he found there were 660 tasks in a given hour (Should I do this? Should I ask him?)
[This talk report will be truncated as I need to leave a little early for my own talk in the next slot!]
These were the 20 activities he shared, and the ones which were blue were considered controversial at the time.
When planning / preparing, how do you assess the level of difficulty of a text? If you’re teaching monolingual groups, it could be what’s guessable / needs glossing / testing. We use L1 knowledge all the time, so celebrate this strategy systematically and share it with students.
Bilingual resources out of class
If it was a real-life task, or one students worked on alone, that was OK, but it was considered problematic if teachers used the L1.
But times have now changed!
Here are some connected quotes:
5 cross-lingual mediation activities
How many of these do you do already? I think I’ve only ever tried number 2.
Using L1 mentally, not orally
Name at least 4 fruits starting with the same letter or sound in L1. Quickly say / type them in English.
You’re bouncing the languages inside your head, drilling the vocabulary by yourself. It works well with particular combinations of languages.
2-phrase presentation to show / share L1 advantages
Give a list of words which you know are easy based on their L1, and work out pronunciation by showing the stressed syllable. Then have the harder words (depending on their L1), with a matching activity. They’re using L1 anyway, so help them with this.
You can encourage students to make links to L1, though they don’t have to actually say the L1:
Match phrases and photos, and then…
Then consider ‘Which 4 are very similar to Spanish?’ Paul wouldn’t have the Spanish on the board, but he’d still work with it. The students are drilling themselves, and making connections between the two languages. We’re showing the learners the benefits of the L1, and where they need to focus their energy.
Which have similar structure to Spanish?
Which two have similar word order in Spanish?
Helps students to decide where to focus their energy when learning a list of vocabulary.
Have students research common ground – they built a wall of cognates:
Different approaches to grammar
Get students to score how similar language is to their L1. This helps them to process the structures and make beneficial connections.
You’ve heard about inductive and deductive grammar teaching. What about seductive teaching? 🙂 Don’t waste time – just tell them what to work on!
Begin class by showing anticipated mistakes, corrected. This works in a flipped classroom too.
This approach has a lot of benefits:
Fronting grammar mistakes saves time.
Use online translation
If you have a text you’re going to use with students, put it through a translator, then reverse translate it back into English, then flag up the differences. You can also get the students to do this.
Encourage language play.
Type random characters into Google translate and see what comes out. Paul’s son did this with Chinese:
Learn to use YouTube!
You can use filters for the length of videos you’ll watch, transcripts to navigate the video, change the speed. You can have control over the input you want using this.
Copy and paste parts of the transcript into Google Translate.
[If you want more like this, I recommend Youglish to help you find useful videos]
Once in Google translate, you can star sections and build your own phrase book. Export to Quizlet and create a study set – you can do this automatically useful.
Change subtitles to L1 on YouTube – see L1 on screen, English in transcript, giving you a bilingual transcript.
Caution with auto translation of YouTube subtitles though, as it may not get the correct form of the language – but you may want to use this as a tool in the classroom now.
Subtitle use – advice for students
A four-step process:
Teach students strategies for working with subtitles.
(Paul says there’s a good talk in here about subtitle use)
Nisreen works for Cambridge University Press. This is work in progress, with external content coming in the future.
Nisreen has been working on a framework to consider the impact of English.
All of our products and services are designed to improve
Why have a framework?
Understanding our impact is part of our continuous improvements.
We want our learning resources and exams to be the best they can be for our learners and teachers, and have the most positive impact on their learning and beyond.
Cambridge has been researching impact since the 1990s.
The learner is at the centre of the education process. They want to empower participants with data and evidence.
Understanding impact should allow you to accentuate the positive and reduce negative effects.
This kind of research is also a form of transparency.
Impact by Design
This was a model introduced in 1996 by Cambridge English Assessment.
It is a concept that incorporates:
Impact considerations from the start, and seeks to anticipate potential effects and consequences with a commitment to monitoring and changing things as required
It’s a cycle which should begin at the beginning of the process, and feed constantly into what is being done.
Impact areas cover many different things, and will probably change with time. For example, focusing on the impact of learning resources on learner development, perceptions and future plans (e.g. study, work).
The indicators measure the areas that affect:
Individuals (e.g. learners, teachers and test takers)
Organisations (e.g. schools, test centres, higher education institutes, employers)
They now have an ‘Impact hub’ which collects all of the data from across the organisation to make them tidier to analyse.
What does an indicator tell us?
They’re like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). If they notice there is a drop in performance in a particular area, they can set up an impact study to look at it in more depth.
The process is:
They then communicate their impact findings in a range of ways, which will be a central website (not quite ready yet!)
This was part of the TTEdSIG (Teacher Training and Education Special Interest Group) Showcase.
Gabriel works at the Insitute of Education at the Universidad ORT Uruguay, where they focus on postgrad qualifications. He also works with tertiary-level students for teacher training. The institute has 33 campuses around the country.
He teaches a methodology course. The students have had 3 years in the college, 2 years in the public school systems with a mentor, then in their final year they have a few months with their own group. These are often the most challenging students in a school. As a teacher educator, Gabriel’s role is to help his trainees survive this stage of their training.
His students this year particularly struggled with planning. In Uruguay plans are mandated by law and have to be submitted to principals, who don’t necessarily know anything about English language teaching. This talk is based on an experiment which is still in progress.
Why teach planning?
Professorial reasons: you’re a professional if your classes are well structured and can respond to student needs.
Pedagogical reasons: in initial training, it helps you to match theories to what you’re doing.
Cognitive reasons: the more we plan, the more we free cognitive resources to pay attention to the learners in the classroom.
Sociocultural reasons: we need to follow the rules that are expected of us as teachers.
Useless for the unexpected
Intuitive decision-making? Perhaps they stop this – ‘To make the right change at the right time when it needs to be made’
Knowledge and thinking
Expertise is a process, not a pinnacle.
Novices have ‘chaotic knowledge’ – they might have, but don’t know how to access it, or what needs to be applied in this situation.
What does expertise mean in initial teacher education?
Not a state, but a process. One where expertise can surface. Emergent expertise (in the same way as we talk about emergent language)
Requires the development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, experience and relevant training in a specific field
Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect permanent.
Kinds of experts
We are trained to do one thing, but our initial experience may not match our training. We may need to be able to teach different levels, ages and content , so we need adaptive teachers.
Core components of a lesson
A clear learning outcome
An understanding of where my students are and where they need to go – of the students one is teaching
An understanding of the reasons for applying a particular approach to teaching – why use the same approach for a group of demotivated secondary school teenagers learning one more subject, and for motivated individuals living in another country?
An understanding of how the approach operates in practice
A means to assess the progress that t learners are making towards the outcome – my teaching needs to be reactive to what is happening with the learners in the lesson
Reflection in, on and as action to keep us going and to allow us to make the necessary changes to our teaching
A key realisation: the perfect lesson DOES NOT EXIST. And therefore we should not aim to create one – students just need to learn something.
Lessons are encounters between people who are both persuing something.
Gabriel Diaz Maggioli
Try without a lesson planning framework first. Take out the materials you’re going to use. Then jot down the procedure, however you like.
When they did this, if you look at the aim and the sequence, you can see there’s a mis-match, and the sequence isn’t necessarily well-articulated. Each person did it on a big piece of paper, then they rotated it and peers made comments.
Then they reformulated their learning outcomes, looked back at their theoretical materials, and had to find a way to see how the theory they knew is reflected in their practice.
Every time they made a change, they were asked Why? Teachers had to justify their decisions.
When we use concept mapping, we are looking at possibilities, not narrowing in on one specific pathway. We are creating emerging expertise, especially because they are questioning each other. This enables meta cognitive learning too – becoming aware of who I am as a teacher, what I am doing, and how that reflects on my lessons.
This requires teachers to look at what theory supports their doing. This refines their questioning and conceptual understanding.
Gabriel played the voices of some of his teachers on his course. Teachers on the course said they felt more confident in their knowledge connected to theory and background, and could connect it to their students more.
The teachers aren’t using the structures the college prescribes, and they have developed their own shapes. Now they’re aligning activities to the students’ needs.
Answers to discussions
Did you find any resistance to reflection from the teachers? Yes, a lot. If you speak your mind, it can have consequences. It’s a traditional system where students do what the teachers say. But now they’re engaging in a collaborative action research process with these three teachers, who have found they didn’t give their students enough space to speak – they’re now trying to find out why this happens, and how to increase opportunities for speaking.
When Gabriel teaches a teacher, he teaches one teacher at a time, with the idea that one day they will be a teacher educator, in the hope they will change things in the future [a snowball effect]. He always asks: What is best for the learners you are teaching? What do you want to give those people who are going to make a country for your children?
In the past many people taught in classrooms with no technology, but during the pandemic this flipped to teaching with technology but no classroom. Both situations create constraints on how you can teach.
How do constraints create creativity?
We need constraints for creativity – absolute freedom can make creativity very challenging.
Madagascar – classrooms without technology
This was a situation Jill and Charlie Hadfield taught in. They worked in Madagascar, but there were no books. There might be a cracked blackboard, or slates for children. The solution came from the market. Smallholders there had stocks of large paper to wrap goods in. They got schools to buy lots of these pieces of paper. They put up a washing line in a classroom, with one picture at the front of the room and one at the back. Children sat in pairs back to back and described the picture they could see to their partner. Here are examples of the pictures:
The pandemic: technology without classrooms
Here are examples of the kinds of constraints when working online:
So how did teachers work around these constraints? Here are examples of using classic ELT activities.
Using video and audio
Interview an object
Jill would be off screen and have an object on screen. Students ask questions to the object, and the teacher answers as if they’re the object. Then the students do this.
> Not everybody needs to be on the screen at the same time.
Use email / a link to send to one student before the lesson to print out or put on the phone. Put the phone or text at the end of the room. When the teacher says go, the student has to get up and go to the text.
For example, chat box, emoji reactions.
> This worked well even if students couldn’t get video or audio to work.
Who am I?
> You can ‘Spotlight’ / ‘Pin’ somebody so that even if they’re not talking, they’re the main screen. It’s like you’re putting them on stage.
> By giving the students the constraint that they can only use the thumbs up / thumbs down button with the video off, it forced students to ask yes / no questions.
Sharing your screen
> You don’t just have to share PowerPoint slides or websites, you can share many other things too.
Same words, different place
> You can spotlight more than one person to have a dialogue.
For example, in a supermarket, in a city, in a library. Then another slide in the same place but without displaying the dialogue.
Lindsay found that he did fewer pair/groupwork activities but for longer, compared to his classroom. They tended to be longer activities with feedback. There tended to be more open pairwork, rather than closed pairwork.
> Getting students to write things on paper and hold it up to the screen meant that others would lean forward to look at it. It seemed to engage others who were in the session as they wanted to see.
This worked well for mini projects.
This is a kind of information gap.
> Students can produce their own materials. It might take around 10 minutes to create the materials, but it makes it possible to do interactive pairwork games in breakout rooms.
> Micro breaks away from the computer.
> Teaching on Zoom drastically reduces the teacher’s mobility, which can be very tiring.
> It also feels like you’re teaching into a mirror a lot.
> Tiring for students too to always be in front of a screen!
Stand up, stretch your arms, walk to the nearest door, count the steps, type in the chat box. Then who was the closest? Who was the furthest?
Go to the fridge, find something which is yellow, come back and tell your partner.
Get up, walk around the room, mentally name 5 things in English, then come back and say what you’ve done.
Formative is during the race, summative is when you’ve crossed the line.
…the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs.
Black and William, 1998:2
My favourite metaphor Leo used:
Here’s a task for you:
Leo has separated them in this way though he acknowledges that some could be either:
Example activity 1: 3-3-3 Speaking activity
In pairs, student A talks for 3 minutes on a topic may or may not have been prepared in advance. Student B listens. Students switch roles with Student B speaking and Student A speaking.
Switch and speak to another A / B in your group.
Go back to your original partner. Partner compare the original version you heard to the last delivery of the same monologue.
Finally assess your partner’s participation. We used an app called Wooclap to do this live:
Here are two other possible sets of assessment criteria for the same activity:
The idea of the original 4-3-2 activity is often attributed to Nation 1989, but Leo found it was originally in Maurice 1983 in ELTJ. It has recently been reassessed by Boers (2014) who found that the increased time pressure of reducing the time limit didn’t make a big difference – it’s fine to do it with the same amount of time for each repetition.
There has been a re-evaluation of the value of repetition:
Points to consider:
The first three topics here are more useful topics as they involve recounting something.
Practical example 2: mini debate
Two students had a debate. We asked one question to each of the speakers. Then each speaker had to summarise what their opponent said using lexical chunks from the slide:
Debating is usually considered an idea for working on speaking, but why not use it to test students’ listening as well?
Lottie started out as a teacher, and now focussed on DEI and materials – making materials more inclusive.
Lottie would like to trial inclusive materials with teachers, not just about mental health but about all areas of marginalisation. If you’d like to work with her, contact her via http://www.lottiegalpin.com.
When she mentioned this topic to some people, she had some who said it was important and should be included. Some said it’s too heavy and it shouldn’t be there. And some people looked at her awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. This reflects where we’re at with mental health in society – we don’t always have the language to talk about it. We can start to give our students the language to do this, and to break down some of the stigma around mental illness.
There’s lots of different language we could use:
Mental health problems
Mental health disorders (very negative!0
Mental health conditions
Mental health challenges?
Mind, the UK charity, talks about mental health problems, with under this umbrella many areas (but not only these!):
[If language connected to mental health is something you’re interested in, there is an episode of Word of Mouth which covers this.]
So why is it important to represent mental illness and mental health challenges in ELT published materials?
As we said, it’s a part of life! Physical health is covered, but mental health isn’t. Why do we make that division? It’s all just health.
It helps students to realise they’re not alone.
It can be more dangerous to have a world where everything is happy, happy, shiny, shiny (thanks Hugh Dellar for that phrase!) and pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Students need to have that language to be able to talk about these things.
Students are potentially ready to talk about the topic, but maybe the teachers aren’t. If it’s in the coursebook, they might be more likely to do this.
Why is representation important?
All students can themselves in materials.
Increases student engagement and belonging.
Teaches students about a range of lived experiences.
Creates global citizens – prepares them for the world.
Gives students language to describe themselves.
If one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, that’s one in four of our students who will experience it first hand, and probably all of them will have somebody they know who goes through this. We need to prepare them to deal with this.
People don’t seek treatment because of stigma.
We can’t save the world, but we can help to reduce stigma.
How can we represent mental illness?
Representation of people with mental illness
Content that represents everyday experiences of mental illness
Content that builds awareness of mental illness and mental health skills
Support teachers and students with empowering teacher’s notes
Lottie created an example of materials which build knowledge about a mental health condition, but also build their own language skills.
Start with the teacher’s notes. Offer student choice, allow teachers to prepare and model good practice with triggering topics.
This is the lesson warmer. It could be a text, a video – something real-life. The question focuses on ‘health’ not ‘mental health’, and the teacher’s notes talk about how to develop digital skills:
In the text, students build up factual knowledge about the condition. The text is designed to look like something which is reliable.
The discussion questions:
In our pair, we talked about the fact that exercise 5 might depend on who you are. I thought about from the point of view of ‘I have this health problem, how can I find out how to live with it’, whereas my partner talked about ‘Somebody has told me about it, and I want to learn more’.
These are the teacher’s notes:
The follow-up task is a standard research task, with overt skills practice.
Other things we can do
Representing real people, integrated in our other materials:
All teachers could feel comfortable using this, though Lottie would add a teacher’s note explaining what OCD actually is – to avoid stereotypes.
We could also integrate it into our audio:
This is a very standard type of dialogue, but why not include references to mental health rather than ‘Sorry, I’m busy.’
Too triggering to teach?
If you know your students, and allow the teacher’s book to explore the topic, then it shouldn’t be too triggering to teach, but you need to bear these things in mind:
Featuring mental illness can build awareness and break stigma.
It may be triggering, but triggers can be mitigated.
Covering mental illness should be considered according to context.
This is the start of a conversation. This is just one way to cover mental health in materials, but there could be many other ways.
What are the ELT ‘mistakes’ in this image and this text? This was from a popular coursebook, and was designed to be humourous.
This book was published in the same year as Return of the Jedi was released, when there was only one woman in the story, and she was wearing a bikini on the poster. It was also the same year as She’s so cold by the Rolling Stones. Pretty Women, Baywatch, Victoria’s Secret Angels – these were all typical of the context at the time.
They looked at two popular series from 1994/1999 and 2017, focussing on elementary level, and family, jobs and free time.
Here’s an example of family:
In the original page, there is a strong focus on the man’s family. Only one question in the exercise is focussed on the woman’s family.
In the newer edition, there is an example of a solo woman with children, but with no information in the teacher’s book about how the image might be used. The family tree is Joseph’s family – still the man’s family. There’s one solo woman in the family tree, and she’s the only woman who’s unhappy in the image.
In the dialogue from an old book, the focus is on marriage. It’s expected that if you’re married, you have a husband. In the more modern edition, the focus is on siblings. In a dialogue, it’s usually the man who starts the conversation.
In the other series, we have Patrick’s family in the old edition. His daughter is a nurse – it’s a traditional role. In the new edition, it’s Max’s family. There’s a solo woman in the family tree too. In the texts, the focus is on the family as a whole. There is a line ‘I often help my mum or dad cook the meals’. To finish the sequence, students are invited to talk about their own families.
In the 5th edition, we have Jason’s family.
Some numbers related to family units
In a unit about jobs, in the old edition, there were stock images, and extra information about marital status and family. In the new edition, it’s a real woman (you can find her on the internet), with real images of her working, and the information about her family is relevant to the text not randomly added in.
In the focus on vocabulary, in the old edition women are generally doing jobs traditionally associated with women. In the fifth edition, many of the roles are also similar. In the exercise, four out of five of the female jobs are caring jobs – women always have the caring roles, never men.
In the new edition below, in the grammar focus, ‘she’ is used as the pronoun. The woman starts the conversation, not the man.
Some numbers related to jobs and women
The old edition – the title is ‘Take it easy’, but the female character asks ‘What’s free time?’
The woman ‘doesn’t work on weekdays’ because she looks after her family (!)
In the current edition, the footballer works during the week and plays games at the weekend. There are no women in the spread.
In the old edition, the women generally don’t look happy or have neutral expressions:
In the new edition, there’s a much wider range of images in terms of gender, age, roles:
In the other book, in the old edition, the man is focussed on keeping fit, the woman is the couch potato. In the new edition it’s flipped. The woman is interested in keeping fit, but doesn’t show she’s happy about it.
In the old edition, there are more ‘mistakes’! In the new edition, the woman starts the conversation, but the man is assertive and says he’s good, while the woman says she’s not very good.
We’re getting there
In this book, there are real photos of families so they seem more diverse.
Two teenage girls working out – women can do their own thing without having to interact with men all the time:
There are examples of women doing different things in coursebooks too: a female judo fighter, female activists.
There is progress in the world too: Star Wars posters that are a full image of a woman.
I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. [I missed the second half of the quote!]
This talk has come out of three or four years of working on flipped CELTA and Delta courses. All of the input happens on a platform at home, but planning and input happens in the school / online.
Planning workshops are one aspect of their flipped courses.
How do we help trainees plan?
How do you usually help trainees with their lesson planning?
What is your goal in this? Do you feel you usually achieve this goal?
As Ri said, it’s often a quite unsatisfying process for both trainees and trainers. We’re helping them with that lesson in that moment with that question.
What is a planning workshop?
When they first started doing this, it felt like supervised lesson planning, but for longer. Over time, they realised that the goal of this kind of workshop was actually To develop independent strategies for planning which trainees can use in the course and beyond. It gives them a way to find their own answers.
The strategies come from their experience of typical trainee puzzles which occur during the planning process. How do I…?
Strategy 1: working with a critical friend
What’s the role of a critical friend?
Questioning the assumptions made and seeing if they know why they’re doing it
Being someone other than the trainers to bounce ideas off
Giving support and reassurance
The role of being a critical friend needs to be set up with the trainees. You need to give them permission to probe, not just rubber stamp so they don’t feel they just have to say Yes, that’s great.
When we practised being a critical friend in a lesson planning workshop during the session, at the beginning we had no idea what we were doing but after a few minutes we worked out what questions we wanted to ask. We explored the areas connected to the lesson we thought might be important. When we had a question we couldn’t answer, we could bring it back to the tutor, who might ask us ‘What are the advantages of this approach? The disadvantages? Puzzle it out together and come back to me.’ The trainer might need to monitor and prompt the critical friend for more questioning, rather than making statements – see if you can explore it with them, rather than telling them what to do.
What trainees said about being a critical friend
Reflection questions for trainees
The first half of the workshop: give them a task like the one above.
The second half of the workshop: a reflection on the process and the strategy usage for lesson planning.
Here’s an example of the reflection prompts following the critical friend task:
List 4 questions or prompts you can ask learners in feedback.
List 3 ways that doing the task yourself helped you understand what will happen in the lesson.
List 2 things you got from doing the task with a critical friend.
Note down the most important thing you need to do when you’re planning your next lesson if you have this puzzle again.
They help trainees to realise there are other experts in the room, and they make the strategy explicit. During the feedback process, more questions come out about the task itself or about the strategy, and the trainers often find they do some input at this point.
Planning workshop structure
In week one of a CELTA course, they might all be working on the same strategy. In week two, they might be working on different strategies because they’re mastering different areas e.g. What do I put on the board? I don’t know how long this will take. I don’t understand this grammar.
Design your own strategy
Jo Stansfield and I came up with this:
Another group’s strategy was connected to pre-teaching vocabulary.
As a trainer, thinking about the strategy and the steps is the planning for the workshop.
Planning workshops like these:
Are more concrete than traditional planning sessions
Work on both the immediate needs of the CPs but also their long-term teacher practice
Encourage teachers to participate in a community of practice
Empower trainees to resolve their own puzzles
Allow trainees more agency when planning
Answers to questions
Being a critical friend seems difficult, so how do you support trainees in this role? Reassure trainees that they’re allowed to ask questions and are expected to ask questions, and that they don’t have to have all of the answers
How are critical friends assigned? They’re normally in pairs discussing the next day’s lesson. One person teaching today, one tomorrow work together. They change who they’re working with across the course.
If there’s a mismatch, can work with groups of 3. Have the trainee step in to demonstrate what might happen, but leave them with questions to puzzle over together. ‘Why don’t you write a list of situations when correction might happen, and decide what correction might happen in each situation?’
Trainees still come to the trainer to ask questions, but generally they work with each more. Ri said she felt like she was under less pressure during the course, and it feels much more satisfying.
When Denise first started teaching, her CPD was mostly managed by the institutions she worked in. The first materials she published, she had no training in materials writing – she wrote what she thought was best. When she did her MA, she started to see things in a more complex way. When she did her PhD, things got more complex, but she was very confident and happy with the way things were. She was happy with what she learnt.
In 2020, there were too many options. Too many courses. Too many live sessions. The topics were completely new – new ways of teaching and learning that she wasn’t used to, and she had to write materials for these things. She found herself doing too many things and not knowing where these things were leading to in her CPD.
Her first CPD questions were focussed on what: what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? But that isn’t enough – we also need to know the why.
She went onto social media to see what people were talking about. People were thinking about their CPD plans for the future, for 2022. Here are some of the things people were talking about:
But still, the focus is too much on the what. There are some whys here, but it’s not systematic. For what purpose and how do I know?
The framework we tend to talk about
We plan/define what we’re going to do, we do it, then hopefully we apply it. Stopping at applying it isn’t enough, Denise says. We need to have more higher-order thinking skills.
When Denise searched for “CPD for materials writers”, she got 5 hits, and 2 were for this talk! Others led her to this book:
There wasn’t much on the continuing professional development for materials writers.
There is a lot of research about materials.
Very little about implementation of materials
Very little about writers and the writing process
Very little about writers’ (C)PD
We are materials writers, but …of what? …for what? Are you clear about this for yourself? For Denise, the teaching side of what she writes is important to her, so she looked at the models proposed for teacher development to see if they could inspire her.
Frameworks for teachers
Subject matter knowledge
General pedagogical knowledge
Pedagogical content knowledge
Knowledge of context
This is one way of breaking down what we know.
Here’s another example of a framework:
British Council teacher framework: This talks about four levels: awareness, understanding, engagement, integration. Around these four levels, there are 12 professional practices, including pedagogical, content, context issues.
The level Denise wants to draw our attention to is ‘taking responsibility for professional development’:
Insights from these frameworks
Action (and application) not enough
We need analysis and evaluation (how?) e.g. Borg, 2018
There were 374 impressions, but only 10 votes. The comments stayed at the application level of CPD.
Denise also looked at frameworks from other areas, not just ELT:
A tentative framework
It’s much more complex!
How do you know whether your professional development is effective or not?
Answers to questions
Should we work towards this individually or as groups? Working together could help us come up with a repertoire of techniques we could use for our own development and for evaluating it.
The willis-elt website has lots of information about TBL. Jane and Dave Willis learnt about TBL from a workshop which Prabhu did at the school they were working at. They then started to share the materials and spread the word.
This was a task-based workshop, with two short tasks and two major tasks.
Task one: From Prabhu: Listen and draw
Fold a piece of paper in half.
In the top half, draw a circle, about 8cm across. In the bottom half, draw a rectangular box – about 12cm across and 3 or 4cm deep.
In the circle, think of it as a clock. Draw a little line sticking up at 12 o’clock, and a little line sticking out at 6, 2, 4, 8, 10 o’clock.
In the rectangle, make it into three boxes, so that the middle box is bigger than the other two, but all big enough to write in.
Step two: Listen and write
In the top circle, write three words. Why TBL?
Gets learners to use language in a meaningful way.
To do that, they need to have had lots of exposure to language, to the kind of language they want to be able to produce.
Learners need to be motivated.
Examples of tasks:
Listen and do – follow instructions. Lots of exposure, but haven’t had to speak.
Listing – e.g. reasons for speaking English, characters in a story…
Ordering and sorting, sequencing
Problem solving / prediction
Sharing information or opinions
They all have a communicative outcome, with exposure, use and motivation, and something to share at the end.
A lot of us are already doing tasks, but how many of us ask our learners to share the results? And what about planning to share? That’s where the learning really happens in this three-step process:
Planning what to share: where the learning happens!
Jane has found that TBL often isn’t covered in teacher training courses, or if it is, step 2 (the central/key part) isn’t included.
We produced our own homemade handout:
What are the challenges of TBLT for novice teachers?
In our group, we discussed:
How do teachers know learners have achieved the task?
How do we define the task?
What is the teacher role during each stage? What feedback should they give?
How do they set up the tasks?
Focussing on the language use, rather than the task itself.
Dealing with different levels.
Task Two: allocate roles
Who will be:
Chairperson: ensure everyone speaks
Oral reporter: the person who will report back
Timekeeper: check you finish on time
This is a way to get your shy students talking. [I’m reading about this in Dornyei and Murphey’s Group Dynamics at the moment.] Choosing the roles stimulates a lot of chat.
Questions Jane answered
What topics can be covered? Anything! You could take a text: list three problems from the text, give them the first half of a text and predict the second half, list three things you do before you go out to work or school. You could create two or three tasks to create a task sequence within a lesson.
How do you approach feedback? Always respond to content first – that was interesting, could you expand on it? Other groups could write them a question to find out more or say what they want to clarify.
What is a task? A task entails learners using language in a meaningful way. They’re not practising a particular language form. They’re using any language they know. It has a goal which is meaning based, and an outcome which can be reported back on.
How much time should we allocate it? Depends on the task, and they can be linked into a task sequence. Make sure there is more time for the planning. Give them limits so they know when they’ve finished. For example, if there are 12 differences between pictures, ask them to find 7, and then there will be extra ones in the feedback.
At what point does the teacher give language input, feedback, corrections? At the planning stage. Don’t interrupt during the task. Another role could be ‘linguistic advisor’ or ‘language monitor/observer’ – they can report back on how much English was spoken, and what was difficult to say so other language was needed. Don’t negate it, but make it a role if it’s something which could help your learners.
What is a framework for the planning stage? This comes from the learners. For example, hands up if you have a problem. [I think the emergent language tips from this morning could help!]
Is pre-teaching OK? Yes, you can add a pre-task stage. Dave and Jane call it priming. Introduce the topic, tell a story, ask students some topic-related questions. Do preparation, for example language preparation of a few items of language students might need e.g. what punishments might be good for this type of offence? Add them to the board for students to refer to later. Jane wouldn’t teach grammar at this stage because you don’t know what grammar they want until they start the task. Lexical words express meanings, grammar fine tunes meaning. Introduce useful phrases.
What is the role of the teacher during planning? Advisor, supporter, corrector.
What is the difference between TBL and Project-based language teaching? PBL generally has tasks in it, and is a series of lots of different mini tasks.
How do you apply TBL if you’re confined to a curriculum? The topics and functions in the lessons will all come up over the course of a year, but they don’t necessarily come up in the same order as the materials.
There is a language focus in TBL – it’s a form focus, which can happen after the ‘share’ stage.
There could be a recording of two fluent speakers which could be used as a model for learners. Learners could study the recordings or the transcribed talk. Cobuild recordings are being resurrected and will hopefully be online and available for free soon.
How can you make it relevant to exam-based lessons? Prabhu did task-based learning, then in the final term he did intensive exam prep. His learners did better in the state exams in most areas, and about the same in the grammar section.
How do you get students to feel satisfied as a result? If you’ve done the form focus, the learners go away with a ‘rule in their pocket’ (Krashen). You can let them repeat a task from a couple of lessons ago, record them and help the learners to notice the difference – if you warn them in advance and let them go back over what they’ve learnt, this helps students to revise.
How engaging are the CPD initiatives in your context?
Draw a ladder and place these initiatives on the rungs.
How do you measure engagement?
Is it the ease with which the programme can be carried out?
Did you receive good student feedback on what the students did?
Was there a tangible impact on the classroom?
Was it time well spent for the person controlling the CPD / teachers?
Was there an improvement in student performance?
Did it leave you with inspired / motivated teachers?
> Have you ever really thought about this at your school?
When Claire and Sarah started running CPD programmes, they were very enthusiastic, but the teachers weren’t engaged, despite being dedicated teachers. To find out why, they did research and spoke to the teachers to find out about their lack of engagement.
Some of the comments:
Observation is like a twice yearly ‘magic bullet’. The observers are always looking for the same thing. It isn’t really personalised to my needs. It feels like ticking a box than anything else. There’s a fear that if I don’t perform now, what will happen next year.
This is a summary of what the teachers mentioned as problems:
This is a ladder of participation published by UNICEF, about engaging with children. It could also be applied to teachers. Sarah and Claire reflected on to what extent engagement with teachers went beyond tokenism and was actually empowering and emancipatory.
Three possible CPD initiatives
Two regular observations by line manager. Regular training delivered by senior members of staff.
Teachers might deliver some training sessions themselves. The school encourages peer observations and critical friends groups.
Teachers collect feedback from students and based on what they say/notice, teachers reflect and choose how they develop and how this should be measured. They carry out action research. Teachers seek guidance and advice from colleagues and senior members of staff.
Non-engagement – top down
Classic observations, INSETT etc.
This can be a form of manipulation – teachers don’t fully understand or aren’t’ involved. (these ideas are from the ladder above)
Decoration: teachers display their progress but no tangible reward.
Tokenism: teachers asked their opinions but are given no real choice or decision-making power.
Moving towards ‘recipe-following’ and ‘faking it’ (Walsh and Mann, 2015)
Reflection becomes blind (Dewey, 193_) – what’s the point?!
Assigned but informed: teachers given specific duties/tasks and told how this will help them develop. They might be given specific roles in the organisation.
They might have a little more agency, but it’s still very much managed by the school
Big improvement on the above, but does not tap into full potential. D
Does not engage all teachers.
Is still not always relevant to immediate teacher needs, or have an impact on students.
Engagement – bottom up
If student voices are borne in mind, teacher development will be happening too.
The five principles of engagement:
Do the teachers initiate their professional development and take the lead?
Are student voices and feedback prioritised in the choices that teachers make?
Is the CPD relevant to the immediate needs of the teachers and their students?
Do the teachers fully understand why they are developing and how they need to do that?
Is there a measurable outcome?
You can use these principles to reflect on your CPD programme. They think they’ve found an initiative which actually meets these principles: exploratory action research.
James blogs at theteacherjames.Wordpress.com. He’s based in Brazil. This was part of the GISIG (Global Issues Special Interest Group) showcase.
Some headlines from the last month related to the climate crisis:
This is a grave situation, and is one we should keep in mind. But it can be hard for us to get our head around what’s happening in the world.
When it comes to the climate crisis, this is James’s position:
Adidas were prosecuted in the French courts for misleading advertising connected to greenwashing:
So what about ELT?
James did some informal research of his own. He was trying to choose books which he believed would be in circulation now. If they were older books, they tended to be exam preparation. He tended to look at higher-level books, as he felt like it may be possible that students at lower levels or younger learners might not have the language to discuss these issues in the same level of depth as higher levels or older learners.
These were the questions he looked at:
Does the book include related topics? These were the topics he found which could have been connected to the climate crisis in some way. He’s not arguing that they should have been connected to the climate crisis, but perhaps they could have been.
Which aspects were mentioned? These topics are more obviously related to the climate crisis – it was the main focus.
What terms were explicitly used? A larger font shows that it was used more commonly. ‘Nothing’ was the second most common thing he found – it was a lesson connected to the climate crisis in some way, but it wasn’t mentioned by name at all (though that specific term is newer – no other term was used instead).
Does the lesson suggest actions that can be taken to counteract the climate crisis? Does it focus on individual, social, scientific, corporate or governmental action? In Business English, the focus was more on the company than the individual – that had some of the better quality material. The overwhelming majority were about what you, the student, can do – what individual choices can you make.
Is a cause of the issues described mentioned? If an alien came to Earth and looked at ELT coursebooks, they wouldn’t necessarily know where climate change came from. There isn’t anyone to talk about (not blame!) The passive voice was often used – should we really be distancing ourselves from these actions? ‘No reason’ was also very common.
‘Carbon footprint’ was invented by BP, to promote the idea that climate change is not the fault of corporations, but individuals. It has been described as one of the most successful deceptive PR campaigns ever. Here are some reasons BP may wish to do this:
So carbon footprint lessons aren’t necessarily useful!
Look out for literal greenwashing.
Name some names! Not necessarily every time, but there should be some agency behind these actions.
Give learners the opportunity to properly discuss the issues.
Find ways to integrate the subject into related topics. For example, fashion, travel, consumption – even if it’s just one discussion question, it’s something.
Avoid euphemistic language and call it the climate crisis. This is the same language that’s being used elsewhere.
Less personal virtue, more big action.
We need to shift from learning about sustainability, climate change and the natural world to empowering learners to actually act.
Wendy’s company is called ELT Consultants. She has spent most of her career working in low-resource contexts.
This is about a project which was run in Venezuela, with Dr. Juana Sagaray and Dr. Maria-Teresa Fernandez.
What Telegram is not!
It is not a replacement for face-to-face training. If you need a Plan B, or if you have teachers in very remote teachers where it is very difficult to get them to come to one place, then this is an alternative to be able to give them some CPD.
Low per capita income
77 countries, including China
(World Population Review 2022)
Venezuela is one of these countries.
Gap between people who have access to affordable, reliable internet service (and the skills and gadgets necessary to take advantage of that access) and those who lack it.
There might not be any internet service, particularly in rural areas. There might not be enough access to devices in the household. There might not be skills to access these devices.
This project in numbers
400 pre-service and in-service secondary teachers
Nearly 9,000 students
11 trainers (most of whom were also writers)
10 workshops in each module
3 months to deliver one module
Flipped learning: asynchronous one hour, synchronous one hour per week
Dr. Juana Sagaray was the British Council Project Manager for this project.
These were the statistics for technology usage in Venezuela:
There were also added problems with blackouts and lack of electricity. They needed an app which could be accessible.
Telegram had much lower data consumption than other apps (see the graph above).
It’s cloud-based – it won’t fill up your phone.
You can use it on any mobile platform, and on Mac, Windows and Linux.
It’s secure and fast. You can make it as secure as WhatsApp if you adjust the security settings on it.
You can do voice calls and video calls.
You can send photos, videos, messages and files of any format and size.
It synchronises across any number of installed Telegram apps on mobiles, tablets and computers.
Two APIs are free for developers to design a Bot API. Wendy first saw these bots being used to teach IELTS skills automatically. She thinks it could be used for FAQs, for example, though she hasn’t managed to develop this yet.
How are they using Telegram to train teachers
Design templates for all materials
Design PowerPoint for asynchronous content used in ‘flipped learning’ and PowerPoint for synchronous content
No animations in PowerPoints
Keep text to a minimum (CEFR A2)
Use icons and visuals
Made PDF of PowerPoint and screenshots of PowerPoint slides
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
Write scripted trainer’s notes to ensure that trainers in the future deliver the materials considering EDI
Refer to the Code of Conduct for learning online
Refer to Safeguarding for learning online
Poll teachers to ask for their opinions
Provide an option for Teachers who have missed a synchronous session to catch up
The project is designed to be loop input – whatever they do in the sessions should be something the teachers can do with their own students in the classroom.
How we use Telegram to train teachers
It’s best to use a desktop to train – it’s probably much harder doing it directly on a phone.
Keep the Telegram chat open on the screen so you can read what’s happening.
Telegram video chat ready to screen share.
Have your PowerPoint open on ‘reading view’.
This is what Wendy’s computer screen looks like:
A variety of ways to access the materials in both asynchronous and synchronous sessions (PowerPoint, PDF, screenshots – all of them!)
Synchronous sessions no more than 60 minutes – unreliable connection, concentrating is harder for longer
To be taught how to reflect on their own practice – a learner journal is used
To complete tasks with allocated marks in order to complete module and get certificate
To get a certificate, they have to do 6 tasks, attend 7/10 live sessions or do the catch-up tasks, and do 2 assessment tasks. This incentivised teachers to complete the asynchronous work.
Teacher trainers need to be reminded:
To increase interactions. Using chat box, audio recording and video recordings
To summarise the asynchronous task comments submitted by teachers
To offer the catch-up option to teachers
And… (I wasn’t fast enough!)
Tutors and facilitators need:
Voices from participants
Teacher trainers said:
They have more tools to train and teach.
They noticed the enthusiasm and resilience of teachers.
The content was useful.
Negative: internet connection problems.
Negative: frequent blackouts.
The main thing they said Telegram was missing was Breakout Rooms. They said it has a real impact on teaching practice.
Participants said that 100% of them would recommend the training programme to their colleagues. They said the live sessions were a useful tool, dynamic, organised, excellent, well-planned and interesting.
The pre-workshop tasks helped them to reflect on the content. It helped them to get acquainted with what was coming up, and to practise what they would be exposed to later.
[This is an area I’m really interested in in general, so hopefully there will be more connected to it on my blog in the future!]
Rachel is a blogger you may / should (!) know from The TEFL Zone. This is her first IATEFL presentation.
She is talking about a framework she came up with for planning online lessons, and talking about how it worked with her students.
When coronavirus arrived, Rachel was teaching B2+ teenagers and adults. Their motivation plummeted and it was a challenge to get her students to care about their lessons. She had no idea how to use her coursebook online, and her classes were really teacher-centred. The only authentic communication was right at the beginning of the lesson. She decided to perhaps flip to authentic materials for a while, rather than the coursebook to boost their engagement.
The stages she used were:
Text reconstruction (audio)
Text reconstruction (typed)
Focus on lexis
Select and reflect
Stages 2-4 are what Rachel calls a jigsaw-gloss.
Rachel started by showing pictures – can they guess the name of the programme?
She selected this programme because she’d heard them talking about it. They then moved on to talking about their interest, emotions, motivation, knowledge and opinions about this programme. It was important to include emotions in the process because many of the students were feeling shut down.
Rachel created a summary of the plot. She divided it into four parts. She recorded it with the help of colleagues. Each student only had access to one part of the audio, via a link. She told them to listen in a dictogloss way – they were already familiar with this approach.
Listen first just to get a general idea
Listen again and note key words
Listen a third time for detail and language to help them reconstruct their text
This was a balance of autonomy and guidance. They had purpose(s) for listening – they tended to listen and start taking notes, lose track, and become overwhelmed because they couldn’t keep up.
The texts weren’t equally divided into four parts – some were shorter / longer, easier / more challenging, which allowed for differentiation.
They went into breakout rooms to put the plot together and put it in the right order orally, with one person who’d listened to each part of the recording. This was a huge focus on fluency and using the language.
Then they worked on written text reconstruction. They wrote their parts individually. If they wanted to, they could turn off cameras and microphones – they don’t have to interact all the time.
Peer feedback – they could read other’s texts, and ask each other questions. They started with giving each other feedback on content, then moved on to feedback on language.
Why did this process work?
This was a collaborative process, where students depended on each other, not the teacher, from the start.
It worked on mediation – they developed their own versions of the text. They had to explain it to classmates. They co-created a target text. These are real-life tasks.
This is a communicative replication task.
There was a balance between loud and quiet interaction, and individual time.
It was student-centred. This helped students to become more engaged overall.
Listening + text reconstruction = jigsaw-gloss
These are the elements that it got from jigsaw listening, and from dictogloss.
These were 60 and 90-minute lessons.
Stop and jot / pause and write / stop and reflect.
Write three words or three phrases from the lesson up to this point. If you want to make it interactive, they can then share these with a partner (turn and talk).
This worked as a break from the rest of the lesson. Reflection can be included in the middle of the lesson – it doesn’t have to come at the end of the lesson.
When they’re sharing, they’re collaborating. Students learn from each other. They notice words and phrases they didn’t notice but their classmate did.
Rachel believes that high-level students know a lot of grammar, so what they need to develop is how lexis works together.
A central element of language learning is raising students’ awareness of and developing their ability to chunk successfully.
Rachel chose activities like match chunks to definitions.
Adjective + noun collocations: social outcasts
Semi-fixed phrases: a gang of bullies
Then go back to your Google Doc – did you use these phrases? This allowed learners to put the language into practice – had they noticed the phrases when they listened? Or can they add them now they know they exist?
Select and reflect: select 6-8 items (not words!) that you are going to use or that you feel you have learnt from today. How are you going to use them? Why did you choose this chunk? How will you remember it? What strategies will you use?
This allows for differentiation. Different learners can choose different items.
It allows for choice and responsibility.
She felt it was a realistic number of items.
It was a useful challenge, as they had to process what they had learnt. Adding metacognition to their learning.
Reflection – it was individual, and they also had to share their reflections. They could collaborate. Learners actually took notes of each other’s strategies.
The classroom is a community – we need to help learners to learn from each other, not just from the teacher.
Strengths of this approach
Productive – learners spoke a lot.
Huge focus on fluency.
Collaborative all the way through.
Rachel ran out of time. Lessons were 60 / 90 minutes.
Long texts. Her texts were too long at the beginning, so she never made it to the lexis stage.
Focus on accuracy? Select and reflect looked like it worked, but when she asked learners to remember what they learnt in the following lesson they often couldn’t.
So, how can Rachel improve this framework? It helps her to have collaborative and reflective lessons, but how can she make sure the learners will remember the language.
If you’d like to share your thoughts, please use the hashtag #jigsawgloss on social media to say how you could help Rachel with this framework.
Sheila’s mission for the past 20+ years has been to convince the ELT profession of the need to expose learners to authentic spoken English. Scripts in coursebooks have to be scripted and read by actors, so they are effectively listening to reading aloud, not natural speech. Learners don’t get exposed to how spoken English is naturally produced.
She has worked on producing an authentic listening methodology book (Amazon affiliate link) Integrating authentic listening into the language classroom. Sheila got non-teaching friends to read the chapters and give feedback, so it should be accessible to anybody at any level of teaching.
The prevailing tendency in the teaching of listening is to provide practice and more practice without clearly defined goals.
Listening in the Language Classroom, Field, 2008:3
Sheila worked on defining these goals, and thinking about it from a learner perspective. What do they find challenging?
Issues with listening:
Cognitive load – you’re trying to decode, and more is still coming in
Don’t know some of the words, but also don’t recognise the words they know when they’re in a stream of speech (when Sheila analysed random utterances from TV and radio, over 90% of the words were at B1 level)
Don’t speak the way we write
Sometimes we don’t realise how tough it is for students to listen to authentic spoken English.
To build up learners’ confidence
To increase learners’ automaticity (doing things accurately without conscious effort)
To increase learners’ lexical knowledge (aural and orthographic) – making a match between what they hear and what they know already
To encourage learners to work out for themselves the meaning of unfamiliar lexis
To train learners to focus on prominent words in a stream of speech
Three approaches to teaching L2 listening
1. Traditional listening comprehension
2. Meaning building with the teacher as facilitator. No questions or written tasks. You’re not the font of all knowledge, but you are encouraging students to build meaning from what they hear. This is what John Field talked about a lot. Learners can work in groups to do this too.
3. Decoding. Hearing a stream of speech, identifying the words, and attaching meaning to them.
How do these approaches meet the goals?
Goal one – only if the tasks are achievable
Goal 2: not really, though it might if you work with a transcript
Goal 3: minimal, though you might pre-teach some items, or answer some questions related to the comprehension questions
Goal 4: probably not
Goal 5: no, though the written task will probably naturally focus on the prominent words
Goal 1: yes
Goal 2: not the key focus, but you might play some extracts more times
Goal 3: this will definitely be happening
Goal 4: yes, this is the main focus of this kind of lesson
Goal 5: yes, but only if the teacher highlights those words for them
Mining a recording already for content, but now you mine it for delivery. Taking excerpts from the main recording, working on gap fills or dictation.
Goal 1: yes, they get there in the end even if you have to play it many times
Goal 2: yes, this is the main focus
Goal 3: no, they’d already done this when focussing on content earlier
Goal 4: no, you’ve done it previously
Goal 5: yes, you can gap the prominent word, or gap the words around the main prominent word
Learners need exposure to authentic recordings. It might be a disaster the first time you do it, but it will get easier with time.
A combined approach to teaching L2 listening is the only way to attain all five listening goals.
Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:
Planning and scripting
Noticing language, analysing language, using language
Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
Managing stress, performance
This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?
How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?
Interaction / affective features
Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground
Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
Warm-ups and lead ins
Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
Mingles, information sharing
Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?
Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover
Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it
Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?
Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
Small, achievable tasks
What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?
Why did this help?
A safe space
More open to learning
Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially
This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.
Creating time and space: collective responsibility
It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.
Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.
I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.
I saw the students as people.
By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.
This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’
Putting the knowledge into practice: planning
In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.
Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan
Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:
As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.
Advice from trainees
This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.
Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
Establish it as criteria via paperwork
Focus on the learners in feedback
Visualisation and differentiation
Discuss humour – what is it?
This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.
Richard and Danny are going to look at activities you can use to start working with emergent language in the classroom.
Unplanned language that is needed or produced by learners during meaning-focussed interactions. This language is then explored through re formulation, clarification and support from the teacher.
Chinn and Norrington-Davies, 2022 (forthcoming)
It includes errors and communicative breakdowns, but also covers alternative ways of producing the same meanings. It can also be language that teachers or learners judge to be in some way new, interesting or useful to share. And it includes questions raised by learners about an aspect of language.
These are some of the key questions Danny and Richard are asked, some of which will be covered in this presentation