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

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:


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:


(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?

Comments on: "How things have changed!" (5)

  1. “That’s definitely not how we learn grammar”

    Can I make a comment here? (It’s slightly off topic in that I’m not thinking about issues relating to teacher training on an initial TT course).

    I think the statement is confusing two different understandings of recurrent, flexible patterns in language use (i.e. “grammar”) since, I think, “learn grammar” doesn’t sit well with the point you’re trying to make and really, I guess, what you mean is:

    “That’s definitely not how we use grammar in verbal communication”

    But that to me seems to be quite a different statement from the one you initially made using “learn grammar”.

    Put another way, and again I am thinking about this in the context of more experienced teachers and not trainees on an initial TT programme such as CELTA, what do you think to the following?

    How useful is teaching grammatical metalanguage to students in order to (long-term) provide a shred language that supports scaffolding? (e.g, “So why do you think a noun is suitable there?”)

    To what extent can learners notice grammatical features if they lack a shared grammatical metalanguage for talking about those features? Or is it possible to dispense with that metalanguage and present such features purely visually? (e.g. wavy underling, coloured boxes, highlighters, concept diagrams, etc.)

    How useful is grammatical metalanguage as a short-hand in overt feedback correction? (e.g. “Your sentence begins “In recent years” so which tense is better here?”)

    Isn’t using specialist terminology to discuss an approach to a problem shared by a group of learners (i.e. using grammatical metalanguage to discuss aspects of a text) just as much of an everyday communicative event as writing an email complaint to a hotel, making a phone-booking for a restaurant, socialising at a party, etc. ? (In all kinds of job roles, I think we could say that we need discourse for assessing a situation, evaluating an issue, proposing solutions to problems, etc., some phrases for which can be re-used / re-purposed across a range of communicative events – choosing the best design for a T-shirt, planning the installation of new machinery, discussing problems with a car or a computer etc.) .

    Just some thoughts in response to your post ….


  2. In the movie Doctor Strange, when Stephen Strange arrived in Nepal to learn from the Ancient One (much like a trainee arrived at a language school to take CELTA), the Ancient One told him:

    “Forget everything you think you know.”

    (and mind you, Strange was a very smart and accomplished neurosurgeon, but he has to forget all that if he wants to show willingness to learn).

    I know CELTA trainers and Ancient One aren’t the same thing, but I think there are some truths in regards to learning/teaching that are applicable to our profession.


    • Thanks for the comment. I like the pop culture reference, though I’m not sure I fully understand the point you’re trying to make in the final paragraph. I tend to believe that all experience adds to and reshapes what we knew before, so it’s not a case of forgetting what we know, but being open to our ideas being challenged and reshaped in light of new learning. I’m not sure if that’s what you meant, but thanks for making me articulate this – I don’t think I have before!


      • Hi, sorry I clicked submit by accident and unable to finish my sentence!

        What I meant to say was, yes most of us came from the traditional teacher-fronted classroom, and we all carry that idea into the classroom as a language teacher.

        I think it’s important that CELTA trainees (/inexperienced language teachers) need to be able to forget this idea that “teachers need to lecture for 10 minutes” and start learning with a clean slate — forget what you think you know about “teaching” because it’s probably very different to the modern teaching methodology!


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