Preparing for the Delta

There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I started studying for my Delta, and I thought I’d put it all into a post for anyone else preparing for the course. If you’ve got any tips you’d add, feel free to put them into the comments.

Before you decide on a centre to study Module Two at, I’d recommend asking this list of questions from Sue Swift.

1. Take a holiday

Before you start the course, make sure that you’ve relaxed as much as possible. However you do it, the Delta is incredibly intensive, and if you go into it already tired, like I did, you’ll regret it. If you need somebody else to tell you the same, Jye Smallwood also talks about the pressures of the course and the importance of being organised here.

2. Get reading

Start reading a few general books to get you in the zone. This will also give you a starting point when you are doing the course. Reading is something you probably won’t be able to take the time over during the course, so the more you can do before you start, the better. You’ll definitely return to the books again and again, but if you’ve read them once, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later.

Some books which I found useful were:

  • Tricia Hedge: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom* – a good Delta-level overview. It covers each area of ELT in separate chapters.
  • Michael Lewis: The English Verb – one of the few books I had time to read cover-to-cover during my Delta, I can honestly say that this book changed the way I thought about English grammar.
  • Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations – a great guide to all of the sounds of English, designed to raise your awareness of how they are produced.
  • Scott Thornbury: About Language – half of the book has tasks to make you really think about English in depth, the other half has commentaries to tell you if you’re on the right track.
  • Scott Thornbury: An A-Z of ELT – not necessarily one to read from cover to cover, but good to open at random and test yourself. It will quite possibly become your bible during certain parts of the course.

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

ELT books are pretty expensive, and it all adds up, so think carefully about which books you really need to spend money on, and which you can borrow. Ask around the people you know, especially if they’ve already done the course, and you may find you can borrow some of them. You might also be able to get them from your school or from a library. In the UK you could also try inter-library loans at a public library.

If you’re not sure how to approach your reading, Stewart has some ideas.

You should also use the resources available on the Cambridge website to find out more about the course criteria.

3. Brush up on your Word skills

You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. I’ve picked out some of the things I found myself doing all the time.

Two more things you might find useful, taken from other sites (not Liz’s):

  • How to check the size of a file – Windows / Mac (Cambridge have a 10MB upload limit, especially annoying for Module 3)
  • How to add footers

Lizzie Pinard shares the three Word functions which she has found most useful.

4. Start learning phonemics

In the Module 1 exam you must use phonemics in question 4. If you don’t, you will lose marks. You may also need them for question 5, and you will probably also need to include them at various points in your Module 2 and Module 3 work. Even if you’re not comfortable with them and would never use them in the classroom, you MUST learn them.

Cookie studying the IPA
Photo taken from by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Adrian Underhill has all the best materials for making you aware of how phonemics work. Try these to get you started:

  • Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation on YouTube – one hour, but well worth it
  • Sound Foundations – the book mentioned in part 2 of this post
  • Adrian’s Pron Chart blog – breaks down the phonemic chart into easy sections, often comparing two or three sounds, and goes into depth about how the sounds are produced

I learnt phonemics largely thanks to the English File pronunciation chart. I found the pictures really helped me to remember the sounds. However, my accent is largely standard British English, so most of the sounds aren’t a problem for me – I find the ‘u’ in ‘bull’ and the ‘ou’ in ‘tourist’ the most challenging sounds, and most of the time drop the latter, as it’s dying out in British English.

If you have an iPad or iPhone (possibly Android too, but I’m not sure), you could also try these apps:

  • English File Pronunciation – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to the original.
  • Macmillan Sounds – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Read and write phonemics throughout the app – great for forcing you to match sounds to symbols.
  • British Council Sounds Right – free, but no activities.

You can type IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet) using various typewriters online, for example here, then paste it into Word. When typing your documents, use a ‘Unicode’ font, for example ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’. If you’re not using a Unicode font, it may well turn into boxes like this [][][][][][] when printed.

5. Choose the four areas you’d like to focus on in Module 2

During Module 2 you have to teach four observed lessons (LSAs). These are divided into systems (grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse analysis) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

The four lessons you teach are made up of two systems and two skills lessons, one of which should be receptive (reading/listening) and the other productive (writing/speaking). To pass the course, you need to pass a minimum of two of your lessons, one systems and one skills. You cannot repeat an area, i.e. if you have done a lexis LSA, you cannot do another lexis one during the course.

If you have at least a rough idea of the four areas you’d like to investigate, you can start to read some of the most important books in those areas. For example, if you know you want to do a listening lesson, you might want to read Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.

Note: please check with your centre before setting your heart on your four areas. They may have set rules about which areas they want you to focus on. For example, on Distance Delta, your first LSA is always grammar, and for the second you have to choose between listening or writing. You have free choice for the other two.

6. Choose your specialism for Module 3

In a similar vein, if you know the general area you will look at for Module 3, you can also start reading some of the books that you need. You can find the list of specialisms to choose from on page 68 of the Delta handbook. The handbook is generally a very, very useful document to have. This is the latest version I know about (if there is an updated version, please can you let me know. Thanks to Alex Case for doing just that!)

I chose Teaching Exam Classes, which I then narrowed down to reading and writing for IELTS. The first section of Module 3 is (loosely) about teaching general English is different to teaching students within your specialism, so in my case it was how general English classes differ to exam classes. You don’t focus on the specific exam until later. I found How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burgess and Katie Head particularly useful as a general overview.

7. Read up on needs analysis and diagnostic testing

While this is most useful for Module 3 (the whole of section 2 revolves around it, and it’s the basis for the whole course you put together), it’s also good to know to help you identify the needs of your students and justify your choices when putting together your LSA lesson plans in Module 2. I found Curriculum Development in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards to be the most useful book in this regard, although they’re obviously covered in many other books. The same book was the one I referred to most when it came to justifying my course proposal too.

I didn’t really find out the principles of good needs analyses or diagnostics tests until very late in the course, meaning that my needs analysis and diagnostic test were thrown together very quickly for Module 3, and I then had to retrofit the theory to it – not easy!

(Sidetracking a little – I bought Syllabus Design by David Nunan to help with Module 3, but found it pretty confusing and not very practical. Could just be me though…)

8. Network!

Last, but definitely not least, start networking! Join Twitter and facebook, and find other teachers around the world on there. The Teaching English British Council and Cambridge Delta facebook groups are particularly useful. I could not have survived my Distance Delta without the support I got from my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). This may be different if you study face-to-face, but it’s still useful to have a set of people who can respond to questions you may have at any hour of the day or night.


You can read other people’s advice on how to survive the course in the Delta conversations series.

And with all that hard work, don’t forget to take time off, be with people and to find things to laugh at. 🙂

Good luck!

Short answers for agreeing and disagreeing

Students often ask me about the difference between ‘either’ and ‘neither’ and it normally results in me drawing a table on the board. I finally put this into a document and thought I would share it in case anyone else finds it useful.

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Let me know if there’s anything you think I should add/change to improve it.

Delta conversations: Sandy

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Sandy Millin is me 🙂 Find out more here.

What's cooking? Me (on the right) with one of my classes
What’s cooking? Me (on the right) with one of my classes

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I followed the Distance Delta Integrated Programme from September 2012 to June 2013. This consisted of a two-week orientation course at IH London (you could do this at many different centres around the world), followed by a nine-month online course. During the course I decided to postpone my Module One exam, so I have only completed Modules Two and Three, although I did all of the preparation except for the mock exam for Module One. I’m hopefully going to do Module One in December 2013.

Update: I did the Module One exam at IH Sevastopol in December 2013 and got a distinction – postponing it gave me time to really focus on it! I got a pass in Module Two and a Merit in Module Three. I don’t think the Merit would have been possible if I’d been trying to prepare for the exam at the same time.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I wanted to study the Delta part-time as I had done CELTA this way, and I thought it would give me more time to absorb what I was learning. I like my sleep, and I (still!) don’t understand how people can survive an intensive full-time course and stay sane. There was no local part-time option, like Mike’s, so I had to do it through Distance Delta.

How was your Module Two taught?

During the orientation course we did a diagnostic lesson, which included practising how to write an essay and lesson plan to the standard required for the Delta course. We then completed each LSA (observed lesson + essay) over about 6 weeks, with some gaps in between to give us time for other parts of the course. LSA1 was due in November, LSA2 in December, LSA3 in March and LSA4 in May. This may seem very spaced out, but with Modules One and Three as well, there was a deadline to hit almost every weekend, apart from a two-week break at Christmas.

For each LSA, we chose our topic, posted it in the forum so that the tutor could approve it, then were able to submit a draft essay and lesson plan for the tutor to comment on. I normally had a fairly complete essay and an outline of my lesson aims and procedure ready for the draft deadline. We could then use the feedback to edit our essay/lesson plan. There was a two-week window in which to arrange the lesson, which was observed by our local tutor (LSA 1, 2, 3) or an external person (LSA 4). The local tutor then sent a complete report about the lesson to the Distance Delta. Our course tutor used the report to give us our grade, and they also graded our essays.

The Professional Development Assignment was also started during the orientation course. We completed our Experimental Practice lesson in October, then submitted the other three sections throughout the rest of the course.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

At least 10 hours, and often more like 20. I regularly spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday working on the course (at least 9am-6pm). I did try and have some weekends off to keep sane, and I was ill for most of December due to exhaustion, so it wasn’t quite like that all year, but it felt like it. I was also teaching full-time. At the start of the course I did a bit of work in the evenings, but had given that up by Christmas (possibly before?). I also stopped reading for pleasure and only read Delta-related books until May.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I wouldn’t have done Module Two distance. I think Modules One and Three can be done that way, and I feel like the support I got for Module Three was a lot better than it has been for other people I know who have done a face-to-face course, but I felt very isolated doing Module Two that way, and I don’t feel like I got enough support from my local tutor.

I would also have done all of the modules separately, spacing them out rather than overlapping them. When I decided to postpone the Module One exam, I had nearly finished Module Two. The month I had to focus purely on Module Three was when I was happiest during the course.

Finally, I would have had a proper holiday before the course started to make sure I was refreshed and ready to go. Instead I went straight from the Paralympics to the course (pretty sure nobody else has been that stupid!) 😉

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

The DELTA has made me start reading methodology books and start to incorporate what I read. It has also given me lots of material for blog posts, many of which are still in my head. It gave me the push I needed to film myself teaching and encouraged me to question what I’m doing in the classroom in a more methodical way.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I felt very isolated and didn’t feel like I had much support from my local tutor. I didn’t think about checking up on how much support we were supposed to receive until I spoke to a coursemate and realised that she was having the same problems as me, by which time it was too late. There were times when I thought about giving up on the course because I wasn’t enjoying it at all, and I got quite depressed. I normally love studying, and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the course at all was a vicious circle. I don’t know how I could have finished it without the support of my PLN via Twitter and facebook.

All of us on the course seemed to spend quite a lot of time trying to work out what was required of us for each assignment, and the asynchronous nature of the course (with everyone logging on at different times) meant it was often at least a day, and sometimes longer, before you got an answer to your questions. This could be very frustrating at times, and while I expected this to some extent from the forums, it would have been good to have some faster ways of getting help, as well as clearer guidelines for each of the assignments. Lizzie Pinard has now written a Delta tips series, which I wish had existed before I started! The conversations I had with her during the course really helped too. [I’ve also put together a list of Delta-related posts on my blog, and Useful links for Delta]

I also felt like the way the course was delivered was out-of-date, and didn’t take advantage of a lot of the new technology that it is available for those organising online courses. The course was forum-based, with no opportunities for synchronous meetings, such as using online classrooms, incorporated into the programme. All of the input was via pdf documents, which I stopped reading in February because I couldn’t find the time and didn’t seem to be getting much from them. There didn’t seem to be any recognition of different learning styles, for example by providing a range of input through videos, online meetings or even just using colours in the pdfs. I really feel like the Distance Delta needs to be updated before I would recommend it to anyone.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Studying part-time meant that I could incorporate new ideas into my teaching as I went along, although I didn’t do this anywhere near as much as I expected to because most of the time I was just too tired.

I worked with a range of tutors and peers from all over the world, and the input that I got from them was very helpful.

The support I got for Module Three was much greater than that received by others I know who have done Delta in different ways. We could submit two drafts (one in February, another in May) and the comments that I got on those were incredibly useful – they really helped me to work out what I was doing.

I realised how amazing my PLN are. Every time I had a question about anything, I would post it on facebook, and I would normally have a reply within the hour. It was considerably faster than the forums, and normally more useful.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My main tip for potential DELTA candidates is to build up a network of useful people. Start with Twitter and add facebook too (try the ‘International House World Organisation’ and ‘Teaching English British Council’ pages to start you off).

Make sure you have some time off during the course, especially if you are doing it distance. Having holidays to look forward to made a massive difference to my mental state. Have a holiday before the course starts too to make sure you are refreshed.

Read my post on things you should do before starting the Delta, and do them! Also read Lizzie Pinard’s Delta tips. You could also check out my page of Delta-related blogposts, which I add to all the time.

If you have a question, ask. You will not be the first person with that problem, whether it’s about methodology, your classroom, or the course itself. We all feel stupid at some point during the course – if you can get over that feeling, you’ll be fine!

Really think about the best way to do your course. There a lots of options, which is why I’ve been publishing the Delta conversations – I didn’t know there were so many ways to do it.

Good luck and remember, it will all be over at some point!

EFL pension plan

Something I’ve wondered for while is what EFL teachers do when they retire. And my conclusion has pretty much always been that they don’t, or can’t.

Photo taken from by Jeffrey Doonan, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,
Photo taken from by Jeffrey Doonan, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

At the grand old age of 28, I feel like I’ll never be able to retire for at least three reasons:

  • the government keeps pushing the retirement age higher and higher, and I think it’ll be abolished long before I ever reach 65…70…75…
  • short of writing a series of bestselling coursebooks or methodology books à la Messrs Harmer and Thornbury, the ELT profession will never pay me enough money to be able to afford to retire
  • I am a workaholic (No! Really?) and my job is a huge part of who I am. My grandad is still working (by choice) at the age of 77 in a profession he loves, and I would love to be in that position.

I realise that this may change, but they do say you should start thinking about your retirement plans early. In 10 years of working, I have only had two which could contribute to my UK state pension, if indeed I’m living in the UK when/if I retire. I certainly can’t afford to put money into a private pension plan, and I wouldn’t trust it to still exist in 50 years even if I could.

I also know that retirement is not really a part of most EFL teachers’ mindsets. But maybe we should be talking about it. What do you think?

Small talk

My Advanced level students are very good about talking about ‘topics’ like the environment or health but sometimes struggle to strike up conversation with native speakers in a natural way. I decided to teach them about small talk, but couldn’t find a handy lesson anywhere so made my own. 🙂

Before the students came into class I pushed all the tables back and put some party music on. As they walked through the door I asked them to put their bags on the tables and write their names on the board (we had some new students joining the class). I then gave them a card from a tin my friend gave me for my birthday (Thanks Kim!):


and said “Talk”. [This combatted my common problem of confusing the students with complicated instructions…even after working on it during Delta!] The cards had questions like “What’s your favourite holiday destination?” “What do you normally do at the weekend?”

Once all of the students had arrived and they’d chatted for about five minutes I switched off the music and the light, which stopped the conversations quickly. I switched the light on again 😉 and asked them how comfortable they felt speaking to people they didn’t really know in their own language and in English. Understandably, they said it was more difficult in English.

I elicited the term ‘small talk’ and asked them to discuss the first four questions on the sheet below. For every activity during the lesson they had to work with someone they hadn’t spoken to previously during the lesson. I left the tables at the side of the room throughout, so students perched on desks and moved around a lot.

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Students then completed the second task (You’re now going to read about…) by looking at five short texts stuck around the room. They are on the first two pages of this document. I adapted them from the Wikipedia entry about small talk.

As they finished reading, the students compared the things which they found interesting or surprising, and talked about whether small talk operates in the same way or a different way in their culture, for example, whether the same topics are considered taboo.

The students stood in a straight line across the classroom. I stood about 1.5m from each student in turn and asked them to move towards me until they were at a comfortable distance away from me for a conversation. We talked a bit about personal space and how, for the Brazilian students especially, this could often be quite different in different cultures. We also talked about how normal it is to touch other people when you’re talking to them, and how this differs when you know them or not. One of the Brazilian students was surprised that an English person wouldn’t normally touch the other person, for example on the arm, while speaking to them.

I divided the class into A, B and C groups and gave them each one section from the next three pages of the second document above, which were adapted from Wikihow. They read their section, helped each other with vocabulary and tried to summarise the ideas. They then regrouped so that the new groups had representatives from A, B and C. The students shared the tips they had read about and talked about whether they are useful or not.

Talking about the tips
Talking about the tips

Students then thought of two or three opening gambits and wrote them in the last section of the first worksheet. Taking those, they made small talk for the last 25 minutes of the 2-hour lesson at what I told them was probably the most boring IH Newcastle party ever! That meant they needed to liven it up by meeting as many people as possible, and making sure they ended at least one conversation during the time limit – it’s often hard to know how to escape from a conversation. I also told them it was their responsibility to make sure everyone had someone to talk to – nobody could be left out at the party. I didn’t correct them or collect errors. The aim was fluency and making sure that the students would be as comfortable as possible for the other 18 hours we would spend together during the rest of the week.

Their homework was to make small talk with a random native speaker at some point during the week, then tell me about it. They had to make an effort to do this – it couldn’t just be an extension of a transactional conversation. One of the students ended up having a very interesting hour-long conversation with an old man who happened to be Jehovah’s Witness, something which my student had never heard of before (and therefore had no cultural baggage about!).

Overall, the lesson seemed to go well, and for the rest of the week whenever students had finished a task early I could ask them to make small talk. Making small talk successfully can be a difficult skill to master, but it’s an important one, and one which I don’t think we examine enough in the classroom. It’s important for students to be able to start and end conversations themselves, as we tend to control any small talk that happens in the room. I’m looking forward to hearing about the small talk experiences of the rest of my class!

Update: Here are .doc versions of both worksheets: Small talk question sheet / Small talk

If you’d like more small talk activities, you could download the short book At Work by Paul Walsh, available via The Round. Alex Case also has lots of small talk worksheets.

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

How I’m learning Chinese* (and why I should be learning Russian instead)

I’m a bit of a language addict. When I’m not trying to learn a new language I always feel a bit like there’s something missing from my life.

In April last year my school offered a short beginner’s course in Mandarin which lasted for 10 weeks. I joined it, and decided that Mandarin would be my next language – it’s different to anything I’ve learnt before and is a real challenge, but at the same time, it has a logic to it that appeals a lot. It will also open the door to whole culture that has always interested me: I’ve always wanted to visit China, although I’ve never really wanted to live there. Unfortunately, as the course finished my life became full of other things, namely London 2012 and then Delta.

So it was that I forgot pretty much everything I studied last year. However, I always planned to pick up Mandarin again as soon as my Distance Delta course was finished. I even got two Chinese books for my birthday: Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese*, and the Chinese Visual Dictionary. Last week I finally got started, with the support of my friend Catherine, who studied languages with me at uni and is joining me in my quest.

Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan...
Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan…

We’re using the 15-Minute Chinese book to get us started, and create some form of (almost) daily study habit, with the plan of moving on to the other books later. We’re going to Skype every Thursday and try out what we’ve learnt that week. I’ve created Quizlet sets for each page we’ve studied so far, which have been a very useful step in my learning, especially in terms of recognising characters. I’ve also been using two courses on memrise: Learn Basic Chinese: read a menu and HSK level 1 – introductory Mandarin. Memrise is one of my new favourite websites, and I’ve become a bit of an addict. They have just (a month ago) released an app, which I have on my phone and tablet, and I also use it online at least twice a day. So far I can introduce myself, count to 99 (although I’m still mixing up 6, 7 and 9 a lot) and talk a little about my family. I can also read a Chinese menu (I’ve pretty much finished that memrise course) and recognise some other basic characters. This is the first time I’ve tried to learn a language without classes or a teacher, and I’m hoping Catherine and I can motivate each other, as I find studying alone to be very easy to back out of!

So why should I be learning Russian then? Well, in September, visa-permitting, I will be moving to Sevastopol in Ukraine to join the team at IH Sevastopol as a DoS (Director of Studies)**.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Despite being in Ukraine, the city is mostly Russian-speaking, as it is the base for the Russian Black Sea fleet. To that end, I’ve been using memrise to learn the Russian alphabet, and have started to pick up a few basic phrases. It helps that I already speak some Czech, as some of the basic words are pretty similar once I’ve deciphered the letters. I plan on learning more before leaving the UK, but for now I want to focus on Mandarin as I’ve been planning to study it for so long!

I’m really enjoying the challenge of deciphering another (two) language(s), and I’m looking forward to my new adventures in Ukraine. It looks like a beautiful country and a very exciting job, in a school which is growing fast. It will be my first experience at management level too, although I’ll still be doing a lot of teaching. If you’d like to join me, the school is also looking for a teacher who enjoys teaching young learners. Let me know if you’re interested and I can put you in touch with the director of the school.

So for now, 再见 and до свидания. I’ve got some studying to do… 🙂

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!