Distance Delta – the story so far

A little bit of background

For those who have never heard of it, the Delta is an advanced teaching diploma offered by Cambridge. It consists of three modules:

  • Module One is theory-based and culminates in an exam.
  • Module Two is based on teaching practice, with four observed lessons and a professional development assignment.
  • Module Three is an extended assignment on a chosen ELT specialism.

Some people choose to do the modules separately, and others to do them in tandem. There are two common ways to study it: intensively, normally over six or eight weeks, or extensively, normally over the course of an academic year. I chose the distance option as I wanted to work at the same time, and I also like having more time to reflect on what I am learning and try it out with my classes.

The Distance Delta is a collaboration between International House London and the British Council. I am studying on the ‘Integrated Programme’, meaning that I do all three modules in tandem over about nine months.

Orientation Course

Everyone on the Distance Delta has to attend a two-week orientation course at the beginning of the year, with various dates and locations offered around the world. I did mine at IH London in September, just after I had finished at the Paralympics. There were seven of us on the course, from a range of different backgrounds, levels of experience and teaching contexts. During the course we taught a series of peer-observed and tutor-observed lessons, culminating in a diagnostic lesson to give us an idea of what would be expected during the formal observed lessons later in the course. We also had to write a draft background essay and full lesson plan for the diagnostic lesson during the two weeks. At the end of the course, we each had a tutorial offering us advice based on the essay, lesson plan and diagnostic lesson to help us during the rest of the course. It was incredibly useful, and I learnt something new every day. I enjoyed having the chance to do a lot of peer observation, to plan in groups, and to bounce ideas off my colleagues.

We had input sessions in the morning as well to give us some of the grounding we needed for that start of the Delta, including an introduction to many of the abbreviations we see during the whole Delta. Here are just a few of them:


After all of that, we were ready for the first assignments.

Experimental Practice (Module Two)

On the Distance Delta you start with your Experimental Practice lesson, where you try out an approach or technique which you haven’t used before. I chose to investigate grammaticization, which in its simplest form involves removing the grammar from a sentence and asking students to put it back, then compare their version to the original. For example, the first sentence of this paragraph might be given to the students as:

Distance Delta / start / Experimental Practice lesson / try out / approach / technique / not / use / before

That would be a pretty difficult example though! 🙂 I found Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar and Batstone’s Grammar to be the most useful sources for this topic. I taught the lesson a few days ago, but haven’t had any feedback yet, so won’t tell you too much more at the moment.

Reflection and Action (Module Two)

The other big assignment we have worked on at the start of the course is a reflection on our current teaching strengths and weaknesses, and creating an action plan of how to focus on our weaknesses. The weaknesses I have identified in my teaching are:

  • not taking advantage of emergent language during the lesson;
  • teacher-centred, long, sometimes convoluted, grammar explanation;
  • a complete lack of any drama/roleplay type activities.

If anyone has any useful tips on how I can work on these weaknesses, please let me know! I have a few ideas which I submitted in this section of the course, but more wouldn’t go amiss.

Exam practice (Module One)

We’ve looked at four parts of the exam so far. There is a lot of training before you submit your practice answers. It’s broken down very well, and seems quite manageable at the moment, but I’m sure that feeling won’t last!

Extended Assignment Proposal (Module Three)

Although we don’t have to start writing it yet, we have submitted our proposals for the topic we will investigate in Module Three. I have chosen to look at Teaching Exam Classes, focussing on FCE. If you have any tips or suggestions for this, they will be very gratefully accepted 🙂

What it’s like and a few tips

Don’t forget me-time. Everyone I knew who had already studied the Delta told me it would take over your life. It does! But at the same time, it’s important to find time for yourself as well, otherwise you will go crazy. I’ve decided not to study on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and to try to finish by about 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Normally there is a deadline every Sunday on the integrated course. Mostly this has worked so far, although in the first couple of weeks after the orientation course I felt very overwhelmed – there was a lot of information to get your head around, both about the way the course worked and for the assignments that we have worked on so far. I feel that by giving myself set time off I am much more in control now than I was a couple of weeks ago, even finding time to write this post!

Print. When I first started, I was trying to read all of the documents shared online or on my iPad to save paper, but I soon realised that that way lies headaches and eye strain. Invest in a printer, and try to reduce your computer time – you’ll be spending enough time there without reading on it too! I print everything two-per-page, double-sided, so at least it’s a quarter of the amount of paper than full page, one-sided 🙂

Index cards: so useful! I have cards with key terms, and cards for each section of the exam we have looked at so far. I’m sure I’ll find more uses of them as the year goes on.

Make your life easier. Learn how to use style formatting in Word – this will make contents pages very easy to produce, saving you a lot of time later. Learn how here. Also, add sources to your bibliography as you go along, rather than trying to find them all when you’ve finished your assignment. Little things like this save you time and stress later down the line (at least, in my opinion they do!) They also make your document look a lot prettier.

Plan on paper before you go anywhere near a computer. The assignments I have got through fastest were the ones which I planned in as much depth as I could on paper before I opened Microsoft Word. This could just be a personal preference, but I generally find that staring at a blank computer screen is a surefire way to kill any inspirational thoughts I might have!

Use the ‘mark all as read’ buttons on the forum. The forum is the single most useful part of the Distance Delta website. You can share your worries, ask questions, try out ideas, and feel a lot less alone. On the home page, the site shows you all of the posts which you haven’t read yet. At the first opportunity go through all of these and read as many as you can. After that, keep the home screen as empty as possible. Again, this is a personal preference, but I’ve found it much easier to manage the forums when I did that. You can always search the forums later to find out if your question has already been asked, without having to scan all the subject lines and try to find it.

Find someone to vent at. And warn them that you’re going to do it! It’s so useful to have somebody to talk at occasionally, just to get things out of your system. I’m lucky to have a few people I’ve been able to do this with so far (hopefully they’ll still be talking to me in June!)


The most useful book I have used so far is An A-Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury. It’s an easily-accessible introduction to most of the terminology you will need to understand during the course. And Scott takes this introduction further on his blog too.

Dale Coulter shared two very useful posts about the Delta exam on his blog: Paper One, Paper Two.

I’ve also been collecting, and continue to add, links which I think are useful for people studying Delta on this list.

The next step

Once I’ve finished writing this post, I will start researching and preparing for my LSA1, or first observed lesson. The draft is due next Sunday, so I’ve got 7.5 days to do as much as I can. Grammar is the first area for us to investigate.

I hope these tips have been useful, and that I’ll have time to share a few more as I continue through the course! And if you have any tips for me for Module 3, or advice on how I can work on my weaknesses (see ‘Reflection and Action’ above), please let me know! Thank you 🙂

32 thoughts on “Distance Delta – the story so far

  1. Thanks for the interesting and informative post. I’m thinking about starting the Distance Delta next March so it’s very helpful. I wonder about the forums though. I completed my MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL as a distance program, and like the distance Delta there was a forum, I found after a couple of weeks activity always died down and that there wasn’t too much collaboration between peers. Do you find that also on the distance Delta or is there a lot of continued communication?


    1. We’re about six weeks in and the forums are still very active. Because we regularly have new deadlines there are a lot of questions to ask. The tutors also encourage us to post a lot. Good luck with the course if you decide to go for it!


  2. Hey Sandy, where oh where do you get all this energy from?Congrats on your blog.
    It’s so useful. If only it had been around when I started the Delta but you’re just a mine of information about lots of really useful stuff for everyone!!
    Well better get back to LSA1!! See u on the forums


  3. Hi Sandy,

    Thank you so much for this post. It’s very timely for me. I’m hoping that by this time next year I will have started my DELTA and I’m pretty sure I will need to do the Distance option due to family commitments and the ability to work alongside the course.

    Great reading recommendations and some very useful insights into how the course works – thanks again.

    I’m going to bookmark this for later 🙂

    All the best,
    Emma x


  4. Hey Sandy, have you got a copy of Teaching Unplugged by Thornbury and Meddings? I´m aiming to use one or two of these activities a week for my RA and it has proven to be super useful.

    The other thing I would suggest is get yourself a dictaphone. Experiment with recording and reflecting on what your students produce (some kind of task repetition thing) and also recording yourself providing a model and trying to get ss to reflect on differences between theirs and yours.

    I did one today where I recorded myself telling a short story, and ss noted phrases they recongised, and phrases they weren´t sure about. then we listened again, and noted the context surrounding each of those utterances.

    I didn´t plan the story at all, and have left them homework to write their own story from notes they made about their weekend during the class.



    1. Thanks James. I enjoyed your presentation today – no idea how you had time!
      I’ve got Teaching Unplugged and I’ve used a couple of the activities from it. I like using recordings of a spoken text, but I haven’t doneit for a while. Thanks for the reminder.
      Good luck with your research too 🙂


  5. Hi Sandy, I saw your worried tweet about module 3 and thought I’d leave a comment. I personally found the following two books a HUGE help: 1. Graves, K. (2000). Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. 2. Nation, I.S.P. Macalister, J. (2010). Language Curriculum Design. New York: Routledge. They’ll give you step-by-step guidelines on how to design a course. Good luck!


  6. Hi Sandy. I’m planning to do DELTA, yet I’m wondering whether it is necessary to apply for the distance DELTA or should I take the exam myself. Do you think the course helped you significantly helping you pass the exam?


    1. Hi Vivien,
      Apologies for taking so long to reply to this. I haven’t finished my Delta yet, and will now be taking the exam in December 2013, rather than June. Although you don’t have to choose Distance Delta (there are many providers), I would strongly recommend doing an exam preparation course before you sit the Delta Module One exam. What they are looking for is so specific that without feedback from a qualified marker before you do the exam, I think it would be very difficult to pass. I have learnt a lot from the preparation course in terms of the best way to approach the exam. I hope that helps, and sorry again for taking so long to reply.


  7. HI Sandy,

    I just wanted to say THANKS for sharing your Delta experiences. I found this post of yours as I was getting ready to apply for the integrated program last October (very timely). I am now on unit 4 and have found some of your advice a Godsend, especially about style formatting, who knew?

    Take care,



    1. Hi Lisa,
      I’m happy to have been able to help 🙂 It’s also worth googling ‘Lizzie Pinard Delta’ and ‘Dale Coulter Delta’ for some really useful posts.
      Good luck with the rest of the course!


  8. Hi Sandy,

    I am planning to do the DELTA intensive (full time 8 week)next year…wanted to know if IH London was a good place to do it? Do you know anyone who could help me with some reviews/ recommendation?
    I live in India so time and money both are a big investment for me if I come down to UK to get a DELTA. That’s why some information on this would be of great help.


    1. Hi Munira!

      I did the Module 2 intensive at IH London, and I highly recommend it. My experience there was a very positive one. The tutors were great ( not only they had the knowledge but also knew how to “pass it on”); the structure (library, equipment, classrooms, etc) was great. As Amy B (below) I have nothing negative to say, and I reinforce what she said about how intense it is and for you to be prepared 🙂 I suggest you do lots of reading before you start it! I’ll be happy to help you with anything else!


  9. I did module 2 intensively there and loved it. Great place, resources, facilities, tutors and students. Got nothing negative to say about it actually, other than it is INTENSE! Be ready to put your life on hold! However, you really need somewhere good to stay. If you don’t have friends/ family you can stay with then London is a VERY expensive option.


  10. Thanks a lot Amy. This information gives me some relief . I agree about the stay being expensive..I am doing some ground research to find a cheaper alternative to stay. I would be grateful if you could share some alternatives, in case you know some.
    @ Robert- It’d be really helpful if you could name a few places in England where DELTA can be cheaper (keeping intact the quality). Thanks in advance for the help.


    1. Delta is also offered at IH Newcastle, but you don’t have to do it in England either. It’s offered all over the world, and is standardised to ensure that the quality is the same wherever you do it. You could take a look at the Delta conversations series on this blog to find a range of ways to do it. Good luck with making your decision!


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