Sevastopol, right now

For those of you who have seen Sevastopol in the news over the last 24 hours, and have seen the protests, I’d like to let you know my perspective.
If I hadn’t had messages from people, social media, internet news, and chats with the people I worked with, I would have had no idea they were happening. There are people in one square in the centre, but my friend, who lives in another of the squares there, said he hasn’t seen any sign of the protests either. So while the photos may seem very dramatic, in most of Sevastopol daily life is continuing.
People are, however, worried about the new government not being any better than the old one, and about the potentially fascist/anti-semitic (mostly in the form of the extreme right-wing Svoboda party) elements of the opposition, who now have the chance for power.
The change in the law affecting the use of Russian seems like the worst move of the government so far. It may seem like a minor thing from outside the country, but from inside, I feel like it was a very stupid alteration. I have no idea what prompted it, unless the powers that be were trying to find a sure-fire to rile up the substantial Russian-speaking population in the country. Linguistic politics are never a good idea – it is definitely an area where I think governments should just let people continue speaking their language of choice, since they will anyway.
There is an air of nervousness here, as noone knows what will happen next. Rest assured that if I think I will be in danger, I will get out, but my friends here do not have that liberty. I really enjoy living in Sevastopol, and would like to be able to live here for a long time to come. I really hope the political situation doesn’t force me to change that plan, and even more, that it doesn’t cause more violence and upset to a place where most people just want to get on with their lives. Sevastopol is a beautiful place, which has seen more conflict in its 230 years than any city deserves. I hope that this is not the start of more.

(I originally wrote this as a facebook status update, but it’s so long, it’s probably better as a blogpost. Disclaimer: I have no political background, and everything I know about Ukrainian politics, I’ve learnt since I moved to Sevaeetopol in September, and most of that in the last week. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 7 days since this whole thing started. I hope that this time next week I’ll be saying it’s hard to believe that there was this much uncertainty 7 days ago…)


How I got a distinction in the Delta Module 1 exam*

[Everything below is for the old version of the exam, though a lot of it is still relevant. Emma Johnston has tips for the post-2015 version of the exam.]

*I generally try to avoid bragging, but hopefully that title will get a few more hits from search engines, and will help future Delta Module 1 candidates to find this post!

There is no one way to prepare for the Delta Module 1 exam, and everybody will do it differently. This is how I did it.

I studied with Distance Delta for all three modules, although I ended up taking Module 1 six months after the end of the course, meaning that I had time to prepare for it again. The feedback I got from my tutors during the preparation was very valuable, and although it is possible to prepare for the exam yourself, I think having support from a tutor makes it easier.

I also strongly believe that you should not do Module 3 (the extended assignment) at the same time as Module 1 (the exam), as they are normally both due at the same time, and you will end up dividing your attention instead of focussing on them each as much as they deserve. They’re both pretty full-time in terms of headspace, even if you don’t have to spend as much time doing written work for Module 1.

I have a list of useful links for Delta, which includes all of the sources I used to help me prepare for the exam, so I won’t repeat them here.

During my Distance Delta, I created three sets of index cards.

  • Paper 1 reminder cards, summarising the mark scheme, the main things to remember when doing that paper, and any useful language I could steal from sample answers;

Exam paper 1 index cards

  • The same for Paper 2;
  • Exam paper 2 index cardsKey terms cards, with the term on one side and a definition (D), example (E) and further information (F) on the back. [Some people recommend DFE, but I liked alphabetical order!]

Key terms index cards Exam paper 1 index cards

I had a break between the end of Distance Delta in June, and the start of my Module 1 prep in October. Two months before the exam I started looking at my key terms cards again. I used Quizlet to fill in some gaps in areas like phonology and teaching methods which I’d missed the first time round. I started taking sets of cards on the bus with me, about ten at a time, to test myself on during my commute. I  spent time playing the games on Quizlet for general revision. I also took my paper 1 and 2 index cards on the bus to remind myself of the format of the exam and to start memorising some of the useful phrases.

About a month before the exam I started doing past papers. There aren’t many and I’d already done two during Distance Delta, so I needed to eke them out! I did one past exam each weekend for the three weekends before exam day. The first two times I did paper 1 on Saturday and paper 2 on Sunday, always with the 90-minute time limit, to get used to the time restrictions, and check whether I could meet them. The final time I did a full back-to-back mock with only a 30-minute break in the middle, as I would have to do on the real exam day. After I’d finished each time, I went through the guideline answers (in the exam report for each year), available on the Cambridge website, and marked the papers. I also wrote in big red letters anything which I’d missed out, particularly if it was connected to the structure of the exam or silly mistakes. Before doing the next paper, I looked at the red pen from the previous one again, and I didn’t normally repeat those mistakes!

During this process, I got a very useful tip from Lizzie Pinard:

Start every answer on a new page.

This may seem simple, but it made a huge difference to how clearly my answers were laid out. This resulted in me coming up with a system for each question based on the task requirements and guideline answers. This meant I didn’t have to keep reminding myself how many points I needed to make, or to check backwards and forwards to make sure I’d included all of the required information.

Below are examples of what I did for each question. I haven’t explained the structure of the exam at all, as you can find that out in many other places. Don’t forget to write the task number/part clearly at the top of each page in your answer booklet. Do anything you can to make the examiner’s life easier!

Paper 1 Task 1

The simplest task. Just do it quickly and don’t spend ages on a term you don’t know!

Paper 1 Task 1

Paper 1 Task 2

Do this as you go along, and remember, define NO MORE THAN 4 terms! Use D, E, F (or D, F, E) to make each section of your answer clear. Make it clear what ‘D’ and ‘F’ mean at the top.

Paper 1 Task 2

Paper 1 Task 3

Write the numbers 1-5 and the ‘eg’s as soon as you start task 3, before you even read the question! I always wrote ‘style/discourse’ at the top, because I originally forgot to include those features in my analysis, having focussed just on grammar and lexis. I also wrote the level of the student at the top of my paper so I remembered to refer my answers clearly to this level.

Paper 1 Task 3

Paper 1 Task 4a

Again, write the numbers before you look at the question to remind you of how many points to include. Leave a bit of space at the bottom so you can add an extra point if you have time at the end.

Paper 1 Task 4a

Paper 1 Tasks 4b, c, d

The exact layout of these questions depends on exactly what language and areas (e.g. form, meaning, usage, features of connected speech) you are asked to analyse.

Start a new page for each task (b, c, d) and use clear headings for each piece of language and each area. I found it easiest to divide my answers according to the piece of language, then to subdivide it by the areas I had to analyse. Put the headings in as you go along, but leave yourself a lot of space to add extra points if you think of them later. I generally had about half a page for each piece of language. There’s plenty of space in the exam booklet!

Here are some examples.

Paper 1 Task 4b

Paper 1 Task 4c

Paper 1 Task 4d

Paper 1 Task 5a

This is another one to write out before you start answering the question. By using a table and including ‘eg’ in each box, you remember to include three strengths and three weaknesses, and not get too carried away with adding extras. Don’t forget to clearly state the area you are writing about for each strength/weakness (e.g. grammar, task achievement) and to make sure you only write about areas requested in the question!

Paper 1 Task 5a

Paper 1 Task 5b

The use of the two headings ‘area to prioritise’ and ‘because’ save you a lot of words!

Paper 1 Task 5b

Paper 2 Task 1

Here you should have two pages on the go at the same time, one for ‘positive’ and one for ‘negative’. This means you can jump backwards and forwards between the two and you have plenty of space.

Paper 2 Task 1

Paper 2 Task 1

Paper 2 Task 2a

This was another task where you need plenty of space to go backwards and forwards. Write a clear title for each exercise you need to analyse from the materials, then use bullet points under each. Start each bullet point with ‘To + infinitive’ to make sure you’re focussing on the purpose of the exercises and not what the students have to do to complete them.

Paper 2 Task 2a

Paper 2 Task 2b

Using ‘A’ for Assumptions and ‘R1’/’R2’ for reasons helped me to remember to include all three parts. Write them as you go along.

Paper 2 Task 2b

Paper 2 Task 3

This one is very simple. You just have to make sure you include enough bullet points!

Paper 2 Task 3

Paper 2 Task 4

This task is complete pot-luck, as you have no idea what you’ll be asked about. As a general rule, use a different page for each section of the question. For example, if you’re asked ‘Why is homework a good thing?’ and ‘Why is homework a bad thing?’, put the answer to each part on a different page. [Totally made-up question!] I numbered the points as I wrote them on each list, to make sure I got a total of 20 points (2 marks per answer, 1-10 on each list for example).

Final tips

A lot of the preparation for Delta Module 1 is nothing to do with teaching at all (I won’t mention here how much that frustrates me, since it’s supposed to be a mark of your ability as a teacher, not as an exam-taker…). By using a clear layout and knowing the requirements of the exam inside out, you’ll help yourself a lot.

Collect key terms, test yourself on them, and include them in your answers, but only where appropriate. Don’t try to include them just for the sake of it (especially in the questions on testing!).

Use bullet points, not full sentences. The examiners are looking for content, not linguistic ability.

Use the guideline answers in the exam reports to see what the examiners do and don’t like. Don’t try and be original – just tick the boxes!

If you have time (I didn’t), try out some of the exam-style tasks on your own materials and the work you get from your students. In theory, the requirements of the exam are supposed to help you in your analysis of materials/student work in your day-to-day work as a teacher by making this kind of analysis more efficient.

Finally, good luck! Get a good night’s sleep before, and you’ll get through it!

A homemade revision game

This is a very simple game which is perfect for revision, and requires almost no pre-class preparation. All you need is some small pieces of scrap paper, some kind of blutack to stick it to the table, dice for each group, and a counter for each student. The blutack is optional, but it does stop the paper from blowing away! You could use post-it notes instead, but sometimes they curl up making it easy to see the answers! It works best for revising grammar or vocabulary in closed questions.

Give a pile of pieces of paper to each pair/group of students. Ask them to go through the units of the book which you want them to revise. They should write questions for other students in the class, writing one question on each piece of paper, and write the answer on the back. They can create the questions themselves, or copy them directly from the book, along with any relevant instructions, like ‘Write the correct form of the verb.’ My students normally spend about 15-20 minutes doing this. Here are some examples from my intermediate group:

Examples of revision questions

Once you have a pile of questions, shuffle them all up (easier if you have scrap paper than post-it notes at this point!), then divide them evenly between all of the groups in the class. Each group should lay out a track of questions to create a board game, so it looks something like this:

The board game laid out

The groups then play the board game. When they roll, they should answer the question they land on. If they’re correct, they can stay there. If not, they have to go back to the question they were on at the start of the turn. The winner is the person who gets to the end first, or who is in the lead when they run out of time.

Creative students!
The board can even go up and down!

I got this idea from somebody at IH Brno, but unfortunately I can’t remember who. I use it almost every time I’m revising for a mid-year or end-of-year test, and it always prompts a lot of discussion. The group shown in these pictures even asked if we could keep playing it when I said the time was up!


I like it because as well as reminding the students of the grammar and vocabulary areas likely to appear in the test, it always prompts a lot of discussion and shows them which areas they still need to revise.


The English Verb visualised

The English Verb (affiliate link) by Michael Lewis was one of the most influential books I read during my Delta because it completely changed how I thought about grammar.

Last week I was teaching my FCE students about tense patterns to express hypothetical meaning and I created this completely unplanned diagram to try to get across the only half-remembered explanations in Lewis’ book about how the past simple, past perfect and ‘would’ really work. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy the book here to be able to quote anything from the relevant sections for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. The quality of the picture isn’t great either, but hopefully you can see enough to get the idea.

Visualising 'The English Verb'

The idea is that you start from now/real/present simple, and remove yourself one step away either in time (present -> past), or in imagination (real -> imagined) by using the past simple. You can also remove yourself one step in imagination (real -> imagined) by using ‘would’. To remove yourself two steps away, you use ‘past perfect’, i.e. two steps back in time, or one step in imagination + one step in time.

It’s not the best diagram ever produced, but the students seemed to understand a little. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have included ‘future’ on it, and I should most certainly have planned the visualisation and the example sentences before the lesson!

Have you ever tried to visualise Lewis’ description? How did/would you do it?

All the good people

One of my favourite things about being an English teacher in a private language school is the huge range of people I am privileged to meet. The richness of their experience of the world has taught me a lot, and makes my job a continuous pleasure. The word cloud below includes all of the jobs I can remember, but I’m sure there were more (click to see a bigger version):

Jobs word cloud

And that’s not included the pre-teaching lives of the people I work with! Now, what other job gives you the chance to meet such a diverse range of people?

An influential teacher (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to announce that I have been invited to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world.

february 2014 - an influential teacher_1

Each  month a series of topics are posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which anyone and everyone is invited to participate in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My first contribution is on the topic of ‘An influential teacher’, but as I said in my post, it was so hard to choose just one that I’ve written about a few of them! You’ll have to read it to find out more. Richard Gresswell and Katherine Bilsborough have also written on the same topic.

If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Delta conversations: Natalia

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.

Natalia Gonzalez Brandi (Nati) started teaching in 2007. She was Director of Studies at IHMontevideo for two years and in 2013 she moved to IH Buenos Aires, where she currently works as teacher and YL Coordinator. She loves teaching and sharing ideas with colleagues. In 2013 she attended and presented at IATEFL’s annual conference. She tweets @natibrandi.


My DELTA experience, when I finally learned with a little help from my mistakes and peers.

How did you do your DELTA?

I signed up for a Distance DELTA Module 1 course in 2011. I did my background reading but didn’t have time to do enough exam practice, and reading Cambridge sample answers didn’t seem as interesting as my ELT books, so I failed. Despite this, I did the intensive DELTA Module 2 Course at IH Buenos Aires in 2012, and the experience wasn’t as bad. Although I struggled with the assignments, I did pass the course and managed to never fail a lesson. Of course, I wouldn’t have finished this course if it weren’t for the help and support of my tutors and peers, most importantly Hannah Pinkham and Eduardo Santos. We would read each other’s work and observe each other’s lessons. Hannah even proofread some of my assignments, so I cannot thank them enough. On December 2012 I retook DELTA Module 1. This time, my classmate Tom Campbell and I spent a whole week doing exam practice and analyzing Cambridge sample answers in great detail, with a kind of product approach to DELTA 1, and the result wasn’t at all bad: MERIT. DELTA 3? I honestly couldn’t think of ticking more Cambridge boxes in 2013, so I took a year off, and will definitely submit my assignment in June this year.

What did you gain from this course?

  • I had a chance to observe and read my peers’ work. We were all keen teachers sharing the same group of students. We could observe other people teach, and analyse students’ reactions, and thereby reflect on what was conducive to learning and what wasn’t. I saw people do dictogloss, TBL, Dogme, grammar translation, genre and even humanistic approaches, and in a way, I incorporated aspects of each of those lessons into my own teaching practice.
  • I enjoyed writing the lesson commentary and post lesson evaluation.
    The lesson commentary linked my background essay with my lesson, and feeling that my lesson made sense and that I could justify each part of it was wonderful, because I finally felt I was doing my job the way it should be done. It didn’t feel like potpourri; it was more principled teaching? Eclecticism? Good teaching? You name it! Next time someone tells me that teaching is to stand in front of a class and follow a couple of coursebook activities, I’d say: write a background essay, a lesson plan and a lesson commentary and call me, maybe!
    The post lesson evaluation was also empowering because I had a chance to reflect on what worked and what needed to be worked on. To finally share this with a tutor who would give me detailed feedback was very useful, and I remember reading the feedback I got three times at the very least. It encouraged me to reflect on my lessons, in a way I hadn’t done before.
  • Module 1 was also helpful. It helped me to analyse language in great detail and I also learned a lot about discourse analysis, testing, guided discovery and many other topics. It’s really useful, especially if your job involves observing other people. You learn so much about standard coursebook practice as well as language and genre analysis, that then it’s easier to plan your own lessons and help other colleagues do the same.

What wasn’t so good?

  • I didn’t get much sleep.
  • The criteria is really long, and I sometimes felt I just couldn’t tick all those Cambridge little boxes. It’s not easy to meet standards.
  • I only realised how much I learned months after the course was over. It’s too intense to keep track of how much you are learning.
  • Like Sandy, I didn’t get a holiday neither before nor after the course, so my 2012 wasn’t great.

What tips would you give to candidates?

  • Make sure you narrow down the topics you are studying. Don’t be too ambitious and study everything at the same time. This is true for all modules, and it especially helps if you know what the topic of your Module 2 LSAs will be.
  • Before you start reading, write down all your ideas. It’s like a classroom brainstorming, and it did help me. I remember my classmate Meghan Finn suggested this, and she was right! We know more than we think. We are there in the classroom, we are experienced teachers and brainstorming before reading help us read more efficiently. If you are doing the intensive DELTA, time is always a problem, so you’ve got to read efficiently and be good at taking notes.
  • We normally tell our Cambridge exam students ‘read questions carefully’. Well, I’d say read the Cambridge criteria carefully, make sure you know what you are expected to do, because otherwise you cannot possibly pass. There are too many boxes to tick, and sometimes you just need to state the obvious.
  • Ask for help! Read other people’s assignments, look at your peers’ lesson plans: you cannot learn on your own. Some candidates do not like helping others and they prefer to work on their own; it’s okay. Now, if you don’t like learning like that, get help! Twitter, blogs, even people who’ve already passed DELTA, and I’d be happy to share my lessons and assignments with anyone who asks for it.

What would you have done differently?

Holidays after the course! The rest was a learning experience: you fail, keep going, learn from your mistakes, work really hard and then pass.

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!