Teach Play Love: Building bridges across cultural differences through performing personal stories remotely – Haneen Jadalla (Gaza) and Nick Bilbrough (UK)

The students and teacher who joined us live during this session, from Gaza and Argentina

One aim of the Hands Up Project is to make language learning personal and intimate. The teachers give the students freedom to write personal stories, and afterwards to create a remote theatre performance which will be done globally. They can tell their stories to the world. ‘They’ are kids in Palestine, and young people from around the world. They create a sense of community irrespective of their location.

The image above shows how it felt like everyone was in the same place at the same time, despite working remotely.

We are responsible for the future of our learners, but in the future they are going to be responsible for our future tomorrow.


Why do we need to link students with their peers globally?

  • Self-identification
  • Self celebration
  • Cultural diversity

The children stand tall in front of the screen that they are able to do something so special.

Intercultural framework

  1. Students in both countries are asked to write personal stories individually. Don’t worry about mistakes – they are the ‘golden gates towards learning’ (wonderful phrase!)
  2. Swap the personal stories between you and the other teacher.
  3. Both groups meet online through Zoom. They go into breakout rooms (or do this remotely) to turn the stories into scripts. This is when students start discussing ideas, assigning roles, negotiating. The teacher is there as a stage director, praising their efforts and scaffolding their learning.
  4. The students from both ends meet in their local context (face-to-face) to edit and reformulate the script. The teacher supports them by supplying vocabulary and by editing the script, reformulating the language to a higher level, making it more accurate and authentic. Students can see before and after the editing process.
  5. Rehearsing the story and assigning the roles. The teacher acts as a stage director and facilitator. Implicitly they’re showing intonation, pausing. Explicitly, they’re showing how to use the camera, how to work with the Zoom box as a theatre method.
  6. Performing the stories in front of the screen.
  7. The original authors along with other participants discussing the whole experience.

In the example Haneen shared, the children in Palestine didn’t have any awareness of Argentinian music or names. They started to learn this, and started to learn more about creating stage directions.

Victoria’s story

We were put into groups and given the story above, with 10 minutes to turn it into a play. It was so much fun! [This said by somebody who refused point blank to do drama activities until 3 or 4 years ago!]

It was great to see a performance by four members of the audience in the room (from the UK, India and one other country I don’t know), done live for the students from Argentina and Gaza who were joining us remotely in the session. One of them (Victoria) wrote the story you see above. Victoria told us how she felt about watching other people perform her story, then talked about her feelings when the police came to her house. Then the Palestinian girls told us about her feelings when performing the Argentinian story – it was a new experience for them. When they first met each other, they were very scared and didn’t know what to do, but after that it was an amazing experience.

We then watched recordings of student performances performing the same play.

Watching the videos, we saw how when producing the video, students took advantage of ‘hide non-video participants’, switching on and off cameras, changing names, using props around the screen, knocking on the camera, all to add to the theatrical experience of watching the plays. It was fantastic!

We also heard from the girls themselves talking about how they feel about being part of the project.

At the end of the session, the audience and the students who were joining us remotely sang the Hands up song together, which was a lovely communal experience, with inspirational words.

These children are the real stars, teaching us how to work together and learn from each other.

The Hands Up Project has been an amazing experience for me, and has inspired me. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to be here with you here today and to speak to you in English. I want to be a volunteer for the Hands Up Project in the future.

Dana, one of the students from Gaza

Haneen has given our students a voice. The students’ personal stories tell us about themselves, they are sharing their identities. They have created a bridge between our two schools, built from the bricks of our stories, stuck together with commitment and joy. We are honoured to be here with you today.

Maria Teresa Continental, the teacher from Argentina

There are three books of plays written by students as part of the Hands Up Project. You can buy them to use with your students or to inspire them to write their own plays. Get them at the Hands Up Project shop. I have all three of them, and can recommend them. Each play is very short – 3 or 4 pages maximum – and easy to learn and perform, but with endless opportunities for creativity from the students.

Teach Play Love: Remote theatre to build a sense of global belonging – Amal Mukhairez (Gaza)

Amal is the creator of remote theatre, and one of the longest-standing volunteers on the Hands Up Project. She created a piece of remote theatre by accident as she thought it was necessary to perform entirely on Zoom, and later they made it a rule that the children couldn’t move outside the screen or edit the video.

Gaza has been under siege for nearly 15 years. It has a huge impact on everybody’s daily life, wellbeing, learning and sense of belonging in the whole world. The learners have no problem with a sense of belonging to their country and community, but what about the whole world?

Global belonging

A lovely term that Amal created

Students lack motivation. They feel that the world is deaf to them, that nobody is paying attention to them. This makes the work of the teachers very challenging. If they feel there’s no connection with the world, they don’t see the point of learning English, the language of the world. This meant the teachers wanted to find innovative ways to push the students towards learning and give them a reason to learn. Remote theatre seemed to be the way to do this.

What is remote theatre?

A short script that is created by students. They then rehearse it, and perform it live on facebook or YouTube to a global audience. It can be performed at conferences, at a literature festival, at schools or at universities.

If you’d like to read some of these plays and use them with your students, you can buy the books from the Hands Up Project shop.

Another way that they have run these projects is linking groups of learners from different countries to create plays together, meeting via Zoom to write and rehearse.

If you’d like to watch an example of one of these plays, take a look at the Hands Up Project YouTube channel. For example, this one from Czechia and Palestine:

How does remote theatre build a sense of global belonging?

  • Plays with global themes, e.g. pollution, refugees, bullying
  • Students and teachers conversations during the rehearsals – they work hard to communicate in English to say what they want to say, and this process really helped the students to learn, not just language, but respecting each other’s opinions, listening to each other, understanding different accents of English
  • Finding a global online audience to perform the play for – this creates a connection with the outside world, as the students can’t travel outside Gaza
  • After the play there is a lot more – discussions, what happened in the play, what experiences they had while practicing. For example: How do you feel when you’re acting?

COVID was an excellent opportunity to do lots of collaboration globally (though Hands Up have been doing this for many years).

Students don’t just learn the language because there’s going to be a test at the end of the semester. They learn because they’re motivated to communicate.

The Hands Up Project provides a safe channel to do this.

Students wanted to share their thoughts about the project, and we saw a video of them telling us in Arabic about what they got out of it: friends in other countries, people hearing their voice and caring about their talent, support from teachers and students, learning about other cultures and religions, noticing that their are points in common between their different cultures, becoming more aware of people around the world.

In 2019, Hands Up won the ELTon award for starting the play-writing competition.

Teach Play Love: Power to the pupil: changing the teacher-learner dynamic – Raja’a Abu Jasser (Gaza) and Sara Wood (Spain)

A new aspect of the Hands Up Project focuses on how to empower the students, and change the teacher-learner dynamic. They want to create independent, powerful learners who are in charge of their own learning.

In most classes in Gaza, the teacher controls everything. From 1-10, how much of a control freak do you think you are in your classroom?

Raja’a started teaching 3 years ago. She is really enthusiastic about trying new ideas.

Students v. Teachers

The students come up with questions from Biology, Chemistry, Physics. They ask the teacher the questions. If the teacher can answer, they get a point. If they can’t, the students get a point.

The students are left to come up with their own questions, and the teacher doesn’t intervene until the students ask for it. Because the students have to be able to communicate the question and the answer, they are encouraged to reformulate and work with language to communicate what they want to ask.

The majority of Raja’a’s students aren’t motivated to learn English, because they feel that they won’t be able to leave Gaza, there’s nobody there who they can speak to, and there wouldn’t be a use for it in their lives. They are also studying in large classes.

With her 9-10 year old students with a very low level of English, Raja’a wanted to give them a reason to use the language from the coursebook in a communicative way. The students had to guess what the teacher is ‘going to’ do tomorrow. If the student gets the information right, they get a point. If the student gets it wrong, the teacher gets a point. The teacher can reformulate the language as needed.

The video Raja’a showed us demonstrated how excited the students were to do this activity. The atmosphere in the classroom was fantastic – if the students love the teacher, they’ll learn from you.

The reformulations Raja’a did as part of this activity are now an active part of the students’ language because they heard them in a relaxed environment.

The students got 5 points, Raja’a got 3 points. They were excited about this and felt empowered. The next day, they told the whole school that they had a competition with their teacher and that the teacher lost.

Collaboration, invisible connections, a little chaotic, powerful

Words Sara used to describe the Hands Up Project

Remote teaching

Sara normally works remotely with a teacher who is in the classroom.

In the example video we watched, the girls were telling Sara the story of Layla and the Wolf (similar to Little Red Riding Hood). They worked together to say what they wanted to.

During the story:

  • Heba’s decision not to speak sets the tone for the class. Why is that important?
  • Jana tells the story with the language available to her – what effect might that have on the class?
  • Sara (the student) overcomes a moment of doubt to continue the story. How does that benefit her and the other learners?

The whole process is confidence-building and empowering. They decided how to be in the class, including making a decision not to speak. As a teacher, Sara didn’t make her speak – she created a safe space for the student to make the decision to be silent. It pushes other students in the class to speak because Heba doesn’t want to.

The next step was to prepare for a retelling of the story, changing the location, the characters.

When there was a misunderstanding, the students helped each other because the teacher encouraged them to translate the word in Arabic, and teach it to her. They were allowed to correct the teacher’s pronunciation, and the students worked together to offer help. They all needed help, and they all provided help. This affected the atmosphere because it was one of equals, rather than a teacher-student power dynamic.

This is a really playful process. You can play with the different languages in your power.

Sara then retold the story with the students’ changes. She did it because she thought it would be a challenge for the students to do this spontaneously. She asked the students questions to elicit the parts of the story so that they were involved throughout the process, and using language they’d learnt connected to the story. The teacher feeds in language throughout the process to collaboratively build the story.

Throughout the whole process, the students have personal control of the language. They’re playing with it, and looking for ideas in their head. They’re learning a language properly in a way that they can actually use it.


  • Whose responsibility is it to understand?
  • Learning isn’t one-sided
  • Opportunities to take personal control of the language
  • Choosing when and how to speak, and the teacher allowing this
  • Learners’ contributions to a class aren’t purely linguistic – acknowledge all of their contributions, whatever they are

Teach Play Love: The show’s over – now what? Team teaching on Facebook Live – Dalya Saleh (Gaza) and Elena Deleyto (Spain)

During COVID, Dalya and Elena worked on facebook live to create lessons for students. Dalya’s worked with Elena since 2018, and this is the first time they’ve met face-to-face. Elena is a digital materials creator based in Mallorca.

The Hands Up Project team teaching project won an ELTon in 2021 for the innovative ideas of the way their project works. As Elena said, there are so many exciting things which HUP is working on.

Going to (with a puppet)

This is what one Live looked like on screen, with Dalya using a puppet to help with the language:

The Live chat allowed them to get feedback from students, teachers, parents, and get feedback about what’s happening in the lesson.

Afterwards, they re-edited the videos from the live lesson and used them again after the pandemic to create short clips. They had hours and hours of valuable materials which they didn’t want to lose. We saw examples of some of these videos during the presentation – I wish you could see them too!

They kept sections of the lesson which focussed on the key language, and added titles highlighting important structures. The clips also aimed to continue to promote interactivity by adding pictures and questions directed at the students. At the end of the video, there is a link to a digital activity, for example a WordWall matching activity. Absent students can still get practice opportunities.

Although the activity isn’t very complex, and won’t necessarily promote a huge amount of learning, the fact that students can watch a video and then do something successfully as a result of it can have a huge impact on the children’s confidence.

Guessing game

Facebook Live was selected to still have interaction, as children wouldn’t necessarily have been able to access a live Zoom lesson due to connection issues.

During the Facebook live sessions, when playing a game, Dalya and Elena took answers from the Live chat and called out student names so the students following the chat felt like they were part of the lesson. Using the clip again in a classroom lesson with the titles shows students how to play the game, and helps them to review the useful language.

Finding out about other people

When you have scripted conversations in a coursebook, but perform them on Zoom with a different person it brings them to life, especially when the two people are from different countries. It helps students to understand why English could actually be useful for them.

Principles to create quality videos (especially for young learners)

  • Short, no longer than 6 minutes
  • Need to integrate visuals, games and realia
  • Should serve specific purposefully engaging tasks
  • Use friendly language and body gestures
  • Use scripts and texts to clarify things
  • Advised to send PowerPoints to learners to build on what is in the video

Teach Play Love: Lessons in intercultural communication…from teenagers – Samir Naim Salama (Gaza) and Paul Dummett (UK)

One of the things the Hands Up Project does is to pair brilliant teachers from Gaza with brilliant teachers from other parts of the world to work together and play.

The first lesson that they learnt from their teenagers on this international communication course was the need to emphasise communication. How to communicate when language isn’t necessarily available, through other methods like mime, drawing and others. Mediating meaning wherever they can.

When we teach communicatively, the focus is actually often on avoiding miscommunication. Culture is seen as an iceberg with superficial differences (e.g. how you show appreciation for food by (not) leaving some on the plate), and underneath this there are hidden depths.

How true is this?

They’ve actually found that these differences are much less present than the commonalities between us. Those situations where there is a complete communication breakdown due to culture are actually relatively rare. This kind of approach can lead us to promoting stereotypes.

Cultural intelligence

[I really like this term] This is what they’re really interested in, rather than thinking about superficial stereotypes as culture.

What does it mean?

  • Being open to learn about other cultures, institutions and languages
  • Having knowledge of other cultures, institutions and languages

Teens and children can approach others without prejudice. They have a curiosity when they meet others to find out more about how they learn, which adults might not have.

Course content is built around…

1. Comparing lives and environments

2. Understanding individuals’ situations motivations (like examining a tree and its roots, rather than an iceberg)

3. Opportunity for collaboration – allowing students to work together in problem-solving tasks

Online ICC course principles

Activities from the course

Words & language

What word or expression do you use most often in your language?

What’s your favourite word in English? Why?

What noise does a cat/horse/dog make in your language?

Teach me the most useful word or phrase in your language.

What’s a saying in your language that you especially like? Why?

Free word association (e.g. sport, family, cool, afraid)

Senses and abilities

This helps learners to find common ground, and it taps into their immediate environment.

What can you see and hear right now?

What’s your favourite smell, taste, view?

What ability are you proudest of? Why?

What special ability do you wish you had? What would you do with it?


Describe a journey that you make each day. Help me visualise what you see, hear and smell. Perhaps describe a person you see every time, the sounds you hear every time, the smells you smell.

Name 1 good thing about your house/flat. And 1 bad thing.

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of home?

What do you like about the area you live in? What do you dislike about it?


Are there more wheels or doors in the world? (Thinking fast and slow) Put a quick answer in the chat box, then go to breakout rooms to have a longer, more in-depth discussion.

Your best news headline 5 years from now. (Brainstorm)

An important problem in your community and possible solutions (Brainstorming: selling others’ ideas) – put possible solutions into the chat, but another person has to sell that idea to everybody. It helps you to see things from others’ perspectives.

Promoting love and understanding

Teach Play Love: The Hands Up Project Belfast Conference 2022 – Why teach play love? / Things that make me…

Not enough conferencing this week 🙂 I had a free day in Belfast and found out that The Hands Up Project were running their online conference, so decided to attend. There will be separate posts for each talk to be kind to my iPad – I’ll add links here next week.

If you’ve never heard of The Hands Up Project, take a look at their website. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Nick Bilbrough set up a project to work with teachers in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. It’s designed to amplify the voices of young people in Palestine, and around the world. They run many innovative projects, including writing plays

Why Teach Play Love? – Scott Thornbury

Scott Thornbury, a trustee of The Hands Up Project, suggested the theme ‘Teach Play Love’ for this year.

Teach: Not just about the delivery of information, but it takes place in a particular place with particular people.

While other classes in the curriculum activate mostly the brain, the language class engages the whole body, its… [I missed the end of this]

Clare Kramsch

Play: language play is good for learners, because they can experiment with language and functions.

A person who can play with a language in creative and socially-effective ways – to tell a joke or a story – could certainly also buy an airline ticket. The reverse is not necessarily true.

Guy Cook

Drama is inherently good for language because it’s participatory, co-constructed, aural and oral, expressive, creative, transformative. Plays, like ‘Toothbrush’ and the rest of The Hands Up Project book, are a great way to learn.

Love: emotion is a very important vehicle for practising and learning language.

Things that made me go [emoji!] – Chris Sowton

In support of emojis

  • Powerful communicative tool, especially in challenging circumstances
  • Bridge gaps between teachers and students – a kind of inter language
  • Allow students the opportunity to express themselves in a way they might not otherwise

Blob trees are also a useful tool for this.

Teaching in Challenging Circumstances [https://tinyurl.com/TeachinginCC] is an open access book from Cambridge to support teachers with practical ideas.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

Paulo Freire

Here’s are some extracts from the book:

Countering dominant narratives about teachers

We need a more sophisticated understanding of what it means to be a teacher.

Ukraine: teachers as frontline workers

This was Chris’s first experience of working with teachers in a conflict area. They were webinars run by Cambridge – to have people in the same place at the same time talking about the same issues. Questions from teachers included:

  • What is the purpose of learning English right now? It speaks to a possible future, a brighter tomorrow. It gives parents respite from the situation they’re in.
  • How do I assess my students in a conflict situation? Moving away from traditional areas, thinking about progress in different ways. Just the act of being in class was a triumph.
  • What do I do when I hear an air raid siren going off in class?

What he learnt:

  • The challenge to think quickly and adapt
  • The value of collegiality and being in the same place at the same time
  • The importance of specialist skills and knowledge (e.g. drama, well-being, conflict) as teachers are on the frontline
  • The impact which making materials open source can have (thank you Cambridge) – we need to get great quality stuff out there so teachers can use it, and there’s so much great stuff which is sitting there not being used
  • It shouldn’t take a crisis to challenge widespread, systemic educational failure

Jordan: teachers as safe spaces

There is an emotional and psychological value place on learning language.

There is a strong motivation of students in refugee situations.

There is a difference in the way boys and girls are taught. In the girls class, there was much more engagement and a positive atmosphere. In the boys class, the teaching was much more teacher-centred.

Here are three extracts from a British Council report touching on these three issues:

What Chris learnt

  • The classroom can be a space for imagining different futures, which can reflect positively on the present
  • How talking about trauma in a second language can provide therapeutic benefit
  • Multilingualism should be valued more – and certified where possible (not just focussing on English). How can we create a certification process which values skills in multiple languages?
  • Languages are crucial for increasing all forms of capital, but the system doesn’t always support this: NGOs work in silos (due to funding), certification is hard to obtain, and tech-first/tech-only solutions (apps/websites will be the only answer – but it’s much more sophisticated than this)

Palestine: teachers as enablers of latent skills and knowledge

The extraordinary desire and demand for development.

When Chris does training, he has a 20/ 60 / 20 model in his head – 20% of participants will love everything, 20% will not be interested, and 60% will be in the middle. In Palestine, he had a 5 / 55 / 40 model – 40% were very engaged.

Teachers are agents of social change.

What Chris learnt

  • Even in highly challenging circumstances, teachers are willing to – and benefit from – play (e.g. a snowball fight)
  • There is a repository of latent creativity and skills which need – demand – an outlet.
  • Teachers can make the present palatable and the future desirable [I love this quote!]
  • The virtual world provides opportunities which the physical world isn’t always able to – and language is what can facilitate that. It allows for further support after face-to-face training, along with many other opportunities.

General: teachers as deskilled, disempowered, disregarded pawns

Individual constraints: a teacher who had been given training, but when she went back to her school her headteacher stopped her from implementing the training, even though she was keen and interested and wanted to do so. If other stakeholders are dragging you back, then your training can be more frustrating – you know what you want to do, but aren’t in a position to do it.

Stakeholder constraints: teachers in Nepal regularly feedback back about parental view on student-led learning = chaos and lack of discipline. We need to adopt a whole-school approach, and train everybody, not just the teachers.

Systemic constraints: emphasis on quantity rather than quality, we measure training in number of trainings run rather than impact they have. Start with the impact: what’s the change we want to see, and work back from that. This is particularly an issue with funding, including how frequently the funding happen – what change can you realistically make on a one / two year cycle? We end up with conservative approaches because the cycle is too short for experimentation.

National constraints: language policy in South Sudan (Chris’s EdD research), there is the choice of English as the Medium of Instruction for political reasons, but there are very few people in the country who speak it. This has an impact on people across the education system.

Geopolitical constraints: Somaliland – teachers are targets, and schools can be the locus of political violence. The school is often the only recognisable part of the state in a particular area.

Lebanon: teachers as humans with histories

People’s instinct is always to teach as they were taught. Breaking those habits is extremely difficult, especially in challenging circumstances.

Teachers greatly value the opportunity to share how they are feeling – but need prompting. Storytelling is one way to do this.

An activity Chris did:

  • Groups of 6
  • A piece of paper with 6 boxes per person: each teacher write a title
  • Next person: carry the story on – who are the characters in the story
  • Next person: draw a picture which represents that story
  • Next: write the first paragraph of the story

This is a way to explore how you feel through the cloak of anonymity. If you just gave a piece of blank paper to a teacher and said ‘write a story’, they would be unlikely to do this.

Another activity to link emotions to learning the alphabet:

This helps young students to realise that they can have a positive impact on somebody’s life. It’s a simple, but powerful approach.

What Chris learnt

  • The value of puppets – linguistically, pedagogically, psychologically – children make puppets, and teach them things, and learn hugely in the process
  • How learning materials can have positive psychosocial messages embedded – how important this is when other services are unavailable or severely constrained
  • Decontextualised research which has no clear practical impact and which is driven by outside interests is valueless. We have to engage with the people we’re researching

Indonesia: teachers as trusted guides

At a university: 60-70 people, arms folded, why are you here, resistant to change

At a language school: as soon as you walk into the school, there is an atmosphere of play. Children and teachers in the photos as you entered the school – what happens as you enter this space.

What Chris learnt

  • Teaching hierarchies based on longevity are complete and utter nonsense
  • Also true based on where you teach

Nigeria: teachers as professionals who need ongoing support

Little has changed in methodology over the past 20 years. This programme is new: TARL = Teaching at the right level. Mixing up 3 years at the school so that they’re split by level, not age, especially when there are very large classes.

However, lack of support in the field for teachers.

Multi-tiered cascades present challenges in the quality of delivery.

What Chris learnt

  • Radical thinking can help unlock ‘insolvable’ problems.
  • Delivering large programmes needs strong admin and structures – without this, it’s irrelevant how good the materials are
  • Materials can be a way of delivering support and CPD to teachers – the training is embedded
This was a lesson plan Chris created, which was translated into the local language. There was a lot of guidance for the teacher, but also the opportunity to do things their own way. The footnotes give training information.

Promote realistic, accurate images of teachers


For all of the slides and other resources from Chris, go to http://tinyurl.com/teachplaylove

Teach Play Love: All you need is love – Sarah Mercer

Like Sarah said, she’s never experienced a conference and a group of teachers who communicate love in quite the way this conference and this group of teachers have. It’s been an amazing day.

Sarah’s first confession: she loves watching Love Actually at Christmas (me too!) Why does she have to say it’s a confession?

If you make a film about a man kidnapping a woman and chaining her to a radiator for five years – something that has possibly happened once in history – it’s called a searingly realistic analysis of society.

If I make a film like Love Actually, which is about people falling in love, and there are about a million people falling in love in Britain today, it’s called a sentimental presentation of an unrealistic world.

Richard Curtis

Why are we so afraid to talk about love?

Boys don’t like French because ‘it’s all about love and stuff’.

It’s ‘not cool to be kind’, compassionate or talk about ‘love and stuff’.

Cf. Berlin, 2018; Williams et al., 2002
  • Age of reason and overdominance of ‘logic’
  • Hyper-rational perspective (disconnect from emotions)
  • Subordination of emotions
  • Devaluation of supposed ‘feminine traits’
  • Narrow view of ‘science’ – the scientific view of what counts as research (e.g. into emotions) has only very recently opened up

But if you talk to students and teachers in the classroom, they know that emotion is a key / unavoidable / essential [my adjectives] part of learning.

Love is conceived of particularly narrowly

When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities.

bell hooks – All about love (2001, p.54)

These characteristics of love are also characteristics of a good teacher and a good classroom.

Love is to take responsibility

You enact love, it’s not just a feeling. When we love somebody or something, we don’t just feel, we act. We feel responsible towards that person or thing.

Love does appear in education but under other guises

(Barcelona and Coehlo, 2016)

Here are some of the terms which could be replaced by ‘love’ in the literature:

Pedagogical care is caring that our students don’t just learn, but that they grow too.

Teaching with love…

  • Love for ourselves
  • For the language
  • For our colleagues
  • For our students
  • For others near and far
  • For humanity
  • For animals and plant life
  • For the planet

Love expands far beyond a romantic relationship with another person. It’s commitment and action.

5 facets of love

There are many different possible facets of love, but Sarah selected 5 to focus on in this presentation:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Wellbeing
  • Kindness
  • Fairness


This is the foundation of all kinds of communication. It’s being able to understand others and communicate with them.

You take yourself out of your own position and try to imagine how somebody else feels.

Walk a mile in their shoes, for example based on pictures, or stopping a film and thinking about the characters. You try to imagine other people’s lives. You don’t need to agree, but you can understand them better perhaps.

There are many ways to do this:

  • Use of literature and films
  • Role play and simulation
  • Questions to think about perspective: Why might they have said that? Why might they think that?

Teaching with empathy

  • How we teach: implicitly, we model it
  • Explicitly: we draw attention to it

Psychological safety: give people the space to make mistakes, help learners to support each other, take away the sense of risk, create a safe space in the classroom. The learners think about how each other feels, and learn to support each other. (Edmondson, 2019)

Enacting pedagogical caring: learners can see when we teach with love. They see it from our preparation for lessons for example. (Wentzel, 1997)

Attending to teacher and learner wellbeing (Mercer and Gregersen, 2020)


What is compassion?

Being able to manage your emotional response to compassion is important. Compassion fatigue is a real issue.

Being motivated to provide care – for yourself and for others.

It has an action element, but also an awareness element.

Spheres of compassion

We need to think about compassion at different levels:

  • Self
  • Others close
  • Others far
  • Non-human life
  • Planet

Fierce compassion

Neff, 2021

Sometimes when you understand what is needed, you need to be fierce about it. You need to be assertive about it. Compassion and love are not always soft and fluffy.

Mistakes are allowed! Fail first, then learn – fostering growth mindset. This is not just a message for our students. We need to apply this to teachers as well. We need to be kind to ourselves as teachers as well.

Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.

Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold, so the mistakes/problems are evident. We can share our best failures, and consider how to reflect on these failures.

What is your ideal colleague?

Choose three characteristics.

To what extent do you display these characteristics to others?

Sarah does this with pre-service teachers before they start team teaching. Since she started doing this with her teachers, they’ve had a lot fewer problems with the teams. Teachers reflect on what it’s like to build a relationship for teaching.


It is not the same as mental health.

Teacher wellbeing is the foundation of good practice. It isn’t an optional extra. (Amen!)

It’s irresponsible if we DON’T talk about teacher wellbeing.

What factors affect your wellbeing?

There are many different areas that can contribute to it, It’s not just self-care strategies and yoga. It’s not just happy fluffy things. It’s a serious area that goes beyond the personal, and into larger systemic factors which we should consider as well: precarity, lack of trade union support in many countries, working in challenging circumstances. We can’t necessarily control everything that might affect our wellbeing.

Two strands:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Social and contextual conditions

If we’re serious about wellbeing, we should be thinking about both of these. Wellbeing is a conversation we need to have at length and seriously.

What I focus my attention on

An activity we can do to give you a sense of control. This is not an activity to do as a solution, but this can help.

What you focus your attention on, is what you can see. We’re naturally drawn to the negative: negativity bias. We can become conscious of that. Our attention is valuable: think about what we give it to. Pretty much everybody who looks at the picture above focuses on the blue dot immediately, and has to think for longer to focus on other aspects of the image.

Focus on the positives. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can find little moments of positivity.

This is not about suppressing the negative, but learning to notice the positive too.


We can mentally time travel, and revisit things in the past. We can become very conscious of the present and savour moments. We can travel to the future and imagine possibilities. This can help us to draw attention to the positives in life.

Gratitude journals

This is not an instant remedy, but when you do it over time you start to see positives more easily. (My mum has definitely found this) 🙂

Planet A or Planet B?

Where do you think we live?

The research says it’s Planet A, but that doesn’t make the news. There are hundreds of examples of people being kind every day.

Humans are fundamentally kind by nature.

Human Kind by Gregman

Kindness can be political

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela

Random acts of kindness

There are great resources on the website, including for the language classroom.

Kindness doesn’t have to be huge. It’s little gestures.

Teaching for kindness

Here are some teaching ideas to give kindness a larger role in the classroom:

Compassion for others

  • Global citizenship education
  • Random Acts of Kindness projects
  • Service learning projects

Compassion for the planet and animals

Love is not blind

Fairness = social equity and justice

Sometimes there are difficult conversations to be had.

Transformative Social and Emotional Learning

SEL = Social and Emotional Learning

This is relatively new. It’s not just about kindness, but also about fierce compassion, awareness, bringing in the political. You cannot talk about love without talking about these things as well.


What is fairness?

  • Understanding implicit and explicit bias
  • Recognising issues of power and privilege
  • Examining who has voice and in what ways
  • Reflecting on social structures and equity

Representation in the materials we use

There are many different factors we can consider related to representation:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Ability
  • Language

And there are questions we can ask:

  • What or who are present and visible?
  • What or who is missing or invisible?
  • What or who are portrayed positively or negatively?
  • Who is positioned in stereotypical roles?
  • Who has power?

Sarah asks her pre-service teachers to examine the materials they use. For example: Can you find an example of image of somebody in a wheelchair where they just happen to be in a wheelchair, for example ordering in a restaurant?

Students are in the best place to create their own materials. This is also an act of love.


We have the right to bring in all five of these facets of love into our work. It’s fair when teachers are treated with love too.

Be brave enough to teach with love and teach to love.

Sarah Mercer

IATEFL Belfast 2022: In defence of the 4-week course – Neil McCutcheon

Neil is a very experienced CELTA trainer. He runs www.ELTeach.com and is a co-author of Activities for Task-Based Learning [Amazon affiliate link].

New concerns in ELT

  • Native-speakerism
  • Varieties of English
  • The inclusive turn
  • New technology / teaching online
  • Methodology: aligning more with SLA (second language acquisition)

Neil has boiled everything down to four specific criticisms of CELTA and other 4-week courses:

  • It privileges native speakers (by dallying the status of speakers with an L1 other than English)
  • It’s an inadequate entry into the profession (only 4 weeks)
  • It doesn’t keep pace with the times (DEI – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, use of L1)
  • It’s too coursebook-driven (item-by-item syllabus)


CELTA is open to everybody, no matter your first language. You have to have good C1 level.

The balance of L1 and non-L1 English speakers on courses has really shifted. The current Cambridge estimates for numbers are in the slide below:

L1 and non-L1 English speakers learn a lot from each on the courses.

Trainers tell trainees about TEFL Equity. We make candidates aware of these issues.

Inadequate entry?

This is what a CELTA is.

The course is almost entirely assessed on classroom practice, which makes it a powerful course. We make trainees aware of how to select and adapt materials and bring things off the page. We teach trainees how to teach balanced lessons, with a balance of clarification and practice, how to keep students involved all the way through with good quality techniques. We teach candidates to set up and manage tasks well, to give clear instructions, to make sure tasks have a communicative goal, and to respond in a good quality way to student language. These are all important things, and are easier said than done! Candidates get a chance to analyse language.

The whole course offers a broadly immersive experience.

Even though the course isn’t very theoretical, there’s a difference between a course that’s informed by some theory and a course that’s informed by no theory at all.

If you think 4 weeks is inadequate training, how about a week? A weekend? None?

Rather than devaluing the status of professions, it’s a kind of driving licence for entering the profession. It’s a licence to teach.

Some Masters programmes have as little as 30 or 45 minutes of practicum on them – CELTA and CertTESOL have 6 hours.

Experiential learning

Examples of feedback

Thanks for Gui Henriques for collecting these. They show how trainers are responding to current theory in ELT.

Referring to using the L1:

Decoding in listening:

Analytical evaluation of materials:

It’s the trainers who count. They’re not constrained by the syllabus in any way.

The wrong approach? CELTA and SLA

These are criticisms of 4-week courses from Geoff Jordan:

Some replies:

  • Raw material: the candidates who come onto the courses generally don’t have much grounding in language analysis, so they can’t do the kind of reactive teaching that experienced teachers can. They can’t offer that level of rich language language feedback.
  • Immersion: plenty of input.
  • Adaptation of materials: we teach candidates to adapt and select. They don’t have to follow coursebooks slavishly.
  • A balance of clarification and practice. We don’t train teachers to talk about language all the time.
  • We do want trainees to get students ‘doing things with language’. Courses often include TBL, and there are plenty of opportunities for fluency practice.

Examples of feedback

On the balance of clarification and practice:

On fluency tasks:

Any course offering that quality of feedback to beginner teachers is worth it’s salt!

Lesson frameworks

Neil taught his trainees how to base a whole lesson around this activity, with a structure he calls Task-Teach-Task:

Jason Anderson’s TATE framework can also be used, which has an emergent language focus:

We’re not stuck in PPP – we can use other frameworks.

The criterion from the syllabus is:

Focussing on language items in the classroom by clarifying relevant aspects of meaning and form (including phonology) to an appropriate degree of depth


Explicit instruction can help learners develop their knowledge.

Explicit instruction and communicative practice together can help learners develop implicit knowledge.

[I missed the source for this quote]

Neil said he thinks there needs to be a fight back for explicit teaching.

A more radical approach?

An example of something Anthony Gaughan did on his courses:

CELTA depends on the trainer. There’s nothing in the criteria that should make it less radical.


Examples of trainee feedback:

From Emma Jones and Amanda Momeni

It was a life-changing experience.

Very common feedback from trainees (I’ve heard this many times too!)

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Environmental sustainability and ELT in 2022: which way now? Geoffrey Maroko, Owain Llewellyn, Ceri Jones

This was the closing plenary for the IATEFL Belfast 2022 conference.

Ceri and Geoffrey beamed in via Zoom, and Owain was in the room. Sarah Mount coordinated the debate.

Ceri is in Spain, where there is a May heatwave – with 40 degree temperatures inland today (it’s May 20th). She’s one of the co-founders of the ELT Footprint community. You can join in on social media, mainly on facebook, but in other places too. Go to the website to find out more.

Geoffrey is in Kenya. He’s a university lecturer in Applied Linguistics. He’s interested in traditional environmental knowledge.

Owain is based in Wales. He’s got a website called ELT Sustainable, with language lessons focussing on environmental issues.

Indigenous environmental knowledge

Geoffrey talked about community-based organisations who share traditional environmental knowledge.

The UN has declared 2022-2032 the international decade of indigenous languages.

There are a lot of opportunities to work around this area to come up with information to sustain and protect our environment.


Owain has been creating materials to be used globally, but one of the challenges is how to make it relevant across different contexts. It’s not always possible. You either have to make lessons locally, or make them adaptable for different local contexts if they’re global materials.

Sarah Mercer, Nayr Ibrahim, Kath Bilsborough and Ceri Jones recently conducted a survey which will hopefully be published in ELTJ soon. There seems to be a ‘place-based eco-pedagogy’, with lots of local action happening. Students are looking really closely at their own local ecosystems, and learning to think about the consequences of actions locally. This gives them the chance to grow eco-literacy and systems thinking.

The starting point for learners should be the world that they know.

Owain used to teach in Bulgaria, where rural to urban migration is very common. He wanted to do a lesson about this. In Bulgaria, you’re very likely to find abandoned houses as people had moved to the city, many of which had a big walnut tree. He found a poem called ‘An elegy to a walnut tree’. This lesson was used in Bulgaria and Algeria, and was relevant in those contexts, but you might need to change this tree / plant if it was in a different context. In the Kenyan village Geoffrey is from, it might be the mguwe (sp?) tree, but in other communities, it might be different. The learners might not respond in the same way.

In Kenya, many places were named after the plants which were grown there. Now the names are still there, but the plants have often gone. A conscious effort needs to be made to grow those plants there again.

Context is an important starting point for designing our materials.

An idea from the audience: the starting point is the local, and this is taken to the global.

Another question: how much should these lessons be developing over time? Over time, the situation is becoming more urgent, but there’s no sense of urgency to the lessons and materials. The focus is on the individual and what can the individual do, without a focus on collective action to pressure the big polluters. But it can depend on the age we’re teaching: we don’t want to create eco-anxiety in our learners. We can work together as professionals to learn more ourselves and to lobby within our sphere of influence in whatever way we can, and taking the action we can: walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

Health and climate change

Many health problems which exist in the world today can be linked back to climate change. Geoffrey’s university is working with indigenous people in parts of Kenya to collect information about the plants they work with, including language information, usage of the plant, and descriptions of the plant covering as many areas as possible (sight, touch, if not poisonous (!) the taste). They are constructing a database. They thing that once this database exists they should be able to use machine learning to analyse what’s in the database, to create bilingual dictionaries (for example English can borrow from Ekegusii), to create materials based on these – making languages more relevant to the learners, by including references to these plants and how they’re used in materials, in texts, in stories.

Collective responsibility

This is a model of levels at which we can have responsibility:

  • Individual: e.g. not eating meat, not buying things in plastic
  • Family and friends: e.g. influencing people around you, so they start considering issues
  • Professional: e.g. influencing students, staff, institution – this is probably the level at which we can have the most influence to lobby for change or to be examples of action
  • Macro: e.g. when we’re voting, protesting, trying to exert pressure on governments and large businesses

Being part of a collective and a community can really support us, and also helps us to stay on track with remembering and using our professional responsibility. This is what Ceri has found connected to ELT Footprint (and I’ve found this too). She mentioned making materials for a training project (which I was lucky enough to work on) where because she knew there were other colleagues from ELT Footprint working in the team, it helped her keep on track when writing the materials and having a relevant environmental focus where she could.

‘Developing materials for the more-than-human world’ (I like this phrase!) and making environmental sustainability a social practice.

If it’s a social practice, it needs to start with the government creating the right policies, moving on to creating the right curriculum which integrates the environment. If the government aren’t doing this, environmental lobby groups should push the government to take up these issues.

Teachers can become researchers, but they also deserve support from organisations. However, teachers might feel overwhelmed by the scale of the topic and feeling a bit lost about the amount of information they might need to cover. We need to develop frameworks and support systems to help teachers, and relate them to linguistic and communicative competences – how do we integrate them? For example, Owain and Ceri have been involved in reviewing a sustainability framework which is being developed by Cambridge University Press.

We need to create practical examples of can do statements that teachers can take into their classroom.

I can understand, explain and give examples of greenwashing.

This is an example of a can do statement which combines language and environment. This develops into a practical lesson, which is practical, project based, and can be local or global.

Teachers also need training to be prepared to teach these topics, and do it in an environmentally-friendly way. This needs to come from teacher training colleges, and other courses. It also touches on the curriculum.

British Council are developing a MOOC connected to sustainability. Colm Downes reminded us that we need to keep an eye on general education too, not just our ELT bubble. The UN have replaced the term ‘Climate Change for Education’ with ‘Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and this could be a positive term for us to take into ELT.

In the past, Owain has been told that he’s trying a form of indoctrination through doing environmentally focussed lessons. He’s an English Literature graduate, not a scientist, which has also been considered a problem. But he said we have very relevant skills: we’re used to getting people communicating. Focus on your strengths, to facilitate a discussion where learners are going to come to their own conclusions, and to facilitate a classroom community.

If you want to start teaching about the environment, start from something that you know and that feel strongly about. This will be engaging for you and the students. Take the first step, and don’t worry about it too much.

Look for practical activities, for example helping students to do what they’re read about – litter picking, creating a seed bank.

What lessons have we learnt from the past two years and how do we move forwards?

Start with our learners. Give them a sense of empowerment to deal with this pressing crisis which is already upon us. These issues shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. We needs to empower our language learners to take part in a dialogue around sustainability and to feel that they can act.

Teachers can’t do this on their own. In training, we need to have a dialogue about what a (language) teacher’s role is in bringing sustainability into the classroom.

Publishers and materials developers should bring environmental issues in, not just focussing on individual actions, but what are the root causes of climate issues?

There is also a research agenda looking at the intersection between eco-literacy and language teaching.

Our health is dependent on the health of our environment. We need to create materials to make this clear.

Make sure that eco-literacy is given the same level of importance as areas like critical thinking and communicative skills.

Let’s not forget that the situation is really urgent. Let’s walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And let’s build hope by taking action together.

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Teacher education and textbooks: a study of materials design – Luis Carabantes

[I missed the start of the talk, setting the context – sorry Luis!]

In Chile, where Luis did his study most university teacher training courses didn’t include specific modules on materials design, though it might have been included in other methodology modules (I think that’s what was said as I arrived!)

Many of the methodology materials talk about how to use and adapt coursebooks, rather than how to make their own materials. So how do language teachers learn to do this?

The apprenticeship of observation is now seen as one of the main obstacles to teachers implementing innovations.

Materials – what do we know?

Materials as curricular artefacts: how can they promote the learning and teaching of English?

Materials as cultural artefacts: representational repertoires in materials.

Materials in use: use of the textbook as syllabus, textbook reification – novice teachers particularly assume things work without questioning it.

Activity theory

This is a kind of sociocultural theory which Luis used to frame his study.

The activity Luis is focussing on is ‘learning to design materials’.

(Luis explained this very quickly, and I couldn’t keep up!)

Research questions

Research methods

8 pre-service teachers in their final year in year 5, doing their practicum, and working to get their BA in English language teaching.

He used stimulated recall interviews based on materials the students sent him. For example: ‘What were you thinking about when you decided to create this activity?’


Much of the design of the materials by these teachers was mediated by the idea that the materials needed to resemble course books.

He found an important tension between the pre-service teachers and their use of coursebooks. There was a need to cover the textbook as it was used as the syllabus, which somewhat removed the agency of the teachers in creating their materials.

Teachers have an average of 27 teaching hours per week, and sometimes as many as 40. This creates big challenges.

Influence of the settting

Mentor teachers from the school sometimes critiqued the teachers for creating their own materials and moving too far from the coursebook.

The teachers are taught English at the university while they are learning to teach too. They experienced these methods in their own learning, so used it in their teaching too:

ELT as teaching the textbook

Many novice teachers rely on the coursebook. The coursebook becomes the goal. If I need to cover the coursebook, everything needs to be geared towards that.

Influence from the school setting

Classrooms often have 40+ students and 25+ hours, so there is very little time to plan. Teachers learn how to teach, but can’t use this in the context, so rely on the coursebook.

Their own learning of English is textbook mediated, and therefore their practice is likely to be like this too.



Is a school seen as only a place where students learn? Or is it seen as a place where teachers learn too?

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day Four

This was the final day of the conference so was a little shorter. There was an opening and a closing plenary, and I attended a couple of sessions, all of which I have summarised below. If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

Plenary: Education, English and the question of future in conflict areas – Asmaa AbuMezied and Hasna AbuMezied

Asmaa’s first questions:

  • Do you know of any conflicts around the world? (Everybody)
  • Do you know how many conflicts are currently happening? (Almost nobody put their hand up)

There are many different reasons for this: interstate, local, criminal violence and militias, social injustice protests, territorial disputes.

Gaza is one of the areas which is involved in a territorial dispute.

Over the past few years, fewer people are dying in conflict, but more conflicts are happening. The more we are losing our natural resources, the more likely these conflicts are to happen. Where does that leave us?

Survival as a state

As we meet today, one quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas. Two billion people.

Antonio Gutierrez, UN Secretary General, March 2022

Conflict isn’t just the state of active bombardment and strikes. It never leaves you, even when it ends. That’s what we’re talking about when we think about education and future generations. People find themselves in a state of survival, rather than living. Everybody is constantly looking around them to check, how can we support our families, our people to live another day.

The UN called Gaza unliveable by 2020. Asmaa and Hasna are here today. They are alive, but are they living.


It is 365km2, with 2 million people in this tiny place. It has been occupied for decades. There has been a blockade for 15 years. It is considered an open air prison. Asmaa and Hasna had a major journey to be here at IATEFL today.

If you know somebody from a conflict area: what did it take for you to get here? What are the restrictions that have stopped your colleagues from being able to come? We (I) are privileged to be here.

What kind of future are we building for our future? We are in a state of constant fear. That’s not a future we want to give to our children.

65% of the population is living on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

About 50% of the population is unemployed. You put a huge amount of effort into education, but can’t do anything with it.

53% of people live in poverty.

64% of the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme, and most of them are eating food which is unhealthy, affecting their mental and physical health.

96% of the water is undrinkable, and this is likely to increase.

There is an air strike somewhere in the Gaza Strip almost every month.

There is no feeling of safety or security.

To help with this, education is an area that people focus on. Without education, they will not be heard. It is a way of surviving, a way of living.

What shapes the journey of a Palestinian English Language teacher in Gaza?

Teachers face many different challenges.

Educational challenges

  • Limited numbers of schools per capita and overcrowded classes (45-50 students)
  • Schools operate on double or triple shifts to cope with numbers. This leads to fewer hours for students too.
  • Limited resources including technology. Teachers often need to buy their own chalk for example.

Teachers try to use interactive methods, but this can be very challenging due to numbers and available resources.

They have 6-12 hours of electricity per day. There is an electricity schedule, telling them when they will get electricity.

They don’t just have to coordinate with other teachers, but with the electricity schedule.

This restricts students’ learning and study time.

Political instability

  • Limited opportunities to use English in real life. Limited contact with foreigners. Loss of hope and motivation.
  • Disruption of education for teachers and students.

I will never be able to travel outside Gaza, so why should I learn English?

Typical student question

In the 14 years Hasna has been teaching, there has been a disruption in education every year. This puts great pressure on teachers: delivering 4 months content in 3 months. Teachers will take extra classes to meet the demands of the curriculum, and some classes may be cut (like PE or art). They know those are important classes for students, but they have to make these challenging decisions.

Trauma and mental health

In 2008, Hasna was waiting for an exam to start, when suddenly the school started shaking. She looked out of the right-hand windows and saw flames and smoke. She told them to go to the left side, and then they saw thick black smoke outside. Another teacher and her tried to keep the students in the school, but it was complete chaos. They had no idea what was happening. That was one of the saddest and bloodiest days in Gaza’s history.

For many people, schools are considered to be safe places. They are used as shelters during conflicts. 1047 students and teachers were killed during the 2014 conflict, and 46 public schools were damaged in May 2021.

There are daily triggers. Will the same thing again? Will I be able to help my students? What about my children? What if their teacher leaves them beyond? Should I go to them first? This is a constant – you are thinking about this all the time.

You might hear air strikes in the middle of a lesson, and students will get scared. They will hear drones and close their books. One student will start crying whenever she hears shooting, and the rest of the students start crying too, so now Hasna asks her to go and wash her faces. Every time Hasna has to encourage her students to continue. This is their daily life, and they have to adapt to it.

Every night, the teachers are soothing their children all night, and every day they have to go back to school and be able to support their students.

One colleague has a panic attack whenever she hears the word ‘invade’ in Arabic.

There is so much pressure for teachers to be positive all the time. They have become adept at hiding their feelings for the sake of their families, students, and colleagues. They cannot say they are tired.

We have all the reasons to collapse, but we don’t have the luxury to do it.

A teacher from Gaza

Economic challenges: poverty and marginalisation

  • Underpaid salaries – they only receive 40-60% of their salaries, in the past every 50-60 days though now it is better – now they get it every 30 days.
  • Poverty among teachers – teachers supplement their income with extra lessons or other jobs beyond education. Teachers walk long distances to get to school if they can’t pay for transport (which many can’t). 92% of employees in Gaza suffer from depression and deep sadness because they can’t give their children an allowance.
  • Drop out of school – particularly female students in 9th and 10th grades, some of whom are already engaged in 9th grade. There is seasonal dropping out due to agricultural requirements.
  • Inequality – being in a marginalised area, with buildings all built by donations from other countries, but very few people have access to smartphones or any kind of online provision so they can’t take advantage of technology for example.

Mum, you look so tired. You look like a crushed snail.

Hasna’s son, Suleiman

Future of education

The talk today leaves us with a lot of questions.

The pandemic has shifted a lot of education to the household. Educational labour in the household can leave families, and particularly women, feeling inadequate. Teaching is a feminised issue, and therefore can be undervalued and not appreciated. We need to bring this to the forefront.

Our students all experience education differently. It is our responsibility to listen to and consider what they need.

How do we make technology accessible and safe to our students?

What does it mean to be a teacher? We all have so many hats. As a psychologist, as a supporter, as a parent, as a human.

How can we ensure that we have a decolonised education system that values our indigenous knowledge? How we care for our environment? To what extent is the content of our education extractive to our cultures and to our environment?

We need to have a future to our education that encompasses us all.

Thank you to IATEFL for bringing such wonderful speakers to us today. They got a well deserved standing ovation, for an emotional and important talk.

What I think I know about materials writing (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is something of a companion piece to my IATEFL 2021 talk, What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year. This is the abstract for the talk:

Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.

These are the slides from the presentation:

A video clip

The British Council asked me to talk about using a materials checklist after my talk, which gives you a 10-minute taster of some of the things I discussed:


Like many teachers, I did my first materials writing in my early lessons, creating materials for my classroom. These were of somewhat mixed quality and resulted in lessons of somewhat mixed quality. With trial, error and student feedback I improved, but it definitely helped to get external input.

The first professional materials writing I did was for OUP, creating model texts for online content. Through this and other writing work, I received feedback on what I was producing and was pushed to improve the quality of my writing and/or to move it closer to the brief I had been given. I also got feedback on my writing from the editors I worked with on my self-published books, and informal feedback through materials I posted on my blog.

I’ve followed the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) since it was first created in 2013, attended many materials writing talks at IATEFL and online, and read MaWSIG blog posts. Here are links to my summaries of IATEFL talks related to materials writing:

In 2021, I started the NILE MA Materials Development module. This gave me more of a theoretical grounding in materials writing, both through the sessions I attended during the course and through the two assignments I wrote. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.

The ideas in this talk are a distillation of some of the things I’ve learnt during this process. They’re not intended to be new or innovative, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for you.

Evaluating materials and using checklists

Looking at other people’s materials is a useful starting point for your own materials writing. By deciding what should and shouldn’t be on a checklist, then using it to analyse existing materials, it helps you to consider what makes materials work or not. You could use a similar checklist after you’ve written your materials to see what you might need to change.

As part of the MA, we learnt about different approaches to writing evaluation checklists, and through this process I thought a lot about my own materials writing. Here is the checklist I compiled for my assignment.

As part of my work as a Director of Studies, I had to guide the selection of coursebooks used at our school. I had never received any training in how to do this, so it was mostly a process of trial and error. Over time we built up a list of characteristics that we knew we needed to look for in the books we would use, but it would have been a lot easier to create a checklist to guide our selection.

Tips for writing a materials checklist

  • Define your context. Who are the students? Years of learning? Level? Purpose for the lessons? Educational background? Who is the teacher? Experience level? Subject knowledge? What is the lesson format? Online / face-to-face / blended? Lesson length? Course length? Without knowing the context, the materials evaluation will be generic. The context can make a real difference to which criteria are important to include.
  • Start with a list of ideas of what you think would make effective materials for this context. These ideas could (and probably will!) be guided by principles you believe (see below). Turn your ideas into questions. I found ‘To what extent…?’ to be a useful framing device.
  • Ensure each point is discrete / there are no overlaps.
  • Think about how many criteria it’s appropriate to use. I used 25 to analyse a full coursebook unit, which I found covered all the areas I thought were important, but remained quite quick to complete.
  • Use a scoring system. I scored each criterion 0-4: 0 = not at all, 1 = just barely, 2 = to some extent, 3 = to a large extent, 4 = to the greatest extent.
  • Add weighting to show which criteria are more / less important/desirable. I used 1-3: 1 = desired, 2 = preferred, 3 = essential.
  • Grouping the criteria into categories can help you to check for overlaps / missing criteria. It allows you to have sub-totals for different sections if you use a scoring system, and to compare different materials.
  • Include space for comments so you can make notes to back up your scores.
  • Collaborate with others during the process: when deciding on what to include, when weighting criteria, when editing the checklist, when using it.

Resources for writing checklists

There are examples of checklists and advice for creating them available in various materials writing methodology books and journal articles. You may need to have a subscription to access the journal articles. These are ones I found useful:

  • Cunningsworth, A. (1995) Choosing your coursebook, Macmillan. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Gearing, K. (1999) ‘Helping less-experienced teachers of English to evaluate teachers’ guides’. ELT Journal, April, 53(2), pp. 122-157.
  • Hutchinson, T. (1987) ‘What’s underneath?: an interactive view of materials evaluation’ in Sheldon (ed.) ELT Textbooks and Materials – Problems in Evaluation and Development, British Council, pp. 37-44.
  • McGrath, I. (2016) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, 2nd edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Mukundan, J. and Ahour, T. (2010) ‘A Review of Textbook Evaluation Checklists across Four Decades (1970-2008)’ in Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (eds.) Research for Materials Development in Language Learning: Evidence for best practice. London: Continuum, pp.336-352. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Sheldon, L. E. (1988) ‘Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials’. ELT Journal, October, 42(4), pp. 237-246.
  • Williams, D. (1983) ‘Developing criteria for textbook evaluation’ ELT Journal, July, 37 (3), pp251-255.

You can see a summary of some of MA notes related to checklists in this post.

Principles and materials writing

Discovering your principles

I first came across the idea of considering your principles when approaching materials writing in Jill Hadfield’s talk at IATEFL Manchester 2015. She wrote a journal while writing a set of materials, then used this to put together a list of ‘framing principles’ to guide her future materials writing. Here are some of them:

Mishan and Timmis (2015:1) define principled materials development as follows:

Materials development which takes into account current practice, but goes beyond it to consult first principles drawn from second language acquisition (SLA) and language teaching theory.

Materials Development for TESOL, Freda Mishan and Ivor Timmis, Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL [Amazon affiliate link]

This could sound quite complicated or difficult to achieve if you don’t have much of a background in this theory, but it is actually easier to consider than it might seem. You could start with a list of what you believe makes effective materials, perhaps supported by prior evaluation of materials (see above). This was the list I compiled when I started my MA materials evaluation assignment:

  • Materials should engage the learners’ interest through the choice of topics, and maintain it through varied activities.
  • Developing positive group dynamics are a key factor in effective teaching.
  • Materials should train learners to be better listeners and readers, not just test their abilities.
  • Materials should provide plenty of opportunities for learners to speak and write, as well as support to help them do so.
  • Materials should help learners to become more autonomous.
  • Language work should not be purely grammar focussed. It should also include work on lexis, including lexical chunks, on pronunciation, and on functional language to improve the quality of learner discourse.
  • New teachers need and guidance support with their teaching.
  • Materials should be inclusive and accessible to all. Learners should see themselves represented in the materials they use.

Chapter 2 of the Mishan and Timmis book includes a selection of key points which might help you to incorporate SLA and theory into your principles.

You can see more detailed examples of some of the beliefs I considered during my MA module and my thinking behind them in these three posts: week one, week two, week three.

How to use your principles

Once you have a list of principles, you can refer to these regularly.

Before you start designing something, remind yourself of your principles. Is there anything key to this context which you might also need to consider? Are any of the principles not relevant in this context? If it’s for somebody else, will the project require you to ignore some or all of your principles, and if so, do you still want to commit to it?

As you design, look at your principles occasionally. Are you sticking to them? Are there any which are hard for you to follow? Is there anything you could do or anybody you could speak to in order to change your approach to the writing to be able to stick more closely to your principles?

As you proofread and edit, use the principles as a checklist. Is there anything you’ve forgotten to include / pay attention to in the writing process?

Stakeholders in materials writing

When you’re in the middle of writing materials, it can be easy to get caught up in making them exactly how you want them to be. It’s important to stop occasionally and consider the other stakeholders in the process.

The user

Ultimately, the materials have to be suitable for the user. This might be the learner, the trainee, or the teacher. Put yourself into the position of each potential user and ask yourself:

  • How easy is this for me to understand?
  • Do I have all of the information I need to make the most of these materials?

The editor

Please, please, please have somebody edit your work. This can make a huge difference to the quality of what you produce! It certainly did with my books.

I’ve learnt a lot from attending talks by and working with Penny Hands, editor extraordinaire. At the 2021 MaWSIG PCE, Penny talked about different roles an editor might have (see the final section of the post). When working with an editor, make sure you’re clear about which role(s) you’d like them to fulfil: whether you’d like them to focus on copy editing or proofreading. It can be easier to do these in two separate cycles. Before you send it off, read the manuscript again yourself with your ‘copy editor’ or ‘proofreader’ hat on, and try to resolve at least some of the problems. If you’re self-publishing, this saves you money too!

When you get edited work back, it can sometimes feel a bit depressing. You’ve put so much work into producing the materials, and now you find there are lots of things you need to change. Remember that the editor will only comment on things which should improve the end product. If they’re materials for your own classroom, it could make the difference between a lesson which works and one where the learners have no idea what’s going on. If you self-publish, it’s up to you whether you take the editor’s advice (in 99% of cases, I would!) If you’re working for a publisher, the editor will be helping you to meet the brief. In all of these cases, feel free to spend a few minutes being sad about the work you put in, but then let go and make the changes. The final product will be better for it!


If you’re working with a designer, learn how to write an artwork brief. Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included advice on this in their IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).

If you’re self-publishing, keep the design as simple as possible. You’ll thank me when you have to reformat it for different platforms!


Some very simple tweaks can make a big difference to how easy it is to navigate your materials. These are the ones I most commonly suggest to people:

  • Number exercises and questions within exercises.
  • Use a different font for rubrics. Having rubrics in bold / on a different coloured background can also differentiate them.
  • Add spacing before / after exercises and questions.
  • Use lines and / or boxes to separate sections on the page.
  • Use tables rather than text boxes to organise a word-processed document – they’re much easier to manage the layout of. You can remove the border of the table if you don’t want it to be visible.
  • Use page breaks and section breaks to create new parts to your document, rather than pressing enter lots of times. The exercise will always stay on a new page, regardless of how much you add above it.
  • Use ‘styles’, including Headings, to create a consistent layout across your document. Having headings also allows you to use the navigation pane to move around your document quickly and easily. [Note that some publishers prefer you not to use these as it can interfere with the design stage of materials production.]

If you’re not sure how to do any of these things, do a search for the relevant topic and there are normally accessible written and video tutorials for them e.g. ‘use a table in Microsoft Word’ or ‘page breaks in Google Docs’.

Many of these changes could make a big difference to learners with SEN and how easy it is to navigate your materials.


Think about who is represented within your materials and how. Can the target users ‘see’ themselves in the materials?

  • What names have you used?
  • Is everybody the same colour? Gender? Body type? Age?
  • What kind of things are the people doing?
  • Who are they with?

Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included different sources for images IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).

Other useful resources

Two very common activity types are gapfills and multiple-choice. These talks helped me to improve the quality of these activities and avoid some of the pitfalls.

The ELT Teacher2Writer books are a goldmine of useful information, covering a wide range of different materials writing topics. If you can only afford one, I recommend How To Write Excellent ELT Materials: The Skills Series which is 6 books in one: [Amazon affiliate link]

ETpedia Materials Writing is a one-stop shop of 500 ideas to help you with your materials writing. [Amazon affiliate link] Pavilion often have a discount on it, including during the IATEFL conference.

Over to you!

Was anything here particularly new or interesting to you here?

What tips would you add to the list?

Which resources have you found particular useful in your own materials writing?

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Cross-lingual activities – an embarrassment of riches – Paul Seligson

Paul has been talking about using L1 for many years, going right back to IATEFL Brighton 1994, about 20 ways to use the mother tongue. He’d done a Masters degree at Reading University in 1985, counting the number of activities in a 45-minute lesson – he found there were 660 tasks in a given hour (Should I do this? Should I ask him?)

[This talk report will be truncated as I need to leave a little early for my own talk in the next slot!]

These were the 20 activities he shared, and the ones which were blue were considered controversial at the time.

When planning / preparing, how do you assess the level of difficulty of a text? If you’re teaching monolingual groups, it could be what’s guessable / needs glossing / testing. We use L1 knowledge all the time, so celebrate this strategy systematically and share it with students.

Bilingual resources out of class

If it was a real-life task, or one students worked on alone, that was OK, but it was considered problematic if teachers used the L1.

But times have now changed!

Here are some connected quotes:

The third box down is a much richer definition of translations. The part at the bottom is the six types of translation they suggest we should cover in the classroom.

5 cross-lingual mediation activities

How many of these do you do already? I think I’ve only ever tried number 2.

Using L1 mentally, not orally

Name at least 4 fruits starting with the same letter or sound in L1. Quickly say / type them in English.

You’re bouncing the languages inside your head, drilling the vocabulary by yourself. It works well with particular combinations of languages.

2-phrase presentation to show / share L1 advantages

Give a list of words which you know are easy based on their L1, and work out pronunciation by showing the stressed syllable. Then have the harder words (depending on their L1), with a matching activity. They’re using L1 anyway, so help them with this.

You can encourage students to make links to L1, though they don’t have to actually say the L1:


Match phrases and photos, and then…

Then consider ‘Which 4 are very similar to Spanish?’ Paul wouldn’t have the Spanish on the board, but he’d still work with it. The students are drilling themselves, and making connections between the two languages. We’re showing the learners the benefits of the L1, and where they need to focus their energy.

Which have similar structure to Spanish?

Which two have similar word order in Spanish?

Helps students to decide where to focus their energy when learning a list of vocabulary.

Student research

Have students research common ground – they built a wall of cognates:

Different approaches to grammar

Get students to score how similar language is to their L1. This helps them to process the structures and make beneficial connections.

You’ve heard about inductive and deductive grammar teaching. What about seductive teaching? 🙂 Don’t waste time – just tell them what to work on!

Begin class by showing anticipated mistakes, corrected. This works in a flipped classroom too.

This approach has a lot of benefits:

Fronting grammar mistakes saves time.

Use online translation

If you have a text you’re going to use with students, put it through a translator, then reverse translate it back into English, then flag up the differences. You can also get the students to do this.

Encourage language play.

Type random characters into Google translate and see what comes out. Paul’s son did this with Chinese:

Learn to use YouTube!

You can use filters for the length of videos you’ll watch, transcripts to navigate the video, change the speed. You can have control over the input you want using this.

Copy and paste parts of the transcript into Google Translate.

[If you want more like this, I recommend Youglish to help you find useful videos]

Once in Google translate, you can star sections and build your own phrase book. Export to Quizlet and create a study set – you can do this automatically useful.

Change subtitles to L1 on YouTube – see L1 on screen, English in transcript, giving you a bilingual transcript.

Caution with auto translation of YouTube subtitles though, as it may not get the correct form of the language – but you may want to use this as a tool in the classroom now.

Subtitle use – advice for students

A four-step process:

Teach students strategies for working with subtitles.

(Paul says there’s a good talk in here about subtitle use)


A possible procedure:

[Had to leave at this point – great talk!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Impact by design: ensuring positive benefits for teachers and learners – Nisreen Ash

Nisreen works for Cambridge University Press. This is work in progress, with external content coming in the future.

Nisreen has been working on a framework to consider the impact of English.

All of our products and services are designed to improve

Why have a framework?

Understanding our impact is part of our continuous improvements.

We want our learning resources and exams to be the best they can be for our learners and teachers, and have the most positive impact on their learning and beyond.

Impact research

Cambridge has been researching impact since the 1990s.

The learner is at the centre of the education process. They want to empower participants with data and evidence.

Understanding impact should allow you to accentuate the positive and reduce negative effects.

This kind of research is also a form of transparency.

Impact by Design

This was a model introduced in 1996 by Cambridge English Assessment.

It is a concept that incorporates:

Impact considerations from the start, and seeks to anticipate potential effects and consequences with a commitment to monitoring and changing things as required

Saville, 2009

It’s a cycle which should begin at the beginning of the process, and feed constantly into what is being done.

Impact framework

Three domains:

  • Learning
  • Teaching
  • Assessment

Impact areas cover many different things, and will probably change with time. For example, focusing on the impact of learning resources on learner development, perceptions and future plans (e.g. study, work).

The indicators measure the areas that affect:

  • Individuals (e.g. learners, teachers and test takers)
  • Organisations (e.g. schools, test centres, higher education institutes, employers)

They now have an ‘Impact hub’ which collects all of the data from across the organisation to make them tidier to analyse.

What does an indicator tell us?

They’re like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). If they notice there is a drop in performance in a particular area, they can set up an impact study to look at it in more depth.

The process is:

  • Measure
  • Evaluate
  • Report

They then communicate their impact findings in a range of ways, which will be a central website (not quite ready yet!)

IATEFL Belfast 2022: A new approach to lesson planning – seeing expertise grow – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

This was part of the TTEdSIG (Teacher Training and Education Special Interest Group) Showcase.

Gabriel works at the Insitute of Education at the Universidad ORT Uruguay, where they focus on postgrad qualifications. He also works with tertiary-level students for teacher training. The institute has 33 campuses around the country.

He teaches a methodology course. The students have had 3 years in the college, 2 years in the public school systems with a mentor, then in their final year they have a few months with their own group. These are often the most challenging students in a school. As a teacher educator, Gabriel’s role is to help his trainees survive this stage of their training.

His students this year particularly struggled with planning. In Uruguay plans are mandated by law and have to be submitted to principals, who don’t necessarily know anything about English language teaching. This talk is based on an experiment which is still in progress.

Why teach planning?

Professorial reasons: you’re a professional if your classes are well structured and can respond to student needs.

Pedagogical reasons: in initial training, it helps you to match theories to what you’re doing.

Cognitive reasons: the more we plan, the more we free cognitive resources to pay attention to the learners in the classroom.

Sociocultural reasons: we need to follow the rules that are expected of us as teachers.

Lesson plans

Are typically:

  • Structured
  • Linear
  • Sequential
  • Useless for the unexpected
  • Intuitive decision-making? Perhaps they stop this – ‘To make the right change at the right time when it needs to be made’

Knowledge and thinking

Expertise is a process, not a pinnacle.

Novices have ‘chaotic knowledge’ – they might have, but don’t know how to access it, or what needs to be applied in this situation.

What does expertise mean in initial teacher education?

  • Not a state, but a process. One where expertise can surface. Emergent expertise (in the same way as we talk about emergent language)
  • Requires the development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, experience and relevant training in a specific field
  • Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect permanent.

Kinds of experts

We are trained to do one thing, but our initial experience may not match our training. We may need to be able to teach different levels, ages and content , so we need adaptive teachers.

Core components of a lesson

  • A clear learning outcome
  • An understanding of where my students are and where they need to go – of the students one is teaching
  • An understanding of the reasons for applying a particular approach to teaching – why use the same approach for a group of demotivated secondary school teenagers learning one more subject, and for motivated individuals living in another country?
  • An understanding of how the approach operates in practice
  • A means to assess the progress that t learners are making towards the outcome – my teaching needs to be reactive to what is happening with the learners in the lesson
  • Reflection in, on and as action to keep us going and to allow us to make the necessary changes to our teaching
  • A key realisation: the perfect lesson DOES NOT EXIST. And therefore we should not aim to create one – students just need to learn something.

Lessons are encounters between people who are both persuing something.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Starting out

Try without a lesson planning framework first. Take out the materials you’re going to use. Then jot down the procedure, however you like.

When they did this, if you look at the aim and the sequence, you can see there’s a mis-match, and the sequence isn’t necessarily well-articulated. Each person did it on a big piece of paper, then they rotated it and peers made comments.

Then they reformulated their learning outcomes, looked back at their theoretical materials, and had to find a way to see how the theory they knew is reflected in their practice.

Every time they made a change, they were asked Why? Teachers had to justify their decisions.


When we use concept mapping, we are looking at possibilities, not narrowing in on one specific pathway. We are creating emerging expertise, especially because they are questioning each other. This enables meta cognitive learning too – becoming aware of who I am as a teacher, what I am doing, and how that reflects on my lessons.

This requires teachers to look at what theory supports their doing. This refines their questioning and conceptual understanding.


Gabriel played the voices of some of his teachers on his course. Teachers on the course said they felt more confident in their knowledge connected to theory and background, and could connect it to their students more.

The teachers aren’t using the structures the college prescribes, and they have developed their own shapes. Now they’re aligning activities to the students’ needs.

Answers to discussions

Did you find any resistance to reflection from the teachers? Yes, a lot. If you speak your mind, it can have consequences. It’s a traditional system where students do what the teachers say. But now they’re engaging in a collaborative action research process with these three teachers, who have found they didn’t give their students enough space to speak – they’re now trying to find out why this happens, and how to increase opportunities for speaking.

When Gabriel teaches a teacher, he teaches one teacher at a time, with the idea that one day they will be a teacher educator, in the hope they will change things in the future [a snowball effect]. He always asks: What is best for the learners you are teaching? What do you want to give those people who are going to make a country for your children?

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Lessons from the living room – live online teaching – Lindsay Clandfield (and Jill Hadfield)

Lindsay and Jill have recently written a book called Live Online Teaching [Pavilion link – not affiliate].

In the past many people taught in classrooms with no technology, but during the pandemic this flipped to teaching with technology but no classroom. Both situations create constraints on how you can teach.

How do constraints create creativity?

We need constraints for creativity – absolute freedom can make creativity very challenging.

Madagascar – classrooms without technology

This was a situation Jill and Charlie Hadfield taught in. They worked in Madagascar, but there were no books. There might be a cracked blackboard, or slates for children. The solution came from the market. Smallholders there had stocks of large paper to wrap goods in. They got schools to buy lots of these pieces of paper. They put up a washing line in a classroom, with one picture at the front of the room and one at the back. Children sat in pairs back to back and described the picture they could see to their partner. Here are examples of the pictures:

The pandemic: technology without classrooms

Here are examples of the kinds of constraints when working online:

So how did teachers work around these constraints? Here are examples of using classic ELT activities.

Using video and audio

Interview an object

Jill would be off screen and have an object on screen. Students ask questions to the object, and the teacher answers as if they’re the object. Then the students do this.

> Not everybody needs to be on the screen at the same time.

Running dictation

Use email / a link to send to one student before the lesson to print out or put on the phone. Put the phone or text at the end of the room. When the teacher says go, the student has to get up and go to the text.

Participation tools

For example, chat box, emoji reactions.

Longest sentence

> This worked well even if students couldn’t get video or audio to work.

Who am I?

> You can ‘Spotlight’ / ‘Pin’ somebody so that even if they’re not talking, they’re the main screen. It’s like you’re putting them on stage.

> By giving the students the constraint that they can only use the thumbs up / thumbs down button with the video off, it forced students to ask yes / no questions.

Sharing your screen

Art thoughts

> You don’t just have to share PowerPoint slides or websites, you can share many other things too.

Same words, different place

> You can spotlight more than one person to have a dialogue.

For example, in a supermarket, in a city, in a library. Then another slide in the same place but without displaying the dialogue.

Breakout Rooms

Lindsay found that he did fewer pair/groupwork activities but for longer, compared to his classroom. They tended to be longer activities with feedback. There tended to be more open pairwork, rather than closed pairwork.


> Getting students to write things on paper and hold it up to the screen meant that others would lean forward to look at it. It seemed to engage others who were in the session as they wanted to see.

This worked well for mini projects.

Clock match

This is a kind of information gap.

> Students can produce their own materials. It might take around 10 minutes to create the materials, but it makes it possible to do interactive pairwork games in breakout rooms.

Zooming Out

> Micro breaks away from the computer.

> Teaching on Zoom drastically reduces the teacher’s mobility, which can be very tiring.

> It also feels like you’re teaching into a mirror a lot.

> Tiring for students too to always be in front of a screen!

Stand up, stretch your arms, walk to the nearest door, count the steps, type in the chat box. Then who was the closest? Who was the furthest?

Go to the fridge, find something which is yellow, come back and tell your partner.

Get up, walk around the room, mentally name 5 things in English, then come back and say what you’ve done.

> It’s a clear task, so students will come back!

Sensory poem

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Embedding assessment into classroom activities – with a twist! Leo Selivan

Leo has written a book for Delta publishing called Activities for Alternative Assessment [Amazon affiliate link]. This is Leo’s blog.

Formative v. Summative assessment:

Formative is during the race, summative is when you’ve crossed the line.

…the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs.

Black and William, 1998:2

My favourite metaphor Leo used:

Here’s a task for you:

Leo has separated them in this way though he acknowledges that some could be either:

Example activity 1: 3-3-3 Speaking activity

  1. In pairs, student A talks for 3 minutes on a topic may or may not have been prepared in advance. Student B listens. Students switch roles with Student B speaking and Student A speaking.
  2. Switch and speak to another A / B in your group.
  3. Go back to your original partner. Partner compare the original version you heard to the last delivery of the same monologue.
Diagram inspired by Rachel Tsateri

Finally assess your partner’s participation. We used an app called Wooclap to do this live:

Here are two other possible sets of assessment criteria for the same activity:

The idea of the original 4-3-2 activity is often attributed to Nation 1989, but Leo found it was originally in Maurice 1983 in ELTJ. It has recently been reassessed by Boers (2014) who found that the increased time pressure of reducing the time limit didn’t make a big difference – it’s fine to do it with the same amount of time for each repetition.

There has been a re-evaluation of the value of repetition:

Points to consider:

The first three topics here are more useful topics as they involve recounting something.

Practical example 2: mini debate

Possible topics:

Two students had a debate. We asked one question to each of the speakers. Then each speaker had to summarise what their opponent said using lexical chunks from the slide:

Debating is usually considered an idea for working on speaking, but why not use it to test students’ listening as well?

This was inspired by a BBC video called Should we stop flying?

We watched part of the video and then had to summarise what the speakers said for 1 minute each.

The final section of the video asks the speaker to sum up each other’s arguments, which made Leo think of this idea.

Example 3: Oral cloze

Listen to the teacher and write the missing words. The teacher reads out the gap fill and the students write down the words. Like so:

[I had to leave at this point, so may have missed the end of the talk!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Breaking stigma, building skills: representing mental illness in ELT materials – Lottie Galpin

Lottie started out as a teacher, and now focussed on DEI and materials – making materials more inclusive.

Lottie would like to trial inclusive materials with teachers, not just about mental health but about all areas of marginalisation. If you’d like to work with her, contact her via http://www.lottiegalpin.com.

When she mentioned this topic to some people, she had some who said it was important and should be included. Some said it’s too heavy and it shouldn’t be there. And some people looked at her awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. This reflects where we’re at with mental health in society – we don’t always have the language to talk about it. We can start to give our students the language to do this, and to break down some of the stigma around mental illness.


There’s lots of different language we could use:

  • Mental illness
  • Mental health problems
  • Mental health disorders (very negative!0
  • Mental health conditions
  • Mental health challenges?

Mind, the UK charity, talks about mental health problems, with under this umbrella many areas (but not only these!):

[If language connected to mental health is something you’re interested in, there is an episode of Word of Mouth which covers this.]

So why is it important to represent mental illness and mental health challenges in ELT published materials?

As we said, it’s a part of life! Physical health is covered, but mental health isn’t. Why do we make that division? It’s all just health.

It helps students to realise they’re not alone.

It can be more dangerous to have a world where everything is happy, happy, shiny, shiny (thanks Hugh Dellar for that phrase!) and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Students need to have that language to be able to talk about these things.

Students are potentially ready to talk about the topic, but maybe the teachers aren’t. If it’s in the coursebook, they might be more likely to do this.

Why is representation important?

  • All students can themselves in materials.
  • Increases student engagement and belonging.
  • Teaches students about a range of lived experiences.
  • Creates global citizens – prepares them for the world.
  • Gives students language to describe themselves.

If one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, that’s one in four of our students who will experience it first hand, and probably all of them will have somebody they know who goes through this. We need to prepare them to deal with this.

People don’t seek treatment because of stigma.

We can’t save the world, but we can help to reduce stigma.

How can we represent mental illness?

  • Representation of people with mental illness
  • Content that represents everyday experiences of mental illness
  • Content that builds awareness of mental illness and mental health skills
  • Support teachers and students with empowering teacher’s notes

An example

Lottie created an example of materials which build knowledge about a mental health condition, but also build their own language skills.

Start with the teacher’s notes. Offer student choice, allow teachers to prepare and model good practice with triggering topics.

This is the lesson warmer. It could be a text, a video – something real-life. The question focuses on ‘health’ not ‘mental health’, and the teacher’s notes talk about how to develop digital skills:

In the text, students build up factual knowledge about the condition. The text is designed to look like something which is reliable.

The discussion questions:

In our pair, we talked about the fact that exercise 5 might depend on who you are. I thought about from the point of view of ‘I have this health problem, how can I find out how to live with it’, whereas my partner talked about ‘Somebody has told me about it, and I want to learn more’.

These are the teacher’s notes:

The follow-up task is a standard research task, with overt skills practice.

Other things we can do

Representing real people, integrated in our other materials:

All teachers could feel comfortable using this, though Lottie would add a teacher’s note explaining what OCD actually is – to avoid stereotypes.

We could also integrate it into our audio:

This is a very standard type of dialogue, but why not include references to mental health rather than ‘Sorry, I’m busy.’

Too triggering to teach?

If you know your students, and allow the teacher’s book to explore the topic, then it shouldn’t be too triggering to teach, but you need to bear these things in mind:

Final thoughts

Featuring mental illness can build awareness and break stigma.

It may be triggering, but triggers can be mitigated.

Covering mental illness should be considered according to context.

This is the start of a conversation. This is just one way to cover mental health in materials, but there could be many other ways.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Women in coursebooks: then and now – how representation has changed. Elaine Hodgson and Vivian’s Karmeliene

What are the ELT ‘mistakes’ in this image and this text? This was from a popular coursebook, and was designed to be humourous.

This book was published in the same year as Return of the Jedi was released, when there was only one woman in the story, and she was wearing a bikini on the poster. It was also the same year as She’s so cold by the Rolling Stones. Pretty Women, Baywatch, Victoria’s Secret Angels – these were all typical of the context at the time.

They looked at two popular series from 1994/1999 and 2017, focussing on elementary level, and family, jobs and free time.


Here’s an example of family:

In the original page, there is a strong focus on the man’s family. Only one question in the exercise is focussed on the woman’s family.

In the newer edition, there is an example of a solo woman with children, but with no information in the teacher’s book about how the image might be used. The family tree is Joseph’s family – still the man’s family. There’s one solo woman in the family tree, and she’s the only woman who’s unhappy in the image.

In the dialogue from an old book, the focus is on marriage. It’s expected that if you’re married, you have a husband. In the more modern edition, the focus is on siblings. In a dialogue, it’s usually the man who starts the conversation.

The man is still in the foreground

In the other series, we have Patrick’s family in the old edition. His daughter is a nurse – it’s a traditional role. In the new edition, it’s Max’s family. There’s a solo woman in the family tree too. In the texts, the focus is on the family as a whole. There is a line ‘I often help my mum or dad cook the meals’. To finish the sequence, students are invited to talk about their own families.

In the 5th edition, we have Jason’s family.

Some numbers related to family units


In a unit about jobs, in the old edition, there were stock images, and extra information about marital status and family. In the new edition, it’s a real woman (you can find her on the internet), with real images of her working, and the information about her family is relevant to the text not randomly added in.

In the focus on vocabulary, in the old edition women are generally doing jobs traditionally associated with women. In the fifth edition, many of the roles are also similar. In the exercise, four out of five of the female jobs are caring jobs – women always have the caring roles, never men.

In the new edition below, in the grammar focus, ‘she’ is used as the pronoun. The woman starts the conversation, not the man.

Some numbers related to jobs and women

Free time

The old edition – the title is ‘Take it easy’, but the female character asks ‘What’s free time?’

The woman ‘doesn’t work on weekdays’ because she looks after her family (!)

In the current edition, the footballer works during the week and plays games at the weekend. There are no women in the spread.

In the old edition, the women generally don’t look happy or have neutral expressions:

In the new edition, there’s a much wider range of images in terms of gender, age, roles:

In the other book, in the old edition, the man is focussed on keeping fit, the woman is the couch potato. In the new edition it’s flipped. The woman is interested in keeping fit, but doesn’t show she’s happy about it.

In the old edition, there are more ‘mistakes’! In the new edition, the woman starts the conversation, but the man is assertive and says he’s good, while the woman says she’s not very good.

We’re getting there

In this book, there are real photos of families so they seem more diverse.

Two teenage girls working out – women can do their own thing without having to interact with men all the time:

There are examples of women doing different things in coursebooks too: a female judo fighter, female activists.

There is progress in the world too: Star Wars posters that are a full image of a woman.

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. [I missed the second half of the quote!]

Jane Austen

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Work it out for yourselves – tasks to promote trainee agency when planning lessons – Melissa Lamb and Marie Willoughby

Mel and Ri are trainers at IH London.

This talk has come out of three or four years of working on flipped CELTA and Delta courses. All of the input happens on a platform at home, but planning and input happens in the school / online.

Planning workshops are one aspect of their flipped courses.

How do we help trainees plan?

  • How do you usually help trainees with their lesson planning?
  • What is your goal in this? Do you feel you usually achieve this goal?

As Ri said, it’s often a quite unsatisfying process for both trainees and trainers. We’re helping them with that lesson in that moment with that question.

What is a planning workshop?

When they first started doing this, it felt like supervised lesson planning, but for longer. Over time, they realised that the goal of this kind of workshop was actually To develop independent strategies for planning which trainees can use in the course and beyond. It gives them a way to find their own answers.

The strategies come from their experience of typical trainee puzzles which occur during the planning process. How do I…?

Strategy 1: working with a critical friend

What’s the role of a critical friend?

  • Questioning the assumptions made and seeing if they know why they’re doing it
  • Being someone other than the trainers to bounce ideas off
  • Giving support and reassurance

The role of being a critical friend needs to be set up with the trainees. You need to give them permission to probe, not just rubber stamp so they don’t feel they just have to say Yes, that’s great.

When we practised being a critical friend in a lesson planning workshop during the session, at the beginning we had no idea what we were doing but after a few minutes we worked out what questions we wanted to ask. We explored the areas connected to the lesson we thought might be important. When we had a question we couldn’t answer, we could bring it back to the tutor, who might ask us ‘What are the advantages of this approach? The disadvantages? Puzzle it out together and come back to me.’ The trainer might need to monitor and prompt the critical friend for more questioning, rather than making statements – see if you can explore it with them, rather than telling them what to do.

What trainees said about being a critical friend

Reflection questions for trainees

The first half of the workshop: give them a task like the one above.

The second half of the workshop: a reflection on the process and the strategy usage for lesson planning.

Here’s an example of the reflection prompts following the critical friend task:

  • List 4 questions or prompts you can ask learners in feedback.
  • List 3 ways that doing the task yourself helped you understand what will happen in the lesson.
  • List 2 things you got from doing the task with a critical friend.
  • Note down the most important thing you need to do when you’re planning your next lesson if you have this puzzle again.

They help trainees to realise there are other experts in the room, and they make the strategy explicit. During the feedback process, more questions come out about the task itself or about the strategy, and the trainers often find they do some input at this point.

Planning workshop structure

In week one of a CELTA course, they might all be working on the same strategy. In week two, they might be working on different strategies because they’re mastering different areas e.g. What do I put on the board? I don’t know how long this will take. I don’t understand this grammar.

The QR code has a link to a Google Doc with about 10 planning strategies and typical reflection questions. The url is http://tinyurl.com/3bmt8cur

Design your own strategy

Jo Stansfield and I came up with this:

Another group’s strategy was connected to pre-teaching vocabulary.

As a trainer, thinking about the strategy and the steps is the planning for the workshop.


Planning workshops like these:

  • Are more concrete than traditional planning sessions
  • Work on both the immediate needs of the CPs but also their long-term teacher practice
  • Encourage teachers to participate in a community of practice
  • Empower trainees to resolve their own puzzles
  • Allow trainees more agency when planning

Answers to questions

Being a critical friend seems difficult, so how do you support trainees in this role? Reassure trainees that they’re allowed to ask questions and are expected to ask questions, and that they don’t have to have all of the answers

How are critical friends assigned? They’re normally in pairs discussing the next day’s lesson. One person teaching today, one tomorrow work together. They change who they’re working with across the course.

If there’s a mismatch, can work with groups of 3. Have the trainee step in to demonstrate what might happen, but leave them with questions to puzzle over together. ‘Why don’t you write a list of situations when correction might happen, and decide what correction might happen in each situation?’

Trainees still come to the trainer to ask questions, but generally they work with each more. Ri said she felt like she was under less pressure during the course, and it feels much more satisfying.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: CPD for materials writers: in search of a framework – Denise Santos

Denise’s website is www.denisesantos.com.

When Denise first started teaching, her CPD was mostly managed by the institutions she worked in. The first materials she published, she had no training in materials writing – she wrote what she thought was best. When she did her MA, she started to see things in a more complex way. When she did her PhD, things got more complex, but she was very confident and happy with the way things were. She was happy with what she learnt.

In 2020, there were too many options. Too many courses. Too many live sessions. The topics were completely new – new ways of teaching and learning that she wasn’t used to, and she had to write materials for these things. She found herself doing too many things and not knowing where these things were leading to in her CPD.

Her first CPD questions were focussed on what: what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? But that isn’t enough – we also need to know the why.

She went onto social media to see what people were talking about. People were thinking about their CPD plans for the future, for 2022. Here are some of the things people were talking about:

But still, the focus is too much on the what. There are some whys here, but it’s not systematic. For what purpose and how do I know?

The framework we tend to talk about

We plan/define what we’re going to do, we do it, then hopefully we apply it. Stopping at applying it isn’t enough, Denise says. We need to have more higher-order thinking skills.

When Denise searched for “CPD for materials writers”, she got 5 hits, and 2 were for this talk! Others led her to this book:

There wasn’t much on the continuing professional development for materials writers.

The literature

There is a lot of research about materials.

Very little about implementation of materials

Very little about writers and the writing process

Very little about writers’ (C)PD


We are materials writers, but …of what? …for what? Are you clear about this for yourself? For Denise, the teaching side of what she writes is important to her, so she looked at the models proposed for teacher development to see if they could inspire her.

Frameworks for teachers

  • Subject matter knowledge
  • General pedagogical knowledge
  • Pedagogical content knowledge
  • Knowledge of context

This is one way of breaking down what we know.

Here’s another example of a framework:

British Council teacher framework: This talks about four levels: awareness, understanding, engagement, integration. Around these four levels, there are 12 professional practices, including pedagogical, content, context issues.

The level Denise wants to draw our attention to is ‘taking responsibility for professional development’:

Evaluating is great to include, but Denise isn’t sure about how this could be done. Maybe it should be a more integrated part of the sequence of the 4 levels?

Insights from these frameworks

  • Action (and application) not enough
  • We need analysis and evaluation (how?) e.g. Borg, 2018

There were 374 impressions, but only 10 votes. The comments stayed at the application level of CPD.

Denise also looked at frameworks from other areas, not just ELT:

A tentative framework

It’s much more complex!

How do you know whether your professional development is effective or not?

Answers to questions

Should we work towards this individually or as groups? Working together could help us come up with a repertoire of techniques we could use for our own development and for evaluating it.

Final note from me

Here’s an article I wrote for Humanising Language Teaching with some ideas for developing as a materials writer which you might be interested in.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: TBLT – task-based language teaching – what are the challenges? – Jane Willis

The willis-elt website has lots of information about TBL. Jane and Dave Willis learnt about TBL from a workshop which Prabhu did at the school they were working at. They then started to share the materials and spread the word.

This was a task-based workshop, with two short tasks and two major tasks.

Task one: From Prabhu: Listen and draw

Fold a piece of paper in half.

In the top half, draw a circle, about 8cm across. In the bottom half, draw a rectangular box – about 12cm across and 3 or 4cm deep.

In the circle, think of it as a clock. Draw a little line sticking up at 12 o’clock, and a little line sticking out at 6, 2, 4, 8, 10 o’clock.

In the rectangle, make it into three boxes, so that the middle box is bigger than the other two, but all big enough to write in.

Step two: Listen and write

In the top circle, write three words. Why TBL?

  • Gets learners to use language in a meaningful way.
  • To do that, they need to have had lots of exposure to language, to the kind of language they want to be able to produce.
  • Learners need to be motivated.

Examples of tasks:

  • Listen and do – follow instructions. Lots of exposure, but haven’t had to speak.
  • Listing – e.g. reasons for speaking English, characters in a story…
  • Ordering and sorting, sequencing
  • Problem solving / prediction
  • Sharing information or opinions
  • Creative tasks

They all have a communicative outcome, with exposure, use and motivation, and something to share at the end.

A lot of us are already doing tasks, but how many of us ask our learners to share the results? And what about planning to share? That’s where the learning really happens in this three-step process:

  1. Task
  2. Planning what to share: where the learning happens!
  3. Share

Jane has found that TBL often isn’t covered in teacher training courses, or if it is, step 2 (the central/key part) isn’t included.

We produced our own homemade handout:

What are the challenges of TBLT for novice teachers?

In our group, we discussed:

  • How do teachers know learners have achieved the task?
  • How do we define the task?
  • What is the teacher role during each stage? What feedback should they give?
  • How do they set up the tasks?
  • Focussing on the language use, rather than the task itself.
  • Dealing with different levels.

Task Two: allocate roles

Who will be:

  • Chairperson: ensure everyone speaks
  • Secretary: writer
  • Oral reporter: the person who will report back
  • Timekeeper: check you finish on time

This is a way to get your shy students talking. [I’m reading about this in Dornyei and Murphey’s Group Dynamics at the moment.] Choosing the roles stimulates a lot of chat.

Questions Jane answered

What topics can be covered? Anything! You could take a text: list three problems from the text, give them the first half of a text and predict the second half, list three things you do before you go out to work or school. You could create two or three tasks to create a task sequence within a lesson.

How do you approach feedback? Always respond to content first – that was interesting, could you expand on it? Other groups could write them a question to find out more or say what they want to clarify.

What is a task? A task entails learners using language in a meaningful way. They’re not practising a particular language form. They’re using any language they know. It has a goal which is meaning based, and an outcome which can be reported back on.

How much time should we allocate it? Depends on the task, and they can be linked into a task sequence. Make sure there is more time for the planning. Give them limits so they know when they’ve finished. For example, if there are 12 differences between pictures, ask them to find 7, and then there will be extra ones in the feedback.

At what point does the teacher give language input, feedback, corrections? At the planning stage. Don’t interrupt during the task. Another role could be ‘linguistic advisor’ or ‘language monitor/observer’ – they can report back on how much English was spoken, and what was difficult to say so other language was needed. Don’t negate it, but make it a role if it’s something which could help your learners.

What is a framework for the planning stage? This comes from the learners. For example, hands up if you have a problem. [I think the emergent language tips from this morning could help!]

Is pre-teaching OK? Yes, you can add a pre-task stage. Dave and Jane call it priming. Introduce the topic, tell a story, ask students some topic-related questions. Do preparation, for example language preparation of a few items of language students might need e.g. what punishments might be good for this type of offence? Add them to the board for students to refer to later. Jane wouldn’t teach grammar at this stage because you don’t know what grammar they want until they start the task. Lexical words express meanings, grammar fine tunes meaning. Introduce useful phrases.

What is the role of the teacher during planning? Advisor, supporter, corrector.

What is the difference between TBL and Project-based language teaching? PBL generally has tasks in it, and is a series of lots of different mini tasks.

How do you apply TBL if you’re confined to a curriculum? The topics and functions in the lessons will all come up over the course of a year, but they don’t necessarily come up in the same order as the materials.

There is a language focus in TBL – it’s a form focus, which can happen after the ‘share’ stage.

There could be a recording of two fluent speakers which could be used as a model for learners. Learners could study the recordings or the transcribed talk. Cobuild recordings are being resurrected and will hopefully be online and available for free soon.

How can you make it relevant to exam-based lessons? Prabhu did task-based learning, then in the final term he did intensive exam prep. His learners did better in the state exams in most areas, and about the same in the grammar section.

How do you get students to feel satisfied as a result? If you’ve done the form focus, the learners go away with a ‘rule in their pocket’ (Krashen). You can let them repeat a task from a couple of lessons ago, record them and help the learners to notice the difference – if you warn them in advance and let them go back over what they’ve learnt, this helps students to revise.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Tokenism or engagement? A new model for teacher development – Claire Steele and Sarah Smith

Claire and Sarah run eltonix.

How engaging are the CPD initiatives in your context?

Draw a ladder and place these initiatives on the rungs.

How do you measure engagement?

Is it the ease with which the programme can be carried out?

Did you receive good student feedback on what the students did?

Was there a tangible impact on the classroom?

Was it time well spent for the person controlling the CPD / teachers?

Was there an improvement in student performance?

Did it leave you with inspired / motivated teachers?

> Have you ever really thought about this at your school?

When Claire and Sarah started running CPD programmes, they were very enthusiastic, but the teachers weren’t engaged, despite being dedicated teachers. To find out why, they did research and spoke to the teachers to find out about their lack of engagement.

Some of the comments:

Observation is like a twice yearly ‘magic bullet’. The observers are always looking for the same thing. It isn’t really personalised to my needs. It feels like ticking a box than anything else. There’s a fear that if I don’t perform now, what will happen next year.


This is a summary of what the teachers mentioned as problems:

Though Kat also said it provided more choice for her and was more personalised.

This is a ladder of participation published by UNICEF, about engaging with children. It could also be applied to teachers. Sarah and Claire reflected on to what extent engagement with teachers went beyond tokenism and was actually empowering and emancipatory.

Three possible CPD initiatives


Two regular observations by line manager. Regular training delivered by senior members of staff.

Partial engagement:

Teachers might deliver some training sessions themselves. The school encourages peer observations and critical friends groups.


Teachers collect feedback from students and based on what they say/notice, teachers reflect and choose how they develop and how this should be measured. They carry out action research. Teachers seek guidance and advice from colleagues and senior members of staff.

Non-engagement – top down

Classic observations, INSETT etc.

This can be a form of manipulation – teachers don’t fully understand or aren’t’ involved. (these ideas are from the ladder above)

Decoration: teachers display their progress but no tangible reward.

Tokenism: teachers asked their opinions but are given no real choice or decision-making power.

Moving towards ‘recipe-following’ and ‘faking it’ (Walsh and Mann, 2015)

Reflection becomes blind (Dewey, 193_) – what’s the point?!

Partial engagement

Assigned but informed: teachers given specific duties/tasks and told how this will help them develop. They might be given specific roles in the organisation.

They might have a little more agency, but it’s still very much managed by the school

Big improvement on the above, but does not tap into full potential. D

Does not engage all teachers.

Is still not always relevant to immediate teacher needs, or have an impact on students.

Engagement – bottom up

If student voices are borne in mind, teacher development will be happening too.

The five principles of engagement:

  1. Do the teachers initiate their professional development and take the lead?
  2. Are student voices and feedback prioritised in the choices that teachers make?
  3. Is the CPD relevant to the immediate needs of the teachers and their students?
  4. Do the teachers fully understand why they are developing and how they need to do that?
  5. Is there a measurable outcome?

You can use these principles to reflect on your CPD programme. They think they’ve found an initiative which actually meets these principles: exploratory action research.

Exploratory action research

These are the steps.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Is ELT guilty of greenwashing? – James Taylor

James blogs at theteacherjames.Wordpress.com. He’s based in Brazil. This was part of the GISIG (Global Issues Special Interest Group) showcase.

Some headlines from the last month related to the climate crisis:

This is a grave situation, and is one we should keep in mind. But it can be hard for us to get our head around what’s happening in the world.

When it comes to the climate crisis, this is James’s position:

Greenwashing definition:

Adidas were prosecuted in the French courts for misleading advertising connected to greenwashing:

So what about ELT?

James did some informal research of his own. He was trying to choose books which he believed would be in circulation now. If they were older books, they tended to be exam preparation. He tended to look at higher-level books, as he felt like it may be possible that students at lower levels or younger learners might not have the language to discuss these issues in the same level of depth as higher levels or older learners.

These were the questions he looked at:

Does the book include related topics? These were the topics he found which could have been connected to the climate crisis in some way. He’s not arguing that they should have been connected to the climate crisis, but perhaps they could have been.

Which aspects were mentioned? These topics are more obviously related to the climate crisis – it was the main focus.

What terms were explicitly used? A larger font shows that it was used more commonly. ‘Nothing’ was the second most common thing he found – it was a lesson connected to the climate crisis in some way, but it wasn’t mentioned by name at all (though that specific term is newer – no other term was used instead).

Does the lesson suggest actions that can be taken to counteract the climate crisis? Does it focus on individual, social, scientific, corporate or governmental action? In Business English, the focus was more on the company than the individual – that had some of the better quality material. The overwhelming majority were about what you, the student, can do – what individual choices can you make.

Is a cause of the issues described mentioned? If an alien came to Earth and looked at ELT coursebooks, they wouldn’t necessarily know where climate change came from. There isn’t anyone to talk about (not blame!) The passive voice was often used – should we really be distancing ourselves from these actions? ‘No reason’ was also very common.

Accidental greenwashing

‘Carbon footprint’ was invented by BP, to promote the idea that climate change is not the fault of corporations, but individuals. It has been described as one of the most successful deceptive PR campaigns ever. Here are some reasons BP may wish to do this:

So carbon footprint lessons aren’t necessarily useful!


  • Look out for literal greenwashing.
  • Name some names! Not necessarily every time, but there should be some agency behind these actions.
  • Give learners the opportunity to properly discuss the issues.
  • Find ways to integrate the subject into related topics. For example, fashion, travel, consumption – even if it’s just one discussion question, it’s something.
  • Avoid euphemistic language and call it the climate crisis. This is the same language that’s being used elsewhere.
  • Less personal virtue, more big action.

We need to shift from learning about sustainability, climate change and the natural world to empowering learners to actually act.

What a student said:

Greta’s message:

Don’t forget this message if you put her in your materials!

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Telegram App as a tool for remote training and teaching – Wendy Arnold

Wendy’s company is called ELT Consultants. She has spent most of her career working in low-resource contexts.

This is about a project which was run in Venezuela, with Dr. Juana Sagaray and Dr. Maria-Teresa Fernandez.

What Telegram is not!

It is not a replacement for face-to-face training. If you need a Plan B, or if you have teachers in very remote teachers where it is very difficult to get them to come to one place, then this is an alternative to be able to give them some CPD.


Global South:

  • Developing countries
  • Excessive unemployment
  • Low per capita income
  • 77 countries, including China

(World Population Review 2022)

Venezuela is one of these countries.

Digital divide:

Gap between people who have access to affordable, reliable internet service (and the skills and gadgets necessary to take advantage of that access) and those who lack it.

Taylor, 2022

There might not be any internet service, particularly in rural areas. There might not be enough access to devices in the household. There might not be skills to access these devices.

This project in numbers

  • 400 pre-service and in-service secondary teachers
  • Nearly 9,000 students
  • 20 writers
  • 11 trainers (most of whom were also writers)
  • 10 modules
  • 10 workshops in each module
  • 3 months to deliver one module
  • Flipped learning: asynchronous one hour, synchronous one hour per week

Dr. Juana Sagaray was the British Council Project Manager for this project.

These were the statistics for technology usage in Venezuela:

There were also added problems with blackouts and lack of electricity. They needed an app which could be accessible.

Telegram had much lower data consumption than other apps (see the graph above).

It’s free.

It’s cloud-based – it won’t fill up your phone.

You can use it on any mobile platform, and on Mac, Windows and Linux.

It’s secure and fast. You can make it as secure as WhatsApp if you adjust the security settings on it.

You can do voice calls and video calls.

You can send photos, videos, messages and files of any format and size.

It synchronises across any number of installed Telegram apps on mobiles, tablets and computers.

Two APIs are free for developers to design a Bot API. Wendy first saw these bots being used to teach IELTS skills automatically. She thinks it could be used for FAQs, for example, though she hasn’t managed to develop this yet.

How are they using Telegram to train teachers

Quality assurance:

  • Design templates for all materials
  • Design PowerPoint for asynchronous content used in ‘flipped learning’ and PowerPoint for synchronous content
  • No animations in PowerPoints
  • Keep text to a minimum (CEFR A2)
  • Use icons and visuals
  • Made PDF of PowerPoint and screenshots of PowerPoint slides

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

  • Write scripted trainer’s notes to ensure that trainers in the future deliver the materials considering EDI
  • Refer to the Code of Conduct for learning online
  • Refer to Safeguarding for learning online
  • Poll teachers to ask for their opinions
  • Provide an option for Teachers who have missed a synchronous session to catch up

The project is designed to be loop input – whatever they do in the sessions should be something the teachers can do with their own students in the classroom.

How we use Telegram to train teachers

It’s best to use a desktop to train – it’s probably much harder doing it directly on a phone.

Keep the Telegram chat open on the screen so you can read what’s happening.

Telegram video chat ready to screen share.

Have your PowerPoint open on ‘reading view’.

This is what Wendy’s computer screen looks like:

Lessons learnt

Teachers need:

  1. A variety of ways to access the materials in both asynchronous and synchronous sessions (PowerPoint, PDF, screenshots – all of them!)
  2. Synchronous sessions no more than 60 minutes – unreliable connection, concentrating is harder for longer
  3. To be taught how to reflect on their own practice – a learner journal is used
  4. To complete tasks with allocated marks in order to complete module and get certificate

To get a certificate, they have to do 6 tasks, attend 7/10 live sessions or do the catch-up tasks, and do 2 assessment tasks. This incentivised teachers to complete the asynchronous work.

Teacher trainers need to be reminded:

  1. To increase interactions. Using chat box, audio recording and video recordings
  2. To summarise the asynchronous task comments submitted by teachers
  3. To offer the catch-up option to teachers
  4. And… (I wasn’t fast enough!)

Tutors and facilitators need:

Voices from participants

Teacher trainers said:

  • They have more tools to train and teach.
  • They noticed the enthusiasm and resilience of teachers.
  • The content was useful.
  • Negative: internet connection problems.
  • Negative: frequent blackouts.

The main thing they said Telegram was missing was Breakout Rooms. They said it has a real impact on teaching practice.

Participants said that 100% of them would recommend the training programme to their colleagues. They said the live sessions were a useful tool, dynamic, organised, excellent, well-planned and interesting.

The pre-workshop tasks helped them to reflect on the content. It helped them to get acquainted with what was coming up, and to practise what they would be exposed to later.

[This is an area I’m really interested in in general, so hopefully there will be more connected to it on my blog in the future!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Planning collaborative and reflective online lessons for adults and teenagers – Rachel Tsateri

Rachel is a blogger you may / should (!) know from The TEFL Zone. This is her first IATEFL presentation.

She is talking about a framework she came up with for planning online lessons, and talking about how it worked with her students.

When coronavirus arrived, Rachel was teaching B2+ teenagers and adults. Their motivation plummeted and it was a challenge to get her students to care about their lessons. She had no idea how to use her coursebook online, and her classes were really teacher-centred. The only authentic communication was right at the beginning of the lesson. She decided to perhaps flip to authentic materials for a while, rather than the coursebook to boost their engagement.

The stages she used were:

  1. Lead in
  2. Listening
  3. Text reconstruction (audio)
  4. Text reconstruction (typed)
  5. Free recall
  6. Focus on lexis
  7. Select and reflect

Stages 2-4 are what Rachel calls a jigsaw-gloss.

Rachel started by showing pictures – can they guess the name of the programme?

She selected this programme because she’d heard them talking about it. They then moved on to talking about their interest, emotions, motivation, knowledge and opinions about this programme. It was important to include emotions in the process because many of the students were feeling shut down.


Rachel created a summary of the plot. She divided it into four parts. She recorded it with the help of colleagues. Each student only had access to one part of the audio, via a link. She told them to listen in a dictogloss way – they were already familiar with this approach.


  • Listen first just to get a general idea
  • Listen again and note key words
  • Listen a third time for detail and language to help them reconstruct their text

This was a balance of autonomy and guidance. They had purpose(s) for listening – they tended to listen and start taking notes, lose track, and become overwhelmed because they couldn’t keep up.

The texts weren’t equally divided into four parts – some were shorter / longer, easier / more challenging, which allowed for differentiation.

Text reconstruction

They went into breakout rooms to put the plot together and put it in the right order orally, with one person who’d listened to each part of the recording. This was a huge focus on fluency and using the language.

Then they worked on written text reconstruction. They wrote their parts individually. If they wanted to, they could turn off cameras and microphones – they don’t have to interact all the time.

Peer feedback – they could read other’s texts, and ask each other questions. They started with giving each other feedback on content, then moved on to feedback on language.

Why did this process work?

This was a collaborative process, where students depended on each other, not the teacher, from the start.

It worked on mediation – they developed their own versions of the text. They had to explain it to classmates. They co-created a target text. These are real-life tasks.

This is a communicative replication task.

There was a balance between loud and quiet interaction, and individual time.

It was student-centred. This helped students to become more engaged overall.


Listening + text reconstruction = jigsaw-gloss

These are the elements that it got from jigsaw listening, and from dictogloss.

These were 60 and 90-minute lessons.

Free recall

Stop and jot / pause and write / stop and reflect.

Write three words or three phrases from the lesson up to this point. If you want to make it interactive, they can then share these with a partner (turn and talk).

This worked as a break from the rest of the lesson. Reflection can be included in the middle of the lesson – it doesn’t have to come at the end of the lesson.

When they’re sharing, they’re collaborating. Students learn from each other. They notice words and phrases they didn’t notice but their classmate did.

Lexis focus

Rachel believes that high-level students know a lot of grammar, so what they need to develop is how lexis works together.

A central element of language learning is raising students’ awareness of and developing their ability to chunk successfully.

Lewis, 1993

Rachel chose activities like match chunks to definitions.

  • Adjective + noun collocations: social outcasts
  • Semi-fixed phrases: a gang of bullies

Then go back to your Google Doc – did you use these phrases? This allowed learners to put the language into practice – had they noticed the phrases when they listened? Or can they add them now they know they exist?


Select and reflect: select 6-8 items (not words!) that you are going to use or that you feel you have learnt from today. How are you going to use them? Why did you choose this chunk? How will you remember it? What strategies will you use?

This allows for differentiation. Different learners can choose different items.

It allows for choice and responsibility.

She felt it was a realistic number of items.

It was a useful challenge, as they had to process what they had learnt. Adding metacognition to their learning.

Reflection – it was individual, and they also had to share their reflections. They could collaborate. Learners actually took notes of each other’s strategies.

The classroom is a community – we need to help learners to learn from each other, not just from the teacher.

Rachel Tsateri

Strengths of this approach

Productive – learners spoke a lot.

Huge focus on fluency.

Collaborative all the way through.



Rachel ran out of time. Lessons were 60 / 90 minutes.

Long texts. Her texts were too long at the beginning, so she never made it to the lexis stage.

Focus on accuracy? Select and reflect looked like it worked, but when she asked learners to remember what they learnt in the following lesson they often couldn’t.

So, how can Rachel improve this framework? It helps her to have collaborative and reflective lessons, but how can she make sure the learners will remember the language.

If you’d like to share your thoughts, please use the hashtag #jigsawgloss on social media to say how you could help Rachel with this framework.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: A practical, goal-focused, combined approach to teaching real-life L2 listening – Sheila Thorn

Sheila’s website is www.thelisteningbusiness.com.

Sheila’s mission for the past 20+ years has been to convince the ELT profession of the need to expose learners to authentic spoken English. Scripts in coursebooks have to be scripted and read by actors, so they are effectively listening to reading aloud, not natural speech. Learners don’t get exposed to how spoken English is naturally produced.

She has worked on producing an authentic listening methodology book (Amazon affiliate link) Integrating authentic listening into the language classroom. Sheila got non-teaching friends to read the chapters and give feedback, so it should be accessible to anybody at any level of teaching.

The prevailing tendency in the teaching of listening is to provide practice and more practice without clearly defined goals.

Listening in the Language Classroom, Field, 2008:3

Sheila worked on defining these goals, and thinking about it from a learner perspective. What do they find challenging?

Issues with listening:

  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive load – you’re trying to decode, and more is still coming in
  • Exhausting
  • Don’t know some of the words, but also don’t recognise the words they know when they’re in a stream of speech (when Sheila analysed random utterances from TV and radio, over 90% of the words were at B1 level)
  • Don’t speak the way we write

Sometimes we don’t realise how tough it is for students to listen to authentic spoken English.


  1. To build up learners’ confidence
  2. To increase learners’ automaticity (doing things accurately without conscious effort)
  3. To increase learners’ lexical knowledge (aural and orthographic) – making a match between what they hear and what they know already
  4. To encourage learners to work out for themselves the meaning of unfamiliar lexis
  5. To train learners to focus on prominent words in a stream of speech

Three approaches to teaching L2 listening

1. Traditional listening comprehension

2. Meaning building with the teacher as facilitator. No questions or written tasks. You’re not the font of all knowledge, but you are encouraging students to build meaning from what they hear. This is what John Field talked about a lot. Learners can work in groups to do this too.

3. Decoding. Hearing a stream of speech, identifying the words, and attaching meaning to them.

How do these approaches meet the goals?

Listening comprehension

Goal one – only if the tasks are achievable

Goal 2: not really, though it might if you work with a transcript

Goal 3: minimal, though you might pre-teach some items, or answer some questions related to the comprehension questions

Goal 4: probably not

Goal 5: no, though the written task will probably naturally focus on the prominent words

Meaning building

Goal 1: yes

Goal 2: not the key focus, but you might play some extracts more times

Goal 3: this will definitely be happening

Goal 4: yes, this is the main focus of this kind of lesson

Goal 5: yes, but only if the teacher highlights those words for them


Mining a recording already for content, but now you mine it for delivery. Taking excerpts from the main recording, working on gap fills or dictation.

Goal 1: yes, they get there in the end even if you have to play it many times

Goal 2: yes, this is the main focus

Goal 3: no, they’d already done this when focussing on content earlier

Goal 4: no, you’ve done it previously

Goal 5: yes, you can gap the prominent word, or gap the words around the main prominent word


Learners need exposure to authentic recordings. It might be a disaster the first time you do it, but it will get easier with time.

A combined approach to teaching L2 listening is the only way to attain all five listening goals.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: ‘Just be funny!’ Helping trainees develop rapport and engagement – Joanna Stansfield

Joanna is a trainer at IH London.

Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:

  • Planning and scripting
  • Noticing language, analysing language, using language
  • Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
  • Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
  • Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
  • Managing stress, performance

This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?

How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?

Interaction / affective features

  • Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
  • Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
  • Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
  • Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
  • Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground

Lesson design

  • Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
  • Warm-ups and lead ins
  • Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
  • Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
  • Mingles, information sharing

Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?

  • Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
  • Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
  • Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
  • Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
  • Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
  • Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
  • Misguided application
  • Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover

Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it

Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?

  • Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
  • Variety
  • Groupwork, pairwork
  • Small, achievable tasks
  • Activity

What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?

Why did this help?

  • A safe space
  • Inclusive
  • Collaboration
  • Relaxes everyone
  • More open to learning
  • Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially

This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.

Creating time and space: collective responsibility

It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.

Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.

I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.

I saw the students as people.

By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.

Trainee comments

This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’

Putting the knowledge into practice: planning

In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.

Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan

Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:

As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.

Advice from trainees

This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.


  • Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
  • Establish it as criteria via paperwork
  • Collective responsibility
  • Focus on the learners in feedback
  • Visualisation and differentiation
  • Discuss humour – what is it?

This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Emergent language: Activities and answers to the key questions – Richard Chinn and Danny Norrington-Davies

Richard and Danny are going to look at activities you can use to start working with emergent language in the classroom.

Unplanned language that is needed or produced by learners during meaning-focussed interactions. This language is then explored through re formulation, clarification and support from the teacher.

Chinn and Norrington-Davies, 2022 (forthcoming)

It includes errors and communicative breakdowns, but also covers alternative ways of producing the same meanings. It can also be language that teachers or learners judge to be in some way new, interesting or useful to share. And it includes questions raised by learners about an aspect of language.

These are some of the key questions Danny and Richard are asked, some of which will be covered in this presentation.

Issue 1: I find it hard to hear what my learners are saying

It can be a challenge to tune in and listen carefully. We can’t necessarily hear errors or gaps.

First, we need to focus on the meaning of what learners are saying. Focus on the content. Develop listening skills to work on learner language.


  • Stop listening for errors – focus on meaning. What are the interesting things they’re saying? What is worth sharing?
  • Spend time tuning into individual groups (not just 10 seconds)
  • Note down what they are talking about
  • Put these points on the board to support feedback on content after discussion parts of the lesson

Tuning in task:

  1. In class set the learners a meaning focused speaking task where there is an exchange of ideas.
  2. While they’re speaking, unobtrusively move around the group listening to what they’re saying.
  3. Write notes on the board.
  4. Use these to focus your feedback.

In our discussion after a task Richard and Danny gave us, Jason Anderson and I talked about focussing on how people communicate, not just what they say. Some of the emergent language Jason and I selected might be the vocabulary they were lacking, but also the B2 learners’ ability to interact and help the other person understand your point, rather than focussing on getting your point across. This was the text we were discussing (which we heard rather than read):

Emergent language doesn’t have to just be grammar and lexis focussed. It can be about how we communicate ideas, how we express things in a way that doesn’t offend others.

Here’s an example of what they might put on the board to frame their feedback:

Here are examples of some of the prompts they might use to work on the emergent language:

Creating the conditions for facilitating meaningful feedback

  • Build rapport (Mercer and Dornyei, 2020)
  • Congruence – being genuine
  • Attitude towards the learner – unconditional positive regard (always being positive to learners, even if you don’t agree with them)
  • Empathy
  • Asking more referential questions (Thornbury, 1996) – genuine, real questions which the teacher can’t necessarily answer

Using these skills, one teacher reported:

  • Better able to notice what the learners were talking about
  • Able to relax
  • Able to notice interesting points which students were making
  • Conducted useful feedback on content
  • Didn’t pick up on any EL yet
  • Able to ask extra questions
  • Later on was able to work on EL once he’d developed these skills

Issue 2: What aspects of language/interaction should I focus on?

This depends on the context you’re teaching in and the kind of students you’re teaching.

Here are possible examples, but there are other possible answers:

  • Prioritising language that causes miscommunications/ obvious gaps
  • Choosing language or interactional skills relevant to the teaching context
  • Focusing on repeated issues with the same or similar forms / repeated interaction issues
  • Choosing a gauge that is interesting or useful
  • Focussing on high frequency language
  • Recycling previously taught content
  • Working with language influenced by the learner’s L1
  • Providing feedback on task specific language / interactional moves

An interesting process could be using a transcript and/or recording for a teacher training workshop within a school, getting teachers to discuss these areas.

What can I do next?

Gathering data

You can do it by instinct, but recording yourself doing feedback on content can be really useful for reflection. Note your moves as a teacher, student uptake etc (Walsh, 2011).

Take photos of your board.

Keep a teaching journal.

Dialogue with colleagues (Walsh and Mann, 2017)

Discussing student reactions

Discussing what is suitable for your context

Discoveries can be illuminati very (more about what you knew you do) and heuristic (more about what you didn’t know you do)


  • Focus on genuine, meaningful interaction and pick up on content.
  • Examine your underlying beliefs about the language you do decide to pick up on and monitor your practice
  • Explore your practice with colleagues.

Danny commented that teachers who started to work with emergent language found that over time students started to share more and be more positive about these interactions. Teachers who were reluctant to work with EL initially found that over time they and students got better about working with it.

Danny and Richard have written a book: Working with Emergent Language which will be published soon:

How to present at an international conference (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

These are the slides from my IATEFL 2022 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on how to present at an international conference, whether that’s face-to-face or online. It’s an updated version of my IATEFL 2019 How to session.

Slide 8 has icons. These are the associated notes:

  • Eye contact – friends around room / Online = odd presenting to yourself sometimes. Ask somebody to stay on video so you can talk to them if possible (the moderator?) / switch off self view if you can?
  • Microphone – where to hold it. Use it? / Online = headphones stop echo
  • Pace: Deep breaths – ask somebody to indicate if you’re rushing
  • What you say – not a script/reading from slides! Index cards? Slides + notes, presenters notes…as natural as possible
  • Reactions aren’t just based on what you say – also the time of day – 8:15? After lunch? End of the day? / Nobody writing in chat online = don’t worry / invite them

Here are potential solutions to the problems on slide 11:

  • Slides – USB x 2, Google Drive, email, Slideshare – check compatability. Alternatively, don’t use slides!
  • Audio – have transcript, play it as a file outside presentation rather than embedded into it
  • Video – summarise content
  • Attention – like in class? hands up, countdown
  • Empty room – ask people to come closer
  • Too long – decide before what you can cut, underplan!
  • Too short – more time for questions, what will you take away?
  • Overall = stay calm 🙂 Ask them a question e.g. what have I told you so far? What do you still want to know?

Here’s an explanation of the images on slide 11:

  • Reward yourself
  • Relax
  • Reflect on how it went
  • If it’s IATEFL, consider writing up your talk for the Conference Selections – there’s a How To talk about that too 🙂

Here’s a recording of the 2021 version of the talk:

Catherine Walter has a summary of her tips for Giving a presentation at an international conference.

Zhenya Polosatova has a list of tips for coping with presentation preparation anxiety.

Tim Thompson has written a pep talk which you should read immediately before your presentation starts, and probably a few times before that too!

What other tips do you have?

I’d love to know which of these tips you find useful, and whether you use them to present your own talks in the future. Good luck!

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day Two – Plenary: Reading the world and the word – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day which I have summarised in a series of posts through the day, one post per session.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

What is happening?

When people called out ‘She’s reading’, Gabriel said: ‘She’s looking at a book, but is she reading?’ We can’t make that assumption!

Gabriel says when you look at the literature, the research seems to have become stagnant. Many of the references seem to come from the 1980s. We are currently flooded by texts of different sorts all around us, and we are doing students a disservice if we continue teaching students reading in the way we have been doing. Reading facilitates access to the world, but we have to learn how to do it.

What is reading?

Here are 10 statements which Gabriel got as responses to this question from students and teachers:

Which do you believe to be true? For me, I think it’s 9 and 10, though we spend a lot of time on doing the others in the classroom.

What is the main idea?

Reading is not a receptive skill!

What are the two main factors in reading?

Reading is a complex and active skill. It involves the interplay of both the text and what the reader brings to it. Reading has a two-dimensional nature – it’s not just the text itself.

Fill in the blanks

We need to adopt an interactive approach, combining the reader’s background knowledge with the context of the text, its purpose and the reasons for reading it.

If you’ve been able to read these three texts, we can assume you’re a good reader. So Gabriel will give us 2 minutes to complete a reading test.

The test

We don’t need to understand the vocabulary in the text to be able to answer these comprehension questions.

But what is this text about? We don’t know right now, but with the meaning of only two words, we can understand the whole text.

Blar = text, plume = student

As we read the text again, we really could understand the whole thing. It’s fascinating to notice what your brain is doing as you decode each of these texts.

This is the original:

Give the text a title

When we read it, we couldn’t figure it out. But by adding a single image, it makes the text more transparent.


Returning to the 10 assumptions at the beginning having completed those tasks, would you change anything?

Intensive or extensive?

Research has consistently shown that it is one of the most effective methods of language acquisition, particularly reading for pleasure. {I certainly found this!] However, we don’t do enough of that in the classroom.

We need to stop looking at processes in different boxes, to work with the mediation of the teacher to use a range of different tools to create meaning.

Decoding and comprehending

Decoding is a mechanical process which we can be trained in. Even the most dyslexic of students, given the most attainable of tasks and support, will be able to comprehend a task.

Lower order or higher order

Are we just working at lower order engagement? (Blogging chuffing) Or operating at higher levels?

If students don’t like reading, maybe it’s our materials. Why should they enjoy it? What’s there for them to like?

Making reading more 3-dimensional and a socio-cultural practice

Benefits of extensive reading

Here’s a summary by Donaghy (2016):

  • Students become better readers
  • Learn more vocabulary
  • Improve writing
  • Improves overall language competence
  • Become more motivated to read
  • Develop learner autonomy
  • Become more empathic

But why don’t teachers use extensive reading?

  • Most syllabi don’t require ER.
  • It’s not tested in exams.
  • Syllabi and textbooks only focus on intensive reading.
  • Teachers claim they don’t have time to do ER.
  • ER means giving more control over learning to students. Some teachers aren’t comfortable with this.

Leather and Uden, 2021

If we’re always focusing on intensive reading, we’re not giving our students the tools to talk about extensive reading. In real life, we don’t ask people about synonyms for words they read, we have intelligent conversations about what we’ve read. We don’t do this in the classroom.

The view from neuroscience

Reading changes the way your brain works for the better.

Reading is an empathy workout. It activates parts of our brain connected to what we’re reading about.

How do we understand?

Not by looking at individual words, sentences – that’s what’s we do in the classroom.

By using contexts of various sorts:

  • Grammatical context within sentences – words change meaning according to the grammatical category they belong to. Learners can use what they know from their other languages to help them to make meaning.
  • Semantic context within sentences – lexical meaning is determined by the meaning of other words in a sentence. In many approaches to teaching reading, the norm is pre-teaching vocabulary. We spend time eliciting, students get to the first word they don’t know, and still ask us what the word means. Words get their meaning from the other words around them.
  • Situational, pragmatic context – why is this text relevant? Why was it written? For what purpose? Meaning is determined by the context in which language is used. Unfortunately, much of the reading we do in the classroom is reading to learn more vocabulary or grammar.
  • Intercultural context – meaning that is situated within the context that lies in the artifices, mentifacts and socifacts of a particular culture.
  • Schematic context – organised chunks of knowledge derived from our fund s of knowledge and previous experience. This can be the basis of our strongly held beliefs, and can sometimes conflict with our beliefs and what we read.
  • Sociocultural context – the way that reading activity is deployed in a particular sociocultural and historical context. How reading is seen and considered in that context.

There’s so much that goes into reading! Are you actually tackling all of these contexts? If not, you’re doing the students a disservice.

A two-dimensional model of reading

That’s what happens now: pre-reading, while reading, post-reading.

Pre-reading is typically discussing the topic, with a question or two, and then they look for the answer in the text to check whether they are right or not. Is that a reading or a pre-reading activity? Reading! Before that, they answered a question out of the blue.

A different reading sequence


Prior knowledge: Activate the student‘s background knowledge. For example, this is a picture. Make a telescope out of a piece of paper, make it as narrow as you can. Look at the picture through the telescope from left to right and top to bottom.

This is from museum education, Burton (2018). This is way of training the eye to read in this direction – students might be used to reading in a different direction, or only short texts.

Then ask students ‘what did you notice in the picture?’

Prediction: When students predict, comprehension is facilitated.

Show two images – what is the connection? Add one more image – what is the next connection? Add another image – what is the next connection? This creates rich discussions.

Preview: Give a discussion task. Then a title for them to complete. There’s an example below.

Students are now interested and intrigued by the text. They want to know what they’re going to read.

While reading

Vocabulary: Find the opposite of the word in the text. The word in the rectangle is the opposite. The ovals are synonyms. The oval closest to the text is the nearest synonym.

Questions: The questions can only be answered if the students have understood the text, but don’t repeat what’s in it.

Archaeological dig: They have evidence that something might be there. With a brush, they slower uncover the object. We’re doing the same, but with language. Help students understand how the text works and why the text was constructed in this way.

Grammar and vocabulary and connectors are covered in the ‘focus in organisation’.

Post reading

Let the students manipulate and appropriate the text, so they feel ‘I can do this’.

Oral summary: Work in pairs. Share a similar story (real or imaginary). Then works it’s another pair. The the other pair your partner’s story. Is it a true story? Students will look at the text and organisation and capitalise on this.

Written summary: Write the letter which was in the original photo.

Comparing themes: Use this wheel to discuss what was happening.

Sociocultural praxis

This is Reading not as a skill, but as mediated sociocultural praxis. Not just taking things from the text, but taking control over what they take from it.

  • Intentionality / reciprocity
  • Transcend the here and now.
  • Meaning in every single activity.
  • Multi-modality
  • Respecting what society values related to reading – social and individual

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day One

I started the day early, with my How To session – How to give a presentation at an international conference. I then attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day.

To help my iPad to cope, I will write each talk up as a separate post. I apologise in advance to your inbox if you subscribe! I’ll come back to this post at a later date and add an index of all of the day one talks.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

Plenary: (Re)imagining and (re)inventing early English language learning and teaching – Nayr Ibrahim

(Re)viewing the past

When Nayr started teaching in 1994, she had a degree in literature and a CELTA. She was trained to teach adults, but found herself in a classroom with children. She was mis-qualified, and the children ran rings around her. This reflects the experience of many teachers. Teaching children was seen as the appendix of the ‘real job’ of teaching adults.

In 1985, the IATEFL Special Interest Group in Young Learners was set. It’s now YLTSIG (Young Learner and Teenagers Special Interest Group).

Eric Lenneberg (1967) put forward the Critical Period Hypothesis, launching the age debate – is younger better? Research that was shared was based on children learning a second language in immersion contexts. Nayr emphasises that Foreign Languages (FL) are learnt in a different way. There was a struggle for a different lens for early language learning, different to adult learning, different to immersion contexts.

In 2002, when Nayr was looking for a Masters degree, there was no qualification focussed on teaching young learners. She twisted her MA modules so that she could focus on YL in all of them. At this point she discovered the literature of YL teacher.

This literature helped her to feel proud of being a YL teacher. This literature covered areas like the way that children are learning how to learn, the importance of the socio-affective domain, teaching the whole child, how to scaffold to both support and motivate children, and how children experience the world of fantasy.

Courses to focus on teaching young learners like the CELTYL were unsuccessful as there was little demand, partly because schools didn’t ask for them. But the growth of children learning languages was huge. This was one quote about it:

A truly global phenomenon and as possibly the world’s biggest policy development in education.

Johnson, 2009, p23

CEFR levels were launched in 2001, but they were developed for adult learning and slapped onto children / teens and their materials. Now there are descriptors for children and adolescents, but they don’t cover all of the aspects of early language learning, as it covers far more than just languages.

By 2011, all EU countries had introduced foreign language learning at primary level. 84 countries in the world had lowered the age at which a foreign language had introduced. Nearly all 42 Asian countries had made foreign language learning at primary obligatory. But studies were showing that younger is not better if conditions were not correct.

Conditions for younger to be better include small classes, more time, qualified practitioners, the out-of-school experience / exposure, and understanding all of the many factors which impact on children’s foreign language progress. (There were many more Nayr mentioned)

2014 was a watershed moment for Nayr. The debate at that year’s IATEFL conference was ‘Teaching English to young learners does more harm than good’ (I think I’ve got that title slightly wrong!) ELTJ published a special issue in teaching English to young learners. It included an article ‘Young learners: defining our terms’. There were acknowledgements in general about dividing young learners into early years, young learners, teenagers – highlighting that there are differences between how these learners learn. There is more professionalisation of young learner teaching now, more research, and it’s acknowledged as a field.

ELLRA – Early Language Learning Research Association is about to become a reality.

I am a teacher, with a complex identity. Own your identity. Display it to the learners. They will benefit from it.

Nayr Ibrahim

Although we have to some extent accepted the use of the L1 in language teaching, we need more research into translanguaging. We need to move from the mother tongue or the L1 to integrating more linguistic diversity.

In 2018, Nayr was thrown into consultancy work on the Norwegian curriculum. Some of the words in the curriculum are shown in the image above. There was a move from ‘learn’ or ‘know about’ to ‘discuss’ or ‘reflect’. The question with all of these things is ‘Do we know how to do this?’

As Kalaja and Pitkanen-Huchta say, the problem is that these are all buzzwords. We still know very little about how these areas work in primary and pre-primary English. There is a lot of fuel for research here, if you’re looking for something to work on.

There is now much more literature available related to teaching young learners.

ECML is one website which looks at plurilingual and CLIL approaches.

The most recent ELTon winner for innovation was a book focussed on pre-primary by Gail Ellis and Sandie Mourao [Amazon affiliate link]. This is a huge shift from when Nayr started her career.

Where are we now?

There has been a steep rise in pre-primary education in general around the world. 63 countries have adopted free pre-primary education. 51 have adopted compulsory pre-primary education. 46 countries have free and compulsory education. Even one year of pre-primary schooling can have a huge impact on later education, laying the foundation for literacy and numeracy, and general preparation for school. However, in COVID responses, early / pre-primary education as often neglected in favour of older children.

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.

Goal 4 of (I’m not sure!)

In top-level educational guidelines, early foreign language learning is one of the least mentioned areas, but it is exploding unofficially. We need to be aware of our impact on children at this stage – at no point is the whole child so important.

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) – there is a shift from teaching to care, being mindful of these young children in our care.

According to Mourao, there is a slow increase in talks connected to research in early language learning. This area of ELT is being taken seriously now. There are now more books too, with a steady increase in publications, as you can see in the photo below.

Nayr says we need to continue to investigate pre-primary contexts, and fund more research in these areas, with a focus on areas like broad cognitive development, child-centred pedagogies, holistic training, and greater specificity in training.

How can we reinvent early language learning?

Go back to basics!

Start with the child. A learning individual. Beings in the present. Social actors in their own right being changed by and changing their environments. Languages should not be fostered as separate subjects, but as something communicative which is used through other subjects. We teach the whole child through English, rather than teaching English to the child.

Start with children as linguistic geniuses, with the right to all of their languages. Language learning is hard work, even for little ones. Nayr asked a little boy ‘What is English? What is French?’

English is green and French is vert.

Learning languages allows for an affirmation of identify. Translanguaging gives children voices and foregrounds their personal language experience as valid, important and relevant. Children can learn more than one language simultaneously. Our languages are always active in our heads, they are not blocked.

Colourblindness vs colour-consciousness.

Husband, 2019

Diversity is around us, not somewhere else. Be aware of it. Deal with issues of race and diversity explicitly. Don’t ignore the differences around us.

Use quality language materials. Use picture books. Allow children to explore not just the word, but the world, as Freire said.

Learning is messy. It’s erratic and recursive and simultaneous and complex. Occasionally it plateaus, then it peaks. Children need colour, art, music, nature. Let them play! Stop testing them. Use observation and reflection. Stop sitting them at desks. Let them move around. Stop adultifying early language learning. Use the philosophy of approaches like Montessori, Steiner. Stop CLILifying. English should be integrated in the routines of everyday life.

Let them play!

Nayr Ibrahim

Let’s making learning Trans!

  • Transcultural
  • Translingual
  • Transformative
  • Transgressive

As we move from primary to pre-primary, we can’t assume that we can use primary approaches to teacher 3, 4 and 5 year olds.

MaWSIG Pre-Conference event (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is my first PCE as a member of the MaWSIG committee. We ran a day of sessions called ‘Exploring dichotomies: bridging gaps and joining the dots’. This was the programme:

These are my notes from each session. If you were one of the speakers, please feel free to correct anything you feel I may have got wrong! There may be some slightly odd sections when my iPad w

Writing effective materials about traumatic subjects – Tania Pattison

Tania lives in Canada, so this talk is centred on a Canadian context, but can be applied anywhere in the world.

She did a materials writing project based on a tragic episode in Canadian history. She’s going to share 10 tips for writing materials based on topics which aren’t typically in course books.

She wrote about this for IATEFL Voices, issue 283, published in November 2021, if you’d like to read more.

The episode Tania wrote about was the way that indigenous people were treated in Canada over a number of years, and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the TRC recommendations was that newcomers to Canada and people in the education system need to be taught about what happened. Tania worked on EAP materials for a college in Canada, which had to include materials related to TRC. She’s not indigenous, or even Canadian so she asked herself how she could write about this in a sensitive, accurate way, while fulfilling her goal of writing EAP material.

These are her tips.

1. Know why you’re doing it

  • Are you trying to fill a gap in student knowledge?
  • Raise awareness of world issues?
  • Work on critical thinking?

2. Keep your own values in check

Any attempt to impose your own values on students becomes ‘an exercise in self-indulgence rather than effective’.

Guy Cook, IATEFL debate 2021

3. Consider your timing

Make sure students already know each other and feel comfortable with each other before you approach this kind of material. Give them background information first – for example, Tania had information about Canada’s government and some basics about the country first, as the materials were for newly-arrived students.

Allow time for students to process the materials – you may want to have less material in these units. Make sure it’s a point in the course where you can determine whether the students are ready for this type of material.

4. Scaffold your materials.

Find out what students already know, and what stereotypes people may already have. You may need to dispel these before you start working on anything else.

5. Be mindful of the balance between teaching language, skills and content

You can’t suddenly switch from harrowing content to a grammar lesson. Think about how to make transitions between parts of the lesson.

If you can, incorporate skills into your teaching, for example website analysis, critical thinking.

6. Let the voices of those affected take centre stage

Never speak about us without us.

Roberta Bear, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

Can you use first-hand accounts from those involved? Artwork? Guest speakers if you can? Those could be the basis of the materials.

7. Don’t sugar-coat it

Recognise that something terrible happened, or is still happening. Show the reality.

Use trigger warnings – be prepared for students to excuse themselves from activities.

8. Allow flexibility in the way the material is to be delivered

Take cues from how student are reacting.

If you’re writing for other teachers, include ideas for different approaches in the teacher’s notes.

9. Build in opportunities for individual reflection and response

The issues might not be unique to the situation you are writing about – it may allow students to talk about other issues from other places and times that aren’t foreseen in the materials.

Phrases like ‘Use your own judgement’ or ‘There is no correct answer’ are useful in instructions and teacher’s notes.

Many learners have been waiting their whole lives to engage in these kinds of conversations and find Canada, or the right teacher, is giving them the space to do so.

Amy Abe, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

10. Try to end on a positive note where possible

This may not be possible, but if you can, aim to leave students with a sense of optimism.

Can you find a way to celebrate an oppressed culture, show improvements that have taken place, etc.? Examples Tania used were encouraging students to attend an art gallery with indigenous art, or to find out about college statistics regarding indigenous students and the support they have available for them.

Chanie Wenjack was the child whose story Tania wrote about – he died when he was a child and ran away from the boarding school he was forced to attend. Now, it’s the name of a lecture theatre at the university Tania attended, and the name of a school: The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University, Canada.

When properly approached, these discussions can be some of the best, with students coming away with invaluable lessons learned.

Tim Johnson, University Affairs, 2015

Responses to questions

If you’re writing materials for teachers and students you don’t know, your teacher’s notes become very important. Make it as clear as possible regarding different ways you can approach this material, and different ways students may need to process this information.

Working with young learners, they know about what’s going on in the world even from a very young age, so we need to address these topics, but we need to feel how ready they are – what background knowledge do they have? What are they ready to process? Some children may be more scared by not talking about these challenging issues than if we cover them.

We also need to know about the potential backgrounds of the students (and teachers) we’re writing for. Some of these issues may trigger areas which our students have personal experience of and don’t want to or aren’t ready to talk about yet. We need to leave space within the materials to allow processing of these issues, and not force anybody to discuss anything they don’t want to – there needs to be an escape clause too.

Practical strategies for writing inclusive ELT materials – Amina Douidi

Amina is an intercultural and diversity consultant.

Intercultural language education is about integrating the teaching of language and culture / cultures. It needs to go ‘beyond presenting isolated snippets of information about the target language culture’ (Liddicoat, 2014) and the integration of the learners’ languages and cultures (Liddicoat, 2008).

Intercultural communication competence is about the refinement and development of intercultural skills, knowledge and attitudes of interacting with the world of cultural difference that complement language competence (Byram, 1997). We don’t assume that our learners come to the classroom as blank pages, hence the inclusion of refinement here.

It’s a particular challenge for writing materials for English teaching, as opposed to other languages, because of the way that English has been appropriated globally.

Interculturally oriented materials:

  • Promote Global Englishes and/or English as a Lingua Franca, in order to continually challenge native-speakerism.
  • Recognise Global North / Global South power imbalance, inequalities and status quo. Recognise our own identities and how they might impact on the materials writing process.
  • Promote a decolonial discourse and challenge methodologies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; 2016) and concepts rooted in an imperialist worldview. Create space for learners within the lessons.
  • Promote intercultural skills: mediating, interpreting, and relating, curiosity, interaction and curiosity.

Global majority is a new term which is intended to replace the idea of racial minorities.

Amina asked us to reflect on our own writing:

These are the principles Amina would like to promote these ideas.

Principle 1: Variety of representation

Amina has selected variety rather than diversity.

The 4 Ps (Yuen, 2011):

  • People: Global North and Global South
  • Places: The historically privileged and the historically marginalised
  • Perspectives: dominant and silenced narratives
  • Practices: judgement-free, contextualised, and well-informed account of cultural behaviours, customs and traditions, focused on the individual – rather than stereotypes / overarching narratives, focus on a single narrative – rather than cultural facts

Principle 2: Complexity of representation

  • Addressing topics of social and cultural relevance to learners (e.g. gender roles)
  • Challenge fixity of cultural constructs: normalise the possibility of change / changing opinions / changing your mind – just because you don’t like modern art now, doesn’t mean this will always be true
  • Contextualise systemic inequality beyond personal responsibility – what is the history of this practice? E.g. Why don’t people vote?
  • Show intersectionality as the norm: we’re not just one identity, we’re many. Amina is educated, a PhD holder, a woman, a wife, a multilingual speaker, not just one…all of these.
  • Sustaining inclusivity: there is no ‘correct’ amount of diversity to include.

Principle 3: Intentionality in instruction

Include these ideas within rubrics and learning outcomes. For example:

  • Mediation
  • Curiosity: finding out about other people’s practices e.g. what do you eat for breakfast?
  • [2 others which I missed]

The ‘Five savoirs’ shown in the slide above are possible ways we can think about intercultural skills. They shouldn’t necessarily be turned into learning outcomes, but they can be things you can consider in your writing.


As an editor, you need to acknowledge the fact that materials writers have spent a lot of time on their materials already. You don’t necessarily want to come in and scrap the materials completely because they’re lacking intercultural elements. You may need to tweak the materials by adding a task, changing a task, adding a question or two.

Queer materials writing: sharing research perspectives and (some) experience – Thorsten Merse

Torsten is a professor of ELT education at the University of Duisburg-Essen, who is particularly interested in LGBTIQ+ and queer theory at the intersection with critical coursebook analysis. He is a researcher, but has some experience of writing materials himself.

He acknowledges that it’s easier to critique materials than to write them in the first place. He also recognises that he speaks from a position of privilege, that we are able to talk about this in our context, but this might not be possible everywhere int he world.

Thorsten says: Coursebooks can cause transformation. If something appears in the course book, teachers might think about including it. If it’s never there, they may never consider it, even if they would be willing to do so.

In Queer EFL Teaching and Learning, there has been a systematic invisibility of these identities. There is a lot of sexual identity in coursebooks, but it’s so normal we don’t even think about it: for example, the typical family. It’s about challenging norms which are there. We often circulate single stories in our profession: ‘the single story of heterosexuality’, and although there are some shifts (for example, not everyone is now white), there is still not much in the way of queer identities in materials. There are some research links in the photo below:

Queer EFL teaching and learning has started to become a more researched topic, and is now being researched more. There have been conferences about Queering ESOL, podcast episodes (Angelos Bollas got a mention) and it’s becoming more visible.

In Germany, there is now a requirement to include the diversity of sexual identities in some curriculums.

English as a school subject ‘engages learners in themes such as social, economic, ecological, political, cultural and intercultural phenomena, problems of sustainable development as well as the diversity of sexual identiities

Curriculum English from Lower Saxony, NsK, 2015 (Thorsten’s translation)

Merse and his colleagues looked at three ELT coursebooks for year 9 at comprehensive schools, looking at representation of diversity in general: sexual, gender, and other skills. They looked at images and the text surrounding them, exploring visibility, voice and agency of diverse identities. They started from the assumption that heteronormativity and cisgender would be the default.

They grouped these into prevailing features – not what we should do, but what actually happened in the course books they analysed.

Representational strategy I: heteronormativity

This is often the default.

100% clarity: male, female, cis

No trans or inter

In cases of ambiguity, the texts clarify, for example through pronouns

Representational strategy II: LGBTIQ+ invisibility

No representation of any facet of LGBTIQ+ diversity at allOf

Often written out on purpose

Representational strategy III: ???

Problematising queer identities, with no opportunity to challenge being gay as being a problem identity, for example in the text below.

Representational strategy IV: The stand-alone and stick-out representation

More positive representations

But only one in the whole book

And not necessarily

Exotic, an add-on, but well meant

Representational strategy V: a full unit

The acronym was spelt out. The whole unit dealt with the question of gender identity.

New strategies

  • Background diversity of LGBTIQ+ coursebook characters just happen to be LGBTIQ+ without requiring explanation.
  • Ambiguity and openness: create tasks and activities where learners can bring their own experience into ‘gaps’.
  • Explicit focalisation of LGBTIQ+ create cultural and linguistic learning opportunities through engaging learners in LGBTIQ+ content
An example from Thorsten’s materials


  • How much LGBTIQ+ is enough? (OR: How much normativity are you willing to have taken away from you?) – not necessarily a valid question, but one that you have a lot
  • Fear of ‘wrong’ or ‘too extreme’ representation of LGBTIQ+ lives, issues and people
  • ‘The danger of a single story’ – balanced representations
  • Making thematic matches that makes sense rather than appearing odd (for example, a discussion about a koala keeper – sexuality not relevant, but a discussion of toilets in a school – definitely relevant)
  • Selecting and curating authentic sources, or creating pedagogic texts, for materials production

Bridging a 30-year gap in materials writing – Sue Kay

Here’s Sue’s write-up of the talk.

Sue is talking about how she took the Reward resource packs and is trying to update them 30 years after they were originally written. The first pack was released in 1994.

The writers wanted to think about how to make them more relevant and useful for today’s classroom, including ideas like diversity, inclusion, and making them deliverable both face-to-face and online.

Simon Greenall wrote the Reward coursebooks which the resource packs were written to accompany. Simon observed lessons Sue was teaching, and Sue showed him some materials she’d written to add communicative elements to to the classroom. Simon asked her to write the resource packs.

In ELT in the nineties, the cassette started to lose ground to the CD. Typical books were Headway, Streamline, Thinking First Certificate. Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games and and Play Games with English by Colin Granger were popular resource books. Michael Lewis wrote The Lexical Approach in 1993. The CEFR first draft was written in 1995, but wasn’t published until 2001. Corpus-based dictionaries became popular in the 1990s.

What wasn’t happening in ELT in 1994?

  • No broadband internet for finding authentic materials quickly.
  • No way to quickly check word frequency in a corpus-informed online dictionary.
  • No checking CEFR level. There was no talk of ‘Diversity and inclusion’ – Tyson Seburn did his talk ‘This talk will make you gay’ at IATEFL 2019.
  • English as a Lingua Franca only came to fore around twenty laters.
  • There was no green agenda – ELT Footprint was founded in May 2019.
  • 21st century skills were not a thing.
  • No considerations of neurodiversity, such as dyslexia.
  • No digital delivery.

These are the filters through which they’re re-writing the materials. They’re trying to maintain the humour and fun of the original activities, while considering these factors now.

Obvious changes

Activities which were based on student input didn’t really need to be changed, apart from considering digital delivery.Fonts in some activities

Fonts in some activities need to be replaced to make them more accessible for students who might struggle to read them

With references to holidays, they’re aiming to have a green filter, reducing the amount of international air travel for example.

This activity has been updated to reduce the ageism in it, along with other phrases which might be removed or updated.

Updating a pair work activity

In this activity, students put the phrases in order based on what is typical in their country. They then read a story and reorganise the phrases based on that story. They then tell their story to a partner by looking at the phrases, not the story.

They created two updated versions of the activity. This one is for face-to-face delivery:

They changed the title, and for the phrases, they separated meeting online / face-to-face, widowed (relationships aren’t only about first relationships), meeting families (not parents), ‘became exclusive’ added as an up-to date phrases. These are the new stories:

These are the new stories:

They’re universal stories, which could apply to any culture, situation or sexuality.

In terms of the methodology for the face-to-face activity, the steps were largely the same, but some tweaks are there. For example, rather than thinking about what is typical in your country, students are now asked to think about a relationship they’re familiar with.

For online delivery, there is a spreadsheet. There are new teacher’s notes to show how it can be delivered in the online classroom.

When they started to consider how to adapt materials for online teaching, They did a survey related to pair work and group work online. These were the results:


Does anything jump out at you as being inappropriate? How would you adapt it this to the online classroom?

These are the changes they made.

They removed some wording, changed some wording, and added in some green wording.

For online delivery, they created a spreadsheet with different tabs – one for each question. They gave very clear instructions in the teacher’s notes to show how this mingle could be run in an online classroom – this is a very clear format which makes mingles possible online.

Picture research: what can we do for each other? – Sharon McTeir

Sharon runs her own company, called Creative Publishing Services which focused originally on design and typesetting. Now her specialism is picture research, mostly for ELT contexts, dictionaries and education.

What does a picture researcher do?

  • Research
    In different contexts, libraries, commissioning photographers
  • Clear permissions and rights

Changes in picture research

There are fewer image libraries, as they have been amalgamated into big companies.

It’s harder to find natural images. Many of them are staged.

Fewer picture researchers are being hired. Instead writers are asked to do it, editors assistants and interns might be asked to do it, or staff in the big UK image libraries, or outsourced to companies in India and China.

Why use a picture researcher?

  • Relationships – building up a relationship with them
  • Years of training in copyright law
  • Awareness of how different photo libraries can be used
  • Providing a carefully considered image for that situation

Diversity and inclusion

Race, gender, animal rights, sensitive historical images, and tokenism are all areas which are now considered.

Writing a picture brief

You need to include all of the following information about the business:

  • Project title / ISBN
  • Print / digital
  • Print Run / Licence period
  • Territory

And about the end user:

  • Business / academic / etc.
  • Age: adults / young adult / children.
  • Any special needs / considerations.

Sometimes it can be useful to say what you don’t want, rather than what you want.

Answers to questions

Photo shoots don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes it can be cheaper to have a day of working with a photographer than trying to find the perfect images and ensure the permissions are all signed off on.

Many publishers have exclusive agreements with specific picture libraries.

Avoiding tokenism: working together to find a better way – Aleksandra Popovski

Alex is the outgoing MaWSIG coordinator and she’ll be the next Vice President of IATEFL. She’s also in the classroom with her students every day, and regularly produces materials to use with her students.

Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion, to help make you or your organisation look good. Coursebooks are cultural constructs and carry a lot of cultural messages.

Equality, ELT materials should not look like political manifestos – that’s not what not what they are. It’s not propaganda material. Materials should provide a springboard for discussion, a springboard for critical thinking, and we should remember that they’re there to improve English skills.

There is no framework for avoiding tokenism in ELT, so we need to take these from other fields. These are some suggestions.

Alex says that we need to tell more stories, covering a wider range of stories. It’s impossible to cover them all. When we write about a different culture, we should not write about the usual aspects of that culture we already know. That can create stereotypes, which becomes the story. We should talk about different people’s stories, within that culture.

Here are examples of some of the alternative stories you could tell about some of these cultures:

Do your research before you start writing

Look for more than one story.

Write about things you know, you are familiar with, lived experiences.

Make an informed decision about what to include in your materials.

What do you already know about the culture? What are your opinions on this topic? How might this influence your writing?

What cultures aren’t represented in the materials you use? How could you find out about that culture? Where would you do the research?

A framework you could use is a KWLH chart:

  • What I know
  • What I want to know
  • What I learnt
  • How I write about it

No showcasing

Do not put anyone or anything on display just because it seems special or different to you.

Create a character with personality, not just inserting an image.

Create a character with a real purpose and meaning in materials. Don’t just put them there, but use them again throughout the unit and the materials.

Create connections

Materials writers aren’t just producers of exercises, of grammar rules. We are writers of stories, who should be real and relatable for our students. Avoid one-off characters and events whenever you can. Weave stories, and create connections throughout materials.

Have a ‘sidekick’

Ask somebody to work with you to read / trial your materials. They could be a ‘fixer’, making sure you’re not tokenistic. This is something editors can do if you’re working with them, but classroom writers should consider this too.


There were lots of threads of inclusion, diversity, and considering carefully how we approach our materials writing so that we are thinking about them from the beginning, rather than retro-fitting. A fascinating PCE!

An example of a materials evaluation checklist

This is an excerpt from my NILE MA Materials Development assignment submission. NILE run courses covering a wide range of professional development pathways. Next week I’ll post my IATEFL 2022 talk, which will include some tips for creating a similar checklist yourself.

Please note: This excerpt is intended for reference. Plagiarism is a very serious problem, and could result in you being removed from any course you study. Please ensure that all work is your own, not copied from mine.

You can find more information about the sources I used when creating my checklist in my post summarising my IATEFL 2022 talk ‘What I think I know about materials writing‘.

Target learner profile

This is an A2.2 group of twelve students aged 11-15 at a private language school in Poland.

The group is newly formed. Four students are new to the school and probably unfamiliar with our focus on communication in lessons. Four progressed from A2.1 young learner classes, where they had a less explicit focus on grammar with minimal use of metalanguage. Four progressed from A2.1 teen classes.

One learner has dyslexia, causing problems with reading and the understanding and production of sound-spelling relationships; another has dysgraphia, causing problems with spelling and writing, especially by hand.

These students are most likely to use English while playing games on their phones or computers (reading, listening, sometimes speaking), watching Netflix (listening) or travelling (listening and speaking, encountering a range of L1 and L2 English accents).

Learning context

Lessons are face-to-face, with two 90-minute lessons per week, extensively over one academic year. Learners get homework every lesson, and the school advocates independent English practice outside class.

Their teacher will be fresh from CELTA, and has not taught teenagers before.

Course objectives

At our school, students complete half a CEFR level per academic year. By the end of this year, learners should meet the A2+ CEFR descriptors set out in Appendix 1 [not included in this post] for receptive skills, productive skills and language.

Evaluation pro-forma – general layout

My evaluation criteria

Learner engagement

To what extent do the topics covered in the materials match the interests of these learners, as described in the learner profile?

To what extent do the materials support the development of positive group dynamics in a face-to-face classroom, particularly regarding relationships between students?

To what extent are learners shown how they can continue to work on their language learning outside lessons?

To what extent are learners made aware of their progress while using the materials?


[Note: The numbers in brackets referred to the descriptors I’d included in the Appendix, but which aren’t shown here.]

To what extent does work on listening teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS1)?

To what extent does work on reading teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS2)?

To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce spoken language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS1, PS3, PS6, PS7)?

To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce spoken language to A2+ level (PS1) and interact successfully (PS3, PS5, PS6, PS7)?

To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce written language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS2, PS4, PS5, PS7)?

To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce written language to A2+ level (PS2) and interact successfully (PS4, PS5, PS6, PS7)?


To what extent is the lexis introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?

To what extent is the functional language introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?

To what extent is the meaning, use and form of grammar analysed in a way that would be accessible to these learners, including those who are unfamiliar with metalanguage?

To what extent is phonological control focussed on in the materials, particularly the pronunciation of familiar words which may cause problems for Polish L1 speakers (CEFR A2+, L4)?

To what extent is contextualised practice of new language items provided which allows learners to demonstrate their mastery of vocabulary range, grammatical accuracy and phonological control (L1-L4)?

To what extent are learners encouraged to personalise new language items?


To what extent do the materials include varied activities to cater to a range of learner preferences?

To what extent do the materials allow for differentiation to enable all of the learners in the group to progress towards meeting the A2+ CEFR descriptors, regardless of their prior experience of language learning?

To what extent do the materials lend themselves to coherent 90-minute lessons, with only one or two topics or skill/language focuses throughout?

To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide linguistic guidance and support for an early career teacher?

To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide methodological guidance and support for an early career teacher?


To what extent are activity rubrics clear?

To what extent is the design of the materials suitable for learners with dyslexia or dysgraphia?

To what extent are a range of voices represented within the materials, for example different genders, nationalities or ages?

To what extent do the materials avoid stereotyped, inaccurate, condescending or offensive images of gender, race, social class, disability or nationality?

Podcasts for ELT teachers

Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while knows I’m a fan of podcasts. I’ve occasionally written about ELT podcasts before, and have been meaning to collect together a list of them in one place for a while. The wait is finally over 🙂

To minimise the amount of editing I may need to do with this list in the future (I hope!) I’ve only linked to the website for each podcast, and from there you can find all of the links to follow it on podcast streaming services. I’ve included a brief summary of the type of content and typical episode lengths.

Please add a comment if you have any other English Language Teaching podcasts to add to the list, or if any of the links are broken.

*Disclaimer: I’m a co-presenter of one of these, and have popped up on various of them. No favouritism is intended!

(Last updated: 9th May 2022)


The podcast of the IATEFL TDSIG (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language Teacher Development Special Interest Group). A mix of interviews and discussions.

20-50 minutes

ELTchat podcast

Produced until 2014, but content is still relevant. Conversations following on from #ELTchat Twitter chats. The website lists the content, but you’ll need to Google for links to the episodes as the JavaScript no longer works. For example, on Apple.

10-45 minutes


Lots of recent episodes (as I write this) have been connected to materials writing. Interview format

25-45 minutes

ESL talk

(Recommended by Tyson Seburn)

Each episode focuses on one main topic, with the podcast released in seasons. Discussion format

30-55 minutes

Expand Your Horizons

(Recommended by Stephanie Vogel)

Episodes are either interviews, or centred around practical tips. Summaries are available on their website

25-60 minutes

SLB Coop podcast

(Recommended by Peter Fenton)

Produced until 2017. Coursebooks, task-based language teaching, second-language acquisition, racism, precarity have all been covered

60-100 minutes

Sponge Chats

Wide-ranging conversations, often related to management and teacher training

45-65 minutes

Stand out in ELT! with Ola Kowalska

Here’s one that feels quite different. Ola talks about being a freelance teacher (ELTpreneur / teacherpreneur), discussing challenges, and providing lots of tips to make your teaching business as successful as it can be

30 minutes

Tea with BVP / Talkin L2 with BVP

(Recommended by Peter Fenton)

Produced until 2018. More academically focussed podcasts, looking at Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and language teaching

60 minutes

Teacher Talking Time

(Recommended by Peter Fenton)

A mix of interviews, and in-depth looks at specific topics in a conversational format

35-80 minutes

Teachers Talk Radio

(Recommended by Tyson Seburn)

Not just a podcast, but a whole talk radio station!

The TEFL Commute Podcast

‘A podcast for language teachers that isn’t about language teaching’

The team (including me) chat around various subjects, which may be more or less directly related to the classroom. There’s always an activity for your classroom at the end of the podcast, and sometimes others during the episode, depending on the topic.

20-60 minutes

Who’s Zooming Who? mini series, covering ideas for teaching online = 10-15 minutes

The TEFLology podcast

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.

40-60 minutes

Bonus extra: The TEFLology creators have published a book called Podcasting and Professional Development: A Guide for English Language Teachers [Amazon affiliate link] with the-round, which gives a useful introduction to creating your own podcasts.

TEFL Training Institute

‘The bite-sized TEFL podcast’, featuring a wide range of guests. Interviews and discussions, with full transcripts available on the site. I reviewed the podcast in 2017.

15-30 minutes

What on Earth is a noun phrase?

Interviews, each focussing on one aspect of teaching

15-25 minutes

ELLLO Teacher

4 episodes available, as of June 2022, from the English Listening Lesson Library Online team

20 minutes