Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

Two months in Thailand

Since I arrived in Thailand at the end of January I’ve learnt a lot about this fascinating country. Now that I’m leaving, I thought I’d share some of the highlights, and a couple of the downs too. (I wrote this at the airport and added photos later, so apologies for the mix of tenses!)

Slash and burn agriculture is alive and well

Throughout February the skies were clear, with not a drop of rain. The weather was beautiful. On the 1st March, the smog appeared, and stayed for the next three weeks or so, making breathing much harder and meaning I wore a face mask for the first time in my life. Visibility was sometimes only a few hundred metres. I was told it’s from the crop burning which takes place to ready the fields for the following year’s rice to be planted.

Disappearing mountain

Disappearing mountain

Road safety is optional

There are often no seatbelts in the back of cars, and although it says that helmets are obligatory on motorbikes, many people don’t wear them. You regularly see people riding along with the helmet hanging off the handlebars where it will be really useful if anything happens to them! Apparently Thailand has one of the worst road safety records in the world :( Having said that, I saw fewer accidents there than I did in Sevastopol.

U-turn

That’s it for the downs…

Scooters and motorbikes are the way to go

Going to a shopping centre or supermarket, you will always find a huge car park full of motorbikes and scooters. As in stereotypes of Asia, you see whole families on a single bike, or they’re piled high with things to sell. There are also all kinds of variants on the bikes, my favourite of which are the food carts which you see everywhere, woth a kind of sidecar on them which doubles as a stall. With the good weather, it’s a great form of transport. I have no idea what it’s like in the rain as it’s only rained three times while I’ve been here, all in the same week!

Scooters at Central Airport Plaza

It feels very safe

People don’t seem to worry about having things stolen and will, for example, leave their helmets on their bikes in car parks. I’ve always felt safe while I’ve been in Thailand, even at night by myself. Cycling along rural roads between the rice paddies was one of my greatest pleasures despite what I said about road safety above (that mostly applies to main roads) The fact that this was how I commuted to work was wonderful – such a peaceful way to start and end the day :)

Part of my walk to work

There’s no point cooking unless you have to

You can buy good quality, cheap food everywhere without a problem. My favourite restaurant in Chiang Mai was Taste from Heaven, a vegetarian restaurant near the Thapae Gate. They made me pumpkin, carrot and potato in coconut milk, served with white rice. Delicious!

Meal from Taste from Heaven

Wats are infinite in their variety

One of my favourite things to do in Thailand is exploring and wandering in to every wat I come across. Each one is unique, whether it’s the style of the paintings on the walls, the kind of statuary in the grounds, the location, the materials it’s made of, or the architectural style. Here’s just a selection of some of my photos (click on the collages to see them in more detail).

Wats

Wats

Wats

Wats

Wats

Wats

Thai massage deserves its reputation

Whether it’s an hour of relaxation with an oil massage, or getting rid of all of the knots with a traditional Thai massage, it’s definitely worth it! If you’re in Chiang Mai, I’d recommend Mandara – beautiful surroundings and a little off the beaten track, but still close to the Thapae Gate, so very easy to get to.

Chiang Mai night markets are bad for your purse

There are so many beautiful hand-made items for sale, it was impossible not to buy something every time I went. Most of the things I bought had elephants on them! :) It’s probably a good job I left when I did…

Purchases from the night market, all with elephants!

The Royal Family

Their pictures are everywhere. The National Anthem is played before every film at the cinema, and it’s also played at 8am and 6pm on loudspeakers in public places and government buildings, like the Walking Street in Chiang Mai and the visa office. When it’s on, everyone stops what they are doing and stands still as a sign of respect.

Shrine to the King and Queen in a wat

Thais know how to dress

There were so many beautiful clothes on show all the time. Every Friday in the north (as far as I know) schools have a day where everyone wears traditional clothes, so you got to see all of the Lanna and other tribal patterns every week. The Chiang Mai Flower Festival in February was a particularly great example of this, with some amazing costumes.

Amazing costume at the Chiang Mai flower festival (woman in flowery dress with a hand-painted cream parasol with pink flowers)

A tale of two cities

Bangkok is incredibly hectic, and a lot more built up than I was expecting. There are skyscrapers all over the place, and more shopping centres than you can shake a stick at, including CentralWorld, which is one of the largest in the world. I was also surprised at how easy it was to get hold of international products in Chiang Mai. Whatever you want, you can get. I can see why people come here and never leave!

Elephant Tower, Bangkok

Elephant Tower, Bangkok

I had a really good time in Thailand, and I’m sorry that I’ve ended up leaving earlier than planned. I’ve got an itinerary for a two-week holiday travelling around the country which I won’t get to use on this trip, so I hope I’ll be back one day!

The Materials Writing Special Interest Group is the newest IATEFL SIG, and very active. They have a blog, a facebook page, and a Twitter account.

MaWSIG logo

Each SIG has a pre-conference event (PCE) with a specific theme. The MaWSIG theme this year was The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit and featured a whole range of speakers with huge amounts of experience between them. I’ve done a little materials writing myself, and thought this would be a very useful way to find out more about how to develop in this area, even if none of my materials end up being published. I’m very happy I chose to go to this PCE as it turned out to be incredibly useful, with lots of tips that I can start using straight away, and hopefully build on if and when I get more writing work.

How to write multiple-choice activities – Sue Kay

This was a very practical way to start the day. Sue offered us these tips:

  • Keep options of a similar length and style, preferably short and avoiding linkers – students should be spending time processing the text, not the question;
  • Keep distractors plausible – avoid humorous or silly options because they’re obviously wrong;
  • Don’t have any obviously incorrect answers;
  • Avoid any overlap between options;
  • Make sure questions can’t be answered using world knowledge or common sense;
  • If using an unfinished sentence as the stem, divide it in a logical place (e.g. not in the middle of a fixed expression).

Sue also advises writing the text and the multiple-choice items at the same time whenever possible, unless you have a text which you’re required to base your items on. It’s much more natural than writing the text first, then trying to shoehorn distractors in.

When writing distractors, here are a few techniques you can use:

  • Change the period of time using phrases like I used to…but now I… or Normally…but this time…
  • Compare the desire/hope/intention of the speaker to what actually happened: We planned to…, We thought about…
  • Use unreal past in conditionals or after ‘wish': If the boss had given me a raise, I’d have stayed.
  • Use negatives or near negatives, especially less common ones: It’s not as if we’re desperate for a car park. or It’s hardly my idea of fun.

To find out more, Sue recommended two ELT Teacher2Writer books: How to Write Reading and Listening Activities by Caroline Krantz and How to Write Exam Practice Materials by Roy Norris.

The role of the image in materials design – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

Ben and Ceri shared lots of image banks and showed how the same search of ‘beach’ can yield very different results depending on where you search and the filters you use. Panos seemed particularly interesting. It’s a collection of photojournalism, often accompanied by short texts. Even if you don’t end up using the images themselves, they can provide inspiration for your writing as they are a lot more generative than stock photos. Other image banks are:

Unsplash is a Creative Commons image bank where you can use the images for any purpose, including commercial. They share 10 free images a week. Another option is Death to the Stock Photo. For non-commercial use, there is of course ELTpics, and there are lots of ideas for how to use those images on the Take A Photo And… blog.

On Alamy you can set filters to look for certain kinds of image. For example, if you choose ‘square’ you’ll end up with Instagam influenced shots. As a materials writer, you may have to write an artwork brief to tell publishers what to put with your materials. By experimenting with filters, and telling publishers what you DON’T want, the image is much more likely to be what you’re looking for. Don’t get your heart set an image though, and remember that there is a budget.

Other tips for writing an artwork brief:

  • Consider including sample images you’ve sourced – this can be clearer than describing the image;
  • Explain how the image will be work/be used in the materials, not just what it looks like;
  • If you know what you want, but can’t find an example, describe it in as much detail as you can to make it more likely that the final result is what you envisaged.

We may also need to move away from the traditional image and consider modern types of image such as the selfie, infographics, dronies (new to me!), panodash, Dear Photograph, Draw My Life, memes and kinetic typography. With these, they may be hard to sell to publishers, and they may go out of fashion. To stay up-to-date with images, try these ideas:

  • look out for images being used in adverts, etc;
  • subscribe to adweek for the top 5 commercials every week;
  • follow accounts like @nytimesphoto on Twitter;
  • subscribe to Unsplash for weekly emails with taster images;
  • [my addition: download the Guardian app for images from Eyewitness]

Images have four roles in materials:

  • scene-setting
  • illustrative
  • decorative
  • driving force

When choosing your image, consider which role it will play and choose accordingly. For example, CAE images tend to be mid-shot (rather than close up) so you can see the surroundings too.

Find out more at Ben Goldstein’s blog and Ceri Jones’ blog.

A technological toolkit for Materials Writers – Nick Tims

I learnt  a lot of useful tips here!

  • Use multiple monitors so you don’t have to flick between screens too much. (I’m doing this for the first time as a I finish this blogpost!)
  • Get browser extensions to save you time and reduce clicks.
  • Link shorteners (like bit.ly) make huge links to Google Images (for those artwork briefs!) much more manageable.
  • Use ‘Grab’ for Mac or ‘Snipping tool’ on Windows to take partial screen shots instead of copying and pasting things into Paint or other cropping tools.
  • Create custom search engines in Chrome. Go to any site with a search box, right click the search box, add as search engine, create a keyword and you can use that search that site directly from the address bar. It took me about 10 seconds when I just tried it – amazing!
  • Use Evernote to archive texts you find for future materials writing. It appears in Google searches you do later too. (I use diigo which does something similar, although Evernote is more elegant and has a much better app)
  • Macros are ways of using one click to do a series of actions. You can download a whole set of macros from Teacher’s Pet to do things like automatically create matching activites, making activity and worksheet creation much faster. This got a round of applause and a collective gasp from the audience! (Unfortunately there are only versions for Microsoft for Windows and Open Office, but no Mac version – it’s a work in progress according the developer.)
  • StayFocusd is a browser extension you can use to limit the time you spend on particular sites in a single day. Don’t be over-enthusiatic though, because you really can’t get round it!
  • The Pomodoro technique can make you manage distractions. It involves 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of ‘reward’. That’s also good for getting you to move around. You can download browser extensions to help you with the timing.
  • RescueTime sends you a report at the end of each week telling you how much time you spent on useful/distracting websites. Can be a bit depressing, and Nick says he never gets more than 70% productivity ;)

Nick says that you need to experiment with these tools, and you may need to ‘kiss a few frogs’ in the process of finding what works for you.

Writing ELT audio and video scripts – John Hughes

John showed us ways of improving our scripts to make them more interesting and add a little drama to them.

To add authenticity, you can record people in real situations. Interesting bits of language come up in this way that you might never consider if you are trying to write things yourself. However, this can be time consuming: from half a day of recording, John only got five minutes of usable audio.

You can also add features such as fillers, false starts, contracted forms, slang and more. This may depend on the publisher and the purpose of the materials (developing language or developing listening skills?), as some markets are resistant to this and prefer the more ‘polished’ nature of traditonal coursebook audio. One audience member mentioned the difference between spoken and written grammar, and there was some discussion of the fact that spoken grammar has only recently started to appear in published materials.

Target language needs to be balanced with incidental language.

Increase the amount of turn-taking to make audio more manageable for students, particularly at lower levels.

Stick to a limited number of speakers, and differentiate them through accent, gender and use of names to help SS follow the turn-taking.

Video helps you to show context, whereas you need to set up the situation more clearly if you’re writing an audio script. With video, don’t state the obvious. Show, don’t tell.

To add drama to your scripts, we can learn from Kurt Vonnegut. He said that in a good story you need to have a clear central character who wants something. You can then add drama by applying the ‘try it three times’ rule. The first two times the character fails to get what they want, but on the third attempt they succeed. This can give you more opportunities to showcase the target language, and in a more natural way than a short two or three line dialogue might. It also gives you the opportunity to add characterisation.

The final idea was to video the same scene twice, once running smoothly, and the second with the ‘try it three times’ rule. Students can watch both and compare the difference.

John has many ideas for writing materials on his blog, and has written a book about writing audio and video scripts for ELT Teacher2Writer.

Writing ELT activites for authentic video and film – Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher

Kieran is the man behind the very successful Film English website on which the majority of the videos have little or no dialogue. He’s particularly interested in exploiting images used in film. Anna is an ELT film-maker, and her opening quote was that there is an increased demand for authors who can write for video, film-makers and script-writers, so this is definitely an area to develop your skills in if you want to get into materials writing. Together they’ve written a book for ELT Teacher2Writer including many more ideas than those below.

Videos need to be consciously integrated into course material, rather than used as an add-on or as glorified listening comprehension. It particularly needs to match the topic, with a language fit as secondary. To aid comprehension, follow these guidelines:

  • Use dialogue which is clearly enunciated and not too fast.
  • Include a high degree of visual support.
  • Ensure the soundtrack is not too loud or distracting.
  • Have only one person or character speaking at a time.
  • Include supporting, titles, subtitles or graphics.
  • Reduce the number of dialects and/or strong regional accents.
  • Use a slow, clear voiceover or narration.

Keep videos to 2-5 minutes to hold the attention, and make repeat viewings easier to fit in. Try to use different activities for each viewing. When choosing a video, consider the relevance and interest of the topic, the cultural backgrounds of your students, and their experience of the world. You can also ask your students about the kinds of videos they enjoy watching. Vimeo Staff Picks, Future Shorts, BBC Earth and National Geographic are good places to look for videos.

Once you’ve chosen one, follow a three-step approach to exploit it. Editors often recommend the structure and/or the kind of activities they would like you to use, and you should ask if they don’t.

  1. Pre-viewing
    e.g. Look at the stills and have a discussion/complete the sentences with the missing words. (could be used to pre-teach vocabulary)
    Match collocations.
    Complete a summary/review.
  2. While viewing
    Don’t overload the students at this stage – stick to short answer tasks like true/false or ‘Number the sentences in the order you hear them’. The answers should be from the video, not from their knowledge of the world. Ask questions in the same order as they are in the video, and spread them evenly throughout.
  3. Post viewing
    Draw out the key concepts of the video in some way, for example through a discussion or a longer project. Students could also make their own version of the video or a follow-up to it.

Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers – Julie Moore

Julie started by telling us that she can’t imagine writing materials without a corpus, and once she told us the range of things she uses it for, I’m not surprised!

  • Ask questions like ‘How do we use…?’ ‘Do we say…?’ ‘Which is the most common…?’ ‘What’s the difference between…?’
  • Find natural examples.
  • Get inspiration for the context you introduce language in.
  • Search for collocations. Once you’ve found that a collocate exists, click through to read examples.
  • Expand the range of words which you collocate with a key word.
  • Check your intuitions.
  • Find phrases and chunks of language.
  • Do a ‘context search’ to find words around the key word, accounting for variable collocations or ones which might have other words in the middle of them.
  • Examine British/American/global English variations.

Corpora can’t do everything though. They’re not good for:

  • Searching for language features that don’t involve specific language chunks, e.g. present continuous to talk about the future.
  • Getting longer stretches of complete texts – these are still subject to copyright. This also makes it difficult to use corpus examples for things like discourse markers which require longer texts.

SketchEngine is a good tool for searching within corpora. Know your corpus! Think about British v. American English, the kind of texts used to build the corpus (e.g. newspapers, stories, academic journals…), spoken v. written language, expert v. student writers… Choose a corpus based on the text types your students will have to produce. Here are some ways you can access a corpus:

Ways of accessing a corpus

Other useful tools you can use to analyse language are Vocab Kitchen (breaks down the language in a text by level), Google NGram Viewer (showing changes in language use over time) and the Macmillan Online Dictionary. Dictionaries with CD-ROMs in them are particularly useful because of the advanced search tools which are often available on them. Julie has put more information about using these tools on her blog.

Finally, don’t accept everything the corpus tells you blindly. If it looks like a strange result, question it. Go deeper by clicking on the results to see the longer text, and look carefully at where the examples are taken from.

Tailor-making materials from an ESP perspective – Evan Frendo

Evan works mainly in the corporate sector, and has spent many years developing materials specific to his clients.

Corporate culture can influence the materials you make as you need to fit them into the training culture of the organisation. The needs of the business take priority over the needs of the individual students, and the focus is more on training than education. Materials tend to have a short shelf-life and may need to be frequently updated depending on the market. When creating tailor-made materials, you don’t need to worry so much about PARSNIPs (the topics which are often avoided in more commercial materials) providing the people you are creating the materials for are happy for them to be included. However, sometimes even in ESP they can cause problems. Evan was asked to use the longer term not the shorter term in some materials for oil workers (see photo below), even though ‘pig’ is a very generative term and is in common usage across the industry, including in the Middle East: Have you pigged the pipeline? Is the pipeline piggable?

When designing your own materials in these situations, you need to find the gap between ‘where they are now’ and ‘where they need to be’, then create materials to move the students from the first point to(wards) the second. This involves in-depth needs analysis which can be done through:

  • Analysing real texts that the students will need to be able to read/write. Tools like WordSmith can be useful here.
  • Finding out about the specific terminology students need, and what they are aware of already. Many of these may be well above their ‘level’ if they were in a traditional EFL environment.
  • Interviews with various stakeholders, not just the students and their managers.
  • Recordings (e.g. of meetings, telephone conversations).
  • Field notes (e.g. a day in the life of…, collected by shadowing somebody using the target language/doing the target job).

The materials you put together need to reflect the target discourse, which is why such in-depth research is vital. It shouldn’t be about what we as outsiders perceive to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather what is required within the organisation/industry you are creating the materials for. Genre is a key focus, including how to handle different/international understandings of those genres. For example, presentations may be done differently in different cultures, and there may be varying requirements for the amount of information included on slides depending on what they will be used for after the presentation. Use experts to tell you what counts as “successful communication”.

Communication style can be as important, if not more so, as lexis and grammar. Many learners don’t care about accuracy in the traditional sense, they care about meaning. They are often not aiming or a native speaker model, with English as a Lingua Franca becoming instead.

Ultimately, the materials you create must be evidence-led, not intuition-led.

Adventures in self-publishing – Christien Lee

What should you self-publish?

Something which fills a gap in the market, has good sales potential and where there is limited competition. Do your research! Christien decided to publish a print self-study guide for an English test in Canada, with an online component.

Print or e-book?

What are your audience likely to respond better to? Print can be considered more trustworthy, and for some people they prefer it because they’re more familiar with it. It can reduce the ease of pirate copies being distributed. Cost is also a factor here, as you need to spend more money up-front if you choose print.

Why self-publish?

Traditional publishers offer more cachet, better production values, no up-front costs, and you should get either commission or royalties. However, there is no guarantee of publication, it takes a long time to get products to market, you get less money and there is a delay in payment. Sales might also be quite low depending on how much the publishers choose to promote it.

Self-publishing means guaranteed publication, a short publication process and returns of up to 70% of sales. The disadvantages of it are that there is no guarantee of a return on your investment, and you may lose money due to upfront costs. There is also more work pre- and post-publication if you choose to self-publish.

How do you go about it?

You can use crowdsourcing, freelancers, friendsourcing (my favourite new word of the day!) or go it completely alone. The latter option is difficult as you need to deal with editing, layout, audio (maybe) and many other options, so it’s a good idea to look for specialists to avoid too much work for you. VoiceBunny is a tool you can use for audio: post a project on the site, and people can audition to be allowed to record for it.

Where should you publish it?

Amazon has a system called CreateSpace which is a print-on-demand service. You could also use book distribution systems like Draft2Digital, Lulu or Smashwords. Wayzgoose Press is a publisher which is somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. The Round is specifically aimed at ELT authors looking to publish something a little different from what traditional publishers offer.

Ensuring quality

Christien was putting together a test preparation book. When putting together something like this, it’s particularly important to provide a quality product. Questions need to match the original test for length, genre, register, topic, difficulty, distractor patterns and more. Here are some tools you can use to check that your material is at the right level:

Developing online content

If you decide to create online content to accompany your book, WordPress with premium options is a good choice as you can get features like a login-only area and a shopping cart. Articulate is a versatile tool for creating professional-looking online courses. Christien described it as ‘like PowerPoint on steroids’!

Problems with self-publishing

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, money and work involved in self-publishing. Be prepared for everything to take longer than you expect!

Other summaries of the day

Lizzie Pinard wrote four blogposts covering two talks in each:

Olga Sergeeva has summarised the whole day in one post.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus writes beautiful SketchNotes of the talks she goes to, and the MaWSIG PCE was no different:

Finally, if you want to follow the day as it unfolded, Sophie O’Rourke, part of the MaWSIG team, put together a Storify with tweets from the whole event.

In this presentation I spoke about writing journals with students in a variety of different contexts, including both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I also talked about my own experience of using a journlal for my Russian learning.

I find journal writing to be a very rewarding process for the students, and I learnt a lot from going through the process myself, including improving my spelling, increasing my vocabulary, and learning more about my teacher. As a teacher, reading my students’ journals was a great way to learn more about them, including their needs as language learners. I’d highly recommend trying it out. 

Here are the slides, including information about what exactly I mean by journal writing and tips on how to set it up. All of the links in the slides are clickable.

There is no commentary on the slides as there is a recorded version of the same talk available from the TOBELTA online conference from August 2014, which you can read more about and watch via this link.

At the start of my presentation

(thanks to David Petrie for taking the photo)

Follow IATEFL 2015

I’m about to leave for the IATEFL 2015 conference in Manchester, where I’ll be going to the Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event today, The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit. If I can connect to the wifi, I should be tweeting throughout on the #IATEFL hashtag on Twitter. You can also follow the online coverage, including some live-streamed and recorded sessions (not mine), and interviews throughout the conference:

IATEFL online Manchester 2015

I’m hoping to publish a summary at the end of each day, but that will depend on how motivated I’m feeling and how tired I am ;) There will inevitably be a plethora of blog posts from lots of people throughout the conference. After it’s finished, I’ll tidy up my posts and add links so you can find them. I hope to see some of you there, and if you’re not, to be able to share as much of this experience with you as possible!

TEFL.net Site Award

I’m very pleased to announce that my blog has been awarded a TEFL.net Site Award as site of the month. Thank you very much, and thank you to Tara Benwell for letting me know! The TEFL.net awards are a wonderful way to find out about a wide range of different resources covering many different areas of teaching, from teacher training to resources you can use in your computer lab.

TEFL site of the month

Out of the window

A very simple activity, which works very well as a filler, as revision, or as the prompt for a whole lesson. All you need is a window with something going on outside.

The view from our classroom

The view from our classroom at IH Sevastopol

Ask the students to look out of the window and tell each other/you what they can see. With my elementary students I encouraged them to use a few structures they’d recently studied:

  • There is/are…
  • Present continuous
  • NOT: I can see… I can see… I can see… (which is what they started with!)

Feed in any vocabulary and structures that they might need, and make a note of them on the board. The students should focus on speaking as much as possible for now, rather than note-taking. Give them time and space to think of ideas – it took my students time to warm up, but then they came up with lots of ideas.

When they’ve run out of steam (after about ten minutes for my group of four elementary students), let the students make notes based on what you put on the board, as well as ask more questions about language.

I repeated the activity a week later, and the students managed to remember about half of the new vocabulary they’d used the first time, as well as adding adjectives and more description without any prompting from me at all. They had resorted to ‘I can see…’ again, but after a reminder from me started to use ‘There is/are…’ and present continuous again.

I’ve read many times about this kind of activity, but this is the first time I’d used it, and it definitely won’t be the last!

[I wrote this post nearly a year ago, but never pressed publish. Better late than never!]

This month the iTDi (International Teacher Development Association) blog was all about ‘Outside Influences‘, or the people outside education who have shaped our teaching. Many bloggers have added their own posts to this, include Vicky Loras and Anne Hendler. They have inspired me to write about the women in my family, all of whom have had a big influence on the person I’ve become.

My dad’s mum

When my dad was four and his brother was two, my granddad had a stroke which affected his language and movement, and meant he couldn’t work again. If I remember the story correctly, he was sitting opposite my grandma on the train on the way to a holiday in Cornwall when it happened. This was in 1964.

Thanks in large part to my grandma’s care, he lived until 1999 and I was lucky enough to know him. She made him persevere to communicate clearly with her because she wouldn’t respond until he’d made himself understood. She supported him, brought up two children, and worked to bring in money for the family (although I’m not sure exactly how these three things fitted together, and I can’t ask her about it any more).

When I knew granddad, he could look after himself and contribute to the house and garden, but he needed a stick to get around at home, and a wheelchair outside. Grandma and granddad looked after my brother and I for a couple of weeks each summer and took us on day trips to various places. I have lots of happy memories of those times, and that typical childhood haze of blue skies and long summer days :)

Grandma’s strength of will was amazing, and she never let anything get in her way. She never left the UK, but loved hearing about my travels. I used to take her to various places around the UK too. One of the reasons I got into the habit of taking so many photos was to share them with her.

Grandma at Hadrian's Wall

Grandma at Hadrian’s Wall

My mum’s mum

My granddad was in the Merchant Navy, meaning he was away for long stretches of time. Grandma stayed at home to look after the family. At one point, she had four children under the age of five and was effectively a single mum when grandy was away. Money was never easy: she made clothes for the family and learnt to be a great cook, with nothing ever wasted. Nobody ever did without.

My brother and I also stayed with them every summer, and my memories from their house are no less happy than with my dad’s parents. They used to live in a huge Victorian house with a magical garden that has unfortunately now been divided up into three properties. They helped us to explore England and Wales, and encouraged us to be inquisitive and ask questions about the world.

Now grandma helps us to keep our extended family together. If I can have a family as strong as the one my grandma has built, I will be a very happy person. Both of my grandmas taught me to appreciate what I have, to avoid waste and to realize how lucky I am.

My aunt

At the age of two, my aunt was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Inevitably this has had a huge effect on her life, and it has had other knock-on effects with her health too. I’ve watched her go through hip replacements and a cataract operation, and carry on regardless, with a positive attitude to life. Watching her has helped me with my own health problems, because I know that they don’t have to stop me from doing what I want to with my life. She was also part of the inspiration for making me and other members of my family start to exercise more when she began doing walking challenges. This was the beginning of my weight loss and general move towards being a healthier person. 

I’ve also been influenced by the way my aunt managed to stay in touch with so many of her friends in pre-internet days, through meeting them regularly and making a real effort. I think this is so important, and I’m lucky that I have it easier with facebook, email and Skype. Finally, she inspired me to learn to play cards, and I’ve enjoyed teaching her kids to play many card games in return.

My mum

Mum is another very strong, very independent woman. She built a career in librarianship, moving on to high levels of management within the UK council system. I’ve watched and learnt from her about many aspects of management and communication, and we’ve often discussed her work in ways that I hope will be useful to me as I move into management myself. When I was young, she used to help my dad with his pet shop too, working at the library during the week and the shop at weekends. Time management was key, and I’ve inherited this from her (I hope!)

My parents split up when I was 12, and although this was obviously not an easy process, watching mum get through it and continue to look after my brother and I has also shown me what it means to be strong. Mum has been so supportive of me and my brother throughout our lives. She has never told me what to do with my life, or complained about any of my choices. We’ve always been told that as long as we’re happy, she’s happy. I know other people who are badgered about when they will get married, or have children, or why they choose to live so far away, but I’ve never had that once. Mum has let me live my own life and make my own mistakes.

My aunt, my grandma, my mum and I

My aunt, my grandma, my mum and I

I’m incredibly lucky to have four role models like this, women who are strong, and yet know how to support each other and the people around them, and ask for support when they need it. Of course, this isn’t all I’ve learnt from them, but I’ve already cried a few times while writing this, and I need to draw a line somewhere :)

Thank you ladies!

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 March 2015, 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 March was inspired by my CELTA tutoring is about the importance of feedback and offers tips on how to provide effective feedback on various different kinds of activity.

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

Useful links for CELTA

Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year, and will continue to dominate until the same time this year. I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.

It’s arranged into categories, with subtitles and topics in bold to help you navigate. There’s a lot here, so just use the bits you need as you need them rather than trying to look at all of them – if not, you’ll end up being overwhelmed!

A quick way to find what you need it to press CTRL + F (CMD + F on a Mac) and type a key word connected to what you’re struggling with, like ‘TTT’, ‘instructions’ or ‘writing’  – this will take you straight to the relevant section.

Please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I also plan to add to it as I write/find more posts.

Before the course

CELTA is a very intensive experience, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Take a look at these to give you an idea of what to expect.

Cambridge English has a 30-minute webinar called The Ultimate Guide to CELTA which details different types of CELTA and tells you what to expect from the course. (Thanks to Viacheslav Kushnir for telling me about this)

CELTA diaries is a series of videos following two trainees taking the course at International House Belfast.

Giulia wrote about her experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, and Seth Newsome did the same with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth.

Adam Simpson recommends 10 books to read before you start your CELTA. While you’re unlikely to get through all of them (due to the expense if nothing else!) I’d definitely recommend getting copies of either 1 or 2, plus 3, and possibly also 6. Another book that you might find useful is the Ultimate Guide to CELTA by Amanda Momeni and Emma Jones which is available as an ebook (thanks for recommending this Helen Strong).

It’s particularly important to build your language awareness as much as possible before the course. Jo Gakonga has webinars on grammar for language teachers (30 minutes) and the present perfect for language teachers (42 minutes) – free samples of the introductory grammar course on Jo’s site. Jeff Mohamed’s grammar development course is recommended by some centres (for a very light version of this, Rachel Daw talks about 10 things she learnt from it when preparing for her CELTA). If you’re not sure about parts of speech in English (e.g. verbs, nouns etc), Pass the CELTA have an introduction to them.

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

If you’re planning to make flashcards, the quickest and easiest way is with Powerpoint rather than Word. Here’s are two beginner’s guides: a 17-minute video or a more in-depth pdf. One useful trick is printing handouts with 6 slides per page.

Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run. These are 100 for Windows and some for Mac too. If you’ve got a long time before your CELTA, working on your touch typing will help you now and later. On a side note, set up a filing system on your computer and start naming files with lots of detail in the file name so you can find things easily in the future. “Document 1.docx” won’t help you, but “Personality adjectives and definitions NEF Pre-Int SB p6 and SB p145 U1B.docx” will. I always try to include the book, chapter and page numbers so I can use the search function to find things again quickly in the future.

Finally, for those of you thinking about trying to get a Pass A (the highest grade, which 3-5% of trainees get – I got a Pass B), here’s a report from someone who got one, along with the following very important advice which I completely agree with:

If you set up your goal as “I’m gonna gits me an A!” then, well, it’s a worthy goal and all, but you’ll probably give yourself an ulcer, and stress so much about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough that your freaky-outy stress will cause you to lose focus and actually do worse. Don’t look for a magic bullet or secret formula – there is none, and trying to guess at the magical combination of factors that leads to an A will just cause you to get even more freaky-outy. Always remember that it’s not a competition, so if you see someone who seems to be doing better than you, hey, you’re in it for four weeks with that person and you are quite possibly friendly with them – you are not in a race. There is not just one gold medal. Their good work does not mean you’ll get edged out for the one top spot, because there is no “one” top spot.

By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate.

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Lesson planning

How to approach lesson planning: I wrote this post to help you manage your time when planning on CELTA and try to avoid the ‘But finding the materials and making them look pretty is so much more fun than filling in all those tedious forms’ trap.

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning. Many of the points in it apply to intermediate classes too. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons.

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

When writing aims, it can be useful to consider how SMART they are, as this will help you to know when and if you’ve achieved them – Andriy Ruzhynskiy shows you how to do this in a 10-minute webinar.

It’s important to provide a clear context for any lesson, whether it’s language or skills. Barbara Sakamoto explains why.

If you decide to create your own materials for your lesson, here are a few tips from the Oxford University Press blog. Adam Simpson talks about 6 things that can go wrong when making a worksheet and how to avoid them.

For more depth, Mike Cattlin, an experienced CELTA and Delta trainer has written an e-book called The Art of Lesson Planning.

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Classroom management and activity set-up

Standing at the front of a classroom can be a scary prospect. If teacher presence is a problem for you, the Times Educational Supplement can help you get the students’ attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher.

Other people have the opposite problem and talk way too much. Jo Gakonga has a webinar on teacher talk and language grading (12 minutes). Here are some ways to become aware of excessive TTT (teacher talking time) and what to do about it, including ways of making your lessons more student-centred – it’s an ELTchat summary from Sharon Noseley. Here are other tips on getting the TTT/STT (student talking time) balance right. Finally, this is what the students hear when you speak too much/unnecessarily in class.

Both of these will affect your ability to build rapport with students. Chris Ożóg offers more tips on how to increase your rapport in a 10-minute webinar.

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to getting instructions right. You might want to follow them up with instruction checking questions if there’s a potential for confusion. Edward Evans has a 10-minute webinar about giving efficient instructions, including how to check them, as does Jo Gakongagiving clear instructions (13 minutes). She also has one on setting up and running activities (12 minutes). Marc Helgesen has lots of tips for setting up activities effectively. Here is a 3-minute video of instructions for making a mini book by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa – it’s designed for young learners, but the way she does it would demonstrates clear instructions that would work with adults too with only minor modifications.

It’s important to remember the students’ names as quickly as possible. Adam Simpson gives you 10 techniques you can use to do this, as well as suggesting a few different ways to arrange the furniture in the classroom. Celeste Lalonde has some creative ways of putting them into new pairs and groups (though don’t spend hours planning this!).

Laura Patsko offers some general tips for a clear and useful whiteboard in the final section of her Whiteboard Wizardry blogpost. Anthony Schmidt also has examples of whiteboard use – there’s  no commentary, but it’s interesting to reflect on which layouts are likely to be more or less useful to the students.

Rachael Roberts explains how and why to monitor and provide feedback, and here are my tips on the same topic. Pass the CELTA shows how to monitor each kind of activity (reading, speaking etc) and some common problems trainees have. Karen McIntyre describes the many purposes of monitoring in a 10-minute webinar. Amanda Gamble offers many alternatives to the teacher eliciting the answers in open class at the feedback stages of lessons. Joe O’Hagen has a 10-minute webinar offering suggestions for providing feedback, particularly on speaking and writing activities.

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching reading skills (7 minutes). You can also watch Fergus in action teaching reading to an elementary class (22 minutes). Jo Gakonga has a webinar on exploiting reading texts (35 minutes).

Listening

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching listening skills (9 minutes).

Marek Kiczkowiak has 15 tips for planning a listening lesson. Number 13 is particularly important!

If you can’t find the CD, Martin Sketchley suggests a few solutions. This might help you with your anticipated problems in a listening lesson.

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Simon Thomas offers tips on correcting students while speaking, and Zarina Subhan tells you why sometimes students don’t say much and what you can do about it, helping you to increase STT.

I have a step-by-step guide to setting up an information gap, a speaking activity in which each student only has part of what they need to complete the task and they need to speak to others to complete the information.

This post has ideas from five different teachers on how to maximise student talk time, the most useful of which is probably Dorothy Zemach (the first) demonstrating how to model the kind of conversation you expect your students to produce. Doing this makes them more likely to produce quality talk, not just short answers.

Writing

Catherine Morley has a step-by-step guide to planning a writing lesson.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on giving feedback on writing. (34 minutes)

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Teaching language

General

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on analysing language and anticipating problems (21 minutes) and Fergus Fadden has a 7-minute one on language analysis.

Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean!

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary, as well as examples of clines. Marek Kiczkowiak offers seven ways of checking understanding without asking ‘Do you understand?’ and gives you 10 situations to test whether you can chose the most appropriate way to do this. Concept Check Questions (CCQs) are the bane of many CELTees lives – here’s a fun introduction to what they are. Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use them (13 minutes).

Another common problem is how to elicit language from the students and Damian Williams has some answers. Pass the CELTA has a step-by-step guide to eliciting including lots of examples.

Grammar

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes an introduction to timelines, including some beautiful examples which I’m very jealous of. Joanna Malefaki also has examples of timelines and CCQs. Marek Kiczkowiak offers tips for producing effective timelines. Gareth Rees shows some of the possible conventions of timelines (i.e. what the symbols mean).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

Do you feel “I need to teach vocab, but I don’t know where to begin!“? Adam Simpson can help you, particularly in sections 1 and 2 (3 and 4 are probably better left until after you’ve finished CELTA). Marek Kiczkowiak suggests ways to clarify the meaning of new vocabulary.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

If you’re not sure what a functions lesson looks like or is for, this 5-minute example from a real classroom based on students renting an apartment should give you a better idea. Languages International have a pdf document you can work through to find out what functions are and how to teach them. When you’re filling in your language analysis sheet, this non-exhaustive list of functions might help you identify what function the exponents (sentences/structures) you’re analysing have.

Pronunciation

Adrian Underhill explains how the phonemic chart (which he put together) works in this one-hour introduction on YouTube, full of great techniques for introducing the sounds to your students. He also has a very useful blog breaking down the sounds and showing you how to find them in your mouth, and how to teach them to your students. For a shorter introduction to the same chart, try Jo Gakonga‘s webinar: introducing the phonemic chart (37 minutes). Rachel Daw recommends books to help you familiarise yourself with the phonetic alphabet (best used before the course).

Use learner dictionaries to get the phonetics for individual words in American English and British English. Rachel’s English has individual videos for each sound in American English. For British English, try this from the BBC.

Pronunciation Bites has a collection of links to online transcription tools, along with reviews for each. It also tells you how to download IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) scripts onto your computer, and how to use them. Don’t forget to put the phonetics into Lucida Sans Unicode font to make sure they’ll print on any computer (I hope!)

ELTchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter conversation which happens every Wednesday. In February 2012 there was a discussion about the IPA, including reflection on its usefulness and suggestions for how to exploit it.

Julie Tice has tips on making drilling more fun and varied. Lee Shutler has some ideas too, and also talks about the benefits of drilling. Marc Helgesen’s tips about pronunciation, drilling and task repetition are in the second half of this post about classroom managementJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners, which includes tips on drilling (22 minutes).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Cuisenaire rods are a useful tool for a whole range of activities. John Hughes has a video showing how they can be used, and Ceri Jones and I wrote a blogpost with lots more ideas.

Mini whiteboards are another great resource. Phil Bird has some ideas for how to exploit them.

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Teaching in different contexts

If you’re teaching young learners, try these links to start you off:

I have dedicated blogposts with links for business English teaching and doing the FCE (Cambridge First) exam (this one is for students, but should still be useful) – just one example of the many EFL exams out there. Teaching academic English is another possible avenue, and Adam Simpson has some tips to start you offJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners (22 minutes)

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Assignments

There are four assignments on the CELTA course. I’ve divided the links by assignment.

Focus on the learner

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (18 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (16 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though. She also has one on using authentic materials. (38 minutes) You can find other ways to exploit authentic materials in this summary of a one-hour Twitter chat (ELTchat) on the subject.

Lessons from the classroom

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (12 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

The links from the After the course section of this page will also help you here.

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Surviving the course

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you survive the CELTA from Alexandra Koukoumialou and 5 secrets to success on your CELTA course from Tanya Hacker.

The main problem most people have with the CELTA is the workload. It’s not unusual for some trainees to stay up for most of the night and forget to sleep, and there are always some people who don’t hand in lesson planning documents because they ran out of time. In a 10-minute webinar, Lisa Phillips offers some tips for time management for teachers in general, but many of them apply to the CELTA course too. Remember to ask for help if you need it – you’re not bothering people, and you might find they’re in a similar situation. As for your trainers, that support is what you’re paying for!

I know I included it in the lesson planning section, but these suggestions for approaching planning are designed to make your life easier, so I think they’re worth repeating.

Don’t forget to take some time for yourself during the course. You’ll benefit from it more than you will by just pushing on through, and no matter how important the CELTA is, your health and well-being should take priority. Get enough sleep, look after yourself and take regular breaks. If you need inspiration this might help:

50 ways to take a break

Here are a few of videos I send out to encourage my trainees to take a brief break – I won’t tell you what they are so it’s a lucky dip! One, Two, Three – each one is 3-4 minutes, clean, and should make you laugh!

And just in case you think you’re entering a serious profession involving a lot of work, take a look at EnglishDroid – he’ll burst your bubble quickly (this is a site to return to as you learn more about the world you’re entering!)

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

Once you’ve finished your CELTA, you’ve got all this to look forward to. But first, you need a job. Here are a few places you can look (but there are many, many more!):

To help you Jonny Ingham tells you how to write a TEFL CV and Karenne Sylvester explains how to avoid overseas EFL teaching job scams. Gordon Scruton gives you questions for a potential employer, plus all important social questions about life outside the school.

Isabela Villas Boas offers tips for a great beginning in a new teaching jobRichard Whiteside has 3 things to help new teachers. Lewis Waitt tells you about how to survive your first year as a teacher.

To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal).

I’ve got a starter list of blogs which are good to follow post-CELTA. One of the things I enjoy about blogs is periodic challenges which bloggers start and anyone can join in with. The #youngerteacherself posts kick-started by Joanna Malefaki are a great source of advice for beginner teachers, as experienced teachers look back and offer advice to their younger selves. A couple of years before this challenge Chris Wilson wrote 10 things he wished he’d known before he started CELTA. ELTchat also had a chat called I wish I had known that when I started teaching!

Adam Simpson has a series of blogposts aimed at helping you develop post-CELTA:

There are lots of other online resources for professional development. Jo Gakonga has a webinars on continuing professional development on the web (37 minutes) and using Twitter for professional development (25 minutes). I’ve put together various guides to help you get into online professional development, including Twitter, webinars and facebook for professional development and a webinar called 10 blogs in 10 minutes. All of the names linked to in this blogpost will take you to Twitter pages if you’d like a few people to follow to start you off, as well as me of course! :)

The best resource on Twitter is ELTchat, a weekly one-hour chat on topics chosen by participants. Summaries of chats going back to 2010 can be found in the Summaries index on the website and cover pretty much every topic you could possibly imagine related to ELT teaching – if it’s not there, you can suggest it for a future chat.

International House offer a range of paid courses to extend your knowledge in a variety of areas, including language awareness (IH LAC), business English teaching (IH BET), teaching young learners and teens (IHCYLT) and teaching online (IH COLT). They are offered online, face-to-face at some schools, and in the case of the IHCYLT, blended. You get a discount if you work for IH, and some schools will pay for your course completely if you work for them for a particular period of time.

You can join a teaching association to get support. Ask around and you might find one in the city or country you’re working in, like ELTABB in Berlin. You could also join IATEFL (UK-based) or TESOL (US-based), international organisations which also have lists on their sites of country-based affiliates, like BELTA in Belgium or TESOL France (both of these websites also have lots of other resources). Here are some of the benefits of joining a teaching association.

Cambridge English Teacher and the International Teacher Development Institute are online communities with forums, webinars and courses you can follow. CET is paid, but you can get benefits like cheaper subscriptions to journals with your membership. iTDi contains lots of free content, and a couple of more extended paid courses.

Conferences are a great source of ideas. Both IATEFL and TESOL hold multi-day conferences each year, and although the IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year (!), they can be quite expensive. IATEFL streams some sessions from the conference, and these are available to watch after the event (for example Harrogate 2014). One- or two-day local conferences can provide lots of inspiration. There are also online conferences and webinars provided for free. David Harbinson has a long list of sources for webinars to start you off.

There are various journals and magazines dedicated to ELT, full of articles from around the world with lots of great ideas and issues to think about. The IH Journal is available free online. Most teaching associations have their own newsletter or journal. Other magazines include English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher, both of which are subscription only – you can choose whether to get them online or as a hard copy.

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

I wrote a weekly diary of a CELTA course I tutored on in Chiang Mai, with reflections on the day-to-day experience of being a tutor: week one, week two, week three, week four. I’ve also talked about integrating technology into CELTA.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on ‘flipping’ CELTA input sessions. (22 minutes)

Matt Noble regularly posts reflections on being a trainer on his Newbie CELTA Trainer blog. Anthony Gaughan talks about a completely different way of doing CELTA on his Teacher Training Unplugged blog.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback.

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Everything else

Ruth Lavina shares 10 things she learnt on her CELTA, covering a whole range of categories above. I particularly like number 7, because trainees often forget it!

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As I said at the start, please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I hope these links are useful!

For no reason that I can think of, I woke up this morning with a thought in my head.

What is it like teaching if you’re very short?

From 1m (3ft), the classroom must look like a very different place. Here are the things I can think of in the classrooms I’m teaching in at the moment:

  • You’ll only just be able to see over the table, so monitoring could be challenging, and seeing what students are doing by walking behind them will be impossible.
  • The whiteboards are set at least 80cm above the ground, so you’ll only be able to use a tiny part of it.
  • The visualiser is set on a high table, so again it will be hard to use, although it could be used instead of the board in some cases.
  • Students may react in unusual ways to having a teacher who contrasts with their mental image of ‘teacher’.

Visualiser: Image from GeneeWorld

This means a lot of the advice I give to teachers is either redundant or very difficult to follow. What would you do in these situations? Can you think of any others? Do you know of any stories of teachers in this situation?

(This was partly inspired by Tamas Lorincz‘s iTDi post about teaching from a different perspective which I read a long time ago – not sure where this thought came from today, but it reminded me of this excellent post which I’d recommend everyone read!)

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