Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order. 

Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.

Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)

Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.

Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.

Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.

Using ideas from one of these books about professional development

Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.

Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.

Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.

Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.

Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.

Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.

Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it.

CPD and a cup of tea: as run at IH Palermo, with teachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. :)

Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference

Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.

Exploiting materials: brainstorming as many ideas as you can based on particular materials through the use of post-it notes.

Abstract art on a classroom wall

Working through the maze of professional development (From ELTpics by Carmen Arias Blázquez, used under a CC 3.0 license)

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas or if you have any to add to the list. 



Xish learners…

…expect there to be a lot of grammar in the lesson.

…want you to present the grammar clearly.

…want you to focus on grammar.

…don’t want you to focus on grammar.

…want to do a lot of speaking in our classes because they didn’t get that at school.

…are used to red being used when they make mistakes (and are therefore scared of it)

…expect the teacher to know all of the answers.

…are coming to our school because they want a native speaker.

These thoughts have been swirling round in my head for a while. In every country I’ve lived in, I’ve been told variants of the sentences above about learners from that country, plus many other things besides which I can’t remember. It strikes me that these comments are much more universal than many people think. Or is it just me?

The following line is what prompted me to finally get these thoughts out:

“For Croatian learners the idea of the all-knowing, red-pen-wielding instructor is quite common.”

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for October 2015, focussing on planning lessons and courses. Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for October is a set of questions you can ask yourself after a lesson to help you reflect on what happened. Can you add any to the list?

Road in Utah, USA

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

The latest IH Journal is now available, featuring the Developing Teachers column by yours truly. This edition the topic is moving into management, posing a few questions to help you decide whether it’s time for you to take that step up the career ladder. There’s also another management-related post describing the experience of a first-time DoS at summer school by Paulina Melichova.

The journal features articles by IH staff from around the world, covering topics such as how to use graded readers in the primary classroom by Kylie Malinowska, an alternative way to approach coursebook reading texts from Alistair Grant, recycling vocabulary by Karl Emmet and teaching games by Mike Astbury. The contents page is here, and the whole journal is here. You can also read past issues of the journal.

IH Journal Issue 38



Thanks to the facebook function which shares your memories with you, it turns out that 17th October has been pretty significant in my teaching life, marking two big milestones and one smaller one.

On 17th October 2007 I began my part-time CELTA course at Durham University Language Centre. Eight years later and it’s taken me all over the world and given me a host of experiences I could never have imagined when I started. I now have the opportunity to pass that on to other teachers as a CELTA tutor myself and a Director of Studies working with a lot of newly-qualified teachers and helping them to take their first steps in this amazing career.

On 17th October 2010 I joined WordPress and began this blog. I started with a few posts I’d moved over from my first attempt at blogging on Google Sites, but didn’t really begin blogging in earnest until January 2011, when I was lost my voice for two weeks and couldn’t teach. At that point, I changed the theme of my blog to the one I use now and spent a while figuring out they layout – not much has changed since then! Comparing my very first posts to the ones I write now, blogging has really developed my writing style. I’ve written and spoken many times about the opportunities it’s brought me, so I won’t repeat them here!

On 17th October 2014 I began the CELTA course in San Diego, my second as a fully qualified tutor. Including that anniversary is just an excuse for sharing these photos again :)

San Diego

Returning to the classroom

On 23rd September 2015 I went back into the classroom properly for the first time in over a year, teaching my first class with a B1 intermediate teen group who will be my students for the whole academic year. As a CELTA trainer in 2014-2015, the only opportunities I’ve had to teach English have been in one-off demo lessons, which aren’t quite the same. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my teaching, seeing trainees do things I know I’ve often been guilty of, then offering advice about how to get over problems like over-complicated instructions and poorly timed lessons. Time to see if I could practise what I preached!

Anthony Schmidt started a blog challenge asking ‘What did you teach today?‘ Hana Tichá joined in and I decided to record my lesson so I could contribute too:

Out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students’ minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

  • Circle game: to learn each others’ names. There are nine students, four girls and five boys, aged 13-15. This took about 10 minutes.
  • Setting up routines: I told students that they should only have pens, paper and books with them, and bags and coats should go on the hooks on the wall. They had time to rearrange themselves. (Five lessons later I still need to remind a couple of them!)
  • Getting to know you: I demonstrated a triangle on the board with three pieces of information about me. In pairs, students had to guess why the information is important to me. Listening back I didn’t give them enough time to guess (less than a minute), so only stronger students contributed in the open class stage. A couple of the boys decided the triangle was an Illuminati symbol, added an eye, and have since put it on the whiteboard at the beginning of every lesson.
  • Students wrote their own triangle with information on it. They had plenty of time to do this.
  • Mingle: students had to find out about their classmates. Instructions have always been a problem for me, and although they have improved a lot, the way I set up this activity wasn’t completely clear. The instructions themselves were fine, but to make it completely clear I should have done a T-SS and a SS-SS demo first. I thought the demo I’d done with my information would be enough, but I didn’t factor in that students needed to make notes based on what they heard. I also didn’t specify before the activity that I wanted them to speak English only, so some of the boys were making it a race at the beginning and doing it in Polish. They had about ten minutes, but it could have been shorter if I’d been clearer.
  • Pair check: students tried to remember one thing about each person in the class. Here I had to remind them to expand on what they said, as some of them started with e.g. ‘Sandy – blue, M – cat’ instead of making full sentences.
  • Open class: I moved students into more of a circle to encourage them to speak to each other, not just to me (although in a relatively small, rectangular room this isn’t easy!) ‘Who can tell me something about A?’ A then nominated the next person who we found out about, and so on. This stage was quite relaxed and there was a lot of laughter, but it was also long and the pace dropped. Students had written their notes on scrap paper, so I got them to put them in the bin before moving on. I do like a tidy classroom :) )
  • K points: this is the school-wide points system used for teen classes. I introduced it to them, telling them what they needed to do to win points as a class, and what would mean losing points. Five of the students had the system last year, so I should probably have got them to explain it (especially because it’s new to me!) but I didn’t think about that until afterwards.
  • Break time: students have ten minutes to go to the club, a room at the bottom of the school with vending machines, tables and places to sit. The teacher goes with them, and if they behave well, they get K points on their return to class.

The second half of the lesson was based on a reading text from the coursebook. There are six classes at the school who are at the same level, and each week the teachers meet and plan together in a level meeting. I’m the level head, coordinating the meeting, but all of the teachers contribute to the plan. We work through the book during the year, but I aim to help the teachers adapt it to their students, as ages range from 12-16, and group sizes from 3-12. What follows is the plan we came up with together…


  • I showed students the image above. We have projectors and netbooks, but they were still being prepared when I did the lesson, so they were printed on a couple of A4 sheets in black and white. In pairs, students had to say what’s happening, who the people are and where they are. One student immediately said ‘capoiera’ to the whole class, which kind of stalled the conversation! I still got them to predict in pairs, then asked that student to fill in the gaps once they’d shared their ideas.
  • ‘Capoeira’ was drilled briefly as students would need to say it a few times during the lesson. I wasn’t bothered about spelling or being completely correct though, since it’s not a high-frequency word for this group.
  • Gist reading: students read the text and matched four titles to the four paragraphs.
  • Feedback: students checked in pairs, then I read the answers and they confirmed them. The whole feedback stage took less than a minute. From my monitoring while they read I knew most students had got it right already, but one student hadn’t.
  • Reading for detail: yes/no/not given task. I demonstrated it first, showing students they needed to underline the answer in the text and write the question number next to it. Students did this without a problem. Meanwhile I was monitoring, and checking answers from fast finishers. They became the teachers and checked specified students’ answers.
  • Feedback: We only focussed on question 6, as students had the rest of the answers. There was a problem with an item of vocab (‘slave’) which I should probably have pre-taught, but it came up in the following vocabulary task too, so I’d decided not to. Oops. I gave them an example and got them to look at the text again for number 6, making sure they all underlined the right sentence.
  • Vocab race: changed student groups so they were working in new threes. I read a definition, students had to find the word in the text, then one person from their team ran to the board to write it. The procedure for the task was clear, and I set up the room to make sure nobody would fall over anything, but I should have made the points system clearer, and drawn lines on the board to show where they should write – one group tried to fill the whole board so the others couldn’t write.
  • Written record: returning to their books, students remembered and wrote the words down. I rushed the set-up of this, and had to repeat my instructions.
  • Preparation for speaking: divided the board in half and elicited ‘martial arts’ and ‘dancing’, one in each half. Students worked in two groups to brainstorm as many of each as they could, then switched to add to the other list. I was prompting students for extra ideas when they ran out, and eliciting corrections of spellings if things weren’t clear. There was a lot of Polish at this stage – I should have offered K points before the task to encourage them to speak English, and perhaps fed in some functional language, like ‘Can you think of anything else?’
  • Speaking: students worked in new pairs (trying to divide up the boys who can be a bit crazy when they work together, and encourage the quieter girls to speak up) to discuss if they’d tried/would like to try any of the dancing/martial arts. To add some challenge, I asked them to see which pair could speak for the longest. They repeated it with a second partner. I could have done a bit of feedback in between the two tasks to make the repetition more useful, but hadn’t come up with anything to tell them! I was taking notes about their confidence when speaking, and some info about what they’d tried/liked.
  • Feedback on content: one student shared their experience of martial arts, and one of dance. Other students were interested in what they had to say, and only those who wanted to contributed – I didn’t force everyone to share something.
  • Setting up homework: students looked at the list of dances and said which three they thought I’d tried. I told them a little about my experiences of dancing, and what I do to keep fit. Their homework was to write 50-100 words about what they do to keep fit – I made sure they wrote it down, and reminded them that if everyone had their homework in the next lesson, they’d get K points.


I’m much happier with my lesson pacing now, particularly at feedback stages. They often used to drag, but now I have a range of techniques to call on, and feel like they’re much more appropriate to the stages of the lesson. My monitoring has improved too, which also contributes to making feedback more efficient and useful.

Although my activity set-up has improved a lot, and I’ve drastically reduced the amount of waffling I do, I still need to remember to demonstrate activities clearly before setting students off on them. Since this first lesson, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do that (I had lesson six on Friday) by writing it on my plan – I don’t always remember to do that though.

I sit down a lot more in my lessons now, and that’s made a real difference to the dynamic in the room. I feel like the atmosphere was quite relaxed and comfortable throughout, but that I could still be authoritative when necessary.

I was a bit worried about teaching teens as they haven’t been my favourite age group in the past – I normally prefer adults. However, with the K points system, I feel like I finally have the classroom management technique that was missing from my previous attempts, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of keeping lessons interesting and motivating for the group through the year, and helping the other teachers in our level meeting to do the same. Five lessons later, I feel like I’m getting to know the group well, and am enjoying the lessons a lot more than I expected too. I just hope they are too!

Peace Boat (guest post)

I met Amy Blanchard when I was working in Palma, Majorca, in May this year. She told me about a fascinating project called ‘Peace Boat’ and I asked her to write a guest post to share it more widely. This is the result:

Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.

Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that we visit. 

Peace Boat ship

When I found out Peace Boat hire volunteer English and Spanish teachers for their round-the-world voyages, I obviously saw it as a wonderful opportunity to travel the world. The role is unpaid but your bed and board provided for, and although you work nearly every day when the boat is at sea, days in port are free.

You perfect the skill of exploring a place in a short amount of time, free of the typical hassles of arriving in a new place such as finding somewhere to stay and lugging around your backpack. With some decent planning, it’s amazing how much you can see in just one day. Moving on quickly allows you to see the bigger picture; the similarities and differences between places as you slowly travel (in my case) from east to west. It’s a really unique way of seeing the world. What I hadn’t appreciated is that it’s also an incredible teaching job.

70th Peace Boat route map

Working as a volunteer teacher on the GET (Global English/Español Training) programme you really feel part of a team (on my voyage; 3 co-ordinators, 10 English teachers, 2 Spanish teachers) setting up an on-board school. You are involved in every step of the process. The participants complete a level test prior to arrival but oral tests/interviews are done on board by the teachers. As a group, the teachers and co-ordinators look at the results as well as the profiles of the participants and work together to arrange them into classes, with a maximum class size of seven students.

Each teacher has two classes of the same (or very similar) level, which helps reduce planning. There are no text books. There is no syllabus. The teacher has complete freedom. At the time, having only had one teaching job, I didn’t appreciate how wonderful this was. Now, post-Delta, with years of being forced to teach from awful and irrelevant textbooks I realise (for me, personally) this is the holy grail of teaching. We had access to a wealth of resources on board, including lessons from previous voyages and information on the various ports that we would visit on the journey. This was the main resource I drew on for my classes.

T-shirt from the 70th Peace Boat voyage

Before arriving in Singapore, we used maps of the Singapore metro and the city to ask for and follow directions. When my students expressed excitement about Indian markets, we had lessons on money and haggling before spending the day in Kochin, India. The students were motivated by how useful and relevant the lessons were, and it was so satisfying to see them in the following classes, bringing things that they’d bought in the markets and explaining how much they paid for them. For longer periods at sea (ten days crossing the Atlantic; fourteen across the Pacific) we focused on communicating with the crew on the boat. This helped foster relations on board and even helped solve some miscommunication problems between one student and the person who cleaned her room.

What began as a way of seeing the world ended as my most positive teaching experience. It was Peace Boat that made me fall in love with teaching again, when I was on the cusp of giving it up. I made some amazing friends and some amazing memories (teaching and playing Twister in a hurricane, attending a lecture with Fidel Castro and dancing under the stars in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to name but a few).

GET, Peace Boat’s language training programme, is now accepting applications for English and Spanish language instructors for the 91st global voyage departing Japan on April 12, 2016 and returning to Japan on July 27, 2016.


Amy was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan before moving to Andalucía, Spain to work for International House Huelva. She is now an English teacher and CELTA tutor in Majorca.

Hobby circles

I came up with this activity for our getting to know you session during induction week at IH Bydgoszcz this year, so I’ve only used it with teachers, not students. I’d be interested to know how it works with real classes! I was inspired to create it by seeing the list of hobbies on our new teachers’ CVs, and I realised that it can take a while to discover which free time activities we have in common. I hope this can prove something of a shortcut. Thanks to Lizzie Pinard for helping me to figure out how to run the activity.

  1. Students draw three circles on a piece of paper.
    Three circles
  2. In each circle, they write one of their hobbies.
    Three hobbies in circles
  3. The teacher introduces and drills functional language appropriate to the level.
    For example, at lower levels you might introduce:
    “I love _____. Do you?”
    “Me too.” / “Not really. I prefer ______”
    Or at higher levels:
    “Would you be interested in _________?”
    “I’d love to.” / “I’m not really into that. I’d rather _______”
  4. Demonstrate the activity with teacher-student, then student-student in open class.
    The teacher says “I love hiking. Do you?”
    If the student says, “Me too”, the teacher writes their name in the circle and asks another question to find out more, noting that information too. For example “Where do you go hiking?”
    Student name in circle if me too
    If the student says, “Not really. I prefer going to the cinema.”, the teacher writes their name and the hobby outside the circles, and again asks one more question to find out more.
    Student name outside if not really
  5. Students mingle and speak to as many people as possible to find out about their hobbies.
  6. Students sit with a partner and share what they learnt. They could also say if there are any hobbies they’d like to try or find out more about. Again, functional language could be introduced here to help students discuss their answers more easily, especially at lower levels: “I love hiking, and so do Maria and Ahmed.” “Stefan likes reading science fiction and he said Terry Pratchett is really good, so maybe I’ll read one of his books.”
  7. Possible open class feedback options would be: “Put your hand up if you found somebody with the same hobby as you.” and/or “Who has the most interesting hobby?”


Tekhnologic took this idea and ran with it, creating video diagrams showing how to set it up and introducing a Venn version which I think is an improvement on the original!

InnovateELT conference confirmed speakers: Ben Goldstein, Chia Suan Chong, Jamie Keddie and Sandy Millin

It is a huge honour for me to announce that I have been invited to speak at the second InnovateELT conference, which takes place in Barcelona on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May 2016. It’s organised jointly by OxfordTEFL and ELTjam. It will be the first time I’ve been an invited speaker at a conference, and it’s incredibly flattering to see my name up there with Ben, Chia and Jamie, who are all people I look up to and have learnt a lot from.

The conference itself is something quite different from other ELT conferences, which is another reason I’m excited to take part. Ceri Jones wrote about a live class she taught with students during the first conference – one of the features of InnovateELT is the involvement of students, not just teachers, in the whole experience. Another idea is ‘mini plenaries’, just 10 minutes long (here’s Scott Thornbury’s rehearsal for his 2015 plenary). Topics covered also ranged into more unusual areas than standard conferences, including mental health and social inclusion in ELT and English for the Zombie Apocalypse. You can get an idea of the general atmosphere at last year’s conference by watching this video and find out all of the talks which were included by visiting the ELTjam website.

The theme for the 2016 conference is ‘Grassroots: Power to the teacher!’ If you want to get involved, you can find out more via the iELT 2016 website or the Eventbrite listing. Early bird tickets are available until 30th November 2015.

The call for papers has also gone out, with the following options:

  1. 60-minute session with learners
    These sessions will involve you teaching a class of 6–10 Spanish-speaking, B1/B2-level learners observed by delegates. The session should include opportunities for feedback and discussion of the lesson. The room will have an Internet connection and a projector. The students should be included in the feedback sections, which can be in groups or plenary or a combination.
  2. 30-minute workshop/talk
    These sessions will be in rooms with Internet connection and a projector.
  3. 10-minute plenary
    These will take place in the garden. You will have a microphone but no other technical aids. We are requesting submissions from people within and outside the ELT community.
  4. 5-minute pitch
    These will take place in front of a panel of experts from the world of publishing, EdTech and business. If you have a great idea, this is the time to pitch it. All pitches will receive 5 minutes of feedback from the panel.

You have until 1st December 2016 to submit your talk, and you get free entry to the conference if you are accepted for type 1, 2 or 3.

Finally, you can follow all of the announcements related to the conference via Twitter and facebook.

I hope to see some of you there!

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for September 2015, some of which are to celebrate World Teaching Day, and anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

My contribution for September includes some of the highlights of my teaching life – a random collection of moments showing how I’ve evolved as a teacher.

Road in Utah, USA

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

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