Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Making the most of Quizlet

Quizlet is easily my favourite teaching tool – I use it in almost every lesson. It’s the only website that I pay for, and for the amount I use it and the number of classes I have, it’s definitely worth it for me. Nikki Fortova introduced me to it years ago and I’ve never looked back – thanks Nikki!

At first glance, it’s a simple flashcard tool, but the real reason I go on about it all the time is because of its versatility. I also like the fact that you don’t need an account to play the games, so students don’t need to log in to use it. If you do create an account, it allows you to create your own content, remembers the sets you’ve used, and displays your scores on leaderboards.

If you’ve never used it before, I recommend you pause in your reading, and go and try it out. Should you so choose, you can learn/revise some teaching terminology at the same time by choosing a set from my Delta class. Try out all of the different functions for a minute or two each, and hopefully you’ll feel yourself learning 🙂

Apart from using the functions as is, there are many different ways you can exploit them. Each section below gives you a link to the Quizlet introduction to that function, along with a series of ideas for exploiting it. These were written for the online classroom, but most of them work in the face-to-face classroom too. Remember to demonstrate what you want the students to do before you set them off by themselves.

Activities by Quizlet function 

Flashcards

You display a flashcard and…

  • …elicit the word/phrase verbally.
  • …students write word/phrase in chat.
  • …elicit a definition/example sentence.
  • …drill pronunciation.
  • …(for sentence halves) elicit the other half of the sentence.

Match

Students play alone. They can call out their times or not (up to them!), or write their times in the chatbox. (I often use this as a way of introducing a vocabulary set and seeing how comfortable students are with it before we do any exercises in the book.)

Learn/Spell/Write

Students play alone in main class.

Students play in pairs/groups with screen share in BOR [breakout rooms].

You display to the whole class and elicit answers. (I generally only use them this way if I’m introducing the words for the first time)

Test

Students do a test alone online.

You display the test and students write the answers in their notebooks.

Gravity

You display the game in the main room and type as students call out answers.

One student screen shares in BOR while others call out answers. (I’ll have played it as a whole class at least a couple of times before students work in pairs so they understand how it works.)

Type most of the word, but miss a letter/make a spelling error. Students say what the missing letter is/correct the spelling. (Thanks Mollie!)

Live: Teams mode (minimum 4 players)

Two tips:

  • You have to identify yourself as a teacher in your settings to get Live to show. You don’t need a paid account to do this.
  • If a student signs in with a stupid name, click their name to remove them – they’ll have to enter a new one to rejoin. If they’re going to BOR for Live, it’s better to ask them to use their real names

Keep students in the main room calling over each other, or assign them to BOR before you start the game. Give them functional language to play in English e.g. I haven’t got it. What’s this? I don’t know this one.

Review problem vocab after the game has finished by clicking through the flashcards which appear.

Play to 11. Teams stop when they get to 11 points, so that everyone gets a chance.

Live: Individual mode (minimum 2 players)

Play to 11 works especially well here.

Print

Set the options to small flashcards, double-sided printing. It will display a list of flashcards in a grid layout.

Show all of the pictures. Students write the words in the chat.

Show some of the pictures. Students write/say what’s missing.

Show some of the pictures. Minimise the screen. Students write what they saw.

(for sets with a sentence half in the term/definition e.g. I like going / to the cinema on Saturdays.) Students have 3 minutes to write the other half of as many sentences as possible.

Screenshot from the list of vocab/phrases in print view (small flashcards, double-sided) into another doc so you don’t have to type them all again, then: 

  • Students see the list of words and define them for each other.
  • Students write as many example sentences as they can.
  • Students contextualise phrases – step 1: what’s the conversation/text that this phrase originally appeared in? Step 2: remove the phrase, give the text to another group, they remember what the phrase is.
  • Students use as many words/phrases as possible in a story.

If you’re in a classroom, these activities from Leo Selivan show other ways of exploiting the Print function.

And then…?

After playing a Quizlet game or three, get students to write as many words/phrases/sentences as they can remember in the chat.

Any game which involves remembering/writing in notebooks from above can be paired with a trip to BOR so students can compare their answers with each other.

Tips for making a useful Quizlet set

  • Include lots of information in the title, so it doesn’t matter what people search for e.g.
    Word building – prefixes and suffixes which add meaning (English File Upper Int 3rd ed SB p163 Unit 9B)
    Name of section from book, book (+ edition), page, unit
    [This is a personal bugbear of mine – I get so frustrated when I do a search for a really popular book and can’t find a Quizlet set because the title is unclear. Please make me happy!]
  • You don’t have to start from scratch! Use the search to find existing sets, then copy and customise them. [This is where clear set names are vital!]
  • Include images whenever relevant – these really help students to remember the language.
  • Include a definition if the picture alone is ambiguous/no picture is possible.
  • Include gapped example sentences, where the gap matches the term as exactly as possible (sometimes tenses/articles make the gap and the term different).
  • Highlight collocations whenever possible, especially for higher levels.
  • Use bold or colours to pick out key features of a sentence if relevant. Italics changes the shape of the word, so isn’t great for learners with dyslexia. (I think these might be in the paid accounts only)
  • Remember that Quizlet is useful for grammar too, not just vocabulary. There are some examples of grammar sets for beginners in this class.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ is a good place to find definitions/example sentences if your book doesn’t help or you’re producing your own sets.

How many words should I include in a set?

I tend to go for smallest possible coherent set. For example, if a word bank page has three different sets of vocabulary on it, I’ll make separate Quizlet sets for each of them, then make a fourth set combining them all together.

  • Combine sets together, e.g. all of the language for one unit, all of the examples of one grammar point (maybe you had + – ? as separate sets). Here’s how.
  • Combine units together ready for a unit test.
  • Combine everything in the whole book together for bumper revision.

Here’s an example class for English File Upper Intermediate 3rd edition which my colleague Sarah and I compiled a couple of years ago which hopefully embodies all of these principles! You can see all of my classes here. Thanks very much to colleagues, friends and strangers who have added to these sets!

Note: I have no idea how copyright works with Quizlet sets, but if publishers made high-enough-quality Quizlet sets to go with their books I’d be very, very happy. That’s another reason why I think it’s so important to put the book title into the name of the set – I wasn’t the person who originally compiled that list!

Over to you

Do you use Quizlet?

What tips do you have for other teachers?

Which functions do your students most enjoy? Mine love Match, Live (in the classroom mostly), and Gravity (when I’m typing!)

How else can you use Quizlet?

Please share in the comments below!

On Sunday 21st November 2020 I took part in the 2020 KOTESOL Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter Thanksgiving Symposium. The theme was ‘Looking towards 2021’, with the idea of moving beyond the survival skills most of us have been working on in 2020 for the new world we find ourselves in.

My talk took a fresh look at a subject I’m passionate about, online professional development. This was the abstract:

In an increasingly online world, there are a huge amount of opportunities for teachers to access professional development via the internet, but it can be challenging to know where to start. I’ll introduce you to a range of online professional development resources which you can use, and offer you advice on how to decide which ones might be right for you.

I presented without slides, instead using the summary below as my guide and showing the relevant resources as we arrived at them. It’s a whistle-stop tour, with the idea that you can get an overview, then come back to this post as many times as you like to explore the resources.

Why?

This question is two-fold.

Firstly, why is online professional development generally worth exploring? I’ll answer this one.

  • It’s (mostly) free.
  • It’s available whenever and wherever you can get internet access.
  • It’s wide-ranging: there’s a plethora of resources to choose from.
  • It can fit around you: you can exploit it as much or as little as you like, at whatever time and location you choose.

Secondly, why might you specifically want to exploit it? You’ll need to answer these questions for yourself.

  • Do you want to only consume content, or create your own content, for example building up an online portfolio, or both?
  • Do you want to explore broadly and dip into lots of areas, or have a more targetted approach focussing on specific puzzles or questions you have?

When?

Because resources available online are limitless, it can be hard to know where to start, and you may experience a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the beginning – I certainly did! One way to combat this is to decide how much time you can dedicate to exploring, and how often you want to dive in. To some extent this will be determined by your answers to the second question above.

You may decide to set aside a dedicated hour or two a week, or five or ten minutes a day, to make professional development a habitual part of your routine.

Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer to set aside a few hours now and again to do a deep dive and really explore a particular area or resource.

Of course, this can change over time, but having an idea before you start can help you to decide what resources are most appropriate for you to explore, and/or whether it’s really worth starting that blog/podcast/Twitter account you’ve been considering.

It can also remove unnecessary pressure on yourself if you feel like you have to explore everything or produce the most amazing content ever seen in English language teaching – neither of these are likely, so accept it now and move on. You’ll be in a much healthier place if you go in with realistic expectations 🙂

How? What?

This list is in no way exhaustive, and if I wrote it again tomorrow, next week or next year it would certainly look different. Please comment if any of the links stop working or you have other resources to add to the list.

Consuming content: targetted research

If you have a specific topic or puzzle in mind, you have two options to find useful resources.

  1. Choose one of the general interest resources below, then search their website for keywords connected to your topic.
  2. Explore my bookmarks. I’ve been curating a list on diigo for 10+ years, adding anything which I think might be vaguely useful to anyone else, anywhere. You can try to read my mind and figure out which tag I might have used or do a general search in my bookmarks. Here’s a more in-depth introduction to what diigo is and how it works.

You might not find anything at first, but try different keywords and different resources and you’ll inevitably find something.

Consuming content: general interest

It’s very easy to end up down a never-ending rabbit hole with a list like this. Rather than trying to explore everything, consider your answers to the questions above, and choose the way in which you prefer to consume information, then select one or two resources to look at initially. As you explore, you’ll find that some types of development work for you, and others are less engaging. For me, I spend most time on blogs and blogging, and a little time on podcasts and Twitter, but I know there is so much more out there. As time goes on, you can return to the list and investigate other resources which take your fancy. Bookmark this page 🙂

Listen

Three TEFL podcasts I enjoy are:

  • The TEFL Commute – Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor present the podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the subject always comes up. Episodes are generally 30-40 minutes. In 2020 they did a series of 10-minute episodes covering a range of different topics connected to online teaching, including lots of ideas for the classroom.
  • TEFLology – Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner and Robert Lowe produce a range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too. Episodes are generally 40-60 minutes.
  • TEFL Training Institute podcast – Ross Thorburn presents ‘the bite-sized TEFL podcast’, originally with Tracy Yu, and now with a wide range of guests. Episodes are generally 15-30 minutes. I reviewed the podcast here.

Watch

There are lots of options in this category, but I’ll just explore three: webinars, lessons, and YouTube.

Webinars

A webinar is an online presentation, similar to a conference session. One example is the presentation at KOTESOL which this blogpost is based on. They can range in length from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours, and might be a one-off event or part of a series or event like an online conference.

You can either search for a particular topic e.g. ‘business English webinars’/’English reading skills webinars’, or find providers who have a large collection of webinars and explore their catalogue. For example, here are all of the IH Teachers’ Online Conferences (TOC).

Other providers include publishers like Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Delta publishing, teaching associations like IATEFL, TESOL or EAQUALS (though recordings tend to be available to members only), or schools who run training events online, like IH Moscow or IH Bucharest. It’s generally possible to subscribe to a mailing list to find out about upcoming events.

Here is my diigo list of webinars to give you a starting point.

Lessons

There are hundreds of lessons available to watch online. I compiled a list (warning – clicking on the link opens a very bandwidth-heavy page!) which you can choose from. This is a great way to observe other classrooms, pick up activities and techniques, and hone your observation skills.

YouTube

Apart from webinars and lessons, there are lots of ELT-related YouTube channels. Any large organisation probably has a channel. Publishers often share short tips, like these ones from Cambridge on ideas for teaching outside the classroom. International House has a series of Timeless Teaching Tips. I’d welcome links to channels from individuals which I could also recommend.

You can watch hundreds of grammar presentations on YouTube to get ideas for how to explain grammar to your students, though this comes with a caveat: just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a model you want to follow. Philip Kerr explains. This could be a good way to hone your skills by working out what not to do!

Read

Again, there are various options here. I’ll look at blogs, magazines, and journals.

Blogs

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, from light bite-sized activity ideas to lengthy in-depth research-based posts. They’re written by people from all walks of ELT: teachers, trainers, materials writers, researchers, lexicographers, and those who don’t fall into any one particular category.

You can find blogs in many different ways:

  • Search for topics of interest plus ELT blog, e.g. ‘young learner ELT blog’.
  • Look at the blog roll on somebody’s blog (mine is to the right if you’re viewing this on a computer) to see who they recommend.
  • Search for a big organisation like a publisher or teaching association, plus the word ‘blog’.
  • Explore my list of diigo links.

Once you’ve found a blog you like, you can subscribe to it, either by getting emails when a new post appears, or using a blog aggregator like Feedly to collect new posts in one place. I explain how Feedly works in a paragraph and a few screenshots in this post (press CTRL+F/CMD+F on a Mac and type ‘Feedly’ to find it quickly).

Here are four blogs which are currently active to start you off:

  • Kate’s Crate – Katherine Martinkevich links to articles she has read with a short paragraph explaining why she thinks they’re interesting. Good for business English, management and teacher training.
  • ELT planning – Peter Clements shares activity ideas and reviews of resources, plus concepts he’s learnt about in his own professional development. Posts vary in length. Good for young learners, teens, and learning about a huge range of concepts and resources across all areas.
  • What they don’t teach you on the CELTA – a group of bloggers covering a wide range of different topics, particularly relevant to private language school ELT. Many are aimed at relatively new teachers, but posts often make me think too.
  • TEFLtastic – Alex Case is probably the most prolific ELT blogger on the internet, constantly sharing new resources. His blog is a goldmine of resources covering every area of teaching you can possibly imagine.

Apologies to blogging friends who I haven’t included – there are so many great blogs out there!

Magazines

Most ELT magazines require a subscription, but some are free. Even paid magazines tend to have some free content, such as sample issues. They cover a wide range of topics in a single resource. Here are a few to investigate:

  • IH Journal – although it is called a journal, it’s more of a magazine in my opinion. Completely free, with articles available separately or as part of full downloadable magazines. Many articles are written by IH teachers past and present, but other writers are featured too. (Disclaimer: I’ve written a regular article for every edition for a few years now.)
  • English Teaching Professional (ETp) and Modern English Teacher are both published by Pavilion Publishing and Media. They feature articles from around the world and across the teaching profession.
  • EL Gazette – this is more news-based, so is a good way to get a sense of the wider profession. It also has a reviews section.

An alternative source of magazine-type content is newsletters if you are a member of a teaching association or special interest group.

Journals

Journals are generally peer-reviewed and edited, as opposed to blogs where the writers can publish whatever they want to. They are generally more academic and research-based than magazines. Some are behind paywalls, but KOTESOL have compiled a long list of ELT journals with free content available. LearnJam have a shorter list of 5 online journals, including some which are subscription-only, with more detailed information about each journal. Although the ELT Journal from OUP is subscription-only, the ‘Key concepts‘ section of each is freely downloadable, and is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about research.

Study

So far all of the resources can be accessed in under an hour, but you might prefer something more in-depth or structured, and the internet can provide this too.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free programmes which run for a few weeks. They generally involve you studying at your own pace and participating in text-based discussions. FutureLearn and Coursera both have various courses connected to ELT. I found the Coursera Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach course particularly useful, as well as the FutureLearn Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching one. Courses are free, but you can get a certificate if you pay.

The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) is a very active community run by teachers, for teachers. They run a variety of courses, from basic TESOL certificates to ‘Advanced Skills’ courses, with tutors from all walks of ELT. Their Teachers’ Room is open to all members to participate in discussions.

The Association for Quality Education and Training Online (AQUEDUTO) is an accreditation body for online teacher training. They have a directory of courses which have been checked for quality.

Producing content

Online professional development isn’t just about consuming resources created by others. You can also learn a huge amount by sharing content you have created. The act of preparing your thoughts for other people to see/hear forces you to reflect on what you want to say and how best to say it. It can also start conversations which take you in directions you’ve never considered before.

Write

Writing gives you the chance to take time over framing your thoughts, and go back and edit. Looking back over things you’ve written in the past is a fascinating way to track your professional development over time – I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would be now when I started my blog ten years ago.

Twitter

Writing tweets can be a great way to get started with writing your own content. You can join in discussion in Twitter chats like #eltchat, ask questions, or answer questions from other educators. To find people to follow, find out who is sharing on a hashtag like #eltchat, then see who they are following. You could also start by following me @sandymillin.

Blogging and commenting

Explore your ideas in writing, share activities, and build a portfolio. I’ve written a fuller post on making the most of blogs, including advice for how to start your own and what to write.

If you’re not ready to start your own blog, commenting on other people’s posts with your own thoughts is a good way to start writing too. I don’t think I’m the only blogger who really looks forward to conversations in comment threads on my blog.

Interviews and discussions

The internet gives you direct access to members of the ELT profession from around the world. A polite email with some questions or thoughts about their work, or even a request to interview them, might bear fruit for you. Or perhaps you could write to the author of a book you’ve read about how you’ve used their ideas? Or ask an academic some questions about their research? You never know where these conversations might lead.

Speak

If writing isn’t your thing, you can also use the internet to speak about your ideas. This could be public, for example by creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, or private, maybe by arranging to interview somebody who works in a similar context to you, but in a different country.

Podcasting

The book Podcasting and Professional Development: a Guide for English Language Teachers by the creators of the TEFLology podcast is a good place to start if you want to find out more about how to create your own podcast. A lot of this advice would also be relevant to creating a YouTube channel. (Disclaimer: my blog is mentioned in the book!) (Affiliate links: Amazon, Smashwords)

Reflective practice groups

These are self-selected groups of teachers who come together to discuss a particular topic as equals. The range of potential topics is limitless. All you need is at least one other colleague who is willing to meet you for an hour or two, and you’ve got a reflective practice group. Zhenya Polotosova and Anna Loseva have written quite a lot about participating in groups like this. You can find out more using this list of bookmarks.

So what?

Once you’ve put in all of this effort to start developing online, what can you do with what you learn?

Share

Once you’ve found or created something, share what you’ve learnt with somebody else. This might be in your staffroom, or on social media. There are active communities of teachers on facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It can take a little time to be brave enough to share in one of these communities (I lurked on Twitter for at least 6 months before I joined in), but if you take the plunge, you have the chance to learn so much.

Reflect

Ask yourself questions about what you’re reading and producing:

  • How will you apply what you’ve learnt?
  • What else do you want to learn about?
  • Who else do you want to learn from?
  • What biases might the people you’re learning from have? How can you get a fuller picture?
  • Are you satisfied with your progress with teaching puzzles? What other puzzles do you want to explore?

If you’d like more reflection questions to answer, I’ve written two books of them: one for relatively new teachers, ELT Playbook 1, and one for teacher trainers, ELT Playbook Teacher Training. You can find out all the information about how to buy them on my books page.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing
ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

What’s next?

I hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour through the world of online CPD useful. I’ll leave you with three questions for you to think about and comment on below if you like:

  • What area or resource will you explore next?
  • What have you tried above?
  • What else would you recommend?

Teaching complete beginner teens (well, 10-12 year olds) online is…a challenge. We had three lessons in the classroom before lockdown started again. We started with f2f, online, f2f, online, f2f, online, and now it’s all online.

I end up speaking lots of Polish to help the students work out how to use the technology and help them to chat to each other. That’s fine because life is stressful enough at the moment without stressing me and the students out over only communicating in a language they have almost no knowledge of so far. But of course, I want to maximise their English use. It can be a real challenge to set up a truly communicative activity when the sum total of student’s knowledge of the language is pretty much the 106 terms in this Quizlet set!

Here’s an activity I experimented with last week to practise irregular plurals and There’s a/an… / There are….

Step 1: students copy the following onto a full page in their notebooks.

Step 2: Dictate a list of sentences in a random order. It’s important that each sentence can be drawn, that there is one sentence/picture per box, and that the pictures can be in any box – they shouldn’t be drawn in sequence in 1, then 2, then 3. Here’s what my table looked like after these two sentences:

  • There are three women.
  • There’s a child.

I checked students were drawing in separate boxes after the first one or two pictures by getting students to show me their notebooks, then told them it was a secret after that.

This full list of sentences (dictated at random) resulted in the table below:

  • There’s a man.
  • There are two men.
  • There’s a woman.
  • There are three women.
  • There’s a child.
  • There are three children.
  • There’s a person.
  • There are eight people.

Step 3: I said a student’s name and a sentence about my table e.g. Franek, there’s a man in 8. Franek (not my real student!) looked at his table and gave one of two possible answers:

  • Yes, there’s a man in 8.
  • No, there’s a man in 6. OR No, there are three women in 8.

If we had the same thing in our boxes I ticked it.

Next students were meant to go into breakout rooms and work together to play the same game, but they were a bit unclear about how to do this.

Having the demo first was meant to clarify the task, but I made it too complicated by using a question form the first couple of times (Is there…?). There were two main problems with this: they don’t know any question forms and I wasn’t clear about what I wanted them to do as a result. We got there in the end with some Polish translation. This is a reminder to plan my language use very carefully with beginners, and include each structure I plan to use in my lesson plan. It would also have been useful to display a sample version of the conversation I wanted them to have before I started step 3. I did write the example conversation in the chat box eventually, but only after they’d stumbled over it for a bit!

I originally planned the activity for 10 minutes, but that was very over-optimistic – it actually took about 30 minutes, about 10 for drawing and 20 for speaking. I’m not sure it 100% worked because of the wonky set-up. But anyway, they got some practice, and it could be adapted for other language. This was also probably the most communicative activity we’ve managed so far – definitely still need to work on increasing speaking beyond drills with this group!

Let me know if you use this activity and whether it works any better with your students, especially if you try it with beginners!

Picture prepositions

I created this diagram today when helping a teacher work out how to clarify prepositions connected to describing pictures in English File Intermediate Plus, and thought it was worth sharing.

Can you match them?

  1. in the top left-hand corner
  2. on the right
  3. on top
  4. in the background / in the distance (happy to accept suggestions to differentiate these more clearly!)
  5. in the bottom left-hand corner
  6. at the bottom
  7. in the bottom right-hand corner
  8. in the centre / in the middle
  9. in the foreground
  10. at the top
  11. in the top right-hand corner
  12. on the left

Hope you find it useful!

A-B-C-D-E-F-no!

One of the early lessons with any group of beginners is the alphabet one. You know, the one where you teach them the song and they recite it back to you beautifully…

…but forever afterwards they have to go through the whole alphabet to work out what letter they need next, and there’s a bit of a mush in the middle because L-M-N-O-P is too fast and they can’t hear it.

That one.

I can’t remember the last time I taught that one.

Instead, I approach it as an exercise in de-confusing, not with the aim of teaching the alphabet, but of teaching the letters, so that students can spell and understand spellings. Today with my beginner teens it worked better than ever before, in part because they were teens and in part because we were on Zoom 🙂

Caveat: there are only 4 students, and I speak enough Polish to be able to justify what I’m doing with them sometimes.

I started by showing them the alphabet in the book. Cue rolling eyes and one kid saying ‘No’ loudly and repeatedly. Another kid started to immediately recite the song, so I got them to try that first. Two knew the song perfectly, one had the L-M-N-O-P problem, and the fourth one is generally pretty shy and said she didn’t know it at all.

I told them that was great because now I knew what was a problem. One of them said “No problem!”, so I asked them to write ‘A’ in the chatbox. Cue a series of E’s and I’s. “Not E, A.” I I I E E. “Not I, A.” Eventually we got there. I could then explain that for the rest of the lesson we’d be working on groups of letters and helping them to remember what the difference is. I already had the first group (A-E-I-Y) written in black on a mini whiteboard.

I pointed to each letter and elicited it, writing some prompts in green next to the letter to help them remember. For these four letters the prompts I normally use are:

  • A a (b c)
  • E eeeeeeeee [but drawn linked together, coupled with me ‘pulling’ the sound out of my mouth]
  • I like dogs [or in a classroom I’ll stand very straight and indicate my whole body, as in ‘I’, which compares to…]
  • Y Why? [or stand with my arms in a Y shape to compare to I]

We then worked out how these letters might be written in Polish ‘spelling’, and I wrote it in red on the board, something like this:

  • A /ei/
  • E /i/
  • I /ai/
  • Y /uaj/

They copied the black letters, green reminders, and red sounding out into their notebooks. I asked any student who had finished and was waiting to spell their first name, and helped them with the problem letters.

We then played a game in the chatbox where I said one of the four letters and they wrote it, then they took turns being the teaching and calling out a letter.

With revision of 1-100 and a homework check, that took the first half of the lesson. I wasn’t sure how interested they’d be when we came back after break and repeated the process with other sets of letters:

  • G-J-H
  • C-S
  • K-Q
  • U-V-W
  • X-Z
  • O
  • R

…but they absolutely loved it. This is mostly because they started racing each other to be the first person to get it right in the chat box, with no prompting from me. Then they started racing to show me what they’d written in their notebooks, to the extent that by the time we got to the final board (shown below), they wanted to copy the black letters immediately. Then when I was writing the red they were saying ‘Pani pisze’ (Miss is writing!) and were poised and ready to go as soon as I held up the board.

The whole lesson was very entertaining, and they really loved challenging each other on the particularly confusing combinations which they knew their classmates would get wrong because they were rushing. This forced them to think a little more.

I’m pretty confident that in Thursday’s lesson they’ll remember most of the letters because they know we’ll play the letter race game again, and they know I’m going to ask them to spell their names so they’ll practice that too.

The best kind of lesson: minimal planning, just enough variety to keep them engaged, lots of practice, driven by students, fun, and memorable for a long time!

Happy 10th blog-iversary!

10 years ago today I published my first post on this blog. In fact, I published five (!), all copied over from a fledgling blog I’d started somewhere else in the summer of 2010 and didn’t want to lose. I then didn’t really start blogging in earnest until just after Christmas of 2010, when I wrote my first #ELTchat summaries. As you can see, it was a bit of a slow start, but it soon took off, largely thanks to Ann Foreman at Teaching English British Council sharing various posts.

I was at the start of my third year of being a professional teacher. A few months earlier I’d discovered the amazing community of teachers on Twitter, thanks to a chance comment from Shaun Wilden. I’d noticed that a lot of those teachers had blogs and thought starting my own could be a useful way to share my ideas and create a portfolio for my teaching. There’s no way I could have imagined just how wide-ranging its effect on my career would be.

Blogging has allowed me to share my reflections on teaching, training, managing, and the general minutiae of living abroad and being me. The act of framing my thoughts for others to read forces me to consider what I think. It is also often cathartic. Every conference presentation I’ve ever done is on here somewhere (I think!), along with my progress through Delta, into training, materials writing and management. Looking back on those thoughts is fascinating (to me at least!), seeing how much I’ve developed and changed over the life of the blog, and realising what has stayed the same.

The posts got a lot more frequent and a lot longer…thanks for making it to the end of some of the mammoth ones!

Through my blog I’ve made connections with people all over the world, and some of them have become friends too. It’s my own small corner of the internet, a place where I feel like I’ve been able to making some kind of useful contribution to the profession. It never fails to astonish me how many people have made use of the blog and how much of the globe it seems to have reached. I particularly enjoy finding out about the people who use my blog, and reading the comments and stories they share in response to my posts.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my blog over the years, to everyone who has read and shared the posts, and particularly to all those people who have written guest posts for me. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

On Saturday 17th October I presented as part of the Asociación de Centros de Enseñanza de Idiomas de Andalucía (ACEIA) 1st virtual conference. It was a new management talk:

Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. While I can’t promise to resolve all your communication problems, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.

This is a topic I feel very strongly about, as my experiences of bad and good managers have largely centred around the quality of their communication. In my own management experience I’ve noticed that as my ability to communicate successfully and clearly has improved, I’ve gained confidence and I feel like the people I manage trust me more. They are also very open to giving me feedback on my management in general and my communication specifically. The tips in my talk are primarily aimed at managers, but many of them would be useful for teachers and general communication in life too.

These were my slides:

Listen

Before you do any broadcasting, it’s important to listen.

Don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or assume I know what’s coming next and start replying. A colleague once told me this was stopping him from speaking to me properly – he suggested I use my finger to stop myself from being able to speak! This really works: when I shouldn’t interrupt, I adopt a thinking pose with my index finger on my lips and it makes it much harder to start speaking.

Pay full attention. Stop what you’re doing and really listen. Make eye contact. Listen with your brain as well as your ears – don’t just spend the time working out what you’re going to say next or how you’re going to solve the problem.

What are they not saying? Notice body language and patterns of communication (or lack of communication) which may indicate hidden messages. Perhaps the person you’re speaking to is very stressed about something but doesn’t know how to communicate this. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed in general. Perhaps they really don’t like communicating with you and are avoiding it (not necessarily because they don’t like you – perhaps they don’t know how to speak to somebody they perceive as an authority, or perhaps they don’t want to interrupt you because they think you’re busy, or perhaps they don’t feel like they trust you enough to talk to you yet.) There’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ there, because we never really know, but be open to hidden messages, not just the ones which are explicitly stated.

General tips

Consider your medium carefully. What is the best way to communicate your message? Options might include:

  • Face-to-face conversation
  • Online conversation e.g. via Zoom
  • Phone call
  • WhatsApp call
  • SMS
  • WhatsApp message
  • WhatsApp voice recording
  • Facebook messenger
  • Email
  • Meeting with a group of people/all of the staff
  • (Regarding students) Speaking to/Phoning/Emailing parents

We have so many options for communication now. The method we use says something about how formal or serious particular communication is, whether a written record is required (either to track information or simply so information is easy to refer back to), how much (perceived or real) time we have available, and how we might want our interlocutor(s) to respond.

Be clear about what information doesn’t exist. If you don’t have information yet, make sure the other person knows this. Otherwise, they may assume you’re keeping it from them for some reason. For example, if you know that a one-to-one student is in a teacher’s timetable, but said student hasn’t confirmed the start date of the lessons yet, tell the teacher that you don’t know the start date.

Be realistic about when communication will happen. Following on from the previous point, ensure that people know when they are likely to get any missing information and what factors will affect this. For example, when will the school contact the student to confirm the start date? Knowing when you will get information can reduce anxiety, and mean you can more easily postpone worrying about something until later.

Remind people to help you with communication. As managers, we’re normally spinning a lot of plates, and inevitably we’ll lose some of them. Get your staff on board to help you. Ask them to prod you if you don’t reply within 3 working days for example, and be clear about what is their responsibility to follow up on and what is yours.

Be open about mistakes in communication. Apologise when needed. We’re humans. We make mistakes. This is just as true in our communication as it is in any other area. Sometimes the things we do or say (or don’t do or say!) can be stressful for somebody else, or make their jobs harder. If you realise that your actions have made this happen, apologise for it. This is far more likely to build relationships of trust than brushing such mistakes under the carpet or pretending they didn’t happen.

Timing

Consider the timing of your communication carefully. What messages are you sending out about…

  • response times?
  • working hours?
  • availability?

By instantly replying to every message you receive, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and probably interrupting your life outside work. You are also implicitly indicating that you expect instant responses from the people you work with, and are therefore adding unnecessary stress to them.

By replying to messages at unusual times, such as very early in the morning or late at night, you’re also implying that your employees should do this too.

By being available all the time, you’re losing the chance to have a life outside work, or at least drastically reducing that chance.

To help yourself to communicate more healthily, set working hours and consider what notifications you have, and pass this information on to your team. For example, our senior team have clear working hours which all the teachers know, WhatsApp notifications, but no email notifications. We have told teachers that we will respond to phone calls or WhatsApp messages as soon as possible within working hours (or I’ll respond to early morning phone calls too to arrange cover for sickness), but emails will be responded to when we get to them.

You can also make use of the scheduling function which most email providers have to ensure that your messages are sent at reasonable working hours or at the point of need, rather than when you wrote them at 6am, or 5 days before a teacher needs to see it.

GMail schedule send function

Meetings

Is it really an email? We’ve all sat in a completely pointless meeting which should have been an email. Only have meetings for things which require some form of discussion or Q&A.

What is the meeting for? Who is it (really) for? Know why you are requiring people to be in the same place at the same time. Make sure it’s not just for you, but that they are benefitting from the meeting too. Our school meetings happen every Friday for 30 minutes. They have two purposes. The first is to pass on information which is important for that point in the year and to ensure teachers know how to fulfil their responsibilities concerning things like writing reports or marking written work. The second is a social reason: it’s the only time in the week when we are a single school and a single team, all in the same place. This is why it was so important for us to continue these weekly meetings when we were all working from home too, to reduce the sense of isolation.

Do you need to say it all? At some points in a meeting, you may not need to read all of the information. Let people process information for themselves if it’ll be faster. For example, in our (deliberately fuzzy) agenda below you can see bullet points at the top. There are two sections: Please can you… for things they don’t need to hear me say, and Reminders for things like dates for their diary which I’ve already spoken about before. There is also colour coding, as suggested by our teachers at the end of last year. Orange indicates I’m telling you for the second time, red would be for the third time. [The document is titled ‘agenda’, but also acts as minutes – it’s edited during the meeting, printed out and put on the wall, and also available on Google Drive for teachers to refer back to as needed.]

Break up the info dump. As you can see, we share a lot of information during our meetings. They normally take the full 30 minutes allocated to them, sometimes a little longer. It’s impossible for somebody to focus on one person talking for all of that time and actually process the information. At one or two points in the meeting I normally have some kind of discussion, for example ‘What do you need to remember to do from the meeting so far?’ or ‘Have you picked up anything while teaching on Zoom this week which would be useful for everyone else?’ This gives me a little break, changes the pace, and allows teachers to process the information a little. It also creates a couple of extra beginnings and endings during the meeting, meaning information is a tiny bit more likely to be retained and acted on.

Are the next steps clear? At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody knows what they’re expected to do next and what the deadlines are.

Include positives/thank you. In a general meeting, include positive things too. I found that I used to feel like I just spent 30 minutes every week telling the staff off or nagging them. I still do sometimes, but ending on a positive note has reduced that feeling.

Emails

Clear subject line. Make your subject line as clear as possible to avoid guessing games and make it easier to find emails again later. If it’s new topic, start a new thread with a new subject line. Be selective about your use of the word ‘urgent’ in subject lines.

One big email? Lots of little emails? If you have lots of information to convey to the same people in a single day, it’s better to send out a single longer email than lots of short emails. This is less overwhelming in inboxes and easier to refer back to.

Signpost big emails. Use headings and highlight key points to help readers navigate the block of text. Put new topics into new paragraphs, and use bullet points to break down topics as needed.

Make it easy to use your emails. Don’t expect recipients to read between the lines. Be explicit about what kind of reply is needed and when. Include links to anything external so the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for them.

It may seem like it will take longer to write emails like this, but it will probably save you time in the long run as you’ll have to do less chasing, and won’t need to resolve issues like people filling in the wrong document because you didn’t include the link to the right one.

Here are two examples of emails I’ve sent recently:

Documents to check + creating Zoom IDs

Morning all,

Here are all of the documents you need to check your timetable against:

– Room timetable
– Level meeting timetable
– Cover timetable
– Register links (these will appear in your Google Docs later in the day – please don’t ask for them – I’ll put up a note on the door when they’re ready)

Your register links document takes you to various general links for teachers, including the Zoom IDs list. Please create meetings for all of your Zoom classes on Friday 18th. Make sure they recur until 30th June 2021 so you never have to change them through the year. Add the ID and password to the Zoom ID document so it’s available for cover and if the office need to tell a student.

When you have added all Zoom IDs to the list and checked all of your documents, reply to this email. Say ‘Fine’ if it’s all complete. List any problems if not – be as clear as possible. Please do not send the email separately – I want to keep it all in one thread so I can keep track of who’s replied.

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line;
  • clear instructions on how to complete the task;
  • information about how exactly they should reply and what information I need;
  • why I’m asking them to do things in this way.

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year (please reply by Monday 7th Sept 18:00)

[This email image is deliberately blurred.]

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line, including exactly when I need a reply by;
  • headings;
  • topics highlighted in blue;
  • all documents needed are attached;
  • all links to be followed are included in the email.

Keeping track

We’re managing a lot of communication, and potentially there are a lot of versions of documents flying around.

Date any documents you send out, rather than having the same file name or calling them 1, 2, 3, etc. Reverse order sorts them nicely: 2020.10.17. I normally keep all previous versions in a folder called ‘Archive’ and only the active version in the top folder to help me navigate. Here’s an example from the presentations on my personal computer:

Note any deadlines you set for replies in your diary or calendar. Follow up only with those who didn’t meet deadline, rather than sending out a blanket email to everyone. Don’t start following up until the deadline arrives – otherwise you are creating extra implicit deadlines, and causing yourself and your colleagues unnecessary extra stress.

Giving feedback

This can be one of the most challenging parts of our jobs, whether as teachers, managers or trainers, and can often be the cause of a lot of stress.

Use a feedback model (this one is from Manager Tools). This structure can help you to keep feedback neutral and ensure that the person on the receiving end is receptive to it (whether positive or negative). There are four steps:

  • Ask Can I give you some feedback?
  • Describe the behaviour: When you…
  • Describe the impact: …it makes me feel / …students find it difficult to… / …students are really engaged.
  • Discuss next steps: Keep it up! / What can you do about this? How can I help you?

It’s important to get the person you’re speaking to to say what the next steps are themselves, and preferably the ideas will come from them. They’re much more likely to act on the feedback if they say it rather than if you say it.

Focus on behaviour and actions, not personality. This keeps things more neutral and means feedback feels more constructive and less like a personal attack. It takes practice! If you’re not sure if your feedback does this successfully, run it by somebody else you trust and ask for help with rephrasing it as needed before you give it to the person concerned.

What expectations are teachers holding themselves / you holding teachers to? Teachers can often be their own worse critics, and beginner teachers in particular may not allow themselves to be beginners. Ensure that any expectations are realistic for the level of experience of the teacher, and that they know what you expect of them is fair.

Boost confidence and spot strengths too. Aim to give at least as much positive, confidence-boosting feedback as you do feedback on areas to improve.

Compassionate communication

Ask, don’t assume. Ask questions, rather than thinking you know why something happened or what somebody is feeling or experiencing at a given point.

Be patient and supportive. Aim for communication which helps rather than hinders or stresses out your colleagues. Keep this in the back of your mind, and don’t let your own stress or frustration at the fact this is the 18th time you’ve asked come through (easier said than done, but vital to remember!)

Provide training on your bug bears. To reduce your own stress levels, teach people how to do things which frustrate you when they do it ‘wrong’. For me this is the use of ‘Reply all’ rather than ‘Reply’ to group emails – you can also avoid this by BCCing all of the receiving emails, because then people can only reply to the sender rather than everyone!

Be on the receiving end of your own communication. Copy yourself into your group emails using your personal address, so you realise just how many emails you’re sending out. Record a meeting and sit through the whole thing without fast-forwarding it. You’ll soon send fewer emails and run shorter meetings!

Be a learning communicator

Reflect on particularly successful / unsuccessful communication. Why did that observation feedback run so smoothly? Why did that interview feel horrible throughout?

Seek out feedback. Ask for feedback on your communication. This includes when communication went wrong – wait until the emotion has gone out of the situation, then ask for advice on how you could have made the situation run more smoothly. If your staff trust you, they’ll be very willing to give you this feedback.

Choose an area to focus on. For me, this is currently all of the points in ‘listen’ at the start of this post!

Be kind to yourself 🙂 Your communication won’t always be perfect, but don’t dwell on it when things don’t work out. Model learning from problems and mistakes, seeking feedback, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.

What tips would you add to improve communication as a teacher, manager or trainer? Have you had any experiences of particularly good or bad communication which have helped you to become a better communicator?

Almost like a real teacher!

I’ve ended up teaching far more than usual this week due to various teachers being off sick. None of them had the dreaded lurgy fortunately – just the standard fresher’s flu that tends to hit at this point in the year!

Without cover I would have had two lessons with my beginner teen group this week, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday, and a Polish lesson on Friday. The rest of the my time would have been spent on my responsibilities as a Director of Studies: drop-in observations, level meetings (collaborative planning meetings), and ad hoc teacher support are the main things at this point in the year.

Instead I taught 7 lessons, covering a whole range of lesson types and group sizes:

  • Monday: cover A2.2 teens on Zoom (8 or 9 students – can’t remember!)
  • Tuesday: my beginner teens on Zoom (4 students), cover A2.1 young learners in the classroom (6 students)
  • Wednesday: cover A2.1 young learners in the classroom (11), cover FCE adults on Zoom (8 or 9)
  • Thursday: my beginner teens in the classroom, cover A2.1 young learners on Zoom (the same group as Tuesday)
  • Friday: no Polish because I had some DoSsing to do to catch up on the rest of the week!

I can’t remember the last time I did this much teaching in one week, and it was so good to spend so much time with students.

I don’t normally teach exam students because I wouldn’t have time to do the marking: I love how motivated they are. I found working with them on key word transformations on Zoom to be just as effective as in the classroom, if not more so as I could see all of their answers simultaneously in the chat and refer back to them as needed (there were 8 students I think).

I’ve never really considered myself to be a natural young learner teacher, but I’ve really enjoyed the lessons this week, and the enthusiasm of the kids both online and off. We worked on the seasons in the first lessons of the week and they wrote a little profile of themselves. One child got a bit worried that he didn’t know what month his birthday was in even in Polish – a lot of teaching English is reassuring students and building their confidence, especially with young learners. It was teacher’s day, and the kids who’d brought chocolates and flowers for their normal teacher didn’t quite know what to do with them, but handed them over at break so I made sure they got to where they needed to be 🙂 In the second lesson we worked on 8 verb phrases for free time activities and the structure Do you like VERBing? They so want to communicate and end up telling you all kinds of random information: I learnt about all their pets and the ages of their mums completely spontaneously from one group.

The teens were a little more of a struggle at the start, especially as they didn’t really want their cameras on. However, the creative nature of the project lesson we did on making your own invention to solve a problem was lots of fun. They came up with shoes that could fly, a magic pen that only writes the correct answers, and FriendlyCat 1, a robot who will keep your cat company if you have to go out.

My own group was also fun to teach this week. We worked on the numbers 1-20 and phone numbers on Zoom – the whole oh/zero thing blew their minds a little bit! In the classroom we did 21-100, and I started to introduce a little bit of spelling.

Overall, it was a nice mix of classroom and online lessons, and a really enjoyable range of lesson topics.

I do like being in the classroom.

And now that Bydgoszcz will be a red zone from tomorrow, from next week all of our adult and teen classes will be fully online. Only the younger learner classes will continue to have one of their two lessons a week in the classroom.

And I couldn’t have done it without the support of my colleagues – thank you so much to Paul and Emma, the level heads for these groups, who supplied me with lesson plans which I just needed to process, rather than having to come up with something from scratch. This is one of the fantastic things about working at IH Bydgoszcz: our level meetings/collaborative planning meetings mean that our group lessons are planned together, creating something that is more solid than what any one of us could do alone. In turn, I supplied other teachers with lesson plans for the cover lessons they were doing. And our teachers who were off sick were able to take the time they needed to recover and not pass on their germs to the rest of us, thanks to the cover system.

I do like working in a supportive school.

We’ll get through this together, and we’ll be stronger as a result.

I hope that you’re getting the support you need, wherever you are.

When I attended the Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) symposium on 12th September 2020, I found Kate French’s talk to be particularly useful. There is a recording here. Kate kindly agreed to write a guest post summarising what she shared.

The CETA Symposium was held online and brought together teacher trainers from over 49 different countries. It was an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and experience, particularly regarding teaching and learning during the pandemic.

As with all areas of life during COVID-19, teacher trainers and training courses in 2020 have had to adapt and react to the ever-changing circumstances and follow the sometimes contradictory guidelines emerging on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to save jobs and businesses and satisfy our ‘clients’ i.e. those wishing to complete and/or gain a teaching training qualification this year.

My own session at the conference was about the 100% online CELTA qualification and the aim was to synthesise the aforementioned guidelines and conclusions. The aim was not only to raise awareness for Centres that have yet to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity, but also to offer a review and possibly standardise delivery and ‘best practice’, which is what has always characterized the face-to-face and blended CELTA award, and which has led to its undoubted reputation as the ‘gold standard’ pre-service teaching training course. Therefore, I was very flattered to receive Sandy’s invitation to write a post for her blog to summarise the findings and offer them to an even wider public.  It was also very timely, as I have just started tutoring on our second full-time, 100% CELTA course and wanted to make adjustments and improvements to our own course in response to:

  • recent recommendations from Cambridge Assessment English
  • CELTA assessor suggestions
  • previous candidates’ feedback
  • results of a brief, facebook survey I sent to teacher trainers (60 responses)

but most importantly for the following reasons:

  • The certificate awarded at the end of the course is exactly the same as for the face to face and the blended formats – there is no mention of the delivery format on the certificate.
  • The same criteria have to be met by candidates in order to pass the course.
  • The candidates, although studying and teaching 100% online, need to be prepared to teach in both online and face to face contexts post-course.
  • Employers will expect candidates to have the essential skills to teach in both online and face to face classrooms.

You can find our conclusions and ideas for achieving these in this table I have compiled:

Note from Sandy: the table is incredibly comprehensive and is an excellent starting point for anybody planning a CELTA course from this point forward, covering as it does all of the Cambridge recommendations for online courses so far, and lots of tips and ideas from Kate’s own experience and research.

Kate French started her TEFL career in Poland, at IH Bydgoszcz, before moving to Argentina two years later. [Note from Sandy – I didn’t know about that connection before!]
She has worked at International House Belgrano in Buenos Aires since 1995 where she has been ADoS, DoS, In-company Coordinator, and Head of Teacher Training. She is currently DoS and Teacher Trainer, overseeing the online classes during the pandemic and tutoring on the institute’s full and part-time 100% online CELTA courses. Kate is also a Cambridge ESOL and IELTS examiner, and a CELTA assessor.

CELTA trainers, do you have anything you’d add? Change? Questions you have about the online format? It’d be great to get a discussion going!

Teaching in the new world

This week I had my first lessons with students for this academic year.

On Monday and Wednesday I was the cover teacher the first two lessons of a fully online course. There were 5 students, all A2.1 teens, one of whom I taught in the level below last year.

They were very quiet in the first lesson, but came out of their shells more in the second. I think it might take longer for a fully online group to bond than one which has previously met in a classroom.

One activity which worked nicely was an email with some words displayed only as first letters e.g. I’ve g a b. I like g t t forest. Students worked together to figure out what the full email said. They then wrote a similar email to me for homework, introducing themselves. I sent them the text and the homework instructions after the lesson. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had 100% success with teen writing homework!

Break time during an online lesson

On Thursday I met my own group for the first time. I have four beginner teens, two of whom I met last year when covering the group before their teacher arrived. They found things challenging and the move online didn’t help, so they’re repeating the year with the same book. Part of my challenge this year will be to keep them engaged with material they’ve seen before but didn’t fully understand, and balance that for the two students who are new to the level, one of whom was very shy and needed a lot of encouragement to participate.

We’ll have odd-numbered classes in the socially distanced classroom for as long as possible, and even-numbered classes online.

With only four students it was a bit of a challenge to vary interaction patterns, especially in a typical first beginner lesson where you focus on greetings and asking for memes. One dialogue which worked in a really fun way was:

Hello Fred.

No, no, no, my name isn’t Fred. It’s Bob.

Oh, sorry!

This also already introduced isn’t ready for later lessons.

We also worked on What’s his/ her name? including students sharing pictures from their phones.

The other group I taught was our Polish beginners class for teachers. We’d decided to run it online to demonstrate various techniques and give the teachers a student perspective on online lessons. Normally in the first lesson I’d focus on names and How are you?, but this time I worked on greetings, ways of saying goodbye, and a couple of other useful bits of functional language. I also highlighted various spelling/pronunciation features.

A chain drill that worked well was gradually introducing two-line dialogues through the lesson, then asking one person to say the first line of any dialogue and choose who should respond, e.g.

Bob, dzień dobry.

Dzień dobry. / Przepraszam, Fred.

Nic nie szkodzi. / Do widzenia, Jim.

Do widzenia.

(Yes, it was an all-male group – my first I think. No, these aren’t their names!) I did intensive correction, and I suspect that the group won’t forget those phrases for a while! There’s a Quizlet set for homework if they need it.

Overall it was great to be back in a physical classroom with real people in front of me, but I enjoyed the online lessons just as much.

On 3rd October 2020, I took part in the IH Kyiv online conference. [Update: I presented the same talk at the IH Torun Teaching Training Day on 7th November 2020.]

I presented on the topic of group dynamics, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since doing my MA module in Trainer Development last year. Although Jane Harding da Rosa introduced me to Barry Tuckman’s work a few years ago, I don’t think I was ready to take in the ideas. I wish I had been! There are definitely at least two groups I can think of which would have been a much pleasanter experience for both me and the students had I understood some of the concepts I mention in this presentation. Oh well – we live and learn!

Here are three quotes from Chapter 3 of Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho which set the scene:

The quality of the eventual outcome of the course will to a considerable extent be forged in the interactions between the members of the learning group.

It always takes some time, and considerable care on the part of the [teachers] to enable groups […] to ‘form’ and reach a stage where they are personally secure, and trusting of each other and the [teacher] enough to start learning.

Even if the group is already well formed, each new meeting requires attention to re-forming: re-entering the public world of the group from the more private world of family or workplace.

Although the quotes are about teacher training, I think they’re equally applicable to the ELT classroom.

My presentation was mostly about raising awareness of issues connected to group dynamics, rather than activities to help you deal with them. Those activities can be found in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book Classroom Dynamics, which I recently finished and will review on my blog shortly. Short review: every staffroom should have a copy! About 50% of the ideas in my presentation came from her book – thanks Jill! [Amazon affiliate link]

Here are my slides:

Thinking about groups

We started with an activity adapted from p39 of Classroom Dynamics.

EITHER:

Think about groups you have taught. Which groups were easy to teach? Which were difficult? Which were mixed?

OR:

In your life up to now, what groups have you been a member of? For example, family, sports team, colleagues at work, church… Did you have a good, bad or mixed experience as a member of these groups?

Think about the good groups.

  • Did they have anything in common?
  • What do you think these groups gave their members?
  • What did the group members give back?
  • What did the group members have to give up?

Think about a group you’re in now.

  • What do you think they will be able to give you?
  • What can you offer to them?
  • What might you have to give up?

We pooled the ideas into this mentimeter.

You can use this activity with classes to help them consider what makes a good group and what they can contribute to and get from a group.

Stages of group life

I talked through the 5 stages described in Barry Tuckman’s stages of group development:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing
  • Adjourning

You can see a full-sized version of the diagram I talked through here: http://bit.ly/tuckmangroups. It shows a lot more information about what each of the five stages involve. There are lots of sources describing these 5 stages (the final one is sometimes missing, or called ‘Mourning’).

These are typical stages, but some groups get stuck at a particular stage and never move forwards, others regress or move backwards and forwards, especially if new people join the group.

As a teacher, it’s useful to know about the stages to understand what you can do as a teacher to help a group to form successfully, and understand why some groups won’t work well together.

Causes of group problems

On p149 of Classroom Dynamics, Jill Hadfield has this summary of possible causes of group problems:

Three layer diagram:
1. Group problems
2. Teacher-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. conflict of expectations about progress
3. resistance to communicative methods
3. resistance to leadership style
3. rebellion against 'authority'
2. intra-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. different aims, levels of ability or motivation
3. an inharmonious mix of ages, personalities, sexes or nationalities
2. the indigestible group member, subdivided into:
3. misfits
3. the insecure
3. rebels
3. frustrated leader

I asked two questions, which you could think about now:

  • Have you experienced any of these as a teacher or a student?
  • What can you do about them?

We then looked at a bit of theory to pre-empt these problems, aiming to reduce the likelihood of them starting in the first place, or deal with the problems when you notice they start to manifest themselves. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s worth being reminded!

Teacher-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • the teacher makes it clear why they’re doing particular activities/using particular techniques – displaying clear aims can help.
  • the teacher compromises on approach/tasks in lessons, doing some of what the teacher wants and some of what the group wants.
  • the teacher listens carefully to students.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

To win […] trust, we have to be open about our objectives, and be ready to participate in activities on an equal basis whenever it is possible or makes sense for us to do so.

Students need to feel like you’re a participant in the group too, not just a dictator. If you expect them to share, it’s important for you to do so too. The same is true of being receptive to feedback, and giving constructive feedback.

Intra-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with a very problematic group: introduce less group work, use more individual/pair work, regroup students so it’s less explosive.
  • with a relatively low-level problem: use gap-bridging activities.
  • with a well-balanced group: confront the problem and discuss it.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted.

It takes time and effort for humans to trust each other, and sometimes a small action or a single word can be enough to break that trust. We need to help students feel comfortable with each other, building trust consistently, rather than just doing one getting-to-know-you activity at the start of the course and thinking we’re done with that (this is a reminder to myself too!)

The indigestible group member

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with rebels: get to know them and make sure they know you; providing clear limits/boundaries can help in some cases, but may make it worse.
  • with frustrated leaders: do individual interviews with all students; encourage everybody to say ‘I think’ not ‘we think’.
  • with insecure students: give them warmth and attention and help them integrate.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Participants frequently arrive with preoccupations relating to their work, their families etc. [which] prevent them from being fully ‘present’. [They often] gain least from […] courses and […] are most critical in end-of-course evaluations.

Helping students mentally transition into the classroom space, learn to put their preoccupations aside, and feel comfortable in the room are all important. Again, this takes time and effort to build up.

Chapters in Classroom Dynamics

These are most of the chapters in Jill Hadfield’s book:

  • Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
  • Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
  • Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
  • Getting to know each other: humanizing activities and personalised grammar
  • I did it your way: empathy activities
  • A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
  • Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
  • Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
  • Group achievements: product-oriented activities
  • Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques and summaries
  • That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
  • Ensuring participation // Learning to listen
  • A sense of direction: setting, assessing and resetting goals
  • Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations, group solutions
  • Ending with positive feelings // Evaluating the group experience

In the chat I asked:

  • Can you think of any activities which would serve these purposes?
  • How could they help your groups?
  • How could they pre-empt some of the problems we’ve discussed?

As Jill points out, a lot of the activities we already use can be tweaked to help work on classroom dynamics as well as the language or skills aim we want to use them for. Obviously reseating is a potential problem in a socially-distanced classroom, but could be adapted for activities online.

Final reflection

Having thought about the ideas I’ve introduced here, when working with groups from now on what will you:

  • continue to do?
  • stop doing?
  • start doing?

Last week was induction week for the 2020-2021 school year, and as with everything for everyone right now, it was different. Social distancing, masks, new ways of working.

But it wasn’t anywhere near as different as I thought it would be.

It was so lovely to hear the buzz of lots of people working in the school building again, for the first time since mid-March.

I forgot how much I enjoy writing on a whiteboard – that was a very satisfying feeling!

The meetings I ran involved me moving around to find a position where I could see everyone now they’re all arranged in rows, and I ended up standing up or perching with one knee on my chair (can’t work out how to describe it!) I also had to project my voice a little more to make up for the masks. But they felt pretty normal in terms of how much I felt like I was lecturing people and never like that feeling!

The one session I ran on the job description, IH promises and our expectations of teachers at the school allowed me to experiment with techniques for the socially-distanced classroom for the first time. And it was actually OK. There was lots of pair work and group work, people worked with various others, no paper was handed out, and (I hope!) everyone got what they needed to out of the session. I had an information gap task where teachers took photos of different PowerPoint slides, then kept their eyes closed when the other slides were shown, after which they compared the information on their photos. Another task involved a pyramid discussion followed by comparing answers to the job description I emailed them during the session. I had to be a little more creative when planning the session to avoid paper and consider groupings, but other than that it felt like running sessions in the classroom pre-COVID. I also used AnswerGarden in a classroom lesson for the first time.

I’m feeling pretty hopeful now, and excited about getting back into the classroom with students – that’s about 10 days away for me, fingers crossed. Numbers are going up here, but hopefully we’ll still be able to work in classrooms for a little while yet.

How about you? Are you back in the classroom? What does your updated classroom look like? If you’re online, what’s the same and what’s different about how you’re working now?

Good luck everyone, and stay safe!

The Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) Symposium is another event which I would never have been able to attend face-to-face because of the timing and the location, but now it’s online I can go – yay! It’s aimed at trainers of Cambridge certificates: CELTA, Delta, CELT-P, CELT-S and TKT, though a lot of the content is relevant for all teacher trainers.

I talked about Life after CELTA. This was the abstract:

Even a Pass A CELTA graduate ‘will benefit from further support in post’. What might this support look like? What are the main areas that CELTA graduates continue to need help with? What can trainers do during the CELTA course to lay the groundwork? I hope to answer all of these questions in this session.

Here are my slides:

Here’s the recording:

Key areas for new teachers

When I employ an early career teacher, I know we’ll probably need to work on five key areas:

  • Time management
  • Teacher confidence/presence
  • Community membership
  • Reflective practice
  • Effective modelling

These are areas which many new teachers struggle with and need particular support in. I’ll look at each area below, with ideas for how CELTA trainers can develop these skills as much as possible during the course. Many of these things are already incorporated in courses, but it’s worth being reminded of their importance, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted!

ELT Playbook

For each area, I’ve suggested a task from an ELT Playbook which could be used with trainees or as a trainer. These are the current Smashwords discount codes, valid until 5th October 2020 [affiliate links]:

ELT Playbook 1 (for new teachers): TB33T

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher TrainingNH97T

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

You can find out more about both books, along with how to buy them, on the ELT Playbook website.

Time management

Materials preparation time: This is probably the biggest time sink for new teachers. This might be created a huge PowerPoint presentation, cutting up loads of bits of paper, or going down a rabbit hole to find the perfect image/video/text etc. I generally recommend that trainees do materials prep last, once they have a completed plan, with all of the documentation. I also try to show them how to teach lessons without PowerPoint, and challenge them to do at least one lesson like this during a course, especially if they’re a stronger trainee. Weaker trainees can aim for one or two activities per lesson without PowerPoint.

Simplify lessons: I recommend a maximum of one or two all-singing, all-dancing activities per 60 minutes. If trainees come to me with a plan with more than this, I’ll advise them to get rid of one or two, even if they can justify why it would be a great activity and incredibly useful for their students. Once I’ve told them this a few times, they start to listen!

Time-saving tips: Encourage screenshots/taking photos rather than retyping the whole exercise, even if it might look prettier! Show trainees hacks for the paper-based classroom, like putting a coloured dot on the back of each set of handouts.

Technology: Introduce multi-functional tools like Quizlet, which can also be used for printing flashcards in a face-to-face classroom. Show trainees how to find and copy existing sets, not start from scratch every time, and encourage them to save sets with the book name, edition, unit number and page number in the title so they’re easy for other teachers to find (like this). Create templates for documents on Word/PowerPoint which are reusable and easy to complete – show trainees/new teachers how to do this too if possible.

Exploiting activities: Emphasise as much as possible how to exploit single activities in multiple ways, rather than introducing new activities all the time. Demonstrate this during input sessions. You can also use One activity, multiple tasks from ELT Playbook 1 .

Teacher confidence/presence

Lesson planning: I strongly believe that trainers should intervene as soon as possible if planning documentation is not up-to-scratch and be explicit about what will help trainees in lessons. There’s normally somebody else in the TP group who’s understood how to write a useful lesson plan, so I normally ask their permission to share the plan with the person who’s struggling. This is better than a generic lesson plan as the trainee knows how the lesson went, and can see how having a solid plan helped the lesson to be more successful. As a trainer, we should also provide clear feedback on the plan, with one or two specific areas to focus on each TP to improve the plan, not the just the lessons. Generally, a strong plan = a successful lesson = teacher confidence. There’s plenty of time for teachers to move towards less detailed planning later, once they’ve got the basics under their belt.

Rehearsal opportunities: Encourage trainees/teachers to rehearse things they’re nervous about, preferably with their TP colleagues, but with you if nobody else is available. This is particularly true for complicated instructions – make sure the lesson isn’t the first time the trainee/teacher has ever tried to say those instructions out loud.

Lesson plan as film script: Emphasise the importance of trainees/teachers knowing exactly what they want from the students during the lesson. Imagine it’s a film script, where everyone needs to know where to stand, what to hold, what to do at each point in the lesson. This can help trainees to add more depth to their lessons, though sometimes it can go too far! If it does, remind them that improvisation is an important part of great film-making too – there needs to be space for the actors/students to breathe too; it can’t all be about the director/teacher. This can help them to understand the idea of handing over to the students more too.

Wait time: Give trainees/teachers tricks to increase the amount of time they wait after asking questions, for example counting ‘1000, 2000, 3000’ or putting a post-it on their computer saying ‘Wait!’ The pauses add natural breaks into the lesson, allow everyone to think a little, and can reduce anxiety. They also mean students are more likely to give answers of some kind, and maybe even successful ones 😉 All of this can increase teacher confidence, and help them feel more in control of the lesson with better teacher presence.

Provide necessary support: Don’t leave trainees/teachers to flounder or spend hours trying to figure things out themselves. This is particularly true of teaching grammar: show trainees/teachers how to do this the first time out. This will add to their toolbox, and give both teachers and students a better experience. A lot of our in-house training at IH Bydgoszcz connected to lessons is about supporting teachers to feel confident in grammar lessons. One useful tip is for teachers/trainees to do the exercises themselves as part of their lesson planning, and make sure they know WHY the answers are correct, not just what. Modelling this kind of scaffolding is useful for teachers to see how to help students too.

Self-talk: There’s a free bonus activity connected to ELT Playbook 1  looking at self-talk and teacher confidence. Download it here.

Community membership

Give guidance: Show trainees how to participate in communities within their course, for example by creating Whatsapp groups for everyone on the course, their TP group, and their 3 TP colleagues. Point out chances to use these communities e.g. it’s a good idea to discuss this part of the lesson…you could vent about this…

You are not alone: Remind them that there’s always somebody they can call on, both during and after the course. Emphasise how to work together during TP prep, and tell them never to spend more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out – after that they should ask for help. ‘The people around us’ in ELT Playbook 1  can help teachers/trainees to realise who can help them with what.

Wider communities: Show trainees communities they can join during or after their course e.g. the facebook CELTA or Teaching English British Council pages, #ELTchat on Twitter, or alumni communities for your organisation.

Reflective practice

Use metaphors: This can help with managing expectations and stress. My favourite metaphor for this is about learning to play the piano/tennis.

Exemplify reflection: As a trainer, be human! Own your mistakes and tell trainees how you have learnt/will learn from them. Show them that it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Also highlight areas you’re particularly proud of, especially if you were experimenting with something new. Be excited 🙂

Strength spotting: I learnt about this from Sarah Mercer, and there’s a specific task connected to it in ELT Playbook 1.  Encourage trainees/teachers to learn from the strengths of others. Really emphasise this by making TP peer feedback focussed on strengths as much as possible and then telling them how other trainees can do the same thing. In your spoken feedback, highlight one thing each trainee did that you want the others to do in future TPs.

Specific feedback: Give specific feedback, including comments were possible, not just generic comments. For example: ‘Good drilling’ becomes ‘You used a consistent model with a natural stress pattern.’ This shows trainees/teachers what behaviour to repeat, in the same way that our (normally much more specific!) negative feedback shows them what behaviour to avoid/modify in future. Model this, but also encourage trainees to avoid the word ‘good’ in their own feedback to each other. Thanks to Kate Protsenko for highlighting this to me, and inspiring the task ‘What is ‘good’?’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training.

Effective model

Practise what you preach: Teachers should model effective language learning behaviour to their students, trainers should model effective teaching to their trainees. 😉 I think most of us do this already, but it’s still worth reflecting on what you do and don’t model to your trainees. Follow through on your advice in your own demo lessons and input sessions: vary activities, give concise instructions, don’t use too many ICQs, start/finish on time…sometimes easier said than done! The task ‘Practising what you preach’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training could help with this.

Be human: Model compassion towards yourself, model taking care of yourself during courses, highlight when you need help or when you’ve found support somewhere (in a book, on a site, from another person). I’ve already mentioned owning your mistakes. Don’t try to be a computer, or to be perfect. We need to model this so that new teachers don’t feel that they need to be perfect either. Perfectionism is boring.

What’s not here?

The surface things:

  • TTT
  • ICQs
  • CCQs
  • pairwork
  • feedback techniques, etc.

These are generally considered to be the stuff of CELTA, but I think they’re less important than any of the five deeper areas above. Those deeper areas are universal: any teacher needs them, in any context, online or offline, wherever they are in the world. The surface things are all useful techniques to be aware of, but they’re context-dependent. A confident, reflective, practitioner who can learn from their community, manage their time well, and understand the power of modelling will learn how to do all of these bitty things sooner or later. Remove any of those five areas and the chances are much slimmer.

Do you agree? Are these areas you work on? What would you do to support new teachers with these or other areas during an initial teacher training course?

On 5th September 2020 I presented at the EFL Talks Poland online event. 10 Directors of Studies based in Poland presented 10-minute talks of 10 slides each. Here are my slides:

I’ll share the video when it’s available in a couple of weeks.

This is a shorter version of a 45-minute talk I’ve done previously at the ETAI Conference in Israel and the IH Barcelona conference. Here is a fully written-out version of the activities.

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There is a Smashwords discount code for 10% off ELT Playbook 1 until 5th October 2020: TB33T. You can also buy a paperback or ebook version of ELT Playbook 1 from Amazon [affiliate links] or a paperback from BEBC (support this great bookshop!)

ELT Playbook 1 cover

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of these activities.

 

I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!

Key details

TitleLessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT

Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell

Publisher: Richmond

Year: 2016

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

What’s in it?

Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):

Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.

Written in accessible language.

Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.

There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.

Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.

Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.

Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.

Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.

The 12 main sections of the book are:

  1. Learning about our students
  2. Reflective teaching
  3. Observation: a learning tool
  4. Managing our classrooms
  5. Lesson planning
  6. Organizing language lessons
  7. Understanding and teaching language
  8. Developing literacy skills
  9. Developing oracy skills
  10. Integrating language skills
  11. Assessment and evaluation
  12. Mindful, corrective feedback

There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.

Good points

The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.

The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.

Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.

The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.

Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.

Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):

  • 159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
  • 175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
  • 181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
  • 184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
  • 242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
  • 271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
  • 384-385: the characteristics of a good test
  • 386-389: practical advice for writing test items

Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.

Areas to improve

It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.

Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.

One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:

For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)

Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.

Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.

Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.

Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.

General comment

It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.

Back in November 2019 I noticed this tweet from Grace Alchini:

I was intrigued so asked her to write a guest post about what the course involved. (Sorry for the delay Grace!)

Around 5 years ago, after almost 3 decades in ELT and an operation that made me bed-ridden for nearly a month, I decided it was time to start a new hobby or develop a new skill. That is how I joined an Introduction to wine tasting course, together with my husband. We both enjoyed wine and had been impressed by a sommelier who had once run a wine tasting session in a restaurant, showing expertise and the ability to help the client understand wine, and who was opening this course. That was the beginning of a series of around 10 modules of 15 hours each and several wine tasting sessions, which opened the door to a fascinating world in which our senses rule, and culture is present through the explanation of processes, geography, history, gastronomy, and the list goes on.

Aldo, the sommelier, and I became friends, and one evening over dinner he told me about one of his trainees, who spoke good English but had been unable to talk about wine in the United States because he lacked the vocabulary to do it. A few minutes later, we started imagining a course aimed at sommeliers who had to serve foreign clients or work abroad. The project materialized several months later.

The objective was clear: to train these Spanish-speaking professionals to provide their service in English. That meant being able to run a wine tasting session (which involves colour, smell, taste and mouth-feel description), suggest wine and food pairings, and speak about the winemaking process, among other tasks. The course took twelve 3-hour sessions, and each of them addressed a different topic: each of the stages in the wine tasting session, types of wine, the grapevine, the process at the winery, pairing, and service. A TBL approach was used. In the first part of the session, I provided the participants with the vocabulary and language they would need (making use of articles, videos, and infographics on which we worked), and then, there was the task: wine tasting in English, focusing on the topic of the day.

We tasted 3 or 4 different wines every session, and as there were around six participants, everybody could practise in front of an audience every class. The rest of the participants made comments, sharing their own perceptions, and I gave them feedback as regards language use. Aldo was present too, in order to contribute to the session with his experience and knowledge.

Needless to say, it was essential for me to have some knowledge in the field, and those 150 hours of previous training were more than useful. I knew what I had to include in the course, and I understood what the different specific terms referred to as I prepared the sessions (or else I asked my teacher somm). Also, I devoted hours and hours during several months reading specialised books and watching videos to make both my understanding of the subject matter and my vocabulary wider. At the same time, in every single class I became a student too because there was always some new concept to learn from the participants.

If you asked me what type of language is used in a wine tasting session, I would say it is mostly descriptive: adjectives related to colour (hues and depth), nouns that mention countless aromas (evoking fruit, herbs, flowers, spices, wood, leather and even unusual smells like horse sweat or a wet band-aid), a large number of adjectives to describe acidity in wine (zesty, tart, crisp, flabby, just to name a few) and expressions to explain mouth-feel sensations provoked by characteristics like astringency and heat (the presence of alcohol). When dealing with the growth cycle of the grapevine and the winemaking process, as well as the different types of wine, there is a wide range of specific terminology which led, in my case, to learning about the many procedures behind a bottle of wine. Also, there is the need to cover the functional language that is required in the performance of wine service. Last but not least, the creation of metaphor is a vital component of the skills a sommelier needs to develop. Many aspects of wine can be more easily understood when expressed in terms of a person, a painting, a moment of the day or a piece of music.

It was interesting for all of us to see how certain common words in English were a bit different in the world of wine. For example: flavour in general tends to be associated with taste. However, when referring to wine, flavour comprises taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, that is, what is perceived by the taste buds, the rest of the mouth and the nose respectively.

How useful was the course?

As I mentioned before, in each session participants put the language of wine tasting into practice, and in the last classes, when they had already dealt with the different steps and contents of a wine tasting session, they showed they were confident enough to do their job in English and communicated their passion for wine clearly and effectively. Furthermore, what has been a true discovery, at least for most of the participants, is the fact that doing their job in English is not just a matter of using a dictionary and translating. Words in any language may express perceptions, and these vary from culture to culture. Therefore, many participants could experience new ways of understanding and interpreting wine, which enriched their profession. Mine was definitely enriched too.

Grace Alchini is a freelance teacher of English, business communication and ESP trainer, and conference speaker based in Mexico. She has over 34 years ‘experience working at universities and providing in-company training. For the last couple of years, she has mainly focused on preparing pre-service graduate students, trainees and employees for the workplace.

ELT awards

What is the function of awards within a profession?

I’ve just asked Google that question expecting to find some kind of philosophical discussion on the topic. Instead I found links to all kinds of different awards schemes across a range of professions: engineering, medicine, project management, human resources, safety professionals, supply chain professionals, recognition professionals, and yes, even education.

The closest thing to an answer I could find came from the Wikipedia ‘award‘ entry, on page 3 of my search:

An award, sometimes called a distinction, is something given to a recipient as a token of recognition of excellence in a certain field.

Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Award on 21st August 2020

According to the references, this is a combination of definitions from the Oxford and Cambridge dictionary definitions.

I tried a new search: Why do awards exist?

That got me what I was looking for. Buried in amongst all kinds of discussions of film and TV awards ceremonies are a few interesting posts, starting with How important are awards anyway?:

We all apply with the same goal in our mind – to win. If we lose (and it has happened), we get irritated. Maybe we say: ”Heh, what do they know.” But then we try to figure out why we lost. We try to learn from each new contest, and we try to figure out how to be better.

Move on to page 2 of the search, and you get Awards: why you want them and how to get them. I’m not sure what an ‘Extension program’ is either, but there are some interesting quotes in there, like these:

Awards are the most conventionally accepted method for proving to others that your work is necessary, complete, and effective.

On the surface, applying for awards may seem self-serving, or even pretentious. Winning awards, however, does much more than bring attention to you as an individual. Documented proof that programs are of the highest caliber facilitates recruitment of external support and resources for future programs (Bradley, Driscoll, & Bardon, 2012). Administration, funding agencies, local governments, and even potential future employers acknowledge the value of peer recognition. Agencies with funding and in-kind resources tend to divert their efforts toward projects with the greatest potential for success. They often base decisions about who might be qualified to accomplish a task on prior successes of individuals or agencies under consideration.

How To Go After Awards And Recognition (And Win) and why it matters is from Forbes:

After all, if there’s one thing that can make us as women squirm uncomfortably, it’s nominating ourselves for awards and public recognition. Some may not be drawn to the competitive rivalry of a contest. For others, they may erroneously see themselves as not-strong-enough a candidate to apply in the first place. And yet, the effects of not self nominating can be far reaching.

Putting our distaste for self-promotion aside—awards, funds and recognition are a form of currency. In the world we live in, they matter. They are bargaining chips! They can help you demand a higher fee as an entrepreneur, reinforce your request for a higher corporate salary to your employer, and provide external validation of how you measure up against your peers.

Decide today, right now, that you are a worthy applicant for that interesting award, publishable article, or conference presentation. Then go for it.

Going after, and winning, awards makes you more appealing to employers and clients, yes. But it can greatly help you materially, and perhaps most underemphasized, it can permanently lift your confidence. […] By applying for recognition, you too will learn a lifelong skill – how to identify and speak about your value…and how to bet on yourself.

The last article I’ll quote from is The benefits of awards — even if you don’t win, which is full of lots of useful ideas and tips:

But recognition aside, merely applying for awards or seeking to be nominated also brings a multitude of career benefits. Putting together an award application can help you reflect on your skills and career progress. It may push you to become more competitive by filling gaps in your CV and increasing your visibility. Seeking out senior colleagues who will cheer for you can help you build a strong support base for the future. Competing for awards also creates an opportunity to receive useful feedback about your work and how you are perceived from those who nominated you or awards committees, Gomez notes.

Studying the award criteria and looking at past winners may help you get a sense of what you want to strive for and identify skill gaps. Trying to fill these gaps will not only increase your chances of getting the award, but also put you in a stronger position for your future career planning and progression, Maguire says.

Current awards in ELT

Philip Kerr recently wrote about Current Trends in ELT, including mentioning the British Council ELTons awards for innovations in English Language Teaching. This is one of the quotes which prompted this post:

You could be forgiven for wondering what is especially innovative about many of the ELTon award-winners, or indeed, why neophilia actually matters at all. The problem, in a relatively limited world like language teaching, is that only so much innovation is either possible or desirable.

The ELTons are one of only three awards schemes I can think of within ELT. The other two are both related to balance and representation at conferences. The Fair List was set up by Tessa Woodward to encourage gender balance at UK ELT events. Eve: Equal Voices in ELT recognises events for parity in gender, highly proficient speakers (not just native English speakers), and how representative they are of their local teaching community.

The ELTons has a glitzy awards ceremony (not this year of course!), with various categories recognising innovation and a lifetime achievement award. The Fair List has an awards ceremony at IATEFL each year (again, not this year). EVE has a calendar which they will include events in which meet the parity requirements, and award a badge recipients can display. All of them are useful for highlighting achievements of the ELT industry, and I think The Fair List and EVE have gone some way to starting discussions about and encouraging change within conference line-ups. Just being shortlisted for an ELTon can increase the profile of a project and (presumably) increase sales/buy-in/author profiles.

(Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any from this list.*)

Accreditation and inspection schemes, such as those from British Council, EAQUALS, AQUEDUTO (online training) and IH inspections for affiliated schools also fulfil some of the functions mentioned in the quotes above: they require data gathering, identify gaps and encourage applicants to fulfil them to meet requirements. The resultant badges that those who pass the inspection can display are a sign of professional recognition/recognition by the profession, though there’s no official awards ceremony for any of them.

Applying to present at conferences also prompts reflection and can lead to increased professional recognition too, and is open to individuals, thereby meeting some of the requirements mentioned in the first part of this post.

What’s my point?

I’m not really sure…this blogpost is more about thinking out loud than an actual point!

To my knowledge, the awards schemes which currently exist in ELT focus on innovation, lifetime achievement, and conference line-ups.*

Accreditation schemes are aimed at organisations.

Maybe there’s room for something else, awards which are more wide-ranging. Something which demonstrates the range and scope of our profession. Something which individuals can apply for, not just organisations. Something which can throw a spotlight on more than just the big names and recognise those unsung members of our profession who work away diligently year in, year out.

What could we recognise?

Here are some possible award categories:

  • Teacher
  • Trainer
  • Manager
  • Materials writer
  • Support/Administrative staff
  • Course
  • Course provider (school/educational organisation)
  • Employer
  • Methodology book/materials
  • Training course/event (including conferences)
  • Teaching association
  • Social media group/account

I’m sure there are many more I haven’t thought of!

How could it work? What are the problems?

Allow time for nominations. For example, nominations include 5 reasons why that nominee should receive the award, and what makes them unique/different compared to other possible nominees.
How long? Who nominates (the potential winner or a third party)? What needs to be included in a nomination? How are the nominations submitted? What about GDPR?

Anonymise the nominations. Remove any identifying features.
Who gets that job?! How long would it take?

Have a panel for each award, or one for all of the awards. Each panel member creates a long list of four nominations who they think should receive the award.
Who would be on the panel? How do you remove bias and ensure representation within the panels? How long would that process take? Who would pay for the time or would it have to be voluntary? 

Combine the separate long lists into a master long list. Each panel member individually comes up with their own shortlist of three nominees who they think should receive the award with reasons.
As with the previous point.

The panel meets to discuss the shortlists and negotiate who should be the award winner. One person from the panel is selected to check the votes and make a note of the eventual winner.
How long do you allow for this? How do you de-anonymise the nominations and ensure the winner remains a secret?

Run an awards ceremony. Glitz! Glamour! Awards!
Who pays for it? Who presents the awards?

Will it ever happen?

Unlikely!* Somebody would need to pay for it, and within ELT that normally means publishers sponsoring the event. Somebody would need to organise it, and that requires a lot of time.

But still, it’s interesting to think about.

What impact could an awards ceremony that’s more wide-ranging have on the profession? Would it make it feel more like a profession? Would it lead to any changes, as The Fair List and EVE already seem to have done? What do you think?

*Search first, write later (!)

I got to the end of this post and did a Google search for ELT awards. It looks like some of my questions are answered by these awards and my post is a little more pointless than it was before, but I’m not going to rewrite it now! Here’s what I found:

There are ELT Excellence Awards in Greece – it costs quite a lot to apply. Presumably that covers some of the costs I mentioned above, and public schools get one free entry each, but that still rules out individuals applying. It covers a wide range of areas, including a few I hadn’t thought of.

The Pearson English Global Teacher Award gives five winners the chance to attend the IATEFL or TESOL conference all expenses paid. It looks like it really does recognise individual teachers. I can’t find information about how to apply, but I think you probably apply yourself, doing the job of encouraging teachers to identify and speak about their value, as described above.

Oh, and there’s this post from David Deubelbeiss about teacher of the year/best teacher awards and how they’re a pet peeve of his, providing a useful balance to points above. You should definitely read that too.

The idea

Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic. 

This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.

  • What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
  • Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
  • Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
  • Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching. 
  • (Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.

Noticing progress

On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:

The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.

Teacher feedback on the workshop

These comments are shared with permission.

Positives:

(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.

I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.

I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.

Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.

I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!

I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?

Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.

Own pace and autonomous.

Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.

Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.

I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).

Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.

I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Could focus on an area I was interested in.

Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!

I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!

Generally like the format.

Areas to improve:

(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.

People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]

The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’

Hard to find a specific direction.

Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.

I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.

There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.

Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.

Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.

Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.

Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.

Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5. 

As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂 

As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.

GB v Turkey table tennis

When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.

When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.

But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.

Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.

Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.

Three panel cartoon: the first shows a person surrounded by speech bubbles, all but one positive. 2. Person eating, all positive comments a little faded out, negative comment still clear. 3. Negative comment clear, all others almost completely faded out. Person in bed.

When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.

When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.

This is not fair to us or our students.

Bydgoszcz warehouses

Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience. 

Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.

Make the most of your old computer

ELTpics image by @mscro1

When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.

As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.

Clocks photo mosaic

Give yourself that time.

Embrace the learning.

Enjoy it.

Be kind to yourself.

Good luck.

(And if you need help, here’s a similar CELTA-specific post, here’s a guest post by a CELTA trainee who initially struggled with confidence on the course, here’s a list of useful links for CELTA, here’s a short presentation about building confidence as a teacher, and here’s a short task to help you think about what you say to yourself about your teaching.)

I’ve just found some old notes from a workshop we ran at our school after a round of lesson observations where we saw every teacher, and thought it might provide a useful model for somebody somewhere.

I started by summarising all of the positive points which came out of the observations – I think it was probably the third and final round of observations for the year. This was the list:

  • Clear effort and planning that had gone into the lessons
  • Huge progress through the year
  • Demonstrating an obvious response to feedback we had given
  • Points and routines used more consistently in young learner and teen classes
  • Anticipating problems and being able to deal with them efficiently
  • Varying lessons effectively
  • Demonstrating ideas the observers could steal (one of my favourite things about observing!)
  • Teachers knew their students and there were no surprises with students having trouble with what happened in the lessons
  • Teachers were challenging themselves, not just coasting with their teaching
  • Experimenting with ideas from workshops

We then had about 30-40 minutes left. Each member of the senior team was in charge of an area of development we’d noticed when observing. The four areas were:

  • Feedback
  • Getting attention and monitoring
  • Brain breaks/stirrers and settlers
  • The aim of activities/where is the learning happening

The teachers were free to spend as much or as little time as they wanted with each of us, to visit all of us or stay focussed on one area, to move around as they pleased and to participate as much or as little as they wanted to (side conversations were fine!). This gave the teachers autonomy within the session.

The final area on the list was mine. If I remember rightly I had a few of the course books we used at the school. Teachers chose a book, opened it at random, and had to decide what the aim of given activities/pages in the book were. They also had to decide what help or support they perhaps needed to add to make sure that learning would definitely happen if they used that activity. This was designed to help them think more deeply about what they could and should use from the course book, how it might or might not help the students, and what scaffolding they might need to provide.

What happens at your school after observations to build on observation feedback?

A blogpost of blogposts

I use Feedly as a blog reader to collate posts from the blogs I follow. I love the simplicity of the format, and being able to see at a glance what is waiting for me to read. I generally look at it for a few minutes each day, sharing posts that I think would be useful for others on social media and bookmarking them for future reference using Diigo.

Since I started reading posts on my phone this workflow has become a little more convoluted, and I often end up emailing myself things to bookmark for later as it’s not as convenient to bookmark from my phone. This post is a collection of many of those posts as I clear out my email folder, and could serve as a good starting point if you’re looking for blogs to follow. They show a cross-section of what I read, and demonstrate just how varied the ELT blogosphere is.

On a side note, if you’ve considering starting a blog but think ‘Nobody will care what I write’, remember that there’s room for all kinds of teachers and writers, and your voice is interesting too. You never know what will click for somebody else when they read what you write. The blog is also there as notes for yourself later – I’m often surprised when I come across posts from my archive!

Happy reading!

A robot lying on a lilo, with text below

Health and wellbeing

Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar on Mental health, resilience and COVID-19, adding her own experiences too. Lizzie also recommends Rachael Robert’s webinar on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals, and shares how she has been managing her workspace and mindset while working from home. I’ve been doing inbox zero for about two months now, as recommended by Rachael in a talk I went to in January, and it’s made me feel so much better!

If mental health is important to you (and it should be!) here’s my list of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT.

Activities for very young learners and young learners

Chris Roland’s ETprofessional article on Managing online fun is full of activities and classroom management tips for working with young learners online.

Anka Zapart talks about the benefits of online classes with very young learners, many of which are applicable to young learners too. She shares a useful site with online games with VYLs and YLs, and introduced me to colourful semantics as way of extending language production for children. She also has a very clear framework for choosing craft activities which would and wouldn’t work for a VYL/YL classroom, and this example of a very reusable caterpillar craft.

Pete Clements has a lesson plan for young learners (and older ones too!) which combines all kinds of different areas: environmental awareness, drawing, used to, modals of advice…all based on a single student-generated set of materials.

Activities for teens and adults

Making excuses is a game to practice making requests and making excuses, including both online and offline variations, from Mike Astbury’s incredibly practical blog.

Jade Blue talks about the benefits of drawing to learn language, including a range of simple activities that should help students to remember vocabulary and grammar structures, and process texts they read and listen to. She also shares ideas for exploiting authentic materials, both for intensive and extensive use.

Ken Wilson has started to post English language teaching songs he and colleagues wrote and recorded in the 70s and 80s. They still seem very relevant now and could still promote a lot of discussion. The first three are What would you do? (second conditional), It makes me mad (environmental problems) and Looking forward to the day (phrasal verbs / the environment).

Rachel Tsateri shares 10 simple and practical pronunciation activities (useful for listening too).

Leo Selivan has a lesson plan based on the Coldplay and Chainsmokers song Something just like this. David Petrie using sound effects as the basis for a review of narrative tenses.

Julie Moore has written ten posts with vocabulary activities based around coronavocab. The last one has examples of phrases which learners might need to describe how coronavirus has changed their lives.

James Taylor has a lesson plan about helping students to set useful goals for their language learning. If you’re interested in making and breaking habits, you might like James Egerton’s 11 lessons from The Power of Habit (not an activity, but relevant!)

Alex Case has hundreds of resources on his blog, for example these ones demonstrating small talk using specific language points.

Hana Ticha has an activity for promoting positive group dynamics called the one who.

Cristina Cabal has eight different activities based around the topic of travel.

Online teaching

Marc Jones suggests ideas for and asks for help with speaking assessments online when your students just won’t speak.

Matthew Noble is writing a teaching diary of his fully online blended Moodle/Zoom courses, with lots of interesting insights and learning shared. Here’s the post from week two (on building group dynamics) and week five (on making sure your computer will work properly and encouraging students to have good online etiquette).

Rachel Tsateri shows how to exploit Google Jamboard as an online whiteboard, including vocabulary revision, brainstorming, and sentence structure activities.

Naomi Epstein describes the journey she went on when trying to add glossaries to reading texts for her students, and the problems she encountered when she was on a computer but they were on a phone.

John Hughes shares three ways you can exploit Zoom’s recording feature in lessons.

Teacher training

Zhenya Polosatova has been sharing a series of trainer conversations. This interview with Rasha Halat was fascinating. I also liked this parachute metaphor from a conversation with Ron Bradley.

In my trainings I like to use the example of the students taking a class on how to fold a parachute that will be used the next day to jump out of an airplane. The students tell me “It was a wonderful class—the teacher explained and showed how to fold the chute step by step. Then the camera moves to the students and they are taking notes—very engaged in the lecture. They all pass the written test. The question is, will they now be able to successfully fold their parachutes in a way that they will have a successful jump? What would you suggest that the teacher did differently? I have always loved Michael Jerald’s (my SIT TESOL Cert trainer) question(s), “What did they learn and how do you know they learned it?” Now we are talking about skills, not knowledge—and effective communication is a skill. The parachute teacher had no way of knowing that they would be successful, even though they had aced the written test. So, whether or not face-to-face or by way of video, the nature of student engagement is the most important issue. It needs to be observed!

Zhenya also wrote about a reflective activity called Four suitcases, which could be particularly useful for anyone feeling down about the current state of the world and their place in it.

Jim Fuller has recently completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. His weekly posts about the course were good reminders of what I did on my NILE MA Trainer Development course last summer, including this one on exploratory talk and observation and this one on course design and developing as a trainer.

You might also want to explore my Useful links for teacher training and consider purchasing ELT Playbook Teacher Training. 🙂

Materials writing

Pete Clements offers advice on finding work as a writer, including various smaller publishers you probably haven’t heard of.

Julie Moore talks about reviewing in ELT publishing, something which helped me get my foot in the door for occasional work with some of the big publishers.

Distractions can make the writing process much longer than it needs to be. Rachael Roberts offers tips on how to deal with them on the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MAWSIG) blog.

John Hughes has a comprehensive selection of tips on materials writing on his blog, for example this checklist for writing worksheets or these tips on writing scripts for audio recordings. Explore the blog for lots more.

Professional development

Chris R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has written an accessible beginner’s guide to task-based learning and describes one way he worked with learners to make the most of a coursebook he was using, rather than mechanically moving from one page to the next. Charlie E shares ideas for recording and recycling emergent language which pops up during a lesson, including an online variant.

In a guest post on the same blog, Kip Webster talks about the importance of explicitly teaching directness and indirectness, particularly for maintaining group dynamics, and taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during lessons. In another guest post, Miranda Crowhurst shares an excellent range of tips for using social media to advance your teaching career. (As you can see, it’s a blog well worth following!)

If you’re thinking about alternative approaches to lesson planning post-CELTA, Pete Clements talks about the steps he went through when moving towards materials-light teaching. This reflects my experience too.

Monika Bigaj-Kisala reviews Scott Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar, which helped her to change her relationship with grammar in the classroom.

Pete Clements reflects on the differences between an MA, PGCEi or DipTESOL, all of which he’s done. He also hosted a guest post from Michael Walker on the benefits of student and teacher reflection journals, particularly how it worked as an avenue for him to get regular feedback from his students which influenced future lessons.

Russ Mayne shares 5 non-evidence-based teaching tips, all of which I agree with.

Helen Chapman answers the questions Should I teach in English in Morocco? in this very comprehensive post (not necessarily professional development, but doesn’t fit anywhere else!) You might also be interested in a similar but less comprehensive post I wrote about why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations.

Questioning our practice

Philip Kerr’s posts are always thought-provoking. Mindfulness for beginners questions the strength of research behind the attention mindfulness is now receiving in education.

Russ Mayne asks should we use translation software, especially questioning its role in EAP contexts, and how we might need to update our teaching and assessment criteria to assess the inevitable student use of this ever-improving tool. He also writes about retraction in ELT and shares examples of research which has been retracted. (This BBC Inside Science episode has an interview with Stuart Ritchie which I would also recommend.)

Classrooms and coronavirus

David Petrie talks about how he helped his exam students prepare for doing speaking exams in masks.

Alex Case shares ideas for coronavirus changes for EFL classes. While this might be tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure some of them aren’t that far from things we might be seeing in our classrooms/schools over the next couple of years!

You might also be interested in my post on social distancing in the ELT classroom.

What have you been reading recently? What currently active blogs have I missed here?

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week four, the final week. Here’s week one, week two and week three.

What were the highlights of this week?

SM: As always in week 4, it was great to see so much of last week’s hard work paying off. The lessons were much better contextualised, and practice had a much clearer communicative focus, with trainees commenting in self-evaluations and feedback on the fact that lessons seemed to flow better and students were more engaged. Although this is something we discuss earlier in the course, it’s normally not until week 4 that trainees have the mental space to really think about this in their planning, and that some of them manage to conquer high levels of teacher talk and teacher-centredness. This was my favourite comment (quoted with permission):

The student focus really paid off and it was incredibly gratifying to see them figuring out problems with each other – I know they learned something from me and that’s an amazing feeling! (Terri Barker)

Language clarification was much stronger, timing tightened up with more realistic planning, and the pace of lessons improved and became more varied. It’s also great to see their teacher personalities develop as their confidence increases.

In input, I ran the YL and teen session using a project-based approach which worked even better than I’d hoped. I divided the trainees into six groups, two each for each age group (VYL, YL and teen) based on a Google Form I’d sent asking them about experience they had with each age group. I supplemented their knowledge with a list of resources for each age group, then set this task:

(Image of Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible, with the following text:) Your mission, should you choose to accept it… For your age group, answer the following questions: What are the characteristics of this age group? What can they do? What can’t they do? What kind of activities work well with them? What doesn’t work? What can go wrong in the lessons? What can you do to prevent/resolve these issues? What sources did you use to gather this information? Summarise what you learn in a method of your choice (document? slides? pictures?) in the folder. Be prepared to tell others about it. You have 45 minutes.

The presentations and documents they produced were full of great ideas. They then had fifteen minutes in new groups of three to share what they’d compiled, five minutes per person. When we came back together I told them this was project-based learning, and in the follow-up email I told them how to set up successful projects. I’ll definitely try input like this again, not least because they did all the work during the session!

Lessons from the classroom (assignment 4) is my favourite assignment, because trainees use this to reflect on their progress over the course and think about how they’ll continue to progress. It’s a fascinating insight into what they feel they’ve gained from the course, and the areas that they want to focus on after they’ve finished. I also like it because most people pass it first time, so there’s a lot less marking 🙂

SW:  I’ve watched so much development over the course and especially this week, watching them crack things that they had trouble with. The resistance that some trainees show in week 3 disappears in week 4 as they adjust to the higher level and expectations of the second half of the course. They can reset their priorities as the result of even short conversations as trainees realise what’s important. One example this week was rushing through lessons to get to the end, versus changing their planning to fit everything in more successfully. Once trainees made that switch, their lessons were so much more successful.

Everybody had good final lessons. It was fantastic watching one trainee who lacked confidence in her abilities make improvements in the final two weeks – she was a different teacher when she came out of her shell, with great rapport and better teacher presence.

How did trainees work with language during this part of the course?

SM: I continued to emphasise the fact that the bulk of lessons should be based around practice rather than teacher presentations, and there were almost none of this kind of presentation this week. Trainees commented that students know the rules but can’t apply them, making it easier for me to highlight the importance of feedback after practice activities, and clarifying why an answer/piece of language is right or wrong, not just what the ‘correct’ answer/piece of language might be.

SW: In the second half of the course, we did a lot more task-based learning. In my demo lesson at the start of week three, I showed trainees how to record emergent language and exploit it in the lesson. This meant they were working with emergent language a lot more in the second half of the course.

What teaching tips did you give teachers this week?

SM: As we had quite small groups of students and were often waiting to get extra students at the start of the lessons, I agreed with the teachers that I would start timing the lessons when they gave a signal, rather than starting automatically when there were two students. This gave them a chance to chat to the students a little before the lessons, rather than only interacting as part of the lesson itself.

In Zoom, you can click the three little dots at the bottom of the participants list and select ‘Play enter/exit chime’ or update your settings to make this the default for all meetings. This helps you to notice when somebody joins or drops out of the meeting, without having to double-check the list.

When you’re sharing documents, you can make them quite small on your screen and still have other things open to work on. For example, have the PowerPoint slides in one corner, the videos underneath and a document to the side to type into. Then share only the PowerPoint rather than the whole screen.

I reminded the trainees that videos and microphones don’t always need to be on, and encouraged them to switch off when reading things in input, and to suggest it to the students during reading and listening tasks during lessons. This makes a difference to the dynamic in the lesson as it gives students some space to process what they’re seeing/hearing.

I also continued to encourage trainees to really think about when to share their screen and when not to. All of my group successfully managed to run some activities without any slides, including much greater use of the chatbox, mini whiteboards/pieces of paper (especially for pronunciation features), and even just speaking (which we often seem to forget!)

SW: gyazo.com is a screen sharing piece of software – you take a screen shot and get a link which you can share instantly. This helped the students who couldn’t take screen shots.

It’s important to think about formatting – not everybody has access to Microsoft. We need to consider that students might not be able to or know how to open things we send them. We recommended pdfs and screen shots throughout our course.

What did you tell trainees about the next steps?

SM: In the jobs session, we talked about the fact that the market is currently very competitive. In another year, CELTA graduates might find a job quite quickly, but now there are a lot of experienced teachers who are also looking for work. Not getting offered an interview isn’t necessarily about trainees not being suitable, but more about the fact that it feels like much more of an employer’s market at the moment as there are so many teachers looking for work. It’s important to persevere and not give up.

SW: At the end of every CELTA course we talk about what life after the course is like. It’s harder right now to prepare trainees for the world after the course as we don’t know what it will look like, and what opportunities and problems they might have. Throughout the course I did a lot of work telling them about the difference between the online and the face-to-face classroom. This week I did the CPD session and the job session, talking about how to get support in post-CELTA jobs, but there’s so much more uncertainty than before. We don’t know how trainees will get support if the only work they can find is teaching fully online as freelancers and they never have the support of a staffroom.

Within a couple of years of working full-time in the past, you’d know grammar and understand it yourself if you were getting support. But now we don’t know how the first two years will shape up if schools are thinking about being online more than supporting the teachers with that? New teachers need to prompt senior teachers to keep sharing ideas in an online school.

How did you end the course?

SM: After their final TPs, I always ask peers to reflect on how each teacher has improved over the four weeks of the course. This time, I added a row to the Google Docs they’ve completed in peer feedback each day, asking them to identify what they’ve learnt from watching that teacher. The positive, supportive comments were fantastic 🙂

Throughout Friday I had a few opportunities for individual chats with trainees in my TP group, and heard some lovely messages about what they’d gained from the course and from getting feedback during observations.

Friday night at the end of a CELTA is normally my favourite part of the whole course. We tend to go out for a meal, and that’s when I really feel like I get to know the trainees, because they’re no longer worried about passing the course is being assessed. It provides some kind of closure. We had a final 30-minute session after their unassessed TP finished, with the main course tutor setting us a couple of ‘treasure hunt’ tasks. We had to find a piece of headgear, then a timepiece, in each case describing what it was and why we’d picked it. This was a fun bit of movement for the final session. We then shared memories in the chatbox, and we’d taken a group photo/screenshot in the morning. After all the trainees left, I spent a couple of minutes chatting to my colleagues, but I have to say it felt like a bit of an anti-climax when I closed Zoom at 6pm. I took myself out for food and spent the evening with friends, but it wasn’t the same. That’s the one thing I’ve really missed with doing the online course.

SW: After we finished the admin, we took a group photo and chatted for a bit, including sharing memories and ideas. The trainees planned a virtual wine and cheese party together. There was some closure, but I feel like we needed some kind of closing activity. It felt strange ending the course because it felt somewhat sudden. Some of the trainees sent me a message after we finished, which was really lovely.

If I run an online course again, I’d like to put more thought into a closing activity, for example doing something social online together with the trainees at the end of the course. I think this should create a better sense of the ending of the course.

What do you think 100% online trainees will need support with when they go into a physical classroom?

SM: As somebody who employs a lot of post-CELTA trainees, I need the fact that trainees were on a fully online course on the report so I know what training to give.

The main areas I think trainees will need support with are:

  • teacher presence in a physical classroom
  • monitoring when everybody is talking at once
  • using the space in the room
  • including movement in the lessons (though this is also true online!)
  • teaching using paper/physical coursebooks e.g. pointing to the exercise on the page while giving instructions
  • choosing when and when not to use the whiteboard

SW: CELTA graduates will need support with realising that the physical classroom is not that different to the online classroom. They’re going to feel different sitting in front of a group of people, or standing up with people in front of them, but this is a confidence issue rather than a problem. They could observe a group from the back of a room to see what’s the same or different. Identify what’s the same in a physical classroom, for example breakout rooms is the same as moving chairs to set up pair work. The videos they’ve seen are mostly in physical classrooms, but real-life observation could be useful.

Monitoring and pair work are different, but once CELTA graduates see it in action and do it themselves a couple of times they’ll feel much more confident. The skills are the same – instead of ‘turn off your camera’, they have to sit there and not interrupt. It’s a modified version of what they’ve already done.

Board use could be an area to work on, but people use PowerPoint in the physical classroom too. Planning a PowerPoint means they’ve thought about their board work before the lesson and how to lay everything out. Another important area is different ways of doing feedback, especially if they’ve only taught quite small groups online.

What should we consider when training online? What do we need support with as trainers?

SM: Trainers still need support and training in learning how to use the platform successfully so they can pass on this knowledge to their trainees. In input, if trainers don’t know techniques, they can’t demonstrate them to trainees. I feel like although there has been a little support, trainers have mostly been expected to figure it out for themselves, and are only one step ahead of their trainees in some cases. On the flip side, this has forced us all to be creative and I believe it has injected a level of excitement into courses which might have been run in a very similar way for a long time.

As time goes on, we need to remember to describe and exemplify the parts of our online teaching which have become natural and second nature, in the same way as we would in a physical classroom. This is particularly important online as trainees can’t see what we’re doing, whereas they might be able to pick things up from just watching us in an offline classroom – we need to comment on this to make it clearer to them.

Many people are feeling screen fatigue, especially this summer. I think it’s hard to get students who will commit to the lessons (though this can be true offline too!) Perhaps somebody could create a central database where students can sign up and trainers can tell them about courses. (Sorry that this won’t be me!)

SW: We need to remember that it’s not really that different. CELTA online is not a whole different course – there are so many similarities to the offline version. We’re still doing the same things as trainers. We still want trainees to do the same things. We need to keep looking at what matches up between online and offline. Technology can be an issue for some trainees and trainers, but it’s definitely something that can be learnt. Both Sandy and I have watched trainees over the past month who’d never used PowerPoint or other technology before the course, and are using the technology in a way that doesn’t stop them from demonstrating they are perfectly good teachers at the end of the course.

Because the course is online, we can market it to trainees and TP students anywhere, not just in the town or city where the course is based, but also (for example) people in villages who might not have known about courses before.

If we use a model of combined synchronous and asynchronous provision, the idea that you have to show huge amounts of learning into a crammed four-week course while you put your life on hold and (often) move to a new place no longer holds true. That idea can make the course seem impossible to some people, but an online or blended CELTA makes it feel more possible. Flipping the course completely could allow more time for feedback, if trainers have time to create the input to prepare such a course.

Time management is another area where trainers might need support. Everything takes longer in input, as it does in lesson. What are our priorities? How can we tighten our sessions up? How can we make them more efficient?

When will you run your next course?

SM: I only do one CELTA course a year, so I won’t be doing another one until at least next summer. At present it’s impossible to say if that will be online or face-to-face, and what kind of protective measures we will need by then. Right now I’ve got a few weeks holiday, then it’s back into my other life as a Director of Studies and working out what our school will look like from September.

SW: I’m going into a face-to-face course next week. I’d thought of everything except for passing things around between trainees, then asked myself ‘What if it’s paperless?’ Now I’ve done a course online I realise that a paperless course is possible. We’ll have an online portfolio, an online CELTA 5, and have handouts on a shared drive or email them to trainees. It’s easier for assessors too because they don’t have to chase things up – everything is more easily available for them. Trainees can email handouts to students the day before and students need to bring a computer/tablet for the lesson. If they need a pen, they have to take it from a pre-set box at the door, then return it to a different box. Pens will be sanitised before and after the lessons. We did this for IELTS exams I’ve been running, so I know it works. With all of these innovations, we don’t need to pass this things around, and thereby reduce the risk of infection. We’ll also be wearing masks throughout and using face shields.

How do you feel about online CELTA now?

SM: It’s definitely here to stay. The course was just as vigorous, just as useful, and just as successful as the fully face-to-face version I’m used to, and I’d be happy to employ graduates of fully online courses (not something I would have said in March). I think that the future is probably a blended course, with 3 hours of face-to-face TP and 3 hours online (I seem to remember reading that there’s a centre which is already doing this, but can’t remember where), with a mix of input online and offline.

SW: I wasn’t convinced about online CELTAs at the start, but now I’m a convert. We’re doing the same thing and the criteria are still relevant. I made sure to let what’s important in the face-to-face classroom guide my messages about what’s important in the online classroom, especially monitoring. I feel strongly that we should be monitoring and grouping in similar ways to the offline environment. You allow students to be in pairs and groups online for the same reasons as you do offline, and you don’t sit in breakout rooms all the time hovering over them, just as you wouldn’t stand over students in the classroom. I’m coming away from the course feeling like we’re sending a solid group of teachers out into the world.

That seems like the perfect note to end this mini-series on. Thanks very much to Stephanie for agreeing to meet me each Saturday to compare notes. It’s been fascinating learning about how everything is the same same, but different when running an online CELTA. I’ll be interested to see how teacher training continues to develop and evolve as the world settles into new patterns over the next few years, and to what extent the online CELTA model is part of that.

Nadia Ghauri was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Yawen’s post appeared yesterday). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Nadia!

Make no mistake, doing the CELTA course ‘online’ did not make it any less ‘intense’! In fact, that will eternally remain one of the defining features of this course. Initially, when I was notified that the course would be moving online, I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to meeting people ‘in real life’ and the physical classroom experience. I quickly came to realise, however, that it was becoming increasingly important to develop my skills in a virtual environment. No one can predict what the world will look like at the other end of the pandemic, including the world of EFL teaching. I realised it was important to be as open-minded as possible to adapting and learning about how I can do things from my own home. What’s more, the ‘virtual’ teaching skills and knowledge that I am now equipped with are, of course, transferrable to physical workspaces. The spectrum of lifelong communicative, organisational and planning skills will be useful for any career path that I pursue.

 

One of my biggest tips for doing the online CELTA is to keep organised and arrange your notes every evening. The CELTA trainee guide that is emailed before the course suggests 12 headings for notes. I naively thought this was a bit much…only to find myself adding ‘Assignments’ and subfolders too! Although I had a physical folder I did not use it much and just shoved in a few odd papers. Bookmarking also becomes your new best friend. Back your computer’s files onto a cloud or a memory stick as this avoids any scares when technology decides to mess with you. Having named folders from the get-go made it a lot easier to sift through my notes when doing assignments and uploading documents to the Cambridge ‘moodle’. It also means that when I start teaching and want to get hold of a useful resource, it will be easier to navigate through the abundant materials that the trainers generously shared with us.

Secondly, a huge tip is recognise that the virtual CELTA is both a personal and shared learning curve! You’re meant to be making mistakes from start to finish. I remember in week 3 when I switched to teaching the Upper Intermediate group I suddenly felt that the progress I had built up in the first two weeks had come crashing down. In fact, this was an integral part of my personal growth which also helped other trainees to learn about what sorts of things they should do or avoid. There’s also the notorious technical issues to which we have to adapt. I had my fair share of breakout room backfires but as a result I’m a lot more confident in using them and think they’re essential for group learning! The change in both students and TP tutor halfway through stretched me in new and different ways that further enriched my learning experience. It was also more reflective of real-life teaching because it’s inevitable that at some point you will teach different levels, have to work with new staff and adapt to different kinds of problems. Being exposed to different teaching methods and feedback styles widens our understanding of ourselves, each other and the demands of teaching. Spoiler alert – in week 4 there is no magical moment where everyone’s lessons culminate in perfection (though I did find all 5 of my fellow trainees’ final lessons marvellous). However, it was amazing to look back and see just how much progress we had made in less than a month! The CELTA course gives you the firm foundations for teaching English, but it for us to decide how we build upon these! Learning to teach is an experiential process that I don’t think ever ends. The trainers are there to help you and now I realise that sometimes when they pushed us, it was because they wanted to get the best out of us! I was so grateful for the time and support my trainers gave me, especially when I emailed them at some rather unholy hours!

My third tip is to take time out! When doing a virtual course there is an extra strain on us because we are sat in front of a screen hours on end. I found a number of great yoga videos on YouTube for stretching out afterwards. I also avoided screen-time as much as possible in my precious free time. CELTA also floods you with a lot of information day in day out. Our brains need time to process this, so try and get a decent night’s sleep! (Admittedly, I started having CELTA-themed dreams week 2 onwards!) On the weekends I would meet up with friends, go for a run or cycle just so that that I could have a bit of a breather physically and mentally. It’s also a great idea to have a WhatsApp group with fellow trainees. As we weren’t all physically in the same place, it was a lot harder to socialise compared to normal or know how others were finding the course. At the start in particular, I couldn’t tell if it was just me or not who was feeling quite overwhelmed with the workload. Reaching out to others and having a small chat with them beyond the training hours is a good way to build up a super support system and to boost morale!

One of the biggest things I have enjoyed is the opportunity to have met and worked with trainees and learners living across the globe be it Peru, Poland, Kyrgyzstan or Hong Kong! Meeting all sorts of wonderful people is definitely one of the biggest perks of doing the course. You may even be lucky enough to get 18 people across 3 different time zones singing happy birthday to you (at least we can blame bandwidth for it being a little off-key…!) Overall, the online CELTA has been an invaluable experience and I am excited to see where it takes me and my fellow trainees.

Nadia has recently finished her BA in languages. Fuelled by tea, she loves trying out new foods, meeting people and discovering new places, preferably all at the same time!

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!

My experience

I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.

Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.

At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)

By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.

Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.

There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.

Tips

  1. Do exactly what trainers say

The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.

  1. Manage your time and materials

You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!

  1. Prepare the materials you need

I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.

  1. Watch your diet and sleep

When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).

  1. Find some help and don’t be alone

People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.

I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

I first met Martin Bloomfield when I was a trainer on summer courses at York Associates. I’ve seen him in action doing presentations and running an incredibly engaging guided tour of York, and can spend hours talking to him 🙂 I’ve been watching his Dyslexia Bytes community grow over the past few years, and am very happy that Martin agreed to share the story of the site with you here.

What is your own experience with dyslexia and how has it affected your teaching?

In a way, being dyslexic made me want to become a teacher! As an unrecognised dyslexic, I’d had so many horrible experiences at school that affected me so negatively as a child (and therefore into adulthood) that one of my reasons for going into education was to retrospectively somehow “right those wrongs”! I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way that I’d done.

I found school life completely dis-spiriting. Childhood is supposed to be the best time of your life and my overwhelming memories of school (where I spent most of my childhood) are miserable, suffocating, demeaning, humiliating, terrifying, and genuinely heartbreaking. No child should have to go through that. And my memories aren’t unique – you ask just about any dyslexic person, and they’ll tell you the same. Education has to change.

But there were other ways it affected me as a teacher – when I was working as a Business English teacher in Germany, I noticed that a lot of intelligent students I came into contact with hadn’t been doing very well in their lessons, and I recognised my own dyslexia signs in them… so I taught them appropriately to how I wish I’d been taught, and their results went up! This led to the school asking me to give some dyslexia awareness workshops to the other teachers, and that was really the start of my deeper engagement with the subject – twenty years ago. It gave me a very student-centred perspective, always keeping in my heart the sensitivity that not “getting something” when learning is an emotional and psychological issue, at least as much as it is a learning issue.

How widespread is dyslexia?

Did you know different countries define dyslexia differently, and even some countries – such as those with a federal state system – have different official definitions within their own boundaries? And then, within these definitions, different organisations around the world apply different measurements to dyslexia.

This is important because these two facts lead to vastly different understandings of dyslexia, vastly different figures for how many dyslexic people there are in the world (Turkey puts it at 0.05% of the population; while Nigeria puts it at 33% of the population), and hence vastly different national, governmental, and social approaches to dyslexia. If we took those two extremes in global terms, for instance, we’d have to conclude that somewhere between 3,750,000 people and 2,497,500,000 people have dyslexia worldwide. This would equate to a difference in estimates of 2,493,750,000 – nearly two and a half billion people – more or less the combined populations of China and India! And with such differing views of what dyslexia is, there follow different approaches to the law, to funding, to education, to social programmes, to awareness raising, and to workplace accommodations.

Dyslexia does not “belong” to the Anglo-American world; yet almost all research and perspectives are focused on the Anglosphere, and carry with them Anglo-American “white” cultural biases and preconceptions. This risks marginalising BAME dyslexics, and the different impacts dyslexia has on cultures whose language is non-alphabetic, or whose cultures involve interactions which will be differently affected by dyslexia.

What is Dyslexia Bytes and how did it start?

Dyslexia Bytes is an online “one-stop shop” to show an international, intercultural perspective on what dyslexia is. It acts as an information resource about dyslexia facts and statistics, helping people understand what executive function difficulties dyslexic people have, what benefits research shows dyslexic thinking to have, and how educators, businesses, and law-makers can understand dyslexia from a variety of viewpoints.

It began life as a way of bringing together people from around Europe who had attended my SEN (dyslexia, autism, ADHD) workshops and training courses to allow them to exchange experiences once they got “back to work”. There’s a Facebook Dyslexia Bytes group open to anyone who wants to join, that can act as a space for such discussions! It quickly developed into a dyslexia awareness resource website, with key tips on understanding dyslexia, weekly video releases (also available on a YouTube channel) to inspire conversations, and even a Twitter presence!

Martin has worked in the field of intercultural ethics and dyslexia awareness for twenty years, speaking in front of the British Government, the British Swiss Chambers of Commerce, departments of International Trade, and international conferences worldwide. He holds visiting lecturer positions at universities in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland, trains teachers from around the European Union, and is currently authoring a chapter for a major publication on Innovative Teaching for Early Years Education.

He was a top three finalist in the Bank of England Innovation in Enterprise awards, initiated and presented the UK’s annual Dyslexia In Business award, is a finalist in the 2020 British Council Innovation in ELT awards, and sits on various international advisory committees for inclusion and neurodiversity. Currently driving pan-European projects to provide a consistent and interculturally-acceptable measuring tool for dyslexia assessment across the EU, and to provide free online Special Educational Needs training to schools around the continent, Martin runs the Dyslexia Bytes project, and is also completing his PhD at the University of York, England.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyslexia, I would definitely recommended exploring Dyslexia Bytes for yourself. Two other useful resources I’ve regularly used are ‘Special Educational Needs’ by Marie Delaney and Jon Hird’s website. You might also be interested in the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG).

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.

Here are eight of my favourite sessions from previous IH Teachers’ Online Conferences. They cover various areas of working with:

  • very young learners/VYL (aged 2-6)
  • young learners/YL (aged 7-12)
  • teens (aged 13-16)

There are tips for classroom management and activity ideas, both for online and offline teaching.

All of them take less than 20 minutes to watch, and are full of useful ideas.

Routines in the VYL classroom

Lisa Wilson, IH Palermo

Time: 18:28

Very young learners

Dorka Brozik, IH Moscow

Time: 13:46

VYLs – what works well with them in a digital classroom

Justyna Mikulak, Lacunza IH San Sebastian

Time: 17:25

Engaging kids through Zoom

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, IH Pescara

Time: 16:57

Ideas for YL vocabulary activities involving movement

Shannon Thwaites, IH Reggio Calabria

Time: 13:44

Implementing classroom management procedures (YLs and teens)

Glenn Standish, IH Torun

Time: 16:26

Class contracts

Estelle Helouin, IH London

Time: 12:11

Ways to ungrumpify and motivate teenage learners

Rachel Hunter – IH Torun

Time: 11:40

ih logo

The IH World YouTube channel has lots more webinars where these came from. Which ones are your favourites?

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week three. Here’s week one and week two.

Why is it a slog?

SM: Week three is often the most challenging one on any full-time CELTA course, especially one where you change groups halfway through the course. Sometimes you change groups more often but most courses I’ve worked on just change once in the middle. Everybody gets the changeover blues. You often have new language students to work with (though sometimes you’re with the same students throughout) and a new group of trainees. The trainees have to get used to you and you to them. The change in level can come as quite a shock for some trainees. They feel comfortable with the first level, in our case pre-intermediate, and working with students who expect something completely different of them can really knock their self-confidence. This is also when we’re starting to expect trainees to become more independent, and this can also knock their confidence or make them feel stressed.

Week three is when everything feels like it’s happening at the same time. Everybody has assignments to submit, and lessons to work on in more detail, and it feels like your brain is full and has no space for any more information from input. It’s like a sponge which can’t take in any more water.

For trainers, it’s also a challenging week because we have to manage the changeover and the expectations of trainees, as well as keeping students coming to the lessons. We also have to continue our preparation for input sessions, mark assignments, work with trainees on assignments which need to be resubmitted, and particularly with any trainees who are not making the expected progress. It’s always a long week. This weekend [as of Friday night] I still have to finish TP feedback from Friday and send it, mark 6 assignments and 3 assignment resubmissions, plan my input sessions for next week, or at least know which ones need more work, and prepare some tutorial documents. [Sunday update – I got everything done except the input, but finished at 23.25 to make sure I would have a full day off!]

We have TP at the end of the day. When a trainee needs more help, it takes more time to do feedback, particularly making sure that you’re highlighting the most important areas for them to work on and not overwhelming them. Thankfully I only got behind on feedback on Thursday, when I sent one lot of TP feedback at the end of the day, not the morning as I usually do.

SW: Week three was full of long days, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve hit a wall because there’s so much to get done. I was definitely feeling exhausted at certain points through the week. Our TP is in the morning, and I usually get TP feedback by the end of lunch, but had one day when I couldn’t do it until the end of the day because everything was taking longer.

There were a lot of resubmissions on our course this week, meaning trainees were feeling quite stressed. They can ask me questions by email, and often did this at very odd hours of the day and night. I spent a lot of time reassuring them and being clear about what I can and can’t tell them for their assignments, but also had to be clear that to stay healthy myself I can’t reply to them in the evenings because I need to have a break from work. 

The changeover is challenging as different trainers naturally give slightly different advice. You have to develop a rapport and a feeling of trust with your new TP group, and show them what your expectations are. For example, when there are only a few students in class, my colleague has left small groups in the main room and suggested teachers switch their cameras off to monitor, whereas I’ve suggested that trainees still put students into breakout rooms. I think this better helps them to learn to monitor appropriately, know when to move in and out of the rooms, and consider when to intervene and when to close the rooms. [SM: I’ve emailed trainees to tell them we’re going to use this approach next week if we don’t have many students – Stephanie has mentioned it every week, but I hadn’t done anything about it until now. One trainee put students into a BOR when there were only three of them, and another commented that this gives the activity a clearer start and end point, which I agree with.]

How do you cope with spending so much time in front of the computer?

SM: As a manager I already spend a lot of my time in front of a computer. Obviously this increased in March, but apart from adding an occasional online lesson, it wasn’t that much of a difference for me. The online CELTA is definitely a lot of computer time, especially this week, but that’s also fairly normal for me as I’ve always typed my feedback and have all my input sessions on my computer. In some ways I think I have less eye strain because I don’t have to keep focusing on the classroom and then my computer repeatedly. I can also move around more easily if I start to get stiff. Having said that I’m getting a slight pain in my neck from turning my head to the right all the time to look at the lesson on my second screen. I also have achey eyes at the end of this week from the long days.

I try to manage the physical effects by taking regular breaks. I have a piece of software which reminds me regularly to spend one minute or 5 minutes away from the computer when I’m not in sessions. I look away from the screen and out the window to refocus my eyes. I also do stretches as often as I can, mostly on my hands and my back. I have my phone set on night mode and try to use dictation when I can (including for my parts of this post) to rest my eyes and my hands. The biggest challenge I’ve had is that my days this week have been longer than normal. I think I have had three 11-hour days, finishing late in the evening. The quality of my sleep has been affected a little though thankfully not too much. The main problem is not being able to get back to sleep if I wake up in the night because I haven’t had time to process the day before I go to bed – I find myself making mental to do lists or planning blog posts 😉

SW: In a previous career I spent a lot of time on the computer, so I’ve had experience of long periods of screen time, but this is quite different from my recent experience because I’m normally in front of people moving around a lot. CELTA is normally the most sedentary thing I do, especially sitting during observations. An online CELTA is less strenuous on my back because I can move around when I’m observing because my camera is off. I can sit, stand, move or stretch as I need to. For half of the day, I’m not stuck in a chair so in some ways it’s easier than a face-to-face CELTA.

I need a gap between concentrating on anything and sleeping, so I make sure I have a clear two hours with no work before bedtime. That helps me to relax and means that I sleep better, though I work early in the morning and at most free minutes during the day to get everything done (that’s normal for CELTA though!).

How did you manage Stage 2 tutorials?

SM: We had no inputs on Monday morning of week three. On Friday we scheduled 30-minute meetings with our trainees, and they joined our TP room when it was time to meet. I prepared all of my grades using this template, and put my comments into a separate document ready to copy and paste. The trainees filled in their ideas of their grades on Moodle before we met. As we would face-to-face, we worked through the criteria, discussing any differences between their self-assessment and my assessment. They wrote the areas they think they need to work on in the second half of the course into the chat on Zoom, while I uploaded my comments to the Moodle (so we weren’t both editing at the same time). We then discussed the comments, with specific ideas for how to work on any problem areas, and signed off on the tutorial.

SW: Our tutorials happened on Tuesday afternoon as we started TP1 slightly later than on Sandy’s course. I had 20-minute tutorials instead of one input. The second input was slightly shorter to give us time to do this. I told the trainees when to join me on Zoom. I’d already pre-written my list of grades and notes for the last page. We have everything on Google Drive, include a version of the CELTA 5 document which we can edit. Trainees download it, fill it in, then upload it again. I download it, fill my parts in then upload it again. Unfortunately we can’t both use the same document at exactly the same time because the formatting messes up in the file version we have. Normally I start with the criteria, but this time I talked about final page first, then went through the criteria with them, pasted my comments, talked about any issues they had, then uploaded the final version to Drive. When one trainee hadn’t filled in the criteria on their CELTA 5, I sent them away to do it and they came back at the end after the rest of the tutorials. On a face-to-face course, I normally do tutorials with teachers ABC one day and DEF on the next day, but doing them all on the same day was fine.

SM and SW: In the tutorials we both found that trainees all marked 5A (“arranging the physical features of the classroom appropriately for teaching and learning, bearing in mind safety regulations of the institution”) as N (not applicable), but we both believe that Zoom still has features which can be exploited, just like a physical classroom does, and there are still safety regulations (for example issues with Zoombombing). As trainers, we need to check we’re applying criteria in the same way on Zoom as we do on a face-to-face course.

What worked this week?

SM: This week I experimented with an input which was based completely around a Google Doc. I had one document with activities to work through to help trainees understand present tenses in English. The answers were in a box under each activity in white text so that the trainees could be self-sufficient. I also added some clues in white which they could use if they wanted to, and some little summaries inspired by Michael Lewis. I put trainees in pairs with one second- and one first-language English speaker in each breakout room, gave them the document link and left them to it for just over an hour. My role was to monitor progress and intervene if they were having problems. As expected, one pair managed all of the activities, some only managed two or three, and others managed about two thirds. In our brief feedback afterwards we talked about how knowing a language includes procedural and descriptive knowledge and that it was useful to work with each other to fill the gaps. It was great to hear how excited people got when they realised that they had understood something which they had originally found quite challenging. I got some positive feedback after the session as trainees enjoyed being able to work at their own speed and get and give support to each other. It took a while to prepare, even though I had materials to adapt, but I can now reuse this session every time I want to work on present tenses from now on (on a face-to-face course too).

My CPD input always involves setting up assignment 4 and talking for a bit about my career, then sharing a list of resources which trainees can explore in the rest of the session. They can also ask me questions about any area which they can’t see covered on the list. This always seems to work well as everyone can explore what they’re interested in, and I think it transferred well online.

I continued using the same feedback strategy of trainees working with a Google Doc in pairs, and realised this is useful for quotes from peers for Assignment 4 reflecting on the course. Listening to what Stephanie does though, I realise that when we come back together it’s me lecturing and summarising – quite trainer-centred!

SW: I’ve been using Padlet in feedback, with trainees making notes during the lesson. I tell them before TP what the three lesson focuses are and what their observation task is. During feedback they do a carousel in breakout rooms in pairs, so each teacher speaks to three observers and can ask questions. Looking at Padlet gives them feedback from everybody. Then we have 15-20 minutes to talk about things together. Teachers do a summary of what they’ve heard when we come back together, and I fill in any gaps. I ask any questions if there’s anything they missed, for example: What do you think about the pronunciation focus? This works well because they’re doing all the summarising.

It was interesting hearing a discussion between trainees and students this week about how weird it is having 3 consecutive lessons with 3 different teachers. We’re so used to it as trainers, sometimes we forget it could be an odd format for other people!

What challenges did you have this week?

SM: In a classroom-based CELTA, if one trainee has very high unnecessary teacher talking time, I get them to agree on an action their colleagues can do while observing to highlight that they should stop talking, for example fingers on lips or putting their hand up. This normally drastically reduces their TTT within two or three lessons. It’s harder to do this kind of thing online, though perhaps trainees could private message each other. This doesn’t work in breakout rooms though as you can only publicly message there.

At this stage on a course, trainees can get very wrapped up in their own lessons and feel like they have to do everything themselves. I think it’s important to remind them that when teaching three lessons, they should know what the other two teachers are doing, and how all three lessons might fit together for the students as one lesson, not three. Some trainees also need to be encouraged to ask for help from each other, which is good practice for working in a supportive staffroom and for sharing classes with other teachers.

Week three is when I often find myself having individual meetings with some trainees to help with real problem areas they haven’t been able to get a handle on yet, or to boost their confidence to get them through the last part of the course. This week I had three 30-minute meetings with trainees at the end of the day, and one meeting on Saturday to help people with things that I would normally do in between sessions on a face-to-face course. It’s much harder to deal with things in little bites as you go along – everything needs scheduling and organising.

To support trainees with resubmissions, I gave them one hour before input when they could schedule meetings to discuss their assignments if they wanted to. To help trainees understand how to choose activities for the Focus on the Learner assignment, I talked to them about remedial tutorials we have at our school: teachers have to choose an area for the tutorial and give the tutorial teacher an activity to do. This worked really well and I think it helped them to understand the kind of exercises it’s useful to choose. As a trainer, it’s harder to ask colleagues little questions about assignments as you go along. You end up saving up all the questions for one big meeting, again generally at the end of the day/week.

SW: Trainees can’t just grab you for quick questions between sessions. I get an email in the morning but can’t look at it until the end of the day, so rather than solving a problem in those little minutes in between, trainees are left waiting all day. Next time I do an online course, I think I’ll have office hours so trainees can make an appointment if they want to speak to me about something.

When there were low student numbers, I asked trainees to help in a speaking lesson, the same as I would in a face-to-face classroom. 

An input session that works really well offline about minimal materials and which is normally interactive and fun ended up being a slide show. I was tired from marking and got sidetracked by trying to do a running dictation online and forgot about what I needed to do with the rest of the session! They still learnt about the activities, but didn’t try anywhere near as many as I would normally do with them.

What tips do you have/did you give?

SM: A couple of things I’ve told trainees:

  • Make sure you ‘clear all drawings’ after you use the annotate function on Zoom if you’re still sharing, as otherwise they’ll show up on the next slide. If you stop sharing, they’ll disappear.
  • Think about when to screen share and when not to. It’s easier to discuss things when there’s no slide on the screen, especially for students who are on a phone or tablet.

SW: You should still use breakout rooms, even if there are only one or two students in the lesson. This gives them space, in a way that just you having your camera off doesn’t do.

Question: Who wrote this?
 
My natural instinct is always to go to the board, and I seem to end up spending a relatively long amount of time there. The students’ eyes glaze over, and they end up none the wiser. My explanation normally includes example sentences, perhaps timelines or pictures if relevant. I use concept checking questions, and I always have some kind of context, or at least I’m pretty sure I do.
 
Answer: me in January 2013, after I’d been teaching for five years in pretty supportive environments with professional development!
One of the things I love about my blog is seeing how I’ve developed as a teacher over time. I came across this post when I was looking for something else, and I’d completely forgotten I ever wrote it.
The irony is that about four days ago, I wrote Mistakes trainees make in CELTA TP (teaching practice) in which I said:

SPEND 10 MINUTES LECTURING STUDENTS ABOUT GRAMMAR

That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.

Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.

Clearly I knew that it was a problem seven years ago, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Things have changed though (I hope!) One of the trainees who observed my demo lesson two days ago said something like:

I’m worried because your lesson was so student-centred and you didn’t talk very much. I always talk a lot because teaching in [my country] is about telling the students everything.

We have a lot of work to do to help teachers move away from the idea that teaching = lecturing. Just do a search for ‘teacher’ and look at the range of stock photos you see. Here’s one:

blackboard-1299841_1280

(We’ll ignore the fact she looks like isn’t wearing any shoes!)

We need to see and show a lot more examples of students working with teachers in a less teacher-fronted way. Some of the videos here might help, though some of them also have teacher-fronted work.

What else can we do in initial training and when working with new teachers? How can we help them move past the images of teaching they have in their heads from media and from their apprenticeship of observation?

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week two. Here’s week one.

Do you feel you have bonded with the group in the way that you would on a face-to-face course?

SM: As I am working on a large course and have not done very many input sessions, I feel like I only really know my TP group. This is not that unusual for a CELTA course in my experience, as you spend so much more time with the teachers you are observing.

I observed sessions on the first two days because I didn’t have any input until Wednesday of week one. This was partly to see how online input sessions might work, but also to give me an idea of all of the trainees because I suspected this might be an issue. I have also talked to the other trainers about all of the trainees, so I feel I know a little about them. However it’s nowhere near as much as if it was face-to-face because you don’t have those little chats in between sessions.

I noticed when I was doing the first input session of the week that when I went in to break out rooms for the first group task, the teachers were having a chat about their weekend (input morning, TP afternoon). I think that the first session should perhaps include an opportunity for the trainees to chat with each other as they are missing that on this course – social time needed. ask us for extensions – CELTA is not the end of the world

 

On the other hand, I feel like I know my TP group better than normal because we are dealing with their everyday lives in the background. For example, we have talked about their children when we’ve seen or heard them, and discussed things you can see in their home behind them.

SW: That was one of my big surprises of the week – we ARE bonding. There’s almost more intimacy because you’re staring at each other’s faces and there’s no escape. We have TP in the morning and input in the afternoons. I normally open up breakout rooms 15 minutes before the first session. I leave my camera on so they know I’m still there but have my mike off. That was especially important this week when I was supporting trainees through the challenges of the end of week two. They can chat together, but they know whether I’m at the computer or not so are aware that I might be listening.

Week two is often exhausting and overwhelming, both for the trainees and the trainers. In one input session towards the end of the week, I gave the trainees thirty minutes to vent and to share with each other. Some of them had got to the stage where they didn’t want to have their cameras of microphones on because they were so overwhelmed. I let them talk to each other, but also encouraged them, and reminded them to wait until they’d slept to make any big decisions about what they’d do next. This point in the course is always challenging, and we were still able to help each other. 

How do you stay connected to your co-trainer(s)?

SM: What I miss most is socialising with the other trainers during the course though – I’m normally ‘on holiday’ while doing the course, using the opportunity to explore a new place. My co-trainers are either in the same position, or (adopted) locals who are happy to show me around. However, there are lots of similarities to a face-to-face course. It’s the first time I’ve worked with both of my colleagues, though they’ve often worked together before. As a freelancer joining a course, I always have lots of questions. tech support + making templates, I enjoy the fact that (as in any good team) we’re able to share the different areas of knowledge. My co-trainers have done the course online before and are much more experienced CELTA trainers in general. I can bring my experience of teaching on Zoom over the last few months, and my confidence with technology.

Our trainees are all teaching pre-intermediate using the same TP points. During lessons, we can WhatsApp to discuss the lessons if we need to. This is made much easier because we’re all watching the ‘same’ lessons at the same time – we don’t need to describe the TP points to each other. We’ve also started sharing other things in WhatsApp: photos out the window, bits of information about what we’re doing in the evening, or what we did yesterday – all the things you would normally chat about. 

SW: I’ve worked with my colleague on one course before, and I trained him up originally, so we know a bit about how we both work. We have one online meeting a week, and keep in touch on WhatsApp apart from that. This feels quite different to the constant communication you have on a face-to-face course, every time you’re in the trainers’ office before, after and between TPs. It also feels different outside work, as part of the experience of being a freelancer generally includes socialising with other freelancers, as Sandy described above.

What effect has being online had on your input sessions?

SM: In the first week I only had two input sessions and one video observation with a few minutes for a little input afterwards. I did two phonology sessions which I decided to completely rewrite. This obviously took a while! I based it on mistakes I had observed in the demo lessons with the pronunciation of the words ‘squirrel’ and ‘bear’. I think I will share these input sessions on the blog soon as I was very pleased with how they worked – to time, hitting all the important points, and having a noticeable effect in my trainees’ TPs. 🙂 

This week I had a session on vocabulary which I had also rewritten because my views on what it is important to know about in the vocabulary session have changed in the last couple of years since I did the input my previous CELTA course. This took me 4 hours on Sunday night, creating new materials for the session, getting bogged down in materials from old versions of it, overplanning it, then boiling it down and writing the handout. Then the first two activities both took twice as long as planned, so I ended up ditching two activities anyway. I still think the trainees came away with most of what they needed as the two things that went were a revision of lesson stages and planning activities from upcoming lessons (though obviously it would have been nice to still have these).

 

The other input session I have done is authentic materials, and I did that largely as I would in the classroom, using the same presentation, but with breakout rooms for discussions, including a jigsaw discussion. I did this by renaming the breakout rooms (Pros 1, Pros 2, Cons 1, Cons 2 etc.), handwriting a list of names for who they needed to pair up with afterwards and then manually creating the rooms for the second round. Normally I would have a carousel of authentic materials around the room for the final stage and trainees would move from one to the next. We normally have about 30 minutes for this. This week we had 15 minutes because everything takes a little longer on Zoom. I set up a Google doc which you can see here. The trainees could find any authentic materials that they had in their homes or online, and I could give them immediate feedback because I could move from one group to the next and see everything they were writing in the document very quickly without having to decipher handwriting! I could add and highlight comments which they could deal with when they were ready, rather than interrupting the discussions. I think this worked really well, and took a lot less time to plan than the other input sessions.

I’ve been lucky to be able to take my time with my planning because it’s a large course so inputs are shared between three of us. I think it would have been a lot more exhausting on a smaller course, and I’m not sure I’d have had the luxury to change as much (though there have still been some late nights!)

SW: This week I realised that most of my input sessions were entirely paper-based. I’ve often travelled for courses so I took my folder of input sessions with me. I kept thinking of digitalising them, but never did, and now I’ve been forced to. I always had some online sessions, but mostly what I’ve been doing is turning paper versions into digital versions – it’s a lot of work to turn them into something that functions online. It can be a challenge having everything ready for the input in time.

Having said that, it’s been really interesting to try and keep activities like mingles and different grouping as part of the session. You can still make it quite interactive. Sometimes I thought of ways I could do some of these things, but they would be way more energy than they’re worth for the return on them. One thing that worked really well was in the functional language session. Normally I would cut up exponents, functions and contexts for trainees to match in a mingle, then sit with their partner. This time I gave each group one column each, and they came up with the other two. They were really engaged with this.

For me, the whole process has been great because we can get stuck as trainers doing the same session in the same way for a long time, and this becomes repetitive. This is a chance to rethink all of our sessions – we have no choice. The content is still there, but how are we going to make it into something trainees can learn from in terms of teaching techniques too? 

What are the logistics of observations, especially using breakout rooms?

SM: I’m using a desktop computer with two screens, so have Zoom displayed on one and feedback on the other. When I join the room I’m the host. I make all of the other teachers co-hosts. I ask them to change their names to ‘Teacher XYZ’ and I change mine to ‘Trainer Sandy’ so we’re all grouped on the participants list.

I hand over the host role to the teacher and they make me a co-host. You lose a host role and become a normal participant when you hand it over. Because it is my room I can reclaim the host role if that is a problem but I don’t normally need to do this.

 

When teachers make breakout rooms for students they also divide the observers between the rooms. Only the main host can set up breakout rooms. However if you are a co-host, after you join a breakout room you can see the list of all the rooms and move between them whenever you like. Sometimes I follow the teacher to see what they see, and sometimes I stay in the rooms separately to see what problems students have with the activity and whether this is because of them or because of the teacher. By staying in one room with the breakout room list open, you can also get a feel for how long the teacher is spending in each room. We have mostly only had two or three rooms in the lessons I’ve observed.

If there haven’t been many students, I’ve suggested that we stay in the main room, but the teacher switches off their camera and microphone to give the students space to do the task alone. In feedback, we discuss what would happen if you’ve got 10 students and how this would influence the lesson, for example how feedback stages need to be different on returning from a breakout room.

 

During the break between each lesson, the teacher hands over the host row to the next picture. Teacher to then makes teacher one a co-host. At first I needed to remind them to do this but by the end of this week, they were doing it confidently without my intervention.

SW: I’m observing on a tablet and using my laptop to type feedback. I think the functions are more limited on a tablet, though I’m wondering if I can change that and will try again to move around the groups next week.

Trainees always put me in a BOR to see what the students are doing. I stay in the same room because of my tablet. I’ve noticed that trainees are monitoring well and coming in and out regularly to check in with students. When our class sizes are quite small, we have conversations about dealing with limited numbers of students. I suggested that teachers put students in breakout rooms as private time, but pop in and see how they do. Maybe next week I could suggest that students stay in the main room but the teacher puts themself in a breakout room to give the students space.

I didn’t specify what to do with the other trainees while teachers are first learning what to do with Zoom. It cant be overwhelming thinking about what to do with breakout rooms when you have so many people to deal with. I told teachers to put TT in capital letters after their name to help teachers see who is and isn’t a student. I think the mid-course changeover is a good time to change this, and get them to start putting observers into rooms too. 

What good things have happened this week?

SM: Because everything is typed on our course, preparing stage 1 tutorials was very easy. I normally type them anyway, adapting them from my typed feedback. On this course I could make a single table with strengths and action points and copy things across from TP feedback ready to edit them. Instead of trying to make them fit into the little box in the CELTA 5 booklet when you print them out and mess about with scissors and glue, it took about 5 minutes to copy and paste all of the information across to the portfolio on Moodle.

Over the course of the week, the trainees have started to hand over control more to the students. This normally happens at this point on a CELTA course, but I still think it’s worth mentioning because of a comment from one trainee in TP prep. She said ‘But I just want to teach them!’ when we were discussing how to help students with new vocabulary without presenting each item one at a time before doing an exercise (something which I’ve never seen suggested as an approach on CELTA, but which about half of trainees do themselves despite being explicitly told not to!). This reminded me again of the long shadow that the apprenticeship of observation casts over new teachers. We talked about how there are many ways to teach and lecturing is just one of them. The TP prep group reflected on when it is they learn best, and whether this comes from having something explained to them or trying it themselves, finding solutions, making mistakes, and getting feedback. The conclusion was that the latter is better, and I started to see the effect of this towards the end of the week. I think one problem is that the teachers haven’t seen very much of other models yet, because they’re only in week 2 of the course and they probably have thousands of hours of lecturing to contend with. This is an area I want to continue to think about.

 

The final interesting thing from this week and the one I’m most impressed by on the part of the trainees came from a 10-minute discussion about the use of the word ‘good’ at the end of feedback on Tuesday. During TP feedback, they have been writing notes about each teacher from that day. The word ‘good’ appeared 24 times in about 450 words of comments in our Google Doc on Tuesday, including 5 times in consecutive comments for one teacher. We discussed how as feedback it’s not very useful because it’s not specific enough. We also talked about what kind of comments you would make if that was a problem and contrasted the two approaches, and also talked about the value of specific feedback for students. Their feedback has always been pretty great for the stage of the course they were at, but the next day the difference made me so excited I jumped up and down at the computer. 🙂 On Wednesday, it appeared 17 times (12 from one pair of teachers!) in about 620 words of comments from all six trainees on three lessons – it had been replaced by really valuable, insightful feedback. They had noticed so many specific things, and were able to describe them in a beautiful level of detail which I have rarely seen even at the end of a CELTA course. They also inevitably noticed things I had not seen. We discussed this change afterwards and the trainees said that because they knew that they needed to put specific examples and not just write ‘good’, they were paying much closer attention throughout the lessons.

SW: The way the trainees supported each other when one trainee was talking about quitting mid-week was amazing. The chat lit up – they were all sending her fantastically supportive messages.If that had happened in person, I’m not sure everyone would have said something to her. Everyone can join in, including the quieter people. The online element could allow for more communication between trainees in difficult situations. The bonding and the support and commiseration over where they all were and how they were all feeling on Thursday continued on Friday – they opened up and were really greeting each other at the start of Friday’s sessions. 

The other great thing that happened on Thursday and Friday was the moment in the course when you see trainees break bad habits they’ve been getting feedback on, something clicks and they succeed. This is not unique to being online – it always happens at this point in the course. There was so much of that at the end of the week. Watching them gain confidence because of that, contributing more, growing and transforming as people and teachers is fantastic. It’s difficult to understand if you don’t experience or see it, and trying to persuade potential trainees of this at interview and earlier in the course can be a challenge. As a trainer, you have to keep trainees with you and encourage them not to give up, trying to convince them that the stress and struggle is normal for this point in the course. Other people have done this before, and you can do it too. And the trainee who was thinking about quitting? She taught an amazing TP on Friday. She’d got some of the stress out of her system, received an outpouring of support, and came back super strong with a great lesson.

What problems have you had this week and how have you solved them?

SM: Last week I mentioned that I was surprised at how few technical problems I had had. I spoke too soon! This week I had a power cut at the end of feedback, luckily when I was only speaking to two teachers about assignment questions and we’d pretty much finished. However I’d made a recording of the feedback session for a teacher who had to leave earlier and I thought I had lost this. Zoom recording only converts into a file when you close the room. I was very happy to find that when I restarted Zoom the next morning the recording was still there. Thank you Zoom!

 

I also got kicked out of Zoom randomly for two or three minutes during one TP. I didn’t miss anything important, but it made me realize that I could end up missing quite a lot. I told the trainees that if any of them noticed that I’m not in the room, they should press record straight away. Only a host or a co-host can record a meeting, and you have to have this function turned on in the settings. Luckily the meeting doesn’t end if you get kicked out and it’s your Zoom room. Somebody else is randomly allocated the host role if you are still the host. When you rejoin the meeting, you need to ask the teacher to make you a co-host again.

A couple of students have dropped out because of internet, but normally immediately come back. Some have to leave early because of work – but slightly changing numbers during TPs is normal on any course.

SW: I tell trainees to sit closer to the router if they have a connection problem. One trainee has to sit next to the router as it was on a different floor in her house. That seems to be working.

Another trainee has had technical problems and has been finding workarounds to avoid excessive teacher talk. For example, she has somebody else play the listening and/or downloads the listening so it’s not using as much bandwidth. This is reflective of the kind of real-life problems trainees will have to deal with in the classroom and online after the course, and at least now they have the support to help them resolve them.

My internet kept dropping out in one particular input session and I have no idea why. I sat by the router and it was much better. It’s the same as in the classroom – when there’s a problem, you give the trainees something to do while you try and resolve it. I was setting up an assignment, so told them to keep reading it if I dropped out again and ask me questions whenever I made it back.

What other tips do you have?

SM: Write down all of the Zoom codes that you need in a clear table on a piece of paper which you can keep next to your computer. This is invaluable when moving quickly between rooms, for example when input has finished and TP prep is about to start. The main course tutor sends out links for TP each morning to all the trainees.

 

I train my trainees on any course to name their files consistently. When you have a lot of computer files appearing in your inbox every day you can waste a lot of time trying to work out which generic plan belongs to which teacher. The formula I always use is TP1 Bob lesson plan, TP1 Bob materials, TP1 Bob feedback, etc. It keeps all of the files together in a logical order, and makes it easier when sending them back to the trainees. Shared screen to show them why this is useful/important to me

SW: I have all of the Zoom codes on a post-it notes. Going into the week 3 changeover, we’ll send out one email with all the links so everybody has the links in one place

Get as much done ahead of time as you can. This is particularly true of planning input, especially if you’ve previously done things in a paper-based way.

Above all, enjoy the process of thinking about and discovering new things, and rethinking old things in a new way. Don’t try to make the course exactly what it is face-to-face. Keep the integrity and standards of course, but remember that it’s a different environment. Just as you would as a freelancer moving between schools, you’re doing the course in a different place, each of which has pros and cons. You ask yourself: How does it work in this centre? When you teach somebody else’s timetable, you look how things change when they’re in a different order. So treat this in the same way: look how things change when you do them online. It really refreshes your practice. Enjoy the advantages – they do exist! 

WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE US TO TALK ABOUT?

Thank you to those who commented on last week’s post here and elsewhere – I hope we’ve been able to answer your questions. Let us know what else you’d like us to discuss in the comments below.

As every CELTA trainee knows, a CCQ is a Concept Checking Question. What they often don’t know is how to approach writing them. They can be the bane of trainees’ lives and they took me a long time to get my head around. Don’t worry if it takes you time as well. Here’s my advice for how to go about it.

Step 1: Research the language

Vocabulary

Choose a marker sentence containing the vocabulary in context.

Look up the word/phrase in a good Learner’s Dictionary, for example:

Even better, look it up in two or three and compare the definitions. Write them all down. You’ll need these later.

Make sure you are checking the same meaning as the one you are teaching. For example, ‘ages’ in the sentence ‘It took me ages.’ is not the same as in the sentence ‘The Iron and Stone Ages were a long time ago.’

Grammar

Identify two or three ‘marker sentences’ from the context which make the use of the grammar clear.

Use the language information in the course book you are using to learn about the grammar point at the appropriate level for your students. There may also be extra information at the end of the course book unit, in the final sections of the course book, and/or in the teacher’s book or work book. Use the information you find to write the meaning or use of the grammar point in your own words. Aim not to use the grammar points in your explanation. For example, if you are explaining the present perfect don’t use the present perfect in your explanation. 

If you want to beef up your understanding or the course book is confusing you, use a grammar book designed for teachers. I recommend Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener (Amazon, BEBC) and Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (Amazon). Both of these will tell you about problems students might have with the grammar point, and suggest some ideas for CCQs. A new book aimed at helping new teachers with grammar is Learning to Teach Grammar by Simon Haines (Amazon, Delta, BEBC) – I haven’t used the book, but the previews look like it would be incredibly useful. [All Amazon links are affiliate links in this paragraph.]

As with vocabulary, be careful to research the exact area of the grammar which you are teaching to the students. For example, present continuous for actions in progress and for future arrangements are two different areas of meaning which need two different explanations (and therefore CCQs) when you first start teaching grammar.

Step 2: Boil it down

Take your definitions of the vocabulary item or your explanation of the grammar. Reduce it to two to four key words or concepts that you express in as few words as possible. Occasionally you need more than four, but this is very unusual. Here are some examples.

Vocabulary

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

I eventually understood CCQs.

  • Oxford definition: at the end of a period of time or a series of events
  • Cambridge definition: in the end, especially after a long time or a lot of effort, problems, etc.
  • Macmillan definition: at the end of a process or period of time in which many things happen
  • My reduction: at the end, after a long time

finally understood CCQs.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my head, not my diary

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my head

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my diary (probably)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my diary

I’ll meet you later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided now (as I speak)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided now

If you’re struggling with this process when describing tenses, it can help to change the verb to another tense and think about the difference between the new and the old sentence. As you can see in the examples above, there are subtle differences which hold most of the time (often enough for you to help students understand them!) 

Step 3: Make your questions

Look at the keywords you have created. Turn them into questions (sometimes easier said than done!)

The easiest questions to create are yes/no questions, but I don’t believe that the learners necessarily process the language if they only answer yes or no. I prefer questions which get the students to repeat the keywords I have identified to summarize that area of language. The best CCQs:

  • Are as short as possible. Don’t be polite or bury the question in unnecessary fluff: get to the point.
  • Are in the present simple or past simple.
  • Don’t contain the target language! (So no present perfect in your question about the present perfect.)
  • Use only language below the level of the students.
  • Require thought to answer.
  • Can be endlessly reused every time you check the meaning of that grammar point or vocabulary area.
  • Can clearly show the difference between similar grammar points in an unequivocal way with only slight variations (see below).
  • Are in a logical order starting from the biggest part of the meaning and moving to the most specific. Consider it like a flowchart, with each CCQ taking you on a different path, leading to a different tense/word choice (Read the examples below, then read that bullet point again if it didn’t make sense on your first pass!)

Here are examples taken from the key words above. Always keep your target language in a marker sentence to make the questions clearer.

Vocabulary

Decide if the word can be shown with a picture or an item of realia, or demonstrated through mime. If so, stop here. However, you might want to use one or two CCQs to supplement the picture or the mime to clarify the boundaries of the meaning e.g. the difference between ‘chair’ and ‘armchair’.

The three example words I’ve selected can’t be easily shown using any of these methods, though a timeline or gesture or series of words (don’t understand, don’t understand, don’t understand, understand!) might help to emphasise the idea of a long time. That means it’s important to have CCQs in case a student is confused about how to use the word.

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • (optional) Is ‘ages’ more formal or more informal? More informal.

I eventually understood CCQs after reading this blogpost.

  • Did I understand at the start or the end? At the end.
  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.

I feel like I finally understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • Was it easy or difficult for me to understand? (Probably) difficult.

Notice that the order of the questions reflects the order of the concepts in the dictionary definitions. This can be a useful guideline – it works most of the time.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my head.

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my diary.

I’ll meet you later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Now.

Step 4: Use them when you’re planning

One of my least favourite phrases on a lesson plan from somebody who is new to teaching: “Ask CCQs”. Please please please tell me exactly what you’ll ask and what answers you expect to hear from the students. This is far easier and more efficient than trying to think of them on the spot in the lesson – I still write exact CCQs on my plans now.

Complete any controlled practice exercises yourself which you plan to give the students. For each answer, use the key words you wrote in Step 2 to help you decide why that is the correct answer.

Step 5: Use them in the lesson

You can use CCQs to check if students understand the marker sentences. Make sure that the context the sentence is from is very clear. Don’t use isolated, decontextualised sentences as this will make it harder for the students to answer the questions correctly.

You can also use CCQs to help students decide if they have the correct answers in controlled practice exercises when they are choosing between different words or tenses. Having very short, clear keywords makes this efficient. CCQs which require the students to repeat the key words can reinforce the meaning for the students. This is where including reasons with the controlled practice answers in your planning will make things more efficient in the lesson, and make more learning happen.

In summary

  1. Research the language.
  2. Boil it down.
  3. Write your questions.
  4. Use them when you’re planning.
  5. Use them in your lesson.

Trainers, what other CCQ advice do you give?

Teachers, what other problems do you have with CCQs?

Useful links

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary. 

Here’s a fun introduction to CCQs.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use CCQs.

Useful links for CELTA is a collection of hundreds of resources to help you during your course.

*or “5 things no CELTA trainer ever said but which they see on every course!”

Albert Einstein, with 'I didn't say that' in meme font

Please don’t do these things! Read on to find out what to replace them with and why.

Spend 10 minutes lecturing students about grammar

That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.

Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.

If you’re not confident with this area of grammar, the task might be asking them to match rules to examples, with all of the examples taken from a clear context introduced earlier in the lesson. Often this is what a grammar box does in a coursebook (a light version of guided discovery), if you’re using one. Focus on the form, drill pronunciation, and give them controlled and freer practice activities. This is called present-practice-produce or PPP. While it’s not always the most efficient way of teaching language, students can still benefit providing they get enough practice and feedback on their performance.

If you’re a little confident, get students to start with an activity where they have to produce this specific language point. A controlled practice exercise can be turned into a mini test (in a test-teach-test or TTT model), which you can use to find out which parts of the grammar the students are having problems with. Check carefully whether the exercise tests their knowledge of meaning or form, and consider how you can test their pronunciation too. One activity I like is to give them a couple of minutes to say all of the sentences as quickly as possible in pairs. Don’t put them on the spot in open class to do this as that might put them off English for life if they struggle! Once you’ve gathered information about what they can and can’t do, fill in the gaps with your teaching, for example, by revising the negative form only because they’re already OK with the positive form. Test them again at the end of the lesson. This is a good approach because it allows you to target your teaching to the problems they have, instead of the broad brush approach of TTT.

If you’re very confident, give them a fully communicative speaking or writing activity which might lead them to using the target language of your lesson – you can adapt this from a freer practice exercise in the coursebook. An easy example would be having students tell each other a story at the beginning of a lesson on past tenses. You can find out the range of tenses they’re using (only past simple and past continuous? only present tenses?), as well as spot problems with form and pronunciation of the language you’d like to focus on. Then choose one or two grammar (or lexis or pronunciation or discourse) areas to focus on in your teaching to upgrade their language. Give them more opportunities to practice, perhaps with controlled practice, but most importantly with another speaking or writing activity where the focus is on communication, not accuracy of language, but where they can use the definitely use the target language. This is called task-based learning (or TBL), and is a useful approach because the focus is primarily on communication using all of the language resources at students’ disposal, not only using the specific target language the teacher has chosen for today.

Present all vocabulary items separately before students do their first vocabulary exercise

This might feel like you’re being helpful, but it removes all of the challenge from the vocabulary exercise, generally takes a long time, and reduces the opportunities students have to struggle a little, make mistakes, and get feedback – where the real learning happens. If we’re not struggling, we’re not learning.

Instead, let the students have a go at the exercise first. If they work alone, give them a chance to compare in pairs before you check their answers with them. Make sure you have analysed the meaning, form and pronunciation of all of the words in your lesson plan, just in case, but you don’t need to go over all of them with the students, only the problem words.

Even better, let the students work in pairs to do the exercise. That way, they can support each other with questions they find challenging and learn from each other. You can also hear them pronouncing the words. When monitoring during the activity, you can identify which words you need to check the meaning of more carefully and which ones you need to drill.

This might mean you go from looking at the meaning, form and pronunciation of eight words, to the meaning of two, the pronunciation of four, and checking the spelling of two other problem words. As you can imagine, this will take a lot less time, and students will be more engaged because it’s only dealing with their problems, instead of going over ground they’ve already covered before. It also means more time for the all important practice and feedback on it.

Read every question from a comprehension exercise aloud before you start the activity

While it’s great that students are aware of the questions before they do the reading/listening activity, this means students are listening to you for a long time. If you’re displaying the activity too, they’re trying to read and listen at the same time, which we normally do at different speeds. While this can help some students, for others it will interrupt their processing and make it harder. If you’re not displaying the questions, the students are trying to work out how much attention they should be paying – should they answer the questions? Remember them? Or what? If you ask students to read out each comprehension question, you’re generally putting them on the spot (they’ve rarely rehearsed) asking them to pronounce things that were meant to be read not spoken, and possibly are quite challenging. Other students are struggling to understand what they’re hearing, and again possibly getting distracted by the written form of the questions.

Instead, if it’s questions for a listening activity, give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many questions there are) to read the questions in silence. You can give them a little task if you like e.g. underline any words which you’re not sure about. I don’t tend to do this though, as I’ve either already taught them a challenging word or two from the questions, or they’ll ask me themselves if they don’t know it and I’ve built up a relationship of trust and asking questions openly. It might also be worth highlighting the pronunciation of one or two words with strange sound-spelling relationships, such as queue, to prepare learners to notice it in the audio. Then ask learners if they’re ready to listen and play the audio.

If it’s a reading, it’s generally enough to highlight one or two words students might not understand in the questions, trying to elicit the meaning where possible rather than just telling the students. Then let them do the reading – they don’t necessarily need separate time to read all of the questions first.

Drill all the answers

After a reading or listening activity, you don’t need to drill the correct answers as students are answering the questions. It shifts the focus of the stage from ensuring that students all have the correct answers and know why they’re correct, to a pronunciation drill. If they’ve already got an answer with a similar meaning, they’re likely to start doubting themselves. They might not want to volunteer an answer if they’re worried about pronunciation. It can particularly confuse students when you shift back and forth between asking for an answer, drilling a version of it, asking for the next answer, drilling it, etc. as they don’t know what to focus on: the answers or the correct pronunciation?

Instead, make sure the students have all of the correct answers first. Here are a few ways to do this (some of them are Zoom-specific):

  • Teacher nominates students for verbal feedback (what we most commonly see, but this can take a long time and be very teacher-centred)
  • Students nominate each other.
  • All students answer the question verbally. (works well for short answers e.g. a, b)
  • Thumbs up/down if you agree with my answer.
  • Reveal the answers on PowerPoint from behind boxes – one at a time / all at once
  • Move pictures or words to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • Type on the screen to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • One student reads out all of the answers, the others say if there are any problems.
  • Display the answers with a couple of mistakes. Students have to find them.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – everybody types the same answer at the same time, controlled by the teacher.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – 1 student types each answer, e.g. Student A types 1, B types 2, C types 3, etc.
  • Zoom: Use the stamp function in annotate to tick/cross statements. (tell them it’s under ‘view options’ – only on computers, not phones)
  • Zoom: Get students to send answers only to you in the chat using the private message function.
  • Zoom: Students type all the answers, but don’t press enter until you tell them to (especially good for two or three short answers)
  • Zoom: Write longer answers in Google Docs/Padlet, preferably while doing the activity rather than afterwards.

If there were any major pronunciation problems which really impeded communication, make a note of them and go back to them once the students have all of the correct answers. If they didn’t impede communication, it’s OK not to worry about them.

The teacher must be in complete control of everything the students say and do throughout the lesson

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Lead ins which are a question and answer session between the teacher and the whole class, with only one student speaking at any one time
  • Long teacher-centred grammar presentations
  • A complete lack of pairwork or groupwork, only whole class, teacher-mediated activities
  • Feedback stages which consist of the teacher nominating each student in turn to basically repeat when they just said during pairwork

While each of these activities may (very!) occasionally be useful, if you never give the students any space or freedom to experiment with the language during the lesson, they won’t learn. Again, if we’re not struggling, we’re not learning. If you try to make sure that everything they ever produce is perfect, some students will shut down completely and stop trying to communicate. If you fully dominate the lesson, the pace often drops, students lose engagement and (particularly with kids and young learners) you start to have problems with classroom management as students don’t want to be there. I once heard this salient reminder from a feedback session (substituting my name for the person concerned): “Remember, Sandy, it’s not the Sandy show. You’re there to help the students, not do the work for them.”

Instead, hand over control to the students as much as possible. Set up pair and group work and monitor from the sidelines, being prepared to help when needed. Do this right from the start of the lesson, and take yourself out of the question. Find other ways to work with grammar (see the first point above). Vary your feedback stages so they’re not as teacher-centred. Let them decide how long activities should take, or choose which game you’re going to play (if they already know a couple). Give them opportunities to make the lessons and the language their own.

(A tiny bit of theory)

If CELTA trainers never tell their trainees to do these things, why do they happen on so many courses? I think I’ve seen all five of these things on every course I’ve done!

My feeling is that the apprenticeship of observation has a lot to do with it. This is a term coined by Dan Lortie in 1975 describing the fact that we spend many hours in classrooms as students and therefore form very fixed pre-conceptions of what a teacher should do and be. For many trainees, CELTA is the first time they’ve encountered a student-centred approach to teacher, where the aim is to set up the conditions for students to learn and facilitate activities and practice, rather than lecture them and control everything. When planning a lesson and not sure what to do, trainees are unlikely to remember a minute or two the couple of hours or so of a demo lesson or an observation showing them how we’d suggest they do a particular activity, especially if the trainee doesn’t really believe this is the ‘correct’ way to teach. Instead they fall back on ‘tried and tested’ methods of teacher control, lecturing, and reading aloud and nothing much changes until they get trainer feedback.

I know some trainers try to combat this by doing an early session on the course encouraging trainees to think about what being a good teacher actually means and how we learn both inside and outside the classroom. This helps trainees to uncover their beliefs and begin to question them straight away. I’d be interested to know what other ideas people have for resolving this issue, or at least bringing it to light as quickly as possible.

On Monday 6th July I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences over the next few weeks. This is a long post as it sets the scene, but hopefully the others will be a little shorter!

What’s your previous experience with CELTA?

Sandy speaking at InnovateELT Barcelona

SM: I’ve been a CELTA tutor since August 2014. In 2014-2015 I did courses full-time around the world, and since then I’ve just done courses in the summers in between my other job as a Director of Studies. I didn’t do a course last summer as I started my MA, so my last course was in July 2018. All of the courses I’ve done have been full-time, four-week, face-to-face courses.

Stephanie Wilbur headshot

SW: I became a CELTA tutor in June 2015 and I’ve have been working as a full-time trainer since then. I worked as a Teacher Training Manager from 2016-2017, when I did a course every month. Since then, I have been a freelance teacher trainer working on CELTAs and other training courses in the Middle East, Latin America, Central Asia, the US, and Europe. In that time, I have worked on full-time and part-time CELTA courses, but they have all been face-to-face up to now.

What’s the context?

SM: My course has 18 trainees based in a wide range of locations: the UK, Italy, Andorra, Poland, Romania, Jerusalem and Gibraltar; they’re from the UK, Ireland, China, Italy, Russia, Poland, Romania and Germany. Our students are also from many different countries: Turkey, Brazil, Chile – some living at home, and some based in the UK now. It’s one of the most international courses I’ve worked on. As I’m based in Poland and the course is run from the UK, time zones are a little confusing, and we’ve definitely had one student who’s arrived an hour early because of this! The other two trainers are based in the UK and have previously run online CELTA courses, so I’m definitely benefitting from their experience.

SW: I’m based in Slovakia and working on a course run from Gran Canaria. There are 11 trainees, all based in Gran Canaria as far as I know. They’re from Gran Canaria, Morocco, Poland, the UK, Ireland, Ukraine, and Argentina. Our students are all Spanish from different parts of Gran Canaria, mostly lawyers who are also participating in online courts sometimes have to miss some lessons. They’re mostly in their 30s and 40s. My co-trainer is in Gran Canaria.

How did you originally feel about online CELTAs?

SM: When I first heard about online CELTAs back in March, I was really worried that they would not maintain the standards of the face-to-face course. It’s hard now to put my finger on why, but I think I was worried that the technology was new to most of us as trainers, and we wouldn’t know how to train teachers to use it properly if we weren’t fully confident with it ourselves. I was concerned about how CELTA criteria designed for a physical classroom would map onto an online environment, and I also wasn’t sure how the extra layer of dealing with technology would impact on trainees who already have a lot to get their heads around. I originally felt like CELTAs run fully online should be a separate course with separate certification. As a recruiter, I was concerned that CELTA graduates from online courses would not be ready to stand in front of a classroom full of people and confidently teach them, and that as a school we would have to do a lot of extra training to get them to that point.

SW: Initially, I wasn’t completely sure about whether trainees who’d done courses online would feel fully prepared to teach in a classroom. I feel like a lot of trainers initially thought that online versions of the course wouldn’t be as high quality and we were biased against it. When we realised things weren’t going to change overnight and the world was changing, we started to open our minds more and we started to see what opportunities this situation has to offer. I’m still deciding how I feel about this, but in the near future current CELTA trainees will certainly be more trained for the environment we will probably have to teach in. There’ll be a much more blended world afterwards – we don’t know what level of safety there will be, but more people will teach, work and learn from home. However, the success of the online CELTA will depend on who the trainers are and what they’re bringing to trainees’ attention. Employers need to know what training they have to do after an online course to get teachers ready for the classroom. As trainers, we need to make it clear to trainees how it’ll be different face-to-face.

How do you feel now? Why?

SM: Over the past few months I’ve followed a lot of discussions between CELTA trainers who have been running courses online. I’ve also built up my own experience with Zoom, and learnt a lot from my colleagues at IH Bydgoszcz and other IH schools. I’ve completely changed my mind about CELTAs run fully online, and now know that they’re here to stay. They’ve offered so many people the chance to do the course who wouldn’t normally be able to.

The trainees I’ve seen this week are already better at giving and checking instructions and demonstrating activities than some trainees in week 3 of face-to-face courses I’ve worked on before. Their reflection is already deeper and more productive. They’re more aware of the students right from the start of the course: normally they’re so focussed on what they’re doing as teachers, that they forget the people in front of them. As on every course, the trainees are immediately taking what they learn from observing each other into their lessons the next day, but I feel like it’s happening across the board with the whole group, instead of just the stronger teachers doing this. These are all things I’ve seen reflected in discussions with other trainers.

There are a few possible reasons for this: not having a commute or having to get used to living somewhere new frees up time to focus on the course. Everyone being in their homes means trainees are relaxed, and therefore more able to take in what’s happening in input and feedback. When we observe lessons, our cameras and microphones are off. That means that if you need to stand up and move around, or have a snack, or have an emotional reaction to what’s happening in front of you, you can do it without fear of distracting the teacher. This makes it easier to maintain concentration when you’re observing. Trainees aren’t spending ages cutting things up, fighting with a printer or a copier, or worrying about where *that* bit of paper has disappeared to, so they’ve got more mental space to focus on what’s actually happening in the lesson and what the students are doing. Trainees are also not as aware of or distracted by the other people watching them – instead of looking for the trainer’s reaction to something they’ve just done, they just get on with it. Students might feel more confident too as only one teacher is obviously focussing on them, rather than a rather intimidating seven!

I’ve also really enjoyed the input sessions I’ve done, as I’ve been able to demonstrate various ways to use Zoom, and have also been able to incorporate technology much more easily. For example, when I asked trainees to look at a couple of websites which are useful for learning phonetic symbols, they didn’t have to find and start their laptops before they could explore the sites. Another benefit has been how easy it is to observe my colleagues. I’ve been able to watch a couple of their input sessions and they’ve watched mine, while still being able to get on with other work in the background.

SW: We know this is likely to continue for a long time. The reality might be that these trainees are more prepared for the next year of teaching than traditional teachers who are adjusting, fantastically but have old habits to break. New teachers don’t know any other way of teaching. What we’re providing them with on an online CELTA is a good thing for the future.

Technology skills are a big factor – logistical things like which link to use to go to TP (teaching practice) or input can be quite confusing. Trainees fresh out of university are generally not having a problem as they already have the technology skills and their study skills are fresh. They’re very supportive with those who are finding it harder. I emphasise that the trainees are there to support each other, as I do on every course. We have a couple of people who were unfamiliar with technology before they started and that’s been very challenging for them and us. They weren’t completely prepared for the learning curve of moving to an online environment and the pressure that adds on top of CELTA. Dealing with Google Docs, learning to use breakout rooms, understanding where to find all of the documents – we had one person drop out because of this learning curve. Some people might feel like they have to do a CELTA course because they want the qualification and now there’s time to do it. There’s pressure on them, so they dive in without being fully prepared. On the other hand, some people love all the online courses they’re able to do and get really into it. One person really enjoyed learning all of the technology that was completely new to them, and now knows how to talk about it and use it in the classroom after just one week.

Our trainees all had a 45-minute unassessed TP with feedback before they did TP1. That meant they’d had more lessons and some feedback by the time they got to TP1 – they’re further on before they got assessed for the first time. They were more insightful already at this point, and trying more challenging things. For example, some trainees were already negotiating meaning with their students in TP1. The pressure is off, and it’s not so scary by the time you get to the assessed part. I’m meant to be running my first face-to-face course since the pandemic soon, and I’d like to carry this over from the online CELTA so that they have unassessed TP before they get the pressure of assessment.

Observing lessons is much more comfortable and relaxed than in a classroom. 2.5 hours of TP always feels like a long time to sit still and observe. At home, we can move around, stand up, or stretch, and it doesn’t look awkward. I’m using my tablet to watch the lessons, with my laptop open to type everything up. Trainees aren’t watching our reactions all the time, they’re just thinking about teaching.

What are the challenges of the online CELTA and how have you dealt with them?

SM: Our course had extra sessions the week before the main course to introduce some of the functions of Zoom, particularly breakout rooms. We sent out a short tech questionnaire before the course, asking how familiar trainees were with Zoom, word processing software, presentation software, and internet functions. We also checked what kind of computer they’re accessing the course on and whether they have any recurring tech problems. This was a very useful needs analysis to help us find out who needs what tech help straight away. Trainees also had a 20-minute unassessed TP to familiarise themselves with managing the tech while teaching.

There was a big storm here yesterday and I thought I’d have a power cut, so I asked a trainee who was observing to start a recording if I dropped out of the lesson so I’d be able to watch it later. I think I’ll prepare a trainee to do that each day regardless of the weather from now on.

When trainees have had internet or other tech problems, I’ve had to decide whether their TP should be extended for a few minutes or not to compensate for this. Luckily our TP is at the end of the day, so I have the flexibility to do this.

The strangest thing for me is that I don’t feel like I know all of the trainees after a week. We had a very short getting to know you activity on day one, but then had to show them the Moodle where they’ll upload all of their documents. I can’t chat to them in breaks or just before and after input sessions as easily, so although I know the six trainees in my TP group well, I’ve only had limited interaction with the other twelve in the two input sessions I’ve done. I observed sessions run by the other trainers on the first two days so I could see the trainees in action, but haven’t interacted with them much at all.

SW: Our course had an extra day the week before when trainees had a Zoom tutorial and watched demo lessons. I taught my demo from where I was on holiday, so didn’t participate in the rest of the day, which was run by my co-trainer. That meant that I missed out on getting to know you activities, so my first input session was a challenge as it felt a bit awkward, but this was much better by the end of the week. I’ve made a real effort to pair trainees up with those from the other TP group (as I do face-to-face too) so they can all get to know each other better. At first the trainees thought I was Slovak with a really good American accent. They didn’t realise I was American until my phonology session later in the week!

One teacher had internet issues during her lesson. The video and audio were breaking up, and she was worried that if she put students into BORs, they’d disappear. She decided to keep them in the main room, but this increased her teacher talking time and reduced the student-centred activities. It’s a challenge deciding what to do in feedback in this case, as she’d clearly made a decision based on the circumstances, but that meant students got less speaking practice.

What have you learnt this week?

SM: These are the tips I’ve picked up this week. 

  • When I was teaching on Zoom before, my students all had course books. On the CELTA course, they don’t have any materials, so they have to take a picture of the activity before they go into breakout rooms (BORs), either on their phones or by doing a screen shot.
  • When students are doing a reading, display the reading text on the screen and get them to take a picture of the questions. If they’re doing this task in BORs, they need the reading text in a document which one of them can share (e.g. a Google Doc link for the reading, and the questions on their phones).
  • When monitoring in BORs, switch off your camera and microphone to make it less intrusive. (Thanks for the tip Rebecca!) Scott Donald called this ‘ninja mode’, a term I’ve already stolen!
  • I’ve found I’m spontaneously interrupting trainees more to help with tech problems, for example when a reading doesn’t display or when their video is off (if the students haven’t told them). Normally I would only interrupt during TP if a trainee asked for my help. I think it’s OK to do this at the start of the course while trainees are familiarising themselves with the platform, but I’ve told them I’ll only do this in TP1 and TP2, and after that they should ask for help if they need it.

SW: I hadn’t been teaching on Zoom before, apart from one small conversation class, so I’m learning as we go as well. It can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s really beneficial learning from our trainees as well – they’re more familiar with some aspects of the tech than me. Because of lockdown, trainees know we’re probably new at the technology. This has levelled the playing field as we’re all learning from each other. You have to be open about learning along with them. I’ve found the Teaching English Online course from FutureLearn and Cambridge really useful. Here are some things I’ve realised this week:

  • Put all the links for rooms in one place to simplify things for trainees.
  • A Zoom tutorial before the course starts is essential.
  • Remind trainees that sometimes students should switch the camera off. This is the procedure I’m teaching them for reading lessons to students them some space.
  • You can move from one BOR to another directly, rather than going back to the main room each time.

How do you organise TP feedback?

SM: BORs are great for reflection on TP! I’ve adapted an idea from CELTA trainer discussions. I set up a Google Doc with a table for trainees to write strengths and action points for each teacher they saw. Above the table I display the criteria we’re working on at this point in the course, so they know what to focus on.

I did this in pairs in BORs, one teacher from that day and one observer, so there were three sets of criteria and tables in the document. I told them to start with other people’s lessons and finish with that of the teacher in the pair, i.e. if ABC taught and AD are discussing the lessons, they discuss B and C’s lessons first, then A’s. They have 15 minutes to complete the document and I look at their notes while they’re doing this but leave them in peace in the BORs.

For the other 15 minutes of our feedback, they read each other’s comments, then I talk about general strengths from all of the lessons and one specific strength and action point for each teacher. I also add any Zoom tips based on problems that day, and perhaps demonstrate one or two techniques trainees should find useful in future lessons.

Afterwards, I send them the link so that everyone has access to some written follow-up to the feedback from that day, not only the teachers.

This is different to how I’ve done feedback on face-to-face courses, when I often feel like we spend a lot of time on what problems there were because I set up more of a carousel, with each teacher getting individual feedback from each of the three observers, and having little time to reflect on the lessons they saw, instead talking about their own lesson three times.

I feel like this approach to feedback has been incredibly positive. Around 20-25 minutes of our 30-40 minutes are focussed on strengths, with only about 5 minutes on action points, and another 5 or so on how to work on the action points. Trainees are learning from and focussing on each other’s strengths, and I’ve seen them putting this into action straight away.

SW: I think it’s important to give trainees space to talk about things together without me being there. I leave them in the main room and tell them I’ll be back in 10 minutes. We also talk about the importance of trainees giving the students space, for example through activities with the video off, which creates a different dynamic. By removing yourself from the discussion by switching the video off or leaving the room, you’re not tempted to keep stepping in and solving problems. I used a Padlet I set up as their observation task. I started columns of positive points and constructive criticism for each teacher which trainees added to as the lesson went on. I could watch who was participating and what was happening, keeping trainees active in our morning TP.

What else would you like us to talk about?

Over to you: if you’ve got this far (thank you!), what questions would you like us to answer in the next three weeks?

Since the murder of George Floyd, discussion about racism and how to address it has been brought much more to the attention of many white people and the media. Hopefully this time it will be the #metoo moment that makes the difference, and we won’t still be having these same discussions in fifty years with no change in sight.

Here is a collection of resources which I will add to to help us all learn more about racism in ELT and what we can do about it. Please comment if you know of other resources I’ve missed.

General resources

The TEFLology podcast has a list of resources on racism in ELT, including research and journal articles.

IATEFL has an Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG). They have a website, facebook page, and Twitter account. One section of their site is dedicated to racial inclusion including a huge range of other links not shared on my list here.

IATEFL’s Global Issues SIG (GISIG) also have resources on a wide range of subjects, including discrimination.

In June 2020, English UK announced that it will create an action group to “focus on how values of anti-racism, diversity and inclusion are embedded in the sector.”

The BC TEAL journal contains a free-to-access article by JPB Gerald called Worth the Risk: Towards Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching. (Thanks to Laura Patsko for telling me about this.) JPB Gerald was also on the DIESOL podcast discussing whiteness and racism in ELT (thanks to Pete Clements).

Abstract

The field of English language teaching (ELT) has long centred whiteness without acknowledging as much. Practitioners accept the field’s racial disparities under the guise of the search for profit, yet hegemonic whiteness controls our institutions, our curricula, and our pedagogy unless we, as members of this field, consciously seek to counteract its influence. White ELT professionals are incentivized to maintain the racial status quo and many exhibit fierce resistance when efforts are made to discuss white supremacy in English teaching. In this article, I demonstrate how ELT frames whiteness as both a prize and a goal, explain the deleterious impact whiteness has on racialized students and teachers, argue for the necessity of decentring whiteness, and provide suggestions for ways we can push our field towards a future where whiteness no longer reigns supreme.

These are my bookmarks connected to racism.

Experiences and stories

Women of Color in ELT is a blog containing a range of powerful stories and thought-provoking articles. They also have a Twitter account.

Jasmine Cochran, a black American woman teaching English language and literature in China told the BBC about how George Floyd’s death changed her Chinese students. She also described her wider experience of being a black teacher in China and shares examples of activities she has done to help her students broaden their world view.

Noreen Caplen-Spence tells her story in an interview with the ELGazette called Black teachers matter.

Chia Suan Chong asks What does inclusion mean to me? and provides tips on how to create a more inclusive classroom.

Racism in English Language Teaching? Autobiographical Narratives of Black English Language Teachers in Brazil is a research article from the Revista Brasileira de Linguística Aplicada (Brazilian Journal of Applied Linguistics).

Abstract

A hundred thirty years after the abolition of slavery and post-slave trade in Brazil, Black people remain the minority amongst teachers in English courses of private and public schools. This situation is tagged in their professional situation insofar as an aftermath of racism and coloniality are concerned, as I shall argue here. In this study, I seek to examine the ways race can be negatively or positively expanded in the performance of the identities of Black English language teachers, framing themselves as either resistant identities in/through language (using the language as a strategy to resist) or resistant identities to language (negating themselves as capable speakers or teachers).

Hiring practices

You don’t look like a ‘native speaker’: Racism in ELT on the TEFL Equity Advocates blog talks about how hiring practices and advertising can be damaging.

The TEFL Training Institute podcast did an episode on racism and ethics in teacher recruitment.

Ahmar Mahboob wrote a chapter called Racism in the ELT industry in A. Mahboob & C. Lipovsky (eds.) Studies in Applied Linguistics and Language Learning (2009) for Cambridge Scholars Press. The link takes you to a pdf version of the chapter on Academic.edu.

In the classroom

Film English has a B1/B2 lesson plan based on a video called Racism is Real.

Hana Ticha shares a lesson plan for helping students to realise what it feels like to be discriminated against.

Adi Rajan has an activity using images to help students explore their biases.

The Lexical Lab blog has a post about handling conflict in the classroom, including how to respond when students express racism, homophobia or other opinions which can be difficult to know how to respond to.

One of the best TED talks I’ve ever seen (I don’t have a lesson plan for it, but maybe you do?) is The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Materials writing

Varinder Unlu talks about representing ethnic minorities in materials in the second section of this post on the MAWSIG (Materials Writing) blogpost.

Emily Hird talks about the importance of representation in ELT materials and how it can affect engagement.

Nappy is an image bank of black and brown people available for free under a Creative Commons license. This image by Catina K Taylor was taken from the collection:

5 DOSsing years

Last Friday marked the end of my fifth year as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz. When I moved here I thought that I would be a bit bored with the job after 5 years and it would be time to move on. I’m very surprised and happy to say that that is not the case at all, and I’m not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. I’ve written this post to share some of the things I’ve learnt from five years as a Director of Studies and some of the highlights of the job for me.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

What I’ve learnt

Perspective is difficult to achieve, both for teachers and for you. Once you’ve got it, it’s both important to remember and hard to understand that others might not have it.

Time helps.

Patience helps, both with yourself and others.

Emotional reactions are a normal part of any job, but you need to learn when it’s OK to let them happen and when it’s better to wait.

You’ll deal with the same issues and hear the same complaints repeatedly, and it’s a lot less frustrating when you accept this.

The timetable is a monster.

The effort isn’t seen, the results are. Think about how they’ll be perceived.

There will always be accusations of favouritism, regardless of how much work you put into making things as fair as possible. 

Difficult decisions are still decisions that have to be made. Know that they’re the best decision you can make at that point in time and move on.

Communication is key.

Gratitude makes a huge difference to how everybody feels. Express it sincerely and often.

Managers need feedback just as much as teachers do, but it’s hard to create an environment where you get it. When you get negative feedback, don’t fight it or get defensive about it. Accept it and learn from it. Show gratitude for it. Model how you want your staff to respond to feedback.

Crisis points are where huge amounts of learning happens.

Sometimes your teaching gets neglected when there are so many other things to think about.

You have to take care of yourself and your physical and mental health.

You are not alone.

What I’ve loved

Watching teachers develop.

Seeing their confidence and skills improve week on week and year on year.

Seeing what they go on to do next, and how our school has help them to do that.

Watching senior staff develop.

Seeing how they grow into their roles.

Helping them develop their skills.

Watching myself develop, as a manager, trainer and person.

Learning how to be kind to myself and accept the decisions I’ve made, including when they go wrong.

Improving my communication skills.

Seeing our school grow and change.

Seeing students progress through the school, especially when I’ve made decisions about their progress in the past.

Working with fantastic colleagues who make going to school something I look forward to.

What I’m looking forward to

Trying new things out at our school.

Watching our students continue with their progress through the school.

Hearing about what our teachers do next, both inside and outside teaching.

Continuing to grow and learn, and help others do so.

Seeing what happens next.

Conversation shapes

Have you ever watched in despair as students have a ‘conversation’ which is actually just two monologues? Or tried in vain to interact with a student who only gives one-word answers, however encouraging you are?

I know when I’m B1 or below, it’s difficult for me to pull my weight in a conversation and I need a lot of support from whoever I’m talking to. In the classroom we can provide this support in a variety of ways. We can supply sentence stems that students can complete, we can show them the first two or three turns of a conversation, or we can provide them with a whole range of questions or other functional language which might be useful in the conversation they are having.

These are all interventions we can make before or during students speak in class. But what about after the conversation? How can you help students to reflect on the success of that conversation? Here’s one idea I haven’t tried yet but it would like to: show students the conversation shapes below and ask them these questions:

  • Which shape is like a conversation you might have in your own language?
  • How would you feel in each of these conversations if you were a person A or person B? How actively would you participate in the conversation in each example?
  • Which shape is like the conversation you just had? Do you think you were person A or person B?
  • How successful do you think it was as a conversation?
  • What could you change in the conversation you just had to make it more like shape 3? What help do you need from the teacher to do this?

Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A talking a lot, and B saying almost nothing Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with both A and B producing a single long monologue Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A and B taking turns of varying lengths, sometimes overlapping

You can download a PowerPoint of all of the images at Conversation shapes if you want to adapt them for your own lessons, though please retain the credit.

I think this activity is an example of metacognition, which is the act of monitoring and making changes to learning strategies you use. The reflection helps learners to become aware of the processes they use when they are having a conversation, and what they can do to have more successful conversations in the future. Here’s a beginner’s guide to metacognition from Cambridge.

What other strategies do you use to help learners have more successful conversations?

On 26th June 2020, I took part in a panel for the IATEFL Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG) entitled ‘What now?’ with Nik Peachey, Sandra Pitronaci and Josh Round, and moderated by Jenny Johnson.

This second question-and-discussion led webinar provides a forum for ELT academic managers to connect with a panel of expert academic practitioners to understand and share our understanding and response to Covid-19 and how we prepare for the future. How much will return to our familiar “normal” and how much will be a “new normal”?

My role on the panel was to consider the academic implications of restrictions on physical distancing (a.k.a. social distancing), gatherings and class size. The management/financial implications were discussed in a business management panel two weeks previously.

What is social distancing and why is it important?

image of two schoolchildren with a double-headed arrow between them and a mask below the arrow.

Image by Katherine Ab on Pixabay

Social distancing is a term which has come into wide circulation since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but each country has its own rules on what that distance is (there’s a helpful infographic in this BBC article). It’s therefore important to check what the requirements are where you are teaching and stay up-to-date with any changes.

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air.

These can be breathed in, or can cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.

Virus transmission is less likely when ”fresh” air is involved – usually when people are outside.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

As I write this, some countries allow people to be closer together providing they wear masks, have plastic screens between them, or sit side-by-side rather than face-to-face. There may also be legal requirements for ventilation (the virus seems to spread more indoors than outdoors, direction of any fans/drafts can influence the direction of the virus) and frequency and depth of cleaning.

Timing is also a factor – the longer you spend with someone, the more risky it is.

Timing is also key. The longer you spend in close proximity with an infected person, the bigger the risk.

Scientists advising the UK government say spending six seconds at a distance of 1m from someone is the same as spending one minute at a distance of 2m.

Being exposed to someone coughing is riskier. Being 2m away from a cough carries the same risk as someone talking to you for 30 minutes at the same distance.

– Quote taken from the BBC on 23rd June 2020

All this means that when setting up classrooms for face-to-face teaching, we need to consider:

  • the amount of space between people
  • the number of people present
  • which direction they’re facing
  • whether masks are required or not
  • whether we use other methods of screening people from each other
  • ventilation of rooms
  • cleaning of surfaces
  • the amount of time spent together

Apart from this, we also need to have clear procedures in place if students or teachers show any symptoms or get the virus. This includes notifying anybody who might have come into contact with people showing symptoms to tell them to self-isolate, and may lead to whole schools being shut down again.

Getting back into the classroom with social distancing

Many schools do not have the option of using bigger classrooms, and there’s a limit to how many students we can lose and still maintain a viable business. We need to get smart with the spaces we have available. Our classrooms have chairs with folding We’ve played with various options at our school, though none of them are fixed yet. We won’t be trying any of them out until September 2020, so please let me know if you have other ideas!

  • Creating boxes marked with tape on the floor of the classroom to show which space each student should be in. Instead of our normal horseshoe pattern, it would be a grid using every part of the room, with all students facing forward (which feels like complete anathema to an experienced EFL teacher!) The first student to enter goes to the furthest box and the last student is in the one closest to the door. This also helps us to work out/manage exactly how many people can be in each classroom. The teacher has a slightly bigger box including the board.
  • Asking students and parents/carers to wear masks as they move around the school, until they arrive at their seat.
  • Telling parents/carers that they cannot come into the school building – they must drop their child off at the door.
  • Keeping windows open where possible to provide ventilation (not sure how that will work in the Polish winter though!)
  • Combining face-to-face classes with online ones (a hybrid approach), having one of each per week rather than two in the classroom.
    • This provides the benefits of both types of lessons, and means that if we have to go into lockdown again, students are already used to an online environment.
    • It also reduces the amount of time people spend in the school in relatively small rooms with groups of people, and therefore should reduce the risk.
    • This means we can use our bigger rooms for twice as many groups, as they will only be in school on one of their two lesson days, instead of both.
    • For off-site lessons, it reduces the need for teachers (and students!) to travel on one day a week.
  • Creating a code of conduct for students/parents to sign on how they will behave when in the school and in class, including staying the correct distance away from others.
  • Attempting to stagger class start and finish times to reduce the number of people moving around the building at the same time.
  • Having teenage group breaks in the classroom instead of moving to a communal space.
  • Requiring students to bring all of their own resources (pens, paper etc.). No resources will be lent to students by the teacher or by other students.
  • Using this large common space as a classroom, instead of a meeting place.
  • Working out a cleaning regime that can be run between lesson times, not just at the end of the day.
  • Ensuring there are large enough bins in every classroom for tissues so that they can be disposed of as soon as possible.
  • Changing the way that we teach, again.

A(nother) new way of teaching

Same same, but different: we’re back in the classroom, but not as we know it.

Students have their own boxes in the classroom which they must stay in during lessons, so we can’t change pairs or groups at will.

They can’t share resources, so we can’t do activities which involve passing paper or mini whiteboards around.

Both of the above mean that they can’t stand up and write on the whiteboard, as that’s a double-whammy of moving past other people and touching shared board pens.

Children can’t move from their seats, to the floor, to moving around the classroom. No more running games, or gallery walks with information stuck to the walls.

Teachers can’t walk around the room monitoring how successfully students are completing an exercise.

So what can we do?

  • New pairs can be formed by students turning in different directions, for example working with somebody from the box in front of them, to the left, to the right, or diagonally.
  • Include movement breaks or exercise breaks, with students standing up and moving around within their box but in a prescribed pattern so that they continue to stay the right distance away from others. Alternatively, they could put masks on while doing these activities.
  • Continue using some of the online resources which students are familiar with, for example Quizlet or Google Docs for collaborative writing. These can create a sense of team work.
  • Play Quizlet Live Cacophony (my students loved this when I did it in a non-socially-distanced way last year!)
  • Ask students to write large and legibly enough for the person in the box next to them to read their work. When they need to do a peer check or get a second opinion, they can hold up their notebooks so that their neighbour can read it.

The useful links section below has more ideas.

Potential problems

As lockdown has been lifted in Poland over the past few weeks, we’ve now arrived at a point where a lot of people seem to have forgotten that there’s such a thing as coronavirus, and we’re still at risk from it. Some people still wear masks and gloves, but most don’t. As I write this on 26th June, it’s 13 weeks until we start teaching in September, and only 14 weeks since we went into lockdown on 16th March. As we’ve all learnt in the past few months, a lot can change very quickly, so who knows how people will feel about social distancing in September.

I feel like some students and/or parents might refuse to follow the rules, creating potential conflict situations. We need to make our expectations very clear and explain that we’re putting these rules in place to ensure the safety of all of our staff and students. We don’t want everyone in the school to have to go into isolation because one person came in with the virus.

Another problem might be a lack of rapport in a group which has only met online or in a socially distanced space. If they can’t easily work with everyone in the group, it could be harder for them to feel comfortable using their English in front of their classmates.

The upsides

It’s not all doom and gloom: students can benefit from a socially distanced classroom too.

If we have a first-in-sits-furthest-from-the-door policy, this could mean that people are working with different students each lesson because of the order in which they arrive.

Students will have to enunciate more and/or use clarification strategies if they can’t hear/be heard by classmates, rather than getting closer to each other.

We’ve got another chance to be super-creative with our teaching, and I know we’ll all benefit from that, however hard it might be at first!

Useful links

These are all of the links I’ve managed to find so far for social distancing in the classroom. There don’t seem to be very many as I write this in June 2020, but I’m sure that will change! I’ll update the list as I find more.

ELT

Mike Tomkins had been teaching in a socially-distanced classroom for 4 months when he wrote this reflection. It contains answers to frequently asked questions, and a few activity ideas.

David Dodgson described his experience of moving to a paperless classroom to help maintain social distancing and how the rules in his school have impacted on his teaching.

Sara Davila wrote about social distancing and young learners (and teens) for the Pearson blog, including ideas for helping them to deal with stress and think critically. I think the discussion she suggests could be adapted as part of a first lesson, though the post seems to be aimed at teachers working with the same group all week, rather than a couple of lessons a week as our school does.

Helen Chapman talks about strategies she has used to work around the limitations of the socially distanced primary and secondary classroom, particularly the problems caused by wearing masks.

Alex Case has social distancing variations on his TEFLtastic classics.

Miranda Crowhurst suggests 19 ESL games to play while keeping social distance.

If you want to discuss social distancing with your students, you might want to use this lesson plan about distance dining from LinguaHouse.

Jade Blue shares ideas for variety during whole class discussions in a socially distanced classroom.

Cambridge University Press have a section of their site dedicated to the socially distanced classroom. The most useful part of it is tips for the socially distanced classroom, including solutions for various problems.

Rubens Heredia has 5 tips for the socially distanced classroom in this Pavilion ELT video:

General education

After many attempts, the most successful search term I found was ‘activities for the socially distanced classroom’.

Sara Devila’s article (above) had a link to an article about a clever idea from primary schools in China: one-metre hats. A headteacher in Amsterdam had a different idea about keeping her distance by using a large skirt (though I’m not sure about the cleanliness of hand on the stick!)

Teaching experimental science in a time of social distancing includes some great experiments students could try at home, and shows how another branch of education is completing rethinking how they work.

This article from Spaces4Learning has some useful questions if you’re considering a hybrid approach (some face-to-face, some online classes) to help you think about what you do in each lesson.

These social distancing games shared on Twinkl are for primary school children, and many of them require a large open space, but they could provide some inspiration.

Asphalt Green has a bumper list of Kids’ Games for Social Distancing.

Please add to the comments if you have any extra ideas or useful links to add. Good luck!

ExcitELT 2020

One of the positives of the situation in the last 3 months is the fact that many events are now held online and are therefore accessible to people from a wider range of locations. This was the case for the ExcitELT conference, held online on Sunday 14th of June 2020. I joined around 40-50 other teachers from all over the world to talk about overturning norms in ELT. As the conference was based in the Japan time zone it meant 7 a.m. start for me, but it was well worth getting up for!

The format of the conference is worth mentioning as I think this was one of its great strengths. Each one hour block was broken into three sections. First we had a short presentation from one or two people interested in that area. Then we went into break out rooms on Zoom in small groups of three to six people. We had access to a Google Doc containing questions to help us talk about the topic. We made notes in the document during or discussions and the final few minutes of the block involved a summary of interesting points which came up. This format works really well as it allowed us to dive into a topic in more depth and share our experiences of it. I feel like this led to a richer conference experience and I hope more conferences are run like this in the future.

(Note: you might also be interested in reading Zhenya Polosatova’s much more concise and pro-active reflections on the event!)

Overturning norms around teacher conformity – Anna Loseva

This was the first of two topics from the conference which I had never considered before. Anna invited us to think about which areas teaching involve conformity. Examples might be the feeling that we need to get particular qualifications to progress in the career, the pressure to conform to student expectations like playing lots of games, or perceived market pressures such as the perception that students only want teachers who grew up speaking English.

Anna started to think about teacher conformity when she was looking for a job in Vietnam. A lot of people advised her to get CELTA to make the job hunting process easier, including me. Anna decided that if she did this and got a job it would validate the system which says that CELTA is worth more than a teaching degree and the many years of experience which she already had, though she also acknowledged the usefulness and worth of a CELTA course. She managed to get jobs and has proved to herself and others that it is possible to work in a foreign country teaching English without getting a CELTA first. This prompted her to ask when conformity is and is not useful, which was the topic of our group discussions.

How can conformity be helpful?

  • It helps us to learn new things from people around us as we trying to fit in. This is especially true for new teachers fitting into the profession.
  • Our group discussed the need to know what the rules are or might be before you feel comfortable breaking them.
  • If we conform to a particular set of requirements, for example how a course works within a school, it can make it easier to support each other. We have a common point of reference for discussions and a kind of shared language.
  • Having restrictions can push our creativity.
  • It helps us to learn the culture of the system, for example how a local education system works.
  • It helps us to know when we have met expectations.
  • It allows us to set standards, and develop and evaluate ourselves and others against those standards.

How can conformity be detrimental?

  • It can lead to burnout, frustration and disappointment.
  • Students and teachers can end up losing motivation.
  • Students don’t necessarily know what is best for their education, so if we conform to their requests or expectations all the time it might be detrimental to their education.
  • When people conform without questioning it can lead to keeping guidelines which we no longer need.
  • The rules which we conform to might be outdated or inhibit creativity. They can limit autonomy and differentiation.
  • We might end up doing things which we do not understand the reason for or the point of.
  • Constructive disobedience can lead to progress and innovation. Making mistakes and trying something new are useful paths towards development.
  • We can forge our own path.

Thinking points

Anna left us with two questions to consider.

  • Do you see some of the accepted norms in our industry as questionable? Should they be questioned?
  • Is gaining approval important where are you? Is it a big part of ELT culture?

This session was a great way to start and really set the tone for the rest of the day.

Overturning norms related to teacher well-being – Tammy Gregersen

Tammy introduced us to the concept of positive psychology. She described the difference development based on strengths can make compared to development based on a concept of deficit and what’s missing. She introduced us to the work of Seligman, who says that if you use your ‘signature strengths’ you:

  • Have more ownership over development and feel more authentic
  • Have an intrinsic motivation to use your strengths
  • Have a more rapid learning curve
  • Feel invigoration, not exhaustion
  • Have a sense of inevitability with the feeling of ‘try and stop me’
  • Excited about displaying what you are good at
  • Feel creative and one stupid shoe projects revolving around your strengths
  • Engage in continuous learning
  • Own your strengths

(Apologies for any mistakes while paraphrasing – its from 2008 but I could find the original list!)

Tammy asked us to do a survey our strengths. We had to take the top five and find two of them which we had in common with another member of our group. We then had to consider two ways we could use our strengths in new or novel ways in the next 2 days.

Since I did the survey, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the top five things which came up from my list. I was very pleased with the points that it picked out because they are all things which I have consciously tried to develop in myself:

  1. Hope
  2. Curiosity
  3. Love of learning
  4. Gratitude
  5. Leadership

When discussing it with my friend later, we talked about how this type of survey could feel like an equivalent of a silly quiz in a magazine telling you what kind of person you are, but the fact that it keeps going round in my head means I think that this could be a very interesting avenue to explore. I’d be interested to know how similar or different the ranking of the 24 strengths on the list would look if I did the survey again in a few months or years. I also want to find out more about positive psychology and Seligman, starting with exploring his website Pursuit of Happiness in a lot more depth.

Overturning norms around ELT conferences – Shoko Kita, Tim Hampson, Peter Brereton

One of the reasons which I wanted to attend this conference was the fact that the ExcitELT team have been running interesting conference formats for the past few years. In this session they asked us to think about three main areas:

  • How to make conferences more diverse
  • How to narrow the gap between the presenter and the audience
  • How to make conference has more friendly and accessible, including more affordable

They started with this quote from Haruki Murakami:

'If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.'

The questions which we were given to consider are useful for anyone who wants to plan a different kind of conference I think. They were:

  • How can we address and balance all areas of diversity?
  • How do we reach a wider range of participants?
  • How do we follow up on new presenters?
  • What can we do differently to make parents more welcome and make sure we have an affordable family policy?
  • Can video or online sessions be used for people who are distant? How can video sessions be more interactive?
  • What are the time demands of social events organized alongside conferences? Does this affect who got to them?
  • How much time is optimal between sessions for discussion?
  • How can you overcome the problems of one-time workshops?

By organizing an online conference which included a lot of group discussions and responses to participants’ experiences, the ExcitELT team started to work towards answering some of the questions that they posed. I will be interested to see how new modes of training and conferences develop in the post-pandemic era.

Overturning norms around second language teacher education – Geoff Jordan

Geoff started his presentation by describing the current training norms in place for elt. He described the craft model of CELTA where you hone techniques to become a teacher and the applied science model of university degrees where you learn the theory and think about how to apply it to the classroom. Norms in in-service teacher education include observations, sponsored courses, seminars and conferences, and perhaps also visiting trainers.

Geoff says that these methods of training pay little attention to how people actually learn a second language and lead to inefficacious teaching as most teachers use a course book to implement a grammar-based synthetic syllabus.

He described a common norm now of training focusing on teacher cognitions, which requires teachers to understand and articulate their own beliefs, assumptions and knowledge (BAKs) about the subject matter and pedagogical practice. These BAKs explain the mismatch between what teaches are told and what they actually do, and between what teachers say they do and what they actually do.

Geoff would like us to change the norms of second language teacher education sorry that we concentrate on doing real, relevant things in the target language, not just talking about the target language. He would like our teacher education to support and sustain this model, recognizing that implicit learning is the default mechanism of second-language learning. Focusing on BAKs ignores the elephant in the room of the form of the syllabus and how it is delivered.

To make these changes Geoff wants us to push for reform of the CELTA, conferences, and in his words ‘globetrotting gurus’. He wants us to encourage locally organized second language teacher education, promoting teacher collaboration, local teacher organizations, and ensuring that local teachers can discuss local issues. Above all he says that the guiding principle of second language teacher education should be to promote efficacy.

Neoliberalism in ELT – Tim Hampson

Tim’s talk was a replacement for a presenter who couldn’t attend and I’m glad to have seen it because it was another idea which I had never considered before. Despite having listened to the BBC sociology podcast Thinking Allowed for many years I had never really understood the concept of neoliberalism, so I will start with one definition which Tim gave us which I think was very clear.

Neoliberalism believes that free markets and competition maximize human well-being.

Harvey (2005:21)

One of the key points of neoliberalism is the fact that it seems to be a pervasive ‘truth’. It’s difficult to imagine a world that is not neoliberal, and it just seems to be the way things are. Some of the ideas that this leads to can be questioned. For example there is an idea that when individuals make choices, the result of your choices is what you ‘deserve’, but my choices as a white British middle-class woman with a university education very different to those of poor black man in the deep south of America. Another idea is that competition drives progress, but we can ask what that competition is, what that progress is, and whether it is actually beneficial.

Linked to neoliberalism is the idea of cultural, linguistic, economic and social capital introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. For example by learning English you might gain linguistic capital which you can turn into economic capitals by getting a job, or social capital by using your accent to fit in or helping you to interact more smoothly which leads to social connections or a job. Examples of English being seen as cultural or linguistic capital include learning English to get into a university course as a basic requirement, even if the course doesn’t require you to use English. English is also used as part of a drive to internationalize universities. Some people have to get an English certificate to look good in the job even though they may never use English at work. There is also the thorny question of learners asking how they can sound more like a native speaker, as there is a perception that a native speaker accent could give you more capital. In a neoliberalist view of the world it might feel like everyone is trying to gain capital, as it is hard to see the world in a different way once you know about this theory. But are they really?

Tim pointed out that we might view learning English for social or linguistic Capital as being preferable to learning full economic capital, but often you have to be in a place of privilege to even have the choice of prioritizing social or cultural capital Iva linguistic capital. Learning a language to get a job is just as legitimate as learning it for social or cultural reasons.

In our discussions Tim asked us to consider what kinds of capital are present in ELT and how we think about them. As he said, this idea of capital is an interesting lens through which to consider our profession.

Overturning language ideology norms – Heath Rose

The final session of the day was led by Heath Rose, who writes a lot about global Englishes. He started by telling us about how we might teach English as an international language, based on proposals by Galloway and Rose (2015:203):

  1. Increase World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) exposure in the curriculum. This will reflect ‘the complex reality of how English is used worldwide’ (Saraceni, 2009).
  2. Emphasize respect for multilingualism.
  3. Raise awareness of global Englishes.
  4. Raise awareness of ELF strategies.
  5. Emphasize respect for diverse English-using cultures and communities.
  6. Change teacher hiring practices.

Heath suggested ideas such as using a listening journal to encourage students to listen to a wider range of English voices, or you think a presentation to ask them to research different types of English. He talked about getting students involved in discussions about Global Englishes, raising their awareness and helping them to consider the identities as multilingual language uses. Accommodation strategies which we could teach students include helping them to deal with speakers of greater or lower proficiency than themselves, dealing with speakers with different accents or cultural norms, and helping them to join different linguistic communities.

Some of the barriers we discussed were the lack of suitable materials, knowing how to assess language and the requirements of particular exams, teacher education and training, an attachment to ‘standard English’ by stakeholders such as parents, and teacher recruitment practices. In our group we focused a lot on the final points and on the fact that in some countries it is very difficult to challenge days due to circumstances beyond the school’s control, such as national visa policies. However we all agreed that it is very important to do what we can.

Overall thoughts

As I hope you can say from what was described here, this was a very different kind of conference and one which has given me a lot of food for thought. If you get the chance to attend, I would highly recommend it. Thank you to Shoko, Tim and Peter for organising it, and to all of the attendees who shared their ideas and experience.

Podcasts are how I get a lot of my information, and how I broaden my perspectives on the world. The storytelling and sharing in a really well-produced podcast can change how you think or how you see the world in less than an hour, in a way that no other medium I know can do so consistently.

Here are four podcast episodes I’ve listened to in the past week which have done just that.

TED Radio Hour: Clint Smith

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.

If you only listen to one of these four episodes, this is the one. It draws together problems which I kind of knew about and others which I had no idea of, and shows how important and wide-ranging the impact of all of these issues are, but particularly silence. I’ve listened to it twice, and I’m sure I’ll listen to it again. The reflective nature of Clint’s conversation with the host, Manoush Zomorodi, the poems he reads, and the decisions we all have to make, but especially black parents, are all important to listen to. He emphasises that this is an intergenerational job, and we all need to play our part to move towards the world we want to create. And if you didn’t already realise how powerful and important education is, this episode would prove it.

TED Radio Hour: Ingrained Injustice

As protests for racial justice continue, many are asking how racism became so embedded in our lives. This hour, TED’s Whitney Pennington Rodgers guides us through talks that offer part of the answer.

Whitney Pennington Rodgers is the current affairs curator at TED. She selected four talks which show how racism affects all of us, regardless of what colour we are, and suggest ways that we can start to do something about it:

  • Baratunde Thurston: How To Deconstruct Racism, One Headline At A Time
  • Heather C. McGhee: Racism Has A Cost For Everyone
  • David Ikard: The Real Story Of Rosa Parks — And Why We Need To Confront Myths About Black History
  • Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa: Black Life At The Intersection Of Birth And Death

All four of these talks made me think about what I can do, and how lucky I am to not have to deal with these issues myself. The final poem was particularly powerful and emotional, and reflected what Clint Smith said in his talk too. These are things which should be self-evident, but clearly aren’t. We need to work to change that.

Desert Island Discs: Your Desert Island Discs

Listeners choose the music that has been special to them during the weeks of lockdown. With Jane Moss, Hugh Mullally, Ailish Douglas, Professor Jason Warren, Niti Acharya, Margery Hookings, Simon Spiller, Clare Raybould and Garry Greenland.

Each of the eight pieces of music shared here is accompanied by a story from the person who chose it, all from the general public. They cover all aspects of dealing with the pandemic and how it has changed lives in both negative and positive ways, and many of them made me cry. As a piece of cultural history which truly captures a moment, this podcast episode should be saved forever.

Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast: Lockdown Shakespeare Pioneer

Rob Myles, along with his producing partner Sarah Peachey, is the creator of The Show Must Go Online, which, since March 19, 2020, has been creating fully if madly rehearsed productions of Shakespeare’s canon in the order in which they were written, once a week, using actors and fight directors from all over the world. With over 100,000 views on YouTube in just 12 weeks, Rob talks about how this has become huger than he ever imagined, and how he’s learned to work in this new space; how his early studies in psychology led to understanding characters and delivering an actor-driven experience; excellent new opportunities for both audience engagement and audience research; iambic discoveries expressed in actual iambic pentameter; developing his singular obsession; shout-outs to The Barnsley Civic; being leaders in a movement rather than a company; and the realization that our moment cried out for a Rob Myles — and thankfully we have one.

This is a much more upbeat episode than the three previous ones, and is a fantastic example of the creativity and innovation that this pandemic has created. It shows the ingenuity of humans, and how we can all pull together in extraordinary ways. Rob’s story of going from somebody who hated Shakespeare at school, with a working-class background which meant that drama didn’t even really cross his radar through to somebody who became completely obsessed with it and is now co-producing every Shakespeare play in the order they were first produced. The last two minutes of the podcast are particularly important, as I completely agree with Rob Myles that Shakespeare is and should be for everyone.

These episodes have stayed with me, and will for a very long time. Podcasts really are special.

Alastair Grant and Florencia Clarfeld have been doing amazing work over the past couple of months, running a weekly gathering on Zoom called ‘We’re all in this together’. I saw Alastair share links on facebook to the resources they created, and it seemed like an intriguing and original response to the crisis and the need for teacher support, so I asked Alastair to tell us more about what the community is and how it’s organised. Here’s his response. Thanks for writing this Alastair! (Note: the post was written on 4th June, but I’ve been slow to upload it so some of the time references are wrong.)

Crises bring out the best and the worst in people, especially on social media. And by midnight on Friday 20 March, a few hours after quarantine was announced here in Buenos Aires, there was plenty of both.

Facebook here is the preeminent form of media (social or professional) for teaching. From posts asking how we would be able to teach our students now, to offers of help with online tuition (most of which came at a price), Facebook seemed have become a pedagogical free-for-all in a matter of hours.

I coordinate the English department of a local secondary school and my teachers wanted ideas and so did I. But it wasn’t only us – everyone seemed to be asking for the same, whether it was advice on using Google Classroom, what Zoom was and how to use Live Worksheets, there was a huge and sudden need. And I wouldn’t call it a need for help with what I’ve seen described as “emergency teaching”. I’d describe our situation more as “response pedagogy”, whereby the way we lead our students (as the original Greek suggests), needs to effectively respond and evolve to fit with a new situation.

Back to Facebook, and there was everything and nothing on offer at the same time. But certainly what there wasn’t, was a space for people to share or ask for advice on teaching under lockdown. Nonetheless, Facebook was still the connecting thread for everyone, so I decided to create a forum for people to share material and experiences of this new way of teaching. And it was a way of teaching that needed to be constructed pretty fast, as here at least, we were in lockdown in a matter of hours, with only the weekend to prepare for a new world on Monday morning.

My partner, Florencia Clarfeld, who has been working on this with me since day one, chose the name of the event which is now a weekly meeting: “We’re All In This Together”. I love the name, because it feels like a counterpoint to the social distancing that has been enforced. We decided that the event should be held on Zoom but that they were to be meetings, rather than webinars. I wanted to give teachers a space where they would be able to share their experiences and ideas rather than just listen to one person speak, because that was not the point at all.

The first invitation to the event drew nearly 200 enrolments. Now, when you ask 200 people, most of whom have never met, to starting chatting about a totally unfamiliar situation, you might well be met with total silence. So I prepared some PowerPoint slides in advance to help things along. The slides were a collection of about six games and warmers and my idea was to show/demonstrate one and then ask the teachers if they had anything similar. So that was the plan. But would it work?

Not only did it work, but something very unexpected happened. As soon as I asked people if they had any similar activities to the one being shown, the Zoom chatbox flooded with links, website names, activities and apps that teachers were using. Without wishing to sound corny, it was quite an emotional moment. So then it became clear that the meeting was going to do its job, whereby the chatbox became the main source of material.

Now after every “We’re All I This Together”, I put the session video and the PowerPoint into a Google Drive folder. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. But, like I say, the real “pull” of the sessions is the chatbox transcript. In every chat transcript (we’ve had eight session so far), there are hundreds of tips, ideas, suggestions, games and activities shared by teachers from all over the world. Each session has its own topic, so future teachers coming to the Drive folder will be able to find them.

For the first Zoom meetings, I had only room for 100 people, and for a while there were many people left outside, which was a great shame. Then we were offered a 500-person Zoom room by a bookshop from called Advice here in Argentina and since then we have had space enough. Until, that is, I invited Dr. Stephen Krashen along to be interviewed on his thoughts about teaching during Coronavirus and his parting of the ways with The Natural Approach. The meeting was oversubscribed but well over two hundred people, so we had to live-stream it by Facebook, the video to which has now been viewed nearly 18,000 times.

Events like this are normally paid, but I believe that under the circumstances everyone should, for example, benefit from the privilege of hearing what Krashen has to say as well as being able to ask him questions. For me, education is both a right and a privilege – but not for a privileged few.

This coming Sunday we have Adrian Underhill joining us for an interview and we expect another full house. [Note from Sandy: this has already happened as has an interview with Sarah Mercer, and the recordings are in the folder.] The generosity of the interviewees is overwhelming. People might well ask for some kind of fee but I have explained the situation and people have been more than willing to be interviewed pro-bono. In Dr. Krashen’s own words, he said, “I’d love to”.

So now the meetings have evolved, just as our teaching has evolved. Some are interviews with inspirational figures from ELT and some are workshops. We want to keep this mix as it is, so that the original mission statement, the “why”, is never lost. We’re All In This Together is a safe space for teachers to share ideas and exchange suggestions and experiences.

There’s a new world coming after COVID-19, and we, the teachers, are the ones who are helping to build it. As always.

Alastair Grant is an English Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ELT materials writer. He is the Academic Director at Colegio Nuevo Las Lomas and a teacher trainer for International House Montevideo, where he runs the Cambridge Delta 1 teacher-training course. He is a consultant on the profesorado de inglés at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires, where he has currently lectured in Discourse Analysis and Methodology.

He holds an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK, has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology, all modules of the Cambridge Delta and the Cambridge Train the Trainer Certificate.

The end (kind of)

This is the last of my weekly posts, started when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in Poland. I still have a couple of weeks of work left, but my teaching is done for the year and life outside the classroom seems to be opening up again, so this is a general reflection on what I’ve learnt since lockdown started.

Personal stuff

When we first went into lockdown I thought that it was going to be very difficult for me because I live by myself. I thought I would get lonely and depressed because that’s what’s happened to me before when I didn’t have friends I could easily meet. However, it was the complete opposite. I don’t think I have ever felt more connected to the world and to my friends and family since I started living abroad. As we all discovered the power of Zoom and how easy it is to connect groups of people for all kinds of different reasons I started to have regular group meetings with three different lots of friends as well as regular conversations with my mum and with two other friends. Together with professional conversations and online events, my social life has been very full, including games afternoons, pub quizzes and just having conversations on every topic under the sun, starting with the inevitable “What it’s like for you there now?”

Apart from the social side of things, I have continued to work on my cooking and baking. I can now confidently bake with live yeast, and have added a range of meal options to my menu, including pizza and experimenting with chickpeas. I have had more time to cook and bake than previously and I hope to maintain this to some extent when life opens up again completely.

Health-wise, it was a challenge not having physio for so long and since I went back a couple of weeks ago it has been quite painful, but nothing I haven’t had to deal with before. I have bought a bike and started to use it in the last couple of weekends and I’m really enjoying the new places it can take me to, including where I am standing right now. I dictated most of this post into my phone while standing in the forest taking a break from a bike ride. 🙂

I have hugely enjoyed all of the cultural offerings which have been made available to us during lockdown. I have watched almost all of the productions from the National Theatre and have learnt to notice staging in a way I never had before because of their simple but incredibly effective productions. I have filled a lot of gaps in my Shakespeare knowledge, watching at least five plays which I had never seen before, and appreciating all over again why he is such an amazing playwright. I’ve also seen a few musicals, and other plays and productions I would never have considered watching if it wasn’t for lockdown. I have given money a few times and hope to continue being able to support the arts in more ways after this.

Final lessons

My final two lessons with my groups were a grammar, vocabulary and writing test which involved me making sure they could all access the test successfully, then waiting for them to finish and providing activities for the fast finishers.

In the final lesson I shared the test results and we looked at websites that the students can use to practice English over the summer.

In the last Polish beginners lesson we did general revision from our 20 or so hours of lessons this year. We started with an ELTpics image of a person which my students had chosen and they answered simple questions about the person in a Google Doc. To help them do this we had Quizlet breaks, replaying set from earlier in the year including demonstrating the Gravity function. Pat way through the lesson we added a second image to the document and they answered more questions about that lesson. The lesson was only 1 hour long, so we didn’t have time to create conversations between the two people set in some of the locations we have practiced language for this year, for example the supermarket, the train station, or the police station. I think the structure of this lesson works nicely, particularly for the small group of three students I had, and it’s a lesson that worked very well in an online setting because we could move smoothly between the documents and the Quizlet sets.

My teaching

Like pretty much every teacher in the world, my teaching has undergone a huge transformation over the last 3 months. I have gone from knowing nothing about Zoom to being able to run a range of lesson types on it and integrate lots of different types of activities and tools to make sure that my students benefit from the lessons. I have learnt that it’s an incredibly versatile tool, and I know that it will be a part of my teaching from now on. I have also been able to incorporate many things that I probably could have used in a face-to-face classroom but never had the incentive to do so, or tried once a long time ago and never used again. There is no doubt in my mind that my teaching has developed a lot due to the challenge of the last few months, and I have found it very exciting and interesting to try to work out how to teach in this different way. I wish that it didn’t need to have happened in this way but I think that education will be richer for it.

Training and conferences

Today I attended the #excitELT conference online, which was a great format – 15-20 minute presentations, followed by 20-30-minute discussions in small groups with Google Docs, followed by a 5-10-minute round-up and a short break before the next session. This is just one of the new training formats I have been privileged to take part in over the last three months. I previously wrote about the IH Moscow event which I attended which had short presentations by lots of different teachers, and I will shortly be sharing a post by Alastair Grant about the weekly We’re all in this together meetings which features very vibrant chats run via Zoom based on prompts or guest speakers. If you know of any other interesting new training formats, please let me know.

All of this has come about out of the need to provide training and support with the sudden move to online teaching, and it has yet again demonstrated the innovation of the teaching community. A lot of conferences have had to move online and this has broadened access to these events, and enabled a wider range of speakers to take part. I hope that these models are maintained when the pandemic is over, and we can continue to look for new and innovative ways of supporting as many teachers as possible.

Management

The pandemic has probably thrown up the most challenges for me as a manager. Working with the rest of the management team, we were lucky enough to have two days to make the transition to online teaching and be able to provide training for our teachers to make this move as effective as possible.

I have had to learn to be more effective with my email communication, as in the beginning there was so much information which needed to be given to the teachers, and the only way to pass it all on seemed to be via email. I tried to speak to every teacher over the phone or on Zoom at least once a week. While this was not always possible I know I managed to speak to people at least every two weeks. I created a virtual staffroom on Zoom so that people could meet me easily and I could remain as accessible as possible, as I would in my office at school.

We continued with weekly meetings and workshops, and I tried to maintain the social aspects of this by having some time for us to have a chat at the beginning of the meeting before we started the main event. I’m not sure how successful these things were, and the last three months have shown areas where our admin needs to become more efficient, as it’s not possible just to pop into another room and have a quick chat with somebody if there’s a problem. When you have to make an appointment or send yet another email, it’s all more screen time and shows up the holes in the system.

We now have two weeks at the end of the school year to try to work out some of these problems before the summer, and I have time during the summer to think about what I can do to improve the situation. The fact that we will inevitably enter some new mode of working in September gives us the chance to have a kind of reset. I’m not sure we would have done that without the need to work in such a different way during the pandemic.

Reflection

Writing weekly posts since the beginning of the pandemic has allowed me to really think about what has happened to me and to our profession and lives over the last 3 months. I have thought about my teaching more deeply than for a long time. Overall, I know that I have been very lucky to always have a little bit of freedom during lockdown, to continue to have work to keep me busy, to have a range of challenges, and to not have to deal with the challenges of having children suddenly at home. I have been very grateful for the support and comments I have received in response to my posts.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope that the end is in sight for you as well before too long. I hope that the end is really here for us in Poland too, and that it’s not a false sense of security before a second wave comes. As always with these major events, we are reminded that life is short and we never know when it will change dramatically, so we should continue to live every moment to the best of our abilities, including when we are in lockdown. Good luck and stay safe.

Tips and useful links

If you need to present from PowerPoint via Zoom, go to File > Set up show > Browsed by an individual (window). (Thanks Kelly Cargos)

If you’re having trouble downloading the chat now, there’s been a setting change in the latest version of Zoom, which you may need to change back. (Thanks Ruth)

John Hughes has five activities for introducing Zoom to students, including functional language they may need to use when things go wrong.

Peter Clements talks about peer observation, and what’s changed with it since he’s started online teaching.

Rachel Tsateri talks about connecting classrooms using Flipgrid.

Jade Blue suggests four activities to help teens build social connections.

ELT Campus has some incredibly useful tips for giving instructions online, and a whole series of webinars for teachers on how to teach English online. Thanks to Katherine Martinkevich for bringing their site to my attention on her ever-useful blog. She also led me to this Padlet of fun activities for the Zoom classroom.

Sharon Hartle reflects on the experience of teaching online at Verona University, and provides tips on using a combination of Moodle and Zoom.

Leo Selivan has a Zoom activity using the photos of the week on BBC, The Guardian or The Atlantic.

James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni have taken the CELTA course online.

Hana Ticha was back in the classroom with some of her younger students.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Testing times

This is my penultimate post in this series of weekly reflections on the current goings-on, as I finish with my groups next week. This week my two lessons were both tests: the first was reading and listening, the second speaking. In this post, I’ll describe how we ran the tests and what I’ve learnt about Zoom this week.

Before I start, I’d like to stress that systems we’ve been using to test our students are the cumulative thought process and reflection on experience of the teachers and management team I work with at IH Bydgoszcz, and we’re refining it all the time! Thank you to my colleagues for all of their input and feedback!

Testing listening and reading

Before the lesson:

  • Create a Google Doc with your questions. Check that these are relatively easy to complete on a computer even if you have minimal technical skills, particularly for the listening.
  • Make one copy per student, with the student’s name in the file name, plus a demo document.
  • Create an extra document. In this document, make a list of all of your students’ names, with the edit link for the document under their name. Leave a space after each name/link pair. This makes things easier during the lesson!

During the lesson:

  • Have all of the students’ listening or reading tests open in a single set of tabs.
  • Remind them to put all phones, books etc, away from their device (unless they’re using a phone of course!)
  • For reading, tell them that you would like to check their reading, not Google’s, and therefore they shouldn’t copy and paste the text or any of the questions (this happened in a couple of my colleagues’ lessons!)
  • Show students the demo document, particularly any question types/exercise types which they might not immediately be able to work out how to complete. This includes how you want them to complete e.g. a True/False question. Should they underline it? Highlight it? Delete one? The last is probably the easiest by the way!
  • Put the list of links into the chat box. Students click on their link. If students aren’t logged in to Google (they don’t need to be), you should see a little coloured circle in the top right corner saying ‘anonymous wombat/ifrit/walrus’ etc appear when they’re in.
  • Ask students to type their name at the top of the document when they get in. This helps you to check that the right student is in the right document. Go through each test and check it matches the file name.
  • Ask everybody to mute their microphones. Mute yours too.
  • For listening, tell students that if they can’t hear or there’s a problem with the audio, they should say ‘Stop, help!’ as soon as possible. One or two colleagues had students who got to the end before saying they couldn’t hear anything!
  • Start the listening – make sure you’re sharing your computer audio! It’s best to have the file on your desktop, rather than streaming it, if possible.
  • While the students are completing the reading or listening, flick through the documents to see whether they’re filling it in correctly, as in completing the tasks in the way you want them to. Help students if they’re having problems. Create a manual breakout room to move a student to if you need to speak to them.

If you suspect cheating, you can look at previous versions of the document to see how the student completed it by checking how they edited it over time.

Testing speaking

We had some lessons where the teaching did the testing, and others where there was a guest examiner. In all cases, the students worked in pairs in breakout rooms on a revision activity throughout the lesson. Mostly this was them creating a game, and they then switched games with other students to play in the second half of the lesson. I saw various types of game:

  • Creating a Kahoot.
  • Creating virtual board games in Google Docs or using Tools for Educators. Thanks to Ruth Walpole for leading me to that website.
  • Completing a list of challenges which each have points values, with the aim of getting as many points as possible.

The teacher set up the main activity at the start of the lesson, then put students into breakout rooms. The speaking examiner dropped in to each breakout room to test the students, then moved onto the next room. If it was a guest examiner, they could put up their hand so that the teacher knew it was time to move them to the next room. This system seemed to work pretty well. 🙂

The personal stuff

Things seem to be returning to some level of normality here in Poland. You no longer have to wear masks outside, though I still generally do, apart from when I’ve been on my bike far away from other people. It’s almost like nothing happened in many ways, which seems quite strange!

Useful links

Edutopia has an article about how to reduce the likelihood of teacher burnout during the pandemic, as a lot of us seem to be working a lot more hours now (though luckily mine are pretty similar).

I’ve listened to three episodes of TEFL Commute Who’s Zooming Who? this week: Realia, Guests and PowerPoint, all full of useful ideas. Find the full back catalogue here.

Anka Zapart has great ideas for teaching YLs on her Funky Socks and Dragons blog. Here’s a whole list of ways to work with songs, both online and off.

Alex Case has materials for teaching language for checking and clarifying on Zoom, something we all need!

James Egerton has a range of tips and activities for teaching on Zoom in this blogpost.

David Petrie is blogging again 🙂 Here’s his reflection on blogging and teaching in the time of COVID-19.

Jacqueline Douglas talks about all the things she’s noticed about running CELTA online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

normal: ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected

Definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, 31st May 2020

My Zoom lessons

I chose the title of this week’s post because over the past ten weeks teaching on Zoom has become normal, something which is no longer worthy of comment when planning or teaching. My students understand how to use every feature of Zoom I use in the lessons, including screen sharing in rooms. They use Google Docs with ease, and ask for favourite activities again. When I don’t make instructions clear, they ask me: chat or notebooks? We’ve all settled in to this new way of teaching and studying. And this week was the end of that: I’ve got four lessons left with my groups, three of which are test lessons, followed by our final round-up lesson. So no more normal teaching with them any more!

Having said that, this week was also the one where I had the most number of connection and technology issues since we started on Zoom, so it wasn’t completely normal.

In group one, one student appeared six or seven times in the waiting room but couldn’t get in – in the second lesson she finally managed to connect by borrowing a different device. I started with 10 students and was left with only 7 as people lost their connections in the first lesson. In the second lesson I started with four students I could see and hear, one I could hear but not see, and one who we could only connect with through the chat box. Another student was an hour late due to connection problems. In the second class we had fewer connection issues, though two students dropped out multiple times and one dropped out fifteen minutes before the end of both lessons. Another student was fine in the main room, but his microphone wouldn’t work in breakout rooms. I’m lucky to have escaped for so long without all of these tech problems!

What shall we do today?

Our first lesson introduced some verb phrases which I thought my groups might already partially know, so we looked at them quickly at the start. Students had a few minutes to play with the vocab on Quizlet, then matched vocab and pictures in their books, then wrote what they could remember in the chat box.

We listened to two cousins discussing what to do and when and where to meet, with students guessing what they might do and listening to check their predictions the first time, completing a table to check understanding of specific information the second and third time, then filling in gaps in the conversation with target language phrases the fourth time.

What ____ we do today? Why don't we play _____? OK. Where shall we ____? Let's meet at the bus _____. etc.

I elicited the phrases for suggestions by writing gapped sentences onto my mini whiteboard and holding it up to the camera. These phrases had already appeared in last week’s story. I tried to show that “Shall we play tennis?” “Why don’t we play tennis?” and “Let’s play tennis.” all have the same idea of suggestions/the same meaning, but not sure how clear that was at first. To practise, students completed a transformation exercise in their workbooks where they saw a suggestion in one form and had to change it to the other two. With the first group, we ran out of time at that point because of all the technical problems. The second group had time to write their own version of the dialogue and perform it to the class.

What do you remember?

We had one full revision lesson before our tests start on Monday. This was particularly important for me to see what the students could remember as they’ve had lessons since September, but I’ve only taught them since February. There was a puzzle to start the lesson, which my students really got into once they’d figured out how it worked:

Read the clues to find the letters. Use the letters to find Martin’s birthday present. the fourth letter in Easter the third letter in the twelfth month The sixth letter in holiday The eighth letter in geography The twenty-third letter of the alphabet His present is a ____________

Jude created a quiz with a couple of short exercises for each unit of the book. This was on a master document. During the lesson, we copied a couple of exercises at a time into a running document. Students worked in teams in breakout rooms, with one student sharing the screen with the questions on it. They wrote their answers in their notebooks. They had about 7-10 minutes to complete each round, after which we returned to the main room, checked their answers and added up their scores. This worked really well with both groups: I managed three rounds with group one and four with group two, and it showed up really well that they still have trouble with irregular verbs and choosing direct and indirect pronouns, but are fine with everything else from the first half of the year.

Jude also included some brain break challenges, though my group didn’t do any of these. This was partially because I forgot about them, and partially because they were so into the quiz and there was enough variety in the format that they didn’t seem to need them. I think they’re great ideas though! Here are two of them:

Break round! Which team can make the healthiest meal? You’ve got 2 minutes to get 5 items of food from your kitchen. Ask first! Show your team your food. What can you cook together? ‘We’ve got some…” We’re going to cook

Break round! What’s the weather like? (It’s your idea!) Find clothes for that weather.

We now have plenty of revision material for our final few lessons, alongside the Quizlet sets we’ve been making all year to go with the book.

Zoom tips

This week I discovered two things you can do with videos: hide non-video participants (thanks Ruth!) and hide self-view. The first is useful if you are being observed and you want to forget the observer is there 🙂 It’s also useful if somebody has to connect on two different devices: one for video, one for sound – you can hide the non-video/sound-only box on your screen. Hide self-view is great for any time you don’t want or need to see yourself, especially while in gallery view! I found it useful for meetings and chats with my friends.

To use these functions, hover over your video. Click on the three dots which appear in the top-right corner to see a menu. This should display both options.

I wouldn’t use either of these during lessons as I find I have to consciously remind myself to include students who are sound only when I can’t see their faces, and I think it’s important to see what your students can see in your videos, especially if you’re trying to show them something.

The personal stuff

Tomorrow (Monday 1st June) Poland enters the fourth stage of our four-stage post-lockdown plan. That means that masks are necessary on public transport, but not in open spaces. When I went out on Friday and Saturday there were already a lot of people not wearing them, or not wearing them properly (covering their mouth and not their nose: what’s the point?!) Kujawsko-Pomerania, the region I live in, had it’s last new confirmed case on 25th May, so six days ago. We’ll see what kind of second wave there is, as many people don’t seem to be paying much attention to the rule that you should stay 2m away from others.

I’m still staying at home a lot, but I went out on three consecutive days this week: first to my flamenco class, then to physio followed by a meal at a restaurant, then to pick up some shopping which I can’t get online. The meal was nice because I didn’t have to do any washing up 🙂 but I realised again how much my cooking has come on over the past six years! Restaurants for me are about eating in different places, and perhaps trying different combinations of food, but I’m so much more adventurous in my cooking now anyway that that side of restaurant eating is much less important for me now.

Useful links

Anna Loseva describes her experiences of teaching on Zoom without any prior training. The post is full of useful tips for anyone new to Zoom. I especially like the idea of having a running document for students to type questions into during lessons. Her university in Vietnam has now returned to face-to-face classes.

10 minutes of listening to this episode of TEFL Commute, and you’ll have plenty of warmers for your upcoming lessons.

Katherine Martinkevich shares links connected to taking your students on a virtual field trip. This could be particularly useful for summer school courses. She also shares a link to/summary of a Q&A session with Sarah Mercer on wellbeing for teachers and managers.

Rachel Tsateri is linking classes together through Flipgrid, and is looking for volunteer teachers to join her.

Cristina Cabal shows how she’s used ClassroomQ in her classroom. It looks like a simpler version of Mentimeter in some ways, where you’re able to ask a question and see the order your students answer it in.

James Egerton has tips on how to consciously build your post-quarantine habits. Habits are something that I’ve worked on a lot over the last few years, and they’ve made my life a lot more positive through the small gains building up over a number of years.

Sue Swift talks about the value of task repetition/repeating activities, and shows how a little challenge can be added in future lessons. This applies equally both online and off.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Personal stuff

A week ago I wrote about how frustrated I got every time I went outside my flat. After a relaxing weekend, a chance to talk over my feelings with friends and family (thank you!), and a chance comment on Tuesday about case numbers in our region being pretty low (10 cases in the last 7 days as I write this), I started to feel a lot better.

I’ve been for three walks in the last week, and while I still got frustrated with people, I was able to calm myself down much faster. This was easier when I closed my eyes and waited until they had gone past, in the manner of a small child: if I can’t see them, they’re not there 😉

After those small steps, there were two huge ones.

Our flamenco teacher is allowed to have classes with up to 5 people, so that’s how many of us were in the room on Thursday night. I live by myself and have been getting shopping delivered, so being in a room with actual human beings for an hour was an adjustment. It felt normal quickly, but I wanted to notice it and remember that feeling. The lift home which my friend gave me was also strange: the first time I’ve been in a vehicle of any kind for about 10 weeks.

The other step is something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: I finally got around to buying myself a bike. That means I now have the freedom to go further afield if I want to without having to rely on public transport. I just need to motivate myself to carry it down and up three flights of stairs every time I want to use it!

So as you can see, I’m in a much better place this week. Thank you to everyone who sent me a message after last week’s post!

My Zoom lessons

Our teen elementary lessons this week were extra practice of ‘have to’ and a break from all grammar!

Do we have to do this all again?

The concepts of ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to’ really challenged our students last week, so Jude and I decided it was worth dedicating another lesson to it.

We also wanted to do a bit more work on adverbs, so for the warmer students worked in teams in breakout rooms to add sentences to Google Docs to describe pictures. For example, She acted badly. He shouted loudly. This activity showed that about 80% of the students have got the idea of adverbs, and none of them remembered ‘suddenly’ from last week.

The homework check showed that both groups continued struggled with the form of ‘have to’ or avoided it completely.

With group 1 the rest of the lesson went:

  • Dictation (see below).
  • Rewrite the text in groups in breakout rooms, replacing ‘I’ with ‘she’ and making other necessary changes so the grammar agreed.
  • I highlighted the question and negative forms again and they copied them into their notebooks.
  • Go back to your homework, try to correct it, then we’ll confirm if the answers are right or not.
  • 5 minutes left: in the chat answer the question: What jobs does your mum/dad have to do in the house?

With group 2, they’d got enough of the homework right to check it then, and I’d prompted them while they were comparing answers in breakout rooms to deal with the remaining problems. Their lesson went:

  • Dictation.
  • Rewrite text.
  • Question and negative forms again.
  • Write sentences about a mystery job for other students to guess (they only had 10 minutes for this, so the guessing happened next lesson).

For the dictation, they all wrote this text in their notebooks.

A day in the life of a teacher! I don’t have to get up early because my lessons start at 3pm. I have to correct some tests and check my students’ homework. I have to plan my lessons, so I have to read about grammar. When the lessons finish, I don’t have to cook dinner, but I have to eat, so I’m going to order a pizza. After dinner I want to watch Netflix, but I can’t because I have to plan my lessons for tomorrow. Luckily, I don’t have to go to bed early - I can stay up as late as I want. What do you have to do?

To help them manage the process, I said I’d read each sentence three times and held my fingers up to show which repetition it was. They could then ask me to repeat it again if they wanted me to.

In hindsight, we should have done some kind of pre-listening gist task, raised interest a little more first, had some elements they could change…but hindsight is 20/20.

In general, the lessons seemed fine when we were planning them, but when we taught them they felt uninspired and only partially engaging. The students seemed to enjoy the challenge of the transformation and they concentrated during the dictation, but I’m not sure how much they’ll remember this in future. On the other hand, they needed this focus on the grammar to fully understand (yes, I know that’s not ideal).

Look, it’s a penguin!

After lots of consecutive grammar lessons, it was time to take a break. We had a tiny bit of grammar at the start, with group one playing a wheel from wordwall. They read the prompt, then wrote the sentence in the chat box. They really enjoyed it and asked for more.

Group 2 read their sentences from the end of the last lesson in groups in breakout rooms. The other students guessed which job it was.

We used a story page for the basis of the lesson. We started with a couple of screenshots from the story, with students writing ‘I see…’, then ‘I think…’ sentences in the chatbox – a routine they’re familiar with. I encouraged them to use adjectives and adverbs, make predictions using ‘going to’ and say what the people ‘have to’ do. A couple of students got very into this.

I played the video for them to check their predictions.

In breakout rooms, they completed a gapfill comprehension task in groups where they had to finish the sentences by reading the story.

With group 1, I did a memory challenge. They saw frames from the story with words blanked out which they had to remember. Then I played the video, paused it, and they told me what’s next. They then went into breakout rooms to practise acting out the story in groups of 3, came back and performed it. However, they weren’t listening to each other as they were all telling the same story.

With group 2, I skipped the memory challenge. Instead I walked them through the story and got them to change details. For example, instead of a lost penguin, they chose another animal. Instead of going to the park, they went to the zoo/beach/mountains. In breakout rooms they chose their favourite idea for each bit of the story, then rehearsed it. When they acted it out, the others were a bit more engaged because every story was different.

Teacher training

Friday 22nd May was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference, 10 hours featuring 30 talks from teachers across the International House network. You can watch all of the talks on YouTube. My favourites were by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, Shannon Thwaites and Danny Coleman. Here’s the full programme. My talk was on making and using paper fortune tellers. I got so many ideas from the talks, and only have a couple more lessons to try them out in before the end of the year! Thank you to everyone who gave talks, and to Shaun Wilden for putting it all together.

On Sunday 24th May I took part in an event organised by IH Moscow (thanks for inviting me Anka Zapart!). I really like the format, which is manageable :

  • 10 minutes of house rules
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute break
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute general Q&A session

Each presentation featured activities teachers had tried out in class, and there were a few bonus activities in between. There’ll be a recording which I’ll also share. Lots of the teachers use Miro.com in their lessons, which I hadn’t seen before. It looks like a very versatile tool. You can have three virtual whiteboards with the free account. Vita Khitruk has compiled an example board with different ideas for games – I love the idea of ‘climbing’ a mountain with little challenges.

A series of post-it note pictures with challenges on them for students to complete - the notes follow the shape of the mountain

Some of the other things I learnt about/was reminded of were:

  • Playing noughts and crosses with an image behind the grid. To win the square, students have to describe that section of the picture. (Anka Zapart)
  • Duckiedeck.com/play has lots of games for young learner classes, for example this costumes game which you can use to get kids to describe what she’s wearing and practise words like put on/take off, or room decorating. You need Flash. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • Sesame Street has a restaurant game that kids enjoy too. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WheelDecide can be used for lots of different ideas – here’s an example for present simple questions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WaterAid has some topical games which you can adapt to the classroom, including Germ Zapper, which you can use to practise objects in a room and prepositions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • SentenceDict allows you to get good example sentences for any word, including being able to search for simple sentences only. (Vita Khitruk)
  • A reminder that Tekhnologic templates are very versatile and easy to adapt. (Irina Chan-Fedorova)
  • Kids can be very motivated by habit trackers, such as ticking a box for each of four challenges every time they do them: do homework, use Quizlet, watch a video in English (Masha Andrievich)
  • Use a ‘discourse clock‘ to help very young students say a lot more when doing mini presentations. (Anka Zapart)

A paper clock with moveable hands showing (at different times) big and small, a colour wheel, food icons, a house/a fish tank/trees

You can watch the full recording here:

Useful links

James Egerton has a lesson plan for upper intermediate and above learners based on an article about Zoom fatigue. James Taylor has one on working from home, with an entertaining video showing different ‘types’ of home-workers. He also wrote an article for the IATEFL Views blog on the resilience and creativity of English language teachers. Jill Hadfield’s IATEFL Views post shows snapshots of lockdown life in New Zealand, and a few activity ideas too.

Nik Peachey has a one-page interactive summary of six areas teachers need training and support in to successfully teach online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

As the last few months have proved, it’s impossible to know what the future holds. However, we’re all trying to figure it out, especially those of in education trying to work out what schools will look like.

To that end, I’ve written a very speculative SWOT analysis with a few ideas about the possible future of private language schools. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and is often used by businesses for strategic planning. This article from MindTools tells you how to do one.

You can read it on the IATEFL blog. I’d be interested to see in the comments what you think of these ideas.

Blackboard reading strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

It was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference (TOC) on Friday 22nd May 2020. Nearly 40 people presented for 15 minutes each on the theme of online teaching.

For my presentation, I decided to go for something low-tech that you could still do online, and what’s better than making a fortune teller. It’s a very simple origami project, one I think most of us have probably made in the past. Here’s a video of how to make one:

 

My decision maker

As a lot of us are working on our mental health while we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, my fortune teller was a way to choose your response to different people in different situations. The three sets of choices are:

Who are you talking to?

  • your boss
  • your colleague
  • your student
  • a parent

What are you talking about?

  • an activity you tried
  • how you feel
  • your plans tonight
  • something you’ve read
  • the news
  • IH TOC 😉
  • your lesson
  • your day

What do you say in that situation?

  • I give up!
  • I need chocolate!
  • Thank you!
  • That’s great!
  • Tell me more.
  • Help!
  • What should I do?
  • (Don’t say anything…take a deep breath!)

Other ways to use them

You could also use fortune tellers for:

  • predictions
  • practising spellings
  • practising lexical sets
  • question forms
  • making decisions in a role play
  • choosing with activity/game you’ll do next

And they’re not just for children: you can use them with teens and adults too with the right topics. Most people like to make things 🙂

What else could you use them for? Have you tried them out with your students?

Here’s the video if you want to watch the whole presentation:

Smouldering

Personal stuff

We’re very lucky that in Poland that coronavirus case numbers have been relatively low. That means our lockdown is being lifted, and phase 3 begins on Monday 18th: restaurants and cafés will reopen, as will hairdressers. More people can travel on public transport, and some sports facilities will reopen.

The night before reading about restrictions easing, I read a reminder that coronavirus may never go away. I knew that, but it’s different thinking it and seeing it written down.

Those two sets of information played against each other in my mind.

If a problem or unpleasant situation smoulders, it continues to exist and may become worse at any time.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I couldn’t help but think about my stress levels every time I go outside my flat. I get frustrated and angry at people not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly, at those not distancing or moving away from me or others. I’m not particularly worried about catching the virus – I know there’s a very slim chance of that, and I’m doing what I can to protect myself: wearing a mask and gloves, washing my hands, using alcohol rubs, keeping away from crowded areas. But there’s no cure for the actions of other people. I can’t control any of that and it makes me very stressed, and means that going for a walk is not particularly relaxing right now.

These are natural feelings right now, and they’re things I know that I need to face up to and deal with. I can’t stay in my flat forever as Poland begins to open up again. I can’t avoid people completely when I’m outside. I don’t have the option of leaving my flat, hopping in a car and driving to somewhere quiet. To get to ’empty’ places like the forest, I have to walk through populated areas.

All this going around in my head led to a complete breakdown on Friday morning. 30 minutes of tears and overwhelming emotion with my very understanding director, as I worked through my feelings about reopening after lockdown and how I will deal with that.

I hadn’t put any of that stress into words before, but it was all there under the surface, waiting to emerge.

If a strong emotion smoulders, it exists, but is prevented from being expressed.

– Cambridge English Dictionary, accessed 16th May 2020

I feel much better now, but it’s not problem solved yet as I do need to start to get out more.

So how will I deal with it?

I’ve found a way to get groceries delivered from a local shop, with fantastic fresh fruit and veg. I’ve even had ice-cream delivered from a business I would like to stay open. That means there’s no need for me to go to supermarkets or shopping centres.

Each weekend, I aim to go out for a longer walk early in the morning, at least a couple of hours and preferably somewhere in nature like the river or the forest.

The Botanic Gardens across the road from my flat is open 9-1 Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll go down for at least 30 minutes at 9am on both days before other people really start to arrive.

Just doing those three walks should be the first steps towards getting used to being outside again. And at some point cinemas will reopen, and I really miss them, so that will probably push me a little more…watch this space.

Management

Today is our two-month anniversary of teaching on Zoom – we started on 16th March. It feels simultaneously much longer and much shorter than that! This week has been a longer week than usual, which probably contributed to my state on Friday…I’d tired myself out, and need to keep an eye on this in future weeks.

I’m very proud of the beautiful spreadsheet I produced working out the details of the end of our school year, when lessons end (so many groups were interrupted in the shift online), and various other bits and pieces – I do like a good spreadsheet!

We’ve been working on the details of how we’ll run our end of year tests, and starting to prepare them. Fingers crossed it all works out!

It was also the week of PDIs, Professional Development Interviews. We normally do them in March or April, and they’re a chance for me to have individual meetings with each teacher and help them reflect on their progress over the past year and look forward to their future careers, either with us or elsewhere. I love these interviews because they help teachers realise just how far they’ve come, and this year they also showed me just how much effort many of our teachers have been putting into their professional development beyond what our school is offering. They were also a chance for me to personally thank each teacher for all the amazing work they’ve done in the shift to online teaching, and praise their enthusiasm and creativity. We’ve been teaching on Zoom for exactly two months today, and they’re like pros now! I’m so proud to work with them.

My Zoom lessons

This week our two teen elementary lessons (mine and Jude’s) were revising adjectives and adverbs, introduced last week, and introducing ‘have to’ for the first time.

A partially successful lesson

We didn’t have much time to practise adjectives and adverbs last lesson, so we wanted to give students a chance to use them this time.

With group 1, my lesson went:

  1. Warmer: Simon Says (e.g. dance slowly, eat carefully, drive dangerously)
  2. Homework check (with a nomination chain for questions like What do you do carefully? What do you do well?)
  3. Correct the mistakes (one sentence at a time in the chatbox)
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks (they were still having problems with a few areas)
  5. Sentence expansion (see below)

With group 2, it went:

  1. Sentence expansion
  2. Homework check
  3. Correct the mistakes
  4. Copy the corrected sentences into notebooks
  5. Expand your own stories (written as homework ready for last lesson)

Sentence expansion is laying out a sentence vertically, then asking students to add to it to make it as long as possible, while still remaining logical. For example, the sentence below might produce ‘The tall thin old man and the short young lady walked slowly and carefully to the beautiful sunny beach.’

This took ages with group 1 because I tried to elicit their own basic sentence first for all of us to expand on, i.e. eliciting nouns and a verb. I then used the annotate feature to show how to make the sentence longer. That meant when they went into breakout rooms they all thought they should create their own sentence from scratch and didn’t really use adjectives and adverbs. With group 2, I shifted it to the warmer as they don’t really get into activities like Simon Says, and I gave them the sentence shown on the slide, meaning the activity worked much better.

The lessons went OK, but they still need a lot more practice with this. Adjectives aren’t really a problem, but adverbs confuse them because the word order is generally different in Polish, and they sometimes overuse the adverb form.

On a technical level, I finally managed to persuade both groups to click ‘Ask for help’ in breakout rooms when they had a problem instead of waiting for me to turn up (it’s only taken 8 weeks!)

What do I have to do to get your attention?

For the second lesson, we started with a word cloud of adjectives and adverbs for students to write their own long sentences in the chatbox. This showed up very clearly which students still need extra practice with differentiating adjectives and adverbs, and with adverb word order. I did a lot of verbal correction and getting students to rewrite sentences.

We played Quizlet live with film genres which they’d looked at for homework. They asked to do it in breakout rooms, and this worked really well. They were actively working together, and in the first group each of the three teams won one round each 🙂

To introduce the grammar point ‘have to’ and link back to films, we showed an image of The Rock and told them he’s making Jumanji 3, reprising his role as Dr Smolder Bravestone. Here’s some of his smouldering intensity in case you haven’t seen it:

They had to come up with things he has to do each day. In the first group I tried to do this verbally, which worked to some extent, but not really. We then moved to them listing two things in their notebooks which they thing he does every day when he’s working. A few students protested they hadn’t seen the films, but I said they should write what they think any actor does every day. (If you too haven’t seen the two new Jumanji films, please do. Thank me later.)

During breaktime with group 1, I had a flash of inspiration, which resulted in possibly one of the funniest classroom experiences I’ve ever had 🙂 I changed my profile picture and name to The Rock.

I quickly installed the voice moderator Connor told me about last week. This allows you to change how your voice sounds to other people. With the free version, there are random voices available. I chose the deepest one, and when the students came back from break The Rock was running the lesson. It was hilarious, and I had to try not to giggle and destroy the illusion 🙂 The look on their faces was brilliant, and there was much discussion (in Polish!) about whether it was me or not. One student even went on Wikipedia to try to quiz me by asking The Rock’s age. But they did get into it, and were asking me questions as if I was The Rock. This is something that absolutely wouldn’t be possible in a physical classroom! (Tip: if you use this voice mod, you may need to delete it from your computer afterwards – it kept switching itself back on again during Jude’s PDI the next day!)

The actual aim of the activity was for them to ask questions starting ‘Do you have to…?’ to find out about The Rock’s day on a film set. They used the notes they’d made and quizzed me.

I had a slide prepared to elicit language into:

Once they’d remembered some of the things The Rock said, I checked the meaning by asking the questions on the right and doing gestures – finger wagging for I have to… and two hands upturned and moving (so hard to describe!) for I don’t have to. I dragged the boxes with the summary onto the slide.

I have to go to the swimming pool. I have to go to the gym. I have to have muscles. I don’t have to brush my hair. I don’t have to go to Poland. I don’t have to eat sweets. (in boxes: next to 'have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? NO! Next to 'don't have to' Can I choose? Maybe? Maybe not? YES!

I highlighted the relevant parts of the structure using the annotate function.

They wrote a couple of examples of things they have to/don’t have to at home into their notebooks, as well as copying the rules. They wrote their sentences in the chatbox so I could check and correct them. ‘Don’t have to’ is a particularly challenging concept, and students also confused ‘have to’ with ‘have’ as in ‘I have to a cat.’

With the first group we ran out of time to focus on the question/third person forms, so I wrote it quickly in the chatbox at the end for them to copy into their notebooks ready for their homework.

With the second group we had a few minutes to do that, and they also had time to imagine they’re a celebrity and write their own sentences. In breakout rooms, they quizzed each other asking ‘Do you have to…?’ and had to try and guess which celebrity it was.

This lesson really showed up how challenging it is to take in lots of new structures in quick succession: despite us spacing out our lessons to provide extra practice with ‘going to’ and adjectives and adverbs, the students were trying to combine them all here and getting very confused. Some of the sentences they wrote were things like ‘I have going to the garden.’ When they wrote their own sentences, they asked me ‘With adjectives?’

I’d like to space this all out more, but we only have a few lessons left before we reach the end-of-year tests. Some students can take it all in, but it’s too much for a couple of them. Luckily we have one or two lessons for revision at the end of the year, though we do need to look back over the whole year. (Yes, I know, coursebooks. Tests. Yes. But that’s how are classes work.)

Zoom problems

Two of our teachers had new problems with Zoom this week. Nothing that’s going to stop us using Zoom, but things that are useful to be aware of:

  • One had a 121 who couldn’t join the Zoom meeting. Apparently he was just sat in the waiting room, while from the teacher’s perspective nobody was there (meaning he couldn’t admit anyone). This problem stayed after he’d re-started the meeting too!
  • The other kept getting removed from the meeting despite being the host. All students who weren’t in breakout rooms were also removed from the meeting.

Useful links

Last week saw the Cambridge three-day At Home event (summaries of day one, two, three). Skimming through the programme, I like the balance of practical ideas for the classroom, stories being brought to life by famous readers, and things to help our wellbeing, such as a workout for beginners and a cook-along. I watched this ‘inspire session’ by David Valente on using songs with young learners, and it’s probably one of the best webinars I’ve ever seen: practical, clear, fun, and instantly usable. Rachel Tsateri summarised some of what she learnt from it in this post.

 

Naomi Epstein writes about her feelings as her school reopens at full capacity on May 17th. She’s based in Israel, where cases have decreased a lot according to Worldometers. Here’s an article from the Times of Israel about schools reopening.

Pete Clements talks about settling into a new job at a new school when you’re meeting everybody online for the first time.

TEFL Commute did a 10-minute podcast episode about how to use pictures in the online classroom. TEFL Training Institute spoke to Russell Stannard about what you need to put in place to help learners become more autonomous.

I remembered the existence of Telescopic Text, which is very simple to use and allows users to play around with sentence structures. Make sure you sign in if you want to save your work – access old texts again by click on your username. Here’s a strangely fitting example I produced for my students a few years ago.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Last weekend my colleague Ruth shared a poem by her friend, Jenna Edmondson. It made me laugh and I think a lot of teachers can empathise with it right now. Jenna kindly agreed to share it with the wider world on my blog. Thanks Jenna!

TEFL (Online) Tantrums

Just a second, I’m logging on

Teacher can you hear me?

Oh no, what’s wrong?!

I didn’t realise I was doing a hearing test today

Teacher can you see me?!

Yes I can, go away

I’ve 2020 vision of how this will pan out

Now please be quiet, no need to shout

Wait a moment are we all here?

Maria was signed in, now she’s just disappeared

Pablo please, can you unmute your mic

I can tell you’re not listening, you’re playing fortnite

OK class, cameras on please

I want to check you’re not watching TV

Great, now Maria’s back let’s begin

Teacher I can’t see you

(Honestly it’s fine)

Have you tried logging out and back in?

Let’s not waste any more time.

Can we check the homework? Page 52

I haven’t done it teacher, I didn’t know what to do

Well, the instructions were there in the chat and classroom

I had too much work

                           a project

                        a test

Ok class, just give me a rest,

Teacher Maria’s in the list twice

Great, I don’t know why

Maria is that your evil twin

Perhaps one of you

could speak or type?

I don’t mind which

ignore the glitch

Just please join in

Teacher Can I go to the toilet?

Yes…you are at home

You can do what you like

Just don’t take your phone

What’s that sound

Quick run for cover

Oh you’re just eating your mic

Or were you fighting your brother?

Maria, Question 1; oh, where has she gone?

Can you please tell me the answer, anyone?

Teacher you’re muted

We can’t hear what you said

OK, I type, let’s do some speaking instead

Can I work with him

Can she work with me

Teacher Sara can’t talk

OK you can work in 3s

5 minutes, great off you go

Pablo click on the link

Leave me alone

Give me time to drink a tea

Give me strength

For my headache to leave

I join the room

SPEAK ENGLISH please

And what is this you’re drawing

All over slide 3?

Answer the questions,

That’s all you’ve to do

Or there’ll be no more games or breakout rooms.

TEACHER kahoot!

Is that my name now?

Right let’s try

Everyone-phone’s out

I’ve got no data

The wifi’s gone

What’s the code

My battery’s run out

(Turn down the kahoot theme tune

This is torture, can we end this soon?)

Teacher I’m bored

Thanks, me too

I’m trying my hardest

What about you?

Time for a video

Let me share the screen

no, mute your mics,

just listen to me

now there’s an echo

I can hear myself speak

God I sound awful

I can’t hear myself think

Let’s stop this now

It’s time to say goodbye

Oh Maria, you’re back!

With your parents… hi!

No I can’t go through her progress with you right now

If she was here the whole class we’d have something to talk about

Teacher it’s the time

Teacher bye

Bye Teacher

WAIT I haven’t given you the homework yet

Now half the class has gone

and we’re back to square one

I’ll mute myself before I say something I regret

The Teacher Show has come to an end

I’m slowly going round the bend

I’ve planned for hours and taught for less

Please believe me, I’m doing my best

I can see my flaws on the screen for six hours straight

I’m not a vain person but this angle’s not great

I struggle through when the tech is down

And try to ignore family in the background

The reality is that the time goes quite fast

I think most students enjoy this virtual class

As I do too, now and then

But I can’t wait to be in the classroom again!

 

Dear Class,

With each day we’re closer to the end of term

And I hope there’s a lot you’ve learned

Hopefully patience; to be kind to others and yourself

To know you’re resilient and to appreciate good health

That the book doesn’t have the answers

Maybe your parents or teachers don’t too

If you want to learn something it has to come from you

Go from these few months knowing you can cope

And see you back in the classroom soon, I hope.

My name is Jenna Edmondson and I’ve been teaching English for 13 years. I’ve worked in Hong Kong, Sydney and now Spain. In my free time I love writing poetry (and occasionally performing it) painting and making silver jewellery. I really enjoy teaching and the connections we make with people, and putting these small observations into words. I studied English Language with Linguistics at the Uni of Sheffield and have always been interested in word play and sharing a love of the language with other people. I currently teach at ELI (English Language Institute) in Seville.

On Thursday 7th May I did a 60-minute Zoom training session on how to use Zoom…meta! I worked with about 20 teachers from Urban School and other language schools in Barcelona, showing them how to use Mentimeter and word clouds in their online lessons, and in the process answering questions on a few other aspects of using Zoom. Thanks to Urien Shaw for organising it.

Mentimeter

We started by playing with Mentimeter, which is interactive presentation software.

I used an open-ended question displaying a flowing grid so we could get to know each other a little:

What's your name? What's one interesting thing about you?

To answer a question, participants go to http://www.menti.com and type the code from your presentation.

Here is a full list of all of the Mentimeter question types and how to make them. The Mentimeter blog has lots of ideas for how to use the different types of questions which are available, including lots of examples.

Multiple choice, word cloud, open-ended, scales, ranking, image choice, quiz, select answer, type answer

Here are some ways you can use Mentimeter in class:

  • Multiple choice
    Which (form of this) activity do you want to do? Gist reading/listening questions. How much time should I give you?
  • Word cloud
    Vocab revision, what vocab do you already know, word association as a lead in (i.e. what do you associate with this topic), produce examples of a grammar structure, what do you know about this person/thing/place, what do you remember from last lesson
  • Open-ended
    Brainstorming ideas, get feedback on your lessons, getting to know you, lead in to a topic, what do you remember about…, create example sentences using this grammar structure/word, correct the mistake
  • Scales
    Do you prefer X or Y? To what extent do you agree with this statement? How much do you like/enjoy…? For feedback on your lessons/particular activities…
  • Ranking (participants can only choose one option)
    Class survey of most/least popular anything (food, book, animal…)
  • Image choice
    Which holiday type/item of clothing/animal/celebrity/computer game… do you prefer?
  • Q & A
    Brainstorm questions for a guest speaker/the teacher/other students, what questions do you expect this reading text/audio/video will answer, what questions do you still have after watching/listening, what would you ask the person in the video…
  • Select answer – scores appear after these slides
    Any closed multiple choice quiz questions
  • Type answer – scores appear after these slides
    Open quiz questions where any answer is possible

The free account allows you to include an unlimited number of PowerPoint-style presentation slides, two ‘questions’ and five ‘quiz slides’. You can have an unlimited number of presentations, so if you need more of these slides in a single lesson you can just make more than one presentation.

Students can make their own questions, though they need to open an account to do this.

Word clouds

Next we used a word cloud to discuss ideas for doing feedback or error correction in online lessons. The ideas in this word cloud were taken from a workshop at IH Bydgoszcz a few weeks ago (thanks again to our great staff there!). I then showed how you can produce very different word clouds using the same input data with the simple insertion of ~ between words to keep them together. So these two things appear differently in a word cloud:

  • highlight problems and they rewrite
  • highlight~problems~and~they~rewrite

Words which appear more frequently in the source text appear larger in a word cloud, as can be clearly seen in the second word cloud above. www.wordclouds.com is my current favourite tool to produce word clouds.

Here are some ways you can use word clouds in the EFL classroom (the links take you to lessons on my blog using this idea):

  • As a lead in to a reading/listening, put the text/transcript into a word cloud and students predict what they’re going to see/hear.
  • Use the same word cloud afterwards for them to remember what they saw/heard.
  • Challenge students to find all the phrases in a word cloud.
  • As a prompt for students to remember particular grammar forms, e.g. comparatives and superlatives, or irregular verbs.
  • Use as a prompt for debates.
  • Ask students to create a story using the words in the cloud.
  • Students can ask you about vocabulary they don’t understand.
  • To show possible answers for a controlled task, once students have had a go at it themselves first.
  • Students can test each other by defining a word for others to guess.
  • To summarise ideas generated during the lesson.
  • Students make their own about a particular topic/place/person/thing.

Tips:

  • Make sure the words are spaced out as much as necessary for them to be clearly visible.
  • Use a legible font.
  • Ensure the contrast between text and background is clear.
  • Use a theme with various colours in it, rather than just one or two.
  • Check that words don’t run into each other if you need students to write them out in some form (for example, with the word cloud below one student wrote: crowdedsunny, more crowdedsunny, the most crowdedsunny, highlighting the mechanical nature of this task beautifully!)

I have lots of bookmarks connected to using word clouds: https://bit.ly/sandywordclouds and it’s one of the first things I ever presented about and wrote up on my blog, way back in February 2011. Writing this post was a trip down memory lane!

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