Making the most of online CPD – Educast interviews podcast

The latest edition of the Educast interviews podcast is now out, featuring me 🙂 Mohammad Nabil interviewed me about online professional development. The episode is 11 minutes 26 seconds, so nice and quick! You can find it on Spotify, and you can look at Mohammad’s LinkedIn post about it if you’d like to add any comments. Thanks to Mohammad for inviting me to take part!

Scrap paper energisers

I presented this workshop at the TWIST 2016 conference in Warsaw, and I’ve just realised I never put it on my blog. Better late than never!

About my presentation

Every staffroom I’ve been into has a huge pile of scrap paper in it somewhere. We’re responsible for the death of a lot of trees! Don’t let those deaths be in vain: try these activities to energise your classes, diminish the pile and assuage your guilt.

Here’s a pdf of all of the activities:

Here are links to all posts tagged ‘scrap paper’ on my blog.

My’ ideas/activities

The ‘my’ is in inverted commas, because they’re probably adapted from activities I’ve learnt from other people. If you think that person was you, please do comment!

Do you like…?

Good for: getting to know you, introducing functional language, extending conversations

  1. Give each student a piece of scrap paper.
  2. They write three things they like, e.g. chocolate, taking photos, learning languages.
  3. When they have finished, they screw up the paper and throw it towards a spot you indicate.
  4. Elicit and drill the phrases: Do you like…? What about…? And…? along with the answers: Of course, who wouldn’t? and Sorry, no.
  5. Demonstrate the activity. Take one piece of paper from the pile, open it, and ask a student the first question, e.g. Do you like chocolate? The student should choose one of the two answers. If they say Of course, who wouldn’t? ask the next question. If they say Sorry, no move on to another student and restart the process. Stop once you’ve demonstrated with two or three people (and hope you don’t get it right first time!)
  6. Students take one piece of paper each, exchanging it if they have their own. They mingle and find the person who’s paper they have, writing their name on the paper. Once they have both found their person and been found, they can sit down.
  7. As a follow-up, students work in pairs, telling their partner who they found out about (preferably without looking at the paper).

Russian roulette

Good for: revising vocabulary, testing what students already know, last-minute cover lessons

  1. Choose a category, e.g. food.
  2. The teacher writes down (in secret) a word from this category on a piece of scrap paper, e.g. apple.
  3. While doing this, students work in small groups to brainstorm as many words as they can in this category, writing them on scrap paper, and try to guess which word the teacher has.
  4. Nominate one student from one group to say a word. If it’s the same as your secret word, they lose a point. If it’s different, they gain a point.
  5. Continue with other groups. If they repeat a word or can’t think of one, they also lose a point.

Adapted from Lindsay Clandfield, TEFL Commute podcast, season 4 episode 2: Substitute.

Head drawing

Good for: revision of vocabulary sets or prepositions, introducing a topic, speaking practice, laughter!

  1. Give each student a piece of A4 scrap paper. Make sure they have something to lean on.
  2. Students put the paper on their head. They can’t look at it.
  3. Dictate a scene to the students. To make it more challenging, move around the picture. For example:
    My living room is large and rectangular. In the bottom right corner if you look at it from above there is a door to the hall. The door to the balcony is in the top left corner. Next to the balcony door there are two windows, also on the left-hand wall. In front of the window there is an armchair. Facing the window is a fireplace. In front of the fireplace is a table with four chairs. Under the window and next to the armchair there is a small square coffee table, with another armchair on the other side of it. The bottom wall, near the door to the hall, has a sofa next to it.
    [Other possible topics: a monster/robot, a Christmas scene, a desert island…]
  4. Students compare their pictures and try to remember the teacher’s description.

Error correction running dictation

  1. Throughout the lesson, collect some of the mistakes the students have made. Write each one on a piece of scrap paper with enough context to make it easy to work out what the correct sentence should be. If you want to, include some examples of good language.
  2. Stick the paper to the walls/board on one side of your classroom. Arrange the students on the other side, so the room looks something like this:
Six columns, each with a seated student at the top, a table below them, and a circle to denote a running student below that. The bottom of the image shows three texts for them to run to

3. When you say go, the running student goes to one of the errors, remembers the sentence, runs back and dictates it to their partner as is. Once they have done this for half of the errors (e.g. four out of eight), they switch roles. When they have finished all of them, they work together to correct the errors.

4. When finished, allocate one error per pair. They should write the correction on the paper they dictated from. After you’ve briefly checked them, pairs walk around to confirm they were right.

IATEFL is… laughter (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 summary)

The last week has been so full of laughter, and I’ve enjoyed it so much.

The video below will give you a taster of that laughter.

I’ve been at the IATEFL Harrogate 2023 conference, and everywhere I looked I saw laughter, the laughter of people getting to know each other, the laughter of realising what we have in common, and the laughter of old friends reunited.

Sandy and Marjorie

I’ve always found the IATEFL conference to be the best week of my year, but this year it felt like something truly special. After 2 years of cancelled face-to-face conferences in 2020 and 2021, then the IATEFL Belfast conference where it seemed we were still trying to work out how to be in the same spaces again and what the impacts were of the previous two years, this year felt like a huge sigh of relief at a return to being able to really enjoy being with our community again. And enjoy it I did!

Chia, Sandy and Peter

Learning from sessions

Of course, I also learnt a lot. I’ve been blogging the talks I’ve been to all week, and I’d like to summarise some of the ideas I’ll be taking away with me. These are my interpretations – the speakers may have intended something different!

  • The language in our coursebooks, our classrooms, and our exams doesn’t match the language that many users of English produce and need to understand when they go into the workplace. (Evan Frendo)
  • Teachers are amazing in the ways that they support each other and their students. (Divya Madhavan and Lesley Painter-Farrell) [Of course, I knew this already, but it’s always good to be reminded!]
  • ELT teaching is like no other field of teaching, because most of us start teaching and then get qualified, rather than the other way around. Even those who study it at university have probably already done some tutoring at some point before they start studying. (Divya Madhavan)
  • ESOL teachers need a lot more support from our industry, support in terms of consistent training, understanding of the challenges they face, and managing the mental load of the traumas in their classrooms. They need this support so they can continue with what they’re already doing, an amazing job supporting their learners. (Lesley Painter-Farrell)
  • We’re not born part of a particular race, we learn to be part of that race by learning the ‘language’ of what it means to be a member of that race. There are no black people in Africa – they only become black once they go to a country where Black becomes an over-arching label, where all of the other individual identities are subsumed in one, removing all of the individuality and variety. (Awad Ibrahim)
  • Learners coming up with their own rules for why language is used in a given context can give us insights into how language is used that we might not realise if we remain bound by the rules we repeat from what we’ve learnt. (Danny Norrington-Davies)
  • Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats are a useful tool for learners when planning extended writing, though it will take time to help them understand how to use them. They can provide independence and broaden learners’ understanding of topics. [though the white / black colour choices are problematic] (Chang Liu)
  • The future of English learning is in completely different spheres to ones I know about. Making materials for Instagram and TikTok audiences requires a whole set of skills and knowledge which I had no idea of before. (Claire Bowes) [I feel like Claire embodies the next generation of teachers coming after me, and it really excites me to see where this will lead] It’s all part of ‘microlearning’ (Evan Frendo) [something I already did, but had no term for]
  • When creating teacher training materials, one approach is to take activities we use with learners and change the content so it has a teacher training focus. (John Hughes)
  • What we’re currently doing in the majority of teacher training isn’t actually having a huge impact on what happens once teachers go into the classroom. The apprenticeship of observation is still very strong, and we need to change our approach if we really want to change teacher cognitions (beliefs and ideas about teaching) and therefore teacher actions in and beyond the classroom, and give teachers the tools they need to keep developing on a deeper level. (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli, Ben Beaumont)
  • We’re assessing teachers on the language learning materials they develop, but we’re not actually teaching them how to develop materials effectively. (Luis Carabantes)
  • The ‘curse of knowledge’ can stop us from understanding what it’s like to not know something when we are in a position of knowledge already. This has a particular impact as teacher trainers, and we need to get back in touch with our novice selves (among other things) to understand what it is that we should focus on in our training. (Ri Willoughby and William Morrow)
  • There are many ways we can build the confidence of pre-service teachers, particularly young ones, to help them realise that they can take on a teacher role. If we don’t do this, we’ll lose them and we’ll lose TP students. (Laura Khaddi) [Another one I knew, but good to be reminded.]
  • The design cycle is a potentially useful tool for teacher training. You could ask teachers to bring problems they (might) have in the classroom, hand over those problems to others to come up with potential solutions, and then bring the solutions back to the original teacher. (Kim Chopin)
  • Delivering training via WhatsApp is a hugely underexploited area, and could reach so many teachers who aren’t being served by our current teacher training models. (Kristina Smith and Anna Young) [Having worked on WhatsApp projects last year, I know this, but I wanted to state it explicitly here!]
  • There are a myriad of different ways of finding out what your teachers actually need in terms of professional development [and I wasn’t really using any of them as a DoS!] (Jim Fuller)
  • Digital materials have many affordances which paper materials don’t, but we’re still creating most digital materials as if they were purely interactive coursebooks. There’s so much more we could and should do to increase engagement. (Laura Broadbent and Billie Jago, Nergiz Kern)
  • There’s a lot that materials writers can learn from lexicographers in terms of approaching the writing of definitions and example sentences in our materials. (Julie Moore)
  • We need to think really carefully about the implicit messages we include and assumptions we make when creating materials, including but not only materials related to science (James Taylor) and money (Lottie Galpin).
  • When helping learners to create videos, there’s a huge range of potential materials we can make to support them in the process. (Armanda Stroia)
  • Having a mentor can have a huge impact on your professional development. (Shilpa Pulapaka and Fabiana Crispim) [I need to find myself a regular mentor who I can meet up with]

Learning beyond sessions

For me, one of the best parts of a conference like IATEFL is the learning that happens beyond the sessions. It’s in the conversations you have in the corridor, in the exhibition hall, over dinner. Often these are about other sessions, but they’re also about people’s backgrounds, how they came to ELT, and the interesting things they’re working on now.

Mark, Sandy and David, and the book we worked on together 🙂

Here are some of the things I’d like to remind myself of later, with the sources if I remember them! Some of these might be somewhat corrupted in my memory, so feel free to correct me.

  • ‘Personal information management’ is a term you can use to summarise how you deal with all of the information that comes in. Academic managers have two strands of PIM to manage: the practical side, for example who needs to be where and when, and the inspiration side, for example ideas about how to develop the CPD programme. The techniques you need for each strand of PIM in this case are different. (Mike Riley, via Pippa Wentzel)
  • It’s not often we given learners the opportunity to produce something genuinely funny that can be easily shared beyond the classroom. Memes can provide this opportunity very easily. (Ciaran Lynch)
  • When creating social media content, if you want it to be effective you need to really analyse how it’s being used and viewed. You need to consider ideas like what’s in the picture, what direction people are looking in in images, whether there is a clear ‘call to action’, what time it’s posted, and many more factors. (Marcus Morgan and Karen Waterston, via Ciaran Lynch and Paula Rebolledo)
  • Many of the books of photocopiable materials which were created for discussions 10-20 years ago are very out-of-date and wouldn’t / shouldn’t be published today. They really need to be updated. (Peter Fullagar, via everyone who saw his talk and thought it was brilliant, including Jo Szoke – sorry I missed it!, Richard from the University of Chester) [I knew this, but again, worth the reminder. Check out Peter’s blog and Raise Up! if you’re looking for replacement ideas.]
  • The position of women in ELT has improved, but there’s still work to be done. (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan, via Jo Szoke)
  • There’s a growth in awareness that online learning materials need their own guidance, different to paper learning materials. These are now being shared. I went to Billie Jago and Laura Broadbent’s talk, and Jo Szoke supplemented what I learnt with her notes from Carol Lethaby’s talk.

Thank you

Thank you to Chang Liu for her enthusiastic endorsement of my How to present at an international conference talk. She came last year in Belfast and again this year in Harrogate, and said that it was the reason why she was presenting this year, and that my post about writing an abstract helped her apply to present. Another attendee this year said she was presenting later that same day and it had relieved her nerves. If you appreciate what a presenter has done, please don’t be shy to tell them – it really does leave a warm glow!

Thank you too to Ciaran Lynch and Claire Bowes, as well as Vicky Margari, for telling me that my blog and hearing about IATEFL from me encouraged them to apply for a scholarship (Vicky) and apply to talk (Ciaran and Claire). Look at the IATEFL website and conference pages to find out more about upcoming conferences.

Take Your Time Delta mini meet-up: Ciaran, Sandy, Pippa, Claire

Thank you to Rose Aylett for mentioning my lessons you can watch online blogpost. One day I’ll have time to update it!

Thank you to the many people who’ve mentioned my Delta content.

Thank you to everybody who’s mentioned my IATEFL 2023 blog posts. I first experienced IATEFL through the tweets and blog posts shared from the IATEFL Brighton 2011 conference. I got so much out of them, and it’s wonderful to be able to pay it forward now.

It’s always lovely to hear about the impact of things that I’ve done – it really does make the time and effort worth it.

Thanks to the MaWSIG committee for being such a lovely group of people to work with, and especially to Clare and Jen, who are leaving the committee. We’ll miss you!

Thanks to Thom Jones for giving me a very entertaining start to Wednesday morning.

Thanks to James and Jo for being wonderful flatmates and making me laugh so much. Thanks to Jo for share beautiful sketch notes and showing me the Bamboo app.

Thank you to all of the IATEFL staff and volunteers who have put so much effort into keeping IATEFL alive throughout the pandemic and the huge financial challenges of recent years, and who have worked so hard at putting this year’s conference together.

Thanks to all the people I had lunch and dinner time conversations with, and to everyone I had corridor chats with.

I can’t wait to do it all again in Brighton next year!

Race, popular culture and ESL in a post-George Floyd moment – Awad Ibrahim (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Awad looked back at his abstract and realised that it wasn’t quite right. He changed his title: What exactly has race got to do with a very nice organisation like IATEFL? Intersecting race, identify and the pleasure of (second) language learning

Hip hop people don’t clap their hands, they snap their fingers.

Awad says that he has really enjoyed the conference and wondered why he’s never been here before.

There is a lot of focus on teaching techniques this week, and Awad wants to flip the script – go upside-down. He wants us to focus this presentation on us, the teachers. The best gift we can give our students is ourselves.

Race works like a language

1. Blackness works like a language = race is language = mythology = language of the monster

Awad started by showing us a clip from a video of hiphop. Powerful line: ‘I do not look to society to affirm my worth.’

Stuart Hall argues that race works like a language. Signifiers gain a meaning based on the relationships between things. Their meanings can never be permanently fixed. There is always something about race which is left unsaid.

Awad is interested in the idea of race as language. How we speak it. What we say through our bodies. What our bodies say to others. We don’t have control over what these bodies say. They can be read in different ways.

What does this mean?

1. Blackness is an empty signifier. It has no inherent meaning. Objects do not mean. People put meaning onto them. Blackness is a symbolic capital whose meaning and value can only be determined within a particular market: ‘symbolic markets of linguistic exchanges’. Blackness in the UK, US, Canada, blackness is the marked signifier and whiteness is the unmarker signifier.

2. Blackness is not a possession. It is only relational. It only has meaning in relation to other categories: whiteness, browness, to other signifiers: gender, etc.

3. Blackness is a discursive catergory, so a social script, a role we play, a plot, a representational language that is beyond our individual control. It’s a performative category, a language we speak every day in how we dress, speak, walk, in our hair, makeup etc. It transcends the individual, and is a norm, and through repetition and many other acts, one eventually becomes black.

4. No one is born Black, one becomes Black. Language also forms as much as it performs identities. We speak blackness from birth, and this also forms our identities. Language has the double task of both representing and forming identities. This also means no one is born White. Whiteness is also a language that white people speak from birth. White people need to ask themselves what is the language we speak? How do we speak it? What is the history of that language?

5. Blackness is not just a free-floating signifier. This is because power intervenes in closing its meaning. Blackness becomes a closed canvas – an already signified signifier. When power intervenes and closes the meaning of blackness: blackness finds itself sealed into objecthood and it’s multilingual, multicultural nature is negated and it becomes one; blackness is defined and hence treated as a lack, a negative capital, an Other, that which is not White (the transcendent) – after George Floyd, white people discovered their ignorance in thinking and white people need to take this ignorance seriously; when the meaning of blackness is closed, it becomes a representation of the history too [I think I missed this].

6. We need to expand the meaning of language, take it away from Saussure and bring it closer to semiotics/semiology. In semiotics, language doesn’t work in a mimetic way – there’s no 1-to-1 relationship between language in the real world, like a mirror image. Meaning doesn’t lie in the object or the event. ‘Things don’t mean, we construct meaning using representational systems’ (Hall, 1997) – language lies at the borderline between [missed this!]

7. From a sociolinguistic perspective, we should take blackness from a meaningless perspective – i.e. that it has no meaning. That’s not what happens: Blackness is now a narrative, a mythology, a monster in need of control. Compare what happened after George Floyd’s murder with the January 6th insurrection in the Capitol. A black person becomes part of a mythologised narrative. The idea here is: if the black body is not controlled, there is no knowing what it can do. The black body also points to the African presence, the history of the Middle Passage, the history that people prefer not to see and brush under the rug.

8. This grammar is performed every day, and is fixed through an external exercise of power. Awad’s emphasise in his research isn’t about race per se, but is on racialisation – the act of becoming, and on racism. Blackness is a complex morphological and syntactical system that is forever dual.

Awad’s own work: rhizome of Blackness

When people came from Africa to America, they fell under an umbrella of blackness. However, they had no idea of what it meant to be black in America when they first arrive. They find themselves becoming black. They end up creating a third space that does not fully belong to America, nor to Africa, but the two combined.

The rhizome are the roots of the tree which we can’t see.

The eye might show you somebody who looks black, but under the surface there is something more complicated: multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-national. The rhizome disrupts the single notion of blackness.

Research findings

There are no Black people in Africa. Once in America, all of these descriptors are subsumed under black.

Black immigrants have no solid comprehension of the grammar of Blackness. As they do this, they complicate the notion of blackness by adding their ideas to it.

They learn BESL: black English as a second language. [missed the extra points here]

BESL is an expression of identify formation, becoming Black. When they are locked out of other spaces where they can’t see themselves, they then invest themselves in other areas – hip hop, BESL. ESL students are no longer ESL in the classrooms, but through media: films, music, etc. So what are we doing in the ESL classroom?

BESL and hip-hop become sites of a null curriculum. These are sites of learning.

Immigrants are refugees. We tend to mix the two, particularly in the US.

We watched this video. You should stop now and watch it. It’s important.

‘Home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.’ The woman performing was in tears – you could hear them in her voice. Audio by Warsan Shire.

What does race have to do with IATEFL?

Awad’s answer: Everything.

Integrating six thinking hats into planning argumentative writing in EFL – Chang Liu (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Chang is a PhD researcher at Newcastle University, and this is related to the topic of her PhD.

Chang is a super enthusiastic presenter, and this was a lovely way to finish the main strands of this year’s IATEFL 2023 conference. There was a lot of laughter in her session – not what you always get at this point in the week 🙂

Three questions think about:

  • Do you students have difficulty in generating ideas?
  • Do your students have difficulty in using relevant evidence to support their arguments?
  • Do your students have difficult in organising ideas in a coherent manner?

The audience said yes to each of these.

What are the thinking hats?

Each hat represents one mode of thinking. De Bono is a pioneer of lateral thinking: thinking of ideas from different perspectives. Parallel thinking is taking one mode of thinking at a time.

Blue = sky, sea = process, reflective thinking.

White = facts

Red = heart = feelings

Yellow = sunflowers, sunshine = values, positive things, benefits, potential advantages

Black = devil’s advocate role = cautions, problems, potential risks

Green = grass, hope = creativity, solutions to problems

[Note: this is the first time I’ve realised the problems of the white / black colour choices for the thinking hats!]

Each thinking hat represents one thinking mode. People can use the hats flexibly, there’s no rigid mode.

Empirical studies about six thinking hats

Most of them are in science subjects. There’s very little research into in EFL contexts.

There’s been a focus on product before, but Chang wants to focus on six thinking hats and process.

Research process

These are the data collection procedures:

Chang wants to be able to compare the difference between before and after the inventions.

Integrating six thinking hats into academic writing

Here are some ideas for how to use the hats in the classroom.

The hats each have a set of language functions. For example, the black hat:

Chang also uses exploratory talk, with these pictures:

Students say they want exploratory talk, but say they’ve bad at it and good at quarrelling talk!

They use prompt cards with one prompt for each hat too.

An example

They plan their essay by analysing the task.

In the exploratory talk, there is a set of ground rules.

The students then generated their own guiding questions based on the topic, with different guiding questions based on each kind of hat. It’s fine to use hats more than once as well.

Once they’ve got their questions, they create their own individual writing plan.

As they leave the classroom, they use an exit ticket. This is version 1, but they struggled with reflecting:

Version 2 is more relevant to the six thinking hats:


When Chang starts using the six thinking hats, they have physical hats to wear and use to prompt them. As they got further through the programme, they didn’t want to use them any more – they were able to analyse the six modes of thinking.

At the beginning of the intervention they were able to generate their own language functions. Things moved from teacher provided to student generated.

At the end of the teaching intervention, the students asked to have their photos taken with the thinking hats on.

This is what the students said about the intervention:

Things to consider when using STH

  • Weak and shy students might not contribute as much as the active ones.
  • Students who don’t understand their roles might speak for the other roles – they might be confused.
  • It takes time for the learners to be familiar with the hats – you might need several weeks.
  • The limited time available might limit their ability to use the hats to their full potential.

The audience asked whether it was worth thinking about extra hats – a 7th or 8th hat?

Students said that brainstorming before writing can be a challenge, but using the hats can give them direction in their brainstorming.

Building confidence in young and inexperienced trainers – Laura Khaddi (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Many factors lead to a lack of confidence for these teachers. This leads to a lack of teacher presence. This can impact on success in TP, and this can become a spiral – one TP is less successful, they feel less confident going into the next TP, etc. It can also impact on other trainees in the group – they’re not providing such a useful model for each other. It can also impact on numbers of TP students.

These are things that York St. John University have donee.

Pre-course: before applying

The trainers go into the TESOL course and do occasional sessions so the future trainees can get to know them.

They run general English classes at the university, and everybody on the TESOL courses can apply to be teaching assistants. This gives them the chance to try somethings out.

They’re encouraged to join groups at the university like the Korean society to build greater cultural awareness.

The trainers give a presentation to potential applicants to manage their expectations.

Pre-course: after applying

They cap the number of internal places on the courses, so there’s a range of types of trainee. It’s not just another university module.

They monitor the pre-interview tasks and give feedback.

There is a rigorous selection procedure. There’s no automatic place on the course just because they’ve done the TESOL course. Sometimes they suggest different course types or going away to build knowledge in a certain area before they join the course.

They do language workshops for internal trainees before they join the CELTA. These are ‘language for English language teaching’ – some areas they would need to know.

During the course

(In addition to the normal CELTA courses)

At York St. John, they have a maximum of 10 trainees, capped 50/50 internal and external. There are 2.5 tutors per course. When they have online courses, they leave meetings open during and in between input and TP so that students can continue informal discussions if they want to. They also try to involve professional links, for example somebody coming in to do a Q&A about future careers.

New features they’ve tried to add:

  • More unassessed TP, with some quite simple tasks given to them by the trainers to develop the confidence and try new things (without all the heavy lesson planning)
  • ‘Copycat’ teaching – using lessons the trainers have delivered in input, which they’ve analysed in input, taking those and delivering those in one of the free TP slots
  • Increased observations – live observations of the trainers working with the students the trainees know
  • Input on preparing to teach: ‘What if…’ – case studies, what their actual fears are
  • Considering what actually makes a good teacher – things they need to know beyond the CELTA


University of Sanctuary – they have an ESOL drop-in group, a conversation group. It’s not run by the trainers, but there a lot of links. A lot of CELTA graduates volunteer there.

They also run ongoing TP sessions, which CELTA graduates can volunteer to keep teaching. This is especially useful if they haven’t got a job to go straight into. The people who’ve taken up that opportunity have tended to be from the external half of the group.

They’re looking at setting up a ‘buddy system’ with CELTA graduates and current undergraduate and post-graduate students. Laura has seen that working well in nursing and state education, but they haven’t managed to try it yet.

What did trainees say about building their own confidence?

These helped trainees already:

This is the same slide with their wish list added:

What boosted trainee confidence? The more yellow there is, the more helpful it was for them.

Slightly worrying: reflecting on own progress and student reactions in TP aren’t very helpful. Question from the audience: were you able to go back and investigate those areas further? Is it perhaps because they’re not very good at doing those things?

Ideas from IATEFL 2023

Analysing the criteria and getting trainees to understand what they actually mean in real life (rather than developing their own).

Ring-fenced TP rehearsal time without the tutor, but rehearsing with each other.

Sharing trainee lesson plans with each other. Cathy’s trainees used those to fuel online chat after the lesson.

Using the design cycle in the English language classroom – Kimberly Chopin (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

We entered the room and saw this on our chairs. What do you think we’ll do with it?

Kim is a teacher educator working with teachers who will go on to teach in the primary and secondary classroom.

What is the design cycle?

When we think about design thinking, we can look around ourselves and find things which are designed.

This is a more elaborate definition:

It’s a non-linear, iterative device that you use to come up with solutions to a problem. You go in circles and revisit stages.

It’s also a methodology for creative problem solving.

What problems might it solve?

A ‘wicked problem’ is a problem that is known for its complexity. It’s often difficult to actually define the problem, and therefore it’s hard to find solutions. Because it’s so complex, because it’s large-scale, it’s difficult to test things out – you have to just jump and try things, and you may find you cause problems as you solve them.

Climate change is a typical example. It’s a ‘super wicked problem’ – an extreme example of this.

What other wicked problems can you think of? There are lots and lots of them!

Design thinking is also useful for ‘everyday’ problems. For example: design the perfect pizza. It might not be a wicked problem, but it is an important problem 🙂

Designing is a process, and there are lots of versions of design cycles.

Let’s design something!

We did a task from the Stanford design school’s website: It was called the ‘foil challenge’. They have lots of activities you can try in the classroom. This activity is designed for younger learners.

We had 8 minutes to interview each other (4 minutes each) about a favourite food, perhaps one with cultural significance. I learnt about biscuits made in Egypt for Eid, baked together with the whole family and eaten after prayers.

Next we have 2 minutes to sketch a custom eating utensil for our partner to eat their food.

Then we had 2 minutes to create a prototype of our item.

Then 3 minutes to share what we built and get feedback.

Here’s my idea and my partner, Nashwa’s:

This is a complete design cycle.

How can we use this in the language classroom?

For me (Sandy), this cycle feels very useful in a training situation. Teachers can share a problem from their classroom, another teacher can design a solution, then bring it back to the first teacher for feedback.

This is one example of a design cycle (there are many!):


  • Empathise first. Find out needs first: what problems do they have that can be addressed? This is the phase of data collections – interviews, observations, surveys, etc.
  • Define the problem. Frame it – the way it’s defined will determine possible design solutions. Example: children aren’t moving enough in school. ‘A problem well stated is a problem half-solved’ – Charles Kettering
  • Ideate. The brainstorming phase – come up with as many ideas as you can that might address the problem that you’ve defined. How many ways can you imagine to address the problem you’ve defined? Example: in-school activities? Out of school activities?
  • Prototype. Jump in and building something. Design thinking is a bad name. Really is should be called ‘Design action’. Example: A sketch of a school-wide ‘activity trail’
  • Test. What works with your prototype…and what is lacking? Let your design recipient try it out…and be prepared to find out what is lacking. Then move onto the ‘empathy’ stage for the next cycle. Example: What works with the activity trail? What could be improved?

Other versions show it as more of a cycle:

Advantages of using the design cycle

Further resources:

Breaking the curse of knowledge: what new teachers really need – Ri Willoughby and William Morrow (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Ri and William are talking about the Teacher Portal, a new product from IH London, designed to help new teachers in their development. They’re talking about what they learnt while creating the portal.

William tells a story about feedback he got about training. Your training sessions are like trying to cross a river on stepping stones. As you get more into the input session as a trainer, you start jumping 3-4 stones ahead. By the time you get to the other side of the river, you turn around and everyone is gone. They’ve fallen into the river.

Ri tells a story about doing a CELTA session. A trainee came up and said she didn’t understand reading for detail, but didn’t get the difference between skimming and scanning. Ri replied, don’t worry, nobody understands that. The trainee was understandably frustrated with this and asked Ri why she didn’t change her session. Ri had really internalised that difference and found it really difficult to clarify that difference for somebody else because she’d been working with those concepts for such a long time.

What is the ‘curse of knowledge’?

We did an experiment in pairs. One person tapped a song, and the other person guessed what it was. In an experiment in 1990, only 2.5% of the listeners guessed the song. 50% of the tappers thought the listeners would guess.

When you know something, it’s really hard to imagine not knowing something. As we become more expert, we become much more interested in the complexities and nuances involved.

Why is it important to recognise this?

It has impacts in many areas.

It affects our ability to empathise with people who lack the knowledge. Ri tried to empathise with her trainee, but struggled to understand the confusion.

It affects communication, and the language we use to convey new concepts.

It becomes very difficult to predict other people’s behaviour, especially if they’re an early career teacher. You might think you’re doing something that will make things easier, but you can’t predict their response and can make things harder.

When we look at our own past behaviour, we don’t see it clearly. We are standing in the knowledge that we have now. We don’t necessarily even have empathy for ourselves and our prior experience (how silly was I to do that!)

All of this is a cognitive bias. We’re making assumptions about knowledge, talking to them like they’re experts, and we’re creating a chasm between experienced teachers and early career teachers. They want to be able to bridge and even close this gap.

Some informal research

Ri and William decided to do research into this. They asked experienced teachers to tell them what they wish they’d had at the beginning of their careers. They said:

  • Help with planning
  • Learn more about language
  • Lesson ideas
  • Mentoring and support
  • Time to discuss lessons with peers
  • Peer observation

But in more depth, it was:

The things that were being suggested turned out to actually be the things that the experienced teachers were working on right now. You’re so fixated on what you’re doing now that you can’t look back now.

Even on a four-week course, in the final week teachers will say that they wish they’d had certain input in the first week. They can’t reflect on how little they knew then.

How did they find out more?

An online questionnaire, but also analytics from the teacher portal. The time is how long they’re watching the videos for. It’s minutes at time as that’s all they can take in.

VOW = video of the week

Has professional development met your needs?

Early career teachers said no: they wanted more practical examples of things, real classroom examples, and a limited emphasis on theory.

What is the greatest barrier to your development?


Because they’re spending all of their available time planning lessons. Spending hours, and for lessons that are potentially not that long.

What would you most like to develop?

There’s no theme here. Different teachers want different things, because they’re all different people.

How do we address the curse of knowledge?

Ask yourself – what am I assuming here? What do we assume about the early career teacher and where they are? Am I predicting what the answer to their question is? Am I really hearing what their question is?

Ask them – guide them towards pinpointing the issue more precisely. Ask them more questions to help them understand their own issue more precisely. Help them figure out what they’re asking about or where their problem is. This helps both them and us communicate more effectively.

Watch behaviour and match what we do to them. For example, if they’re only watching short videos on a portal, we can provide short videos.

More responsive CPD to really explore learning.

More flipped models of CPD (continuous professional development) – less time-bound. For example an hour over the course of the week, rather than a one-hour block. Give them more freedom to develop.

More individualised CPD provision.

Really focus on our own novice experiences. Being very clear with ourselves when we’re learning something new of how difficult that is, and how we feel when we’re struggling to learn new concepts, making notes about the learning process.

What are they providing on the teacher portal?

Shorter, more practical courses. They started with 15ish hour courses. They’ve decided to reduce these. The first and last course are two hours long, the middle one is longer but very practical. They’re modular within that so they can do bits at a time.

They provide a time slot with time to talk. It’s a drop-in session and anybody can come at any time. Anybody can come with any question, and you can deal with them at the point of need.

Short classroom observation videos that they put out once a week, mostly 1-2 minutes. These provide practical examples.

They’ve got practical webinars.

There’s a community where people talk about what they learn.

There are resources created based on what’s in the community.


If we can reflect back on our own skills, communicate in a more empathetic way, then we’ll have more empathy for our teachers and our past selves.

How to write effective and engaging digital materials – Laura Broadbent and Billie Jago (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Laura and Billie are the owners of Otter ELT.

What do we mean by digital materials?

These include many different things: videos, language learning apps, (Busuu, Babbel, Mondly), gamified language-learning apps (Duolingo, BBC bite size games), interactive eBooks, web-based language learning platforms and assessments (FlashAcademy, BlinkLearning)…

It doesn’t include programs on your computer which we use to write things (Word, Excel, Google Docs) or teacher-made resources to use in the classroom (Kahoot, Quizlet, etc.)

The benefits of self-study language apps

Why focus on these?

They give learners:

  • Independence
  • The ability to choose their own pace
  • Choice of how they learn
  • Opportunity to reinforce learning
  • A way to experience things they may never be able to in reality
  • Time to focus on pair/group and consolidation work in class
  • Learning methods closer to their daily life – meet them in their world, because they’ll be much more engaged
  • A customised learning experience

Things to consider – print vs. Digital

The learning experience is different: e.g. student’s book, teacher’s book, workbook, vs. Student-facing materials only

Accessibility – screen size, visuals, audio, limited information on screen, overload of information etc.

Learning objectives: must meet the same LO’s with fewer items or activities

User experience and user journey – thinking intuitively, with no teacher! This is particularly important with self-study apps.

Pedagogically it’s likely to be more modular and more bite-size. Nobody will sit on an app for 2 hours with a 15-minute break. It’s completely different staging.

Making our own self-study digital materials

Create your own materials:

  • Task types
  • ‘Replacing’ the teacher
  • Rubrics (task instructions)
  • Accessibility (if it’s not accessible, nobody can do it!)

How would you change this into a digital activity?

There’s no right or wrong activity.

Task types

Which task types might work well in a typical language learning app?

From the audience:

  • Multiple choice
  • Drag and drop
  • Matching activities
  • Hear words and click on the right spelling
  • Record yourself speaking
  • Ordering
  • Have a selection of different sentence endings – choose who would say what

From a coursebook and turned into digital:

This digitises what already exists, so why are we doing the same thing? We’re not taking into account what digital can do.

For example: throwing letters across a screen to be caught in the right order to make a word. It doesn’t have to just be unscramble the word. As you do this the character catching the letters getting better.

The coursebook-type activities aren’t interesting. Learners will get bored.

‘Replacing’ the teacher

How many questions does a teacher ask each day? 400!

How long does a teacher give students to answer a question? 1.4 seconds

If a teacher asks that many questions, you can see why we give so little time!

There are three types of questions:

  • How are you? What’s your name? Etc.
  • Retrieving information
  • Tell me what you think about your own learning

Question type 1 needs 3 seconds. Question types 2 and 3 need 10 seconds.

Students need more time to learn, and a teacher is often unable to give this length of time. Self-study apps give you this time.

What else do teachers do? From the audience:

  • Inspire learning
  • Motivate
  • Behaviour management
  • Monitor
  • Give feedback
  • Help learners
  • Explain

On the left are things the app needs to do that the teachers does. On the right are things the app probably doesn’t need to do.

How can we do this on a self-study app?

  • Use a narrative thread: acts as the teacher to link with previous learning, give any comments or tips, and sets the context for learning. This sets the tone for the lesson. E.g. ‘In the last lesson, we looked at different jobs. Now, let’s see what you remember!’ – This is different to the rubric!
  • Have clear rubrics – acts as instructions for the activity ‘Type the job in the picture’
  • Use tips boxes – pop-up help that would typically appear in a teacher’s book ‘Remember to check your spelling!’

What narrative thread, rubric and tip box would you add to these materials?


  • Font (especially if it can be changed)
  • Contrast (black on white = not great; giving options)
  • Photos- only if they carry meaning, no decorative text, one photo per screen, and add alt text (to convey exactly what the photo should be conveying)
  • Horizontal / vertical (can they use one thumb, or will they need two)
  • Character / word length
  • Rubrics (ideally one line long, the fewer words the better)
  • Task type
  • Explanation
  • Scroll down / up
  • Connecting information and questions
  • Don’t use colour to convey meaning because we all see colour differently – you can use bold, you can put a different background, you can animate it
  • Signal specific screen purposes
  • Dual coding – have an image that has the meaning of the word
  • Automated marking responses – think about what it says, be encouraging, inspiring and motivating to the students, include tips to help them get it right

Show the materials to other people to make sure it works for them too. There’s no teacher to explain these if a student can’t understand.

Three money myths that ELT materials could do without – Lottie Galpin (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Lottie has chosen to talk about money today. She’s experienced financial instability in the past, and she felt like she didn’t see her realities reflected in her educational environment. In her job now, she reviews materials for publishers, but one of the things she sees in materials is certain money myths coming up again and again. At best, they’re inaccurate and quite harmless, but at worst they can be quite harmful.

Writers like Scott Thornbury and John Grey have talked about money before, but through the prism of class. She’s decided to look at things through money to see if it can be more accessible in more contexts.

Global North v. Global South:

Myth in this case is something of a stereotype.

What myths (or stereotypes) about wealth or the lack of it do you think ELT materials perpetuate?

Audiences said:

  • People live in big houses and excellent gardens
  • Clothes: global North can afford new clothes/secondhand is a choice, global South don’t
  • Jobs: ideas like builders aren’t there often
  • Whenever there’s a ‘real person’, they’re always somebody exceptional: rags to riches, or some adventure that people who could do this because of their privilege

Myth 1: The best thing you can be is an entrepreneur

There’s an overemphasis on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. There is an absence of (admiration for) other jobs, for example more manual and service jobs. There’s a subtle implication that entrepreneurship is ideal.

For example:

Why does it matter?

  • Implies wealth and financial ambition is an ideal.
  • Only shows limited realities / options.
  • It devalues other realities.
  • It doesn’t reflect all realities.
  • It may alienate or demotivate students.

If you don’t have the language to talk about your reality, why would you be invested in those materials in any way?

How do we do better?

  • Include a range of jobs and training options (not just going to university, but apprenticeships, or not going through further training)
  • Value those jobs
  • Treat them as something to respect and admire


They’re all on an equal footing, and all equally valuable.

Another example:

We’ve got an older person who’s retired, and her job is shown as being enjoyable and valuable. It’s OK to do those jobs for your whole career. It’s not obligatory to be an entrepreneur.

We tend to represent one thing as normal, and others as not.

Myth 2: Everyone has a pretty good standard of living.

‘Everyone’ = people from the cultures which are centred in the materials, which tend to be in the Global North.


  • Jobs and life choices
  • Homes and places represented
  • Lifestyles, hobbies and experiences represented

Assumptions about students (and teachers)

  • About what they’ll have
  • About their lifestyles and homes

For example:

Vocabulary: holidays:

We’re asking students to talk about something they might be able to talk about.

Functional English lessons: going to the cinema and having some food first for example, requires a certain level of wealth. There’s an assumption that there’s a base level of wealth.

Why does it matter?

  • Feeds into hidden curriculum about money ( a middle-class reality is normal and appropriate, and anything else doesn’t belong)
  • Teaches unrealistic view of certain countries (people arrive in the UK with the idea it’s wealthy, for example)
  • Excludes some activities
  • Makes activities unachievable
  • Doesn’t involve all students

Why can’t we show this kitchen?

Increase our vocabulary set:

Allow students to add their own vocabulary

Allow them to talk about something abstract, not personal

Add a critical question – there could be a longer task here, considering here e.g. disability access, safety for LGBTQIA+

Why not teach this as a functional phrase?


Not having money is currently only shown as extremes at the moment.

Myth 3: Everywhere except ‘the West’ is poor

This isn’t true for all textbooks, but they are common stereotypes.

Countries in the Global South are seen as places where people go in their gap year, or go on holiday. Or there’s a specific relationship of charity. If this is the only view we have, this is misleading.

Why does this matter?

If a student only sees that representation of that country and they never see anything else about it, the only idea they’ll have is that that country is poor. It tells a story of poverty without any context. It reinforces myths about the Global NOrth and Global South.

How can we do better?

  • Show different financial realities for a range of places.
  • Show people helping themselves.
  • Tell other stories incidentally about other places.
  • (+ 1 more)

An example of materials by Dr. Amina Douidi:

There are lots of things here we could use in our materials, in different kinds of units. Telling different stories about places can break the false narratives.


Inclusion 101 = don’t tell single stories!

Lottie will be running a course about writing inclusive ELT materials.

Top-down and bottom-up needs in a language institute – Jim Fuller (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

The talk title was slightly different but I was a couple of minutes late!

Management are at the top, with teachers at the bottom of an organisation. Top-down, we prioritise management needs. Bottom-up, we prioritise teacher needs. IN Jim’s organisation, they’ve tried to meet both sets of needs.

Here are other ways of conceptualising the LTO:

For example: Front line: teachers are where our business is.

Identifying needs – Top-down

Mission statement

When Jim joined the LTO, they didn’t have a development programme. He wanted to look at the mission statement, but the one they had wasn’t very informative for the organisation, the customers or the teachers. Teachers had separate goals.

They wrote a much more in-depth one. It took about 6 months to draft this collaboratively, and then they started to share it. Their mission statement should collect everything they need as an organisation to move forwards, conveying their goals.

If the organisation doesn’t have one, you should put it together: have a workshop to do it collaboratively. If teachers have a say in the mission statement, there’s more of an element of buy-in.

This is not a static document – it’s updated every year.

Parent / Student questionnaires

We normally collect data on satisfaction. They wanted to go deeper into the experience. This reveals faults in management, e.g. communication.

They have about 400 students. They send out Google forms at least once a term, and get about a 3% response rate. They take a 10% sample from each teacher and chat to the students. They also use FlipGrid to give time to spontaneously respond.

Teacher end-of-course feedback forms

These give teachers voice in how the courses are implemented. The teachers are the ones who understand how management processes are implemented on the grounds.

These forms are useful for collecting data on the materials, was the syllabus clear, was there enough support from management. They do it at the end of every course, including individual courses which they plan the syllabus for.

Identifying needs – bottom-up

Development programme preferences

Jim has adapted a form from John Hughes. They give them a list of potential themes for workshops, and give them a certain amount of marks to allocate to the different possible workshops. He included questions about theory v. Practical solutions.

Teacher self-assessment

Jim adapted a form from ELT Concourse. They self-assess to say their level of knowledge in different areas.

Jim gave them some things that they should know at each of the levels to help them come up with a more realistic score.

The teacher I’d like to be

They consider ‘the teacher I was’ and ‘the teacher I’d like to be’. On these forms, they put a cross to show where they think they are. These forms are collected and handed back at the end of the year so teachers can see how they’ve progressed.

With all of these tools, no single one is perfect. Use them together.

Evaluating the programme

Termly SWOT management meetings

When you have a SWOT meeting, focus on teachers, management and administration, and learners. This is good for both evaluating and for identifying potential new needs.

End-of-term questionnaires

There’ll be a question on each of these which changes every term based on something specific which they’ve done that term in the PD programme. These questionnaires are given to both teachers and students, for example on using the coursebook if that’s the training focus.


Jim believes observations are really powerful, but only when they’re based on co-constructed criteria.

The observations can tell us whether there’s evidence of learning.

We need to collect data from the learners too about how they feel the lessons went.

This is where the co-constructed action points are essential too in terms of providing control to the teachers and identifying other needs. Our job as managers and trainers is to guide teachers to their own action points.

Bringing it all together

Prioritising bottom-up needs leads to happier teachers and better teaching, which leads to better learning, which leads to more business.

Development costs money, but if done correctly, it makes money. Tell the school owners!

Process 1: start of the year

Most of these things can be done in induction week, apart from the snapshot observations.

Based on the data they collect here, they create development programme aims for Term 1 and create the management calendar.

The workshop preferences form is created from the needs the teachers identified.

This is their management calendar:

Process: End of term 1/2

They collect the data, send out the workshop preferences and update their plans for the next term.

Process 3: End of the year

The ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ is an end-of-year meeting to encourage teachers to reflect, in person if possible.

Some evaluation questions

These will change depending on the content and the aims you’re trying to meet.

What about the learners?

We need to be careful about how we perceive and ‘value’ accountability. If we’re investing money in something, we need to see results over time.

Areas you can possibly consider:

  • Exam results (maybe!)
  • Learning behaviour (attendance, learning strategies – for acute problems, such as issues with a specific class, this really helps)
  • Satisfaction (data collection is your friend!)
  • More learners (hopefully this will happen over time!)


A summary of the tools from this session. What could you implement in your context? Put it in the briefcase. If it’s interesting, but you can’t use it yet, put it in the freezer. It you can’t use it, put it in the bin.

Jim’s session was (obviously!) fascinating, and I wish I was in a position to use the ideas now! Find out more at

Accurate or biased? How do ELT materials deal with science? – James Taylor (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

James started to think about this talk 10-12 years ago, when he started to get interested in scientific scepticism, and learning more about the scientific approach. He found that married with his world view – it seemed to make sense to him. It affects how he sees the world around him, including his teaching.

When he was teaching and opened the coursebook and saw ‘science-y’ topics, he would think about how they deal with these topics. As he started to write those materials for himself, he tried to be conscious of these things.

This tweet appeared in James’s feed recently:

The tweeter got a lot of criticism for the line ‘It’s so important teachers critique their curriculum’ – teachers are underpaid and working hard, it’s not necessarily their job. The materials should have gone through the fact-checking process before they arrive with the teacher.

Our role as materials writers is to get the materials ready for the teachers to use.

In ELT, we have a huge variety of topics available for us to choose from: history, travel, etc.

If you look at coursebooks now, there would probably be a shift in topics and how courses are described. This description is from around 2010, and is clearly a language course:

This description is from a book now:

If you asked somebody outside ELT what this person was going to learn, they wouldn’t mention anything about language. James finds this very interesting.

Our ambitions as language teachers and materials writers has changed – we’re more and more ambitious now.

If we take ‘Curriculum development in language teaching’ by Richards in 2001, when he talks about topic-based syllabuses it’s on 2 pages out of 300+. Now coursebooks are mostly around a topic-based syllabus [hmmm, not sure about this!]

In the past it would have been language-first or language-only, but now it’s more likely to be topic-first.

The examples Richards gives of topics from a course is from 1989:

Nuclear power was one that particularly interested James, because Germany has an interesting relationship with nuclear power.

Nuclear power has these pros and cons now:

James wonders what those nuclear power materials would have looked like in Germany in 1989, and what might they look like now.

He mocked up a couple of activities. In your context, do you think these materials would be accepted / published?

As an editor, James points out that the first question is difficult to answer and the second invites learners to have an opinion on something that they wouldn’t be qualified to have an opinion on. It invites space for doubt which isn’t appropriate based on the evidence.

Another activity:

Two texts of equal size, giving them equal weight, but the scientific consensus is not equally weighted. It’s a false equivalency – they’re not the same, and by presenting the materials like this, you validate that equality.

Would this be published? Would you be surprised to see this in a coursebook? James thinks maybe.

Here’s another subject: the climate crisis.

Most people accept that the climate crisis is an issue because they accept the evidence.

James used ‘climate change’ on purpose, because he doesn’t like it. ‘Affect your life’ leaves space for people to say ‘I’m alright, so what’s the problem?’ The third question suggests that some people are catastrophising the problem.

The reading:

James thinks it’s less likely that this would be published, but that’s probably because this is a topic which is much more agreed upon.

The same thing, but about genetically modified food:

Would this get through? The scientific evidence on GMOs is about the same as the climate crisis. Maybe this would get through – James has seen lessons with materials about GMOs which aren’t really based in the science.

What about astrology? ‘Science-y’ – what’s the harm? Maybe this invites magical thinking and can be quite harmful. Or alternative medicine? James has seen those lessons:

These ones probably won’t be a problem in materials. Unless they’re in a conspiracy theories lesson, these are unlikely to appear in coursebooks:

But these ones are topics where we can be a bit woolly in our materials:

James has seen lessons which don’t really reflect the scientific evidence. What is the purpose of some of these topics from an educational point of view? It’s not that they can’t be written, but they need to be written very carefully.j

‘Conspiratorial thinking’ = why do some people believe in conspiracy theories? Don’t include ‘What conspiracy theories have you heard of?’ – that provides a space for people to share them and for them to be passed on.

There’s a crisis in psychological research, as many studies haven’t been able to be replicated.

Recommendations for an evidence-based approach to materials writing

The scientific process is the best method available for acquiring knowledge.

Expertise is respected.

The scientific consensus must be respected in our materials.

Part of this process if to check reliable sources to the best of our ability.

Personal agendas must be ignored. What is our weakness from the list of areas?

The accuracy of information in our lessons is vital. We are created materials for an educational environment. Our lessons have weight, and students believe what they read. Our focus is on language, but if we want to be more topic-based we have to be very careful with our information.

Sharing words and worlds: ESOl teachers as allies, advocates and activists – Lesley Painter-Farrell (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 plenary summary)

These are my notes from this plenary. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Lesley says this area of ELT is sidelined, it irritates her and she’s not sure why. ESOL trainers mentioned a lack of suitable materials, piecemeal training, being paid very poorly or being volunteers, complex situations for students, growing anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a wide range of other issues. ESOL teachers need to engage with the broader contexts in which their students live and work. THey need to understand a huge range of issues.

Challenges that ESOL teachers and students face

There is an unprecedented movement of people around the globe due to war, poverty, violence, climate change, and persecution.

The number of English language classes for this context has grown exponentially. Low English proficiency is a significant predictor of stress for newcomers to countries (Lesley is based in the US). It affects their legal status.

Immigration is:

This is really evident in all ESOL classes. The teachers need to navigate a wide range of challenges and needs.

Lesley’s experience in the field

Lesley works at a state university in New York. There are over 5000 ESOL students, primarily from South and Central America, and a growing body of people seeking asylum from Venezuela and Ukraine. It’s called the Gateway Building, and is supposed to represent welcoming open arms.

The students are:

  • Super-diverse
  • Different cultural, education, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds
  • Varying levels of literacy int heir first languages, different education experiences, possibly interrupted
  • Some have experienced trauma
  • Many are in the US alone
  • They do not only have linguistic needs. It’s not usually their biggest priority

They might never go home, see their family, have no money, have left everything behind, and they can’t speak the language in the place they’ve moved to.

And then there’s this:

The things the students are trying to do to fit in are made even harder by racism and ablist ideas that other, vilify and exclude. It’s not about belonging, but about assimilation. Immigrants are considered less and not able if they don’t speak English.

This is not new:

Being Americanised is equated as learning English. It’s seen as being a loyal and patriotic thing to do.

The analogy of being a melting pot is not multicultural. It’s that we’re melting together.

The trope that’s developed is ‘Them’ and ‘Us’

ESOL teachers are therefore in a very difficult position, in the eye of the storm. Going into a class is actually quite complicated. Teaching English has become a very politicised act.

In an ESOL classroom, it’s not just about focussing on linguistic objectives.

How we prepare teachers for the ESOL classroom

Teachers need to engage in the larger social, institutional, political contexts, which as mentioned previously involve public opinion, policies, politics and power.

We need to become allies in the classroom, and compensate for what the students see outside.

We need to advocate in the classroom.

We need to become activists and stand up for our students.



If we make connections with our students, it not only means empathy, but getting a deep awareness of the whole person.

Connections come before content.

Originally this plenary was going to be called ‘invisible people’, because people often don’t see the immigrants who are all around them.

A sense of community – often the classroom is their community.

See people as individuals.

‘Sharing words’ is a programme they created. MA students go into classrooms and listen to the stories of the learners.

Lesley told us a story about Juan’s life, how shocked she was by his journey. But then he was shocked by her decision to leave a good country and her family. She realised in that moment what privilege really was.

This situates us. Listening to stories and telling stories can help the teachers understand their students, and help learners to remember the good things about their countries. Our stories are our narratives, our identities.


A curriculum in the ESOL classroom is extremely flexible, bending and twisting with what’s in the classroom. They have to be both relevant and responsive to what the students need at any given time.

It also needs to be reflective, with a critical awareness of the materials we are using, the language that we use in class, the visuals that our students are looking at and so forth. We need to think about our own positionaliity, and realise that our positions are likely to be very different to our learners.


Disrupting tropes and not perpetuating them: the language, the images…

There is therefore a need for trainees to have an awareness of sociopolitical issues.

Lesley is constantly trying to put herself in her students’ position so she can better understand how to help them.


Power is a huge issue.

There is hierarchy within hierarchy within hierarchy.

Belonging and membership

This is Henry Ford’s melting pot again, what we don’t want:

Learning a language is additive, it’s not subtractive.

What do we mean by belong?

Who decides?

Language is seen as a problem (Hornberger, 1990)

Belonging is a fundamental need.

One dominant language…

Washing away our identity. This is a problem when we try to replace another language with English.

Cultural responsiveness

A great activity (we did this) is to say Hello in as many languages as possible, or another word. It helps learners to realise that different languages are important. We need to develop an asset mindset – multiple languages are an asset.

It was lovely to see Juan dance 🙂

Lesley asked the learners to bring something from their culture. Juan bought music and wanted to dance. He’s been in the country for 20 years, and is in the beginner class – who has been welcoming to him? Letting him dance elevates him and helps him to feel good about this.

We listened to Carlos talking about his English. He’s been in the US for 20 years without learning English, because nobody stimulated him. He’s been a food server for many years, and his family are in Peru. He had a problem with his boss and couldn’t defend himself, which was the prompt to learn English. It’s very challenging for him – it’s difficult to estimate how hard it can be to learn. He’s worked hard in the country for this length of time, but didn’t feel like he belonged until he learnt English.

Lesley is working on having more teachers like Fabiola, who translated for Carlos, rather than like her from abroad.

International mindedness

This is an installation of backpacks that have been abandoned on the border between Mexico and the US:

They all show hope, and were all abandoned.


Despite all of these problems, ESOL teachers are not failing their ESOL students.

International mindedness is what we need.

We celebrate we don’t negate,

We protect rather than reject,

We do not see differences as deficiencies,

We lift up and include.

We see ourselves in our students.I

t could be us.

Those backpacks are our backpacks.

‘First the grammar, second the text’: exploring student-teachers’ materials design – Luis Carabantes (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

The quote was from one of the participants.

The Chilean context, including standardisation

ELTEd =English Language Teaching Education

1998: a reform said they would concentrate on listening and reading (80%), with 20% on speaking and writing

2012 was the most recent curriculum changes. Now they’re focussing on all communicative skills.

By the end of primary students have A2, by the end of secondary they should have B1.

The curriculum is presented in two documents. The Curricular Bases are compulsory for all schools. The other document is Study Programmes which is optional – schools can follow this or their own, but they have to meet the Curricular Bases.

Study programmes specify communicative approaches, and suggest areas like the Natural Approach, Content Based Instruction, TBLT, Cooperative Language LEarning.

They also mention that students should develop literary and non-literary texts.

Standardisation of Teacher Education

Standards involve:

  • Current views about teaching and learning
  • Standardised tests measuring the quality fo teachers upon finishing their teacher education courses
  • The obligatory accreditation of all teacher education courses (all 5 year, all by universities – for teaching in state schools)

The standardised tests for the teachers include both linguistic and language teaching competences. The language level is minimum C1. They need to understand communicative language teaching approaches. They need to develop the learnr’s communicative skills in an integrated fashion. They need to be able to select, adapt and design language teaching materials. There needs to be multiculturality to promote the use of English as a vehicle to exchange and represent culture as well as value and respect the self and others.

Presence of Materials Development in ELTEd

25 universities were offering ELTEd programmes in 2019, but only 3 had a specific module about materials development. The handbooks they use for the courses tend to look at how to evaluate textbooks and how to use textbooks, but not designing materials. So how do (preservice) teachers learn to design teaching materials? (My MA dissertation question too!)

Meaning and content in materials: What do teachers do?

Santos research e.g. Brazilian learners saw pictures of Brazilians in images that were stereotypical, but this wasn’t questioned or problematised in the classroom when the materials were used.

Research questions

Luis worked with 8 pre-service teachers. He conducted a focus group with 6 teachers in year 4, and more (I missed this). The course he studied involved a lot of areas, but not materials design.


Topics and themes are subjugated to discrete language points. Materials responded to the need of working with the content and grammar, and secondly the text. Another person said ‘What matters is not the topic itself, but the development of English.’

The notion of ‘content’ seemed to be in line with ‘discrete language’ rather than topics. For example, when asked what content meant, one person said ‘present perfect’, for example.

In the school placements, this notion of content was reinforced by the school mentors. For example, one mentor talked about having the last word on the topic, the verb tense.

There’s no mention of lexis, only grammar.

The pre-service teachers said they were using the national curriculum as a basis to decide what to put into their materials.

The Curricular Bases has a detailed description of the language items, but only a broad brush mention of the topics: global interests and other cultures.

The Study Programmes has broad guidance on topics, but detailed specifics regarding the language.

‘Global interests and other cultures’ is also not specific.

Findings: ELTEd Programme

The teacher education programme applies international exams to measure the increase in language levels.

There’s backwash here from the Cambridge C1 Advanced into the teacher education programme.

Thematic content took a secondary role in the pre-service teachers’ design of materials, being subordinated to discrete language.

They’re exposed to a lot of materials with a focus on grammar, so because they’re taught like that, they teach like that.

Other factors influencing the role given to thematic content:

There are mismatches between how teachers are taught and how they’re told to teach in theory.

The adoption of international exams to evaluate teachers’ linguistic competency leads to an apprenticeship of observation (they’re being exposed to a language learning experience that’s driven by linguistic concerns, pushing them towards an exam). Exams, accreditation, standards etc. are mechanisms of perform activity (Ball, 2003) and compartmentalisation of ELTEd subject matter (Donato, 2009) which undermines the pre-service teachers’ development of communicative pedagogies.

Implications for practice

Exploring reasons and emergent language in learner-generated texts – Danny Norrington-Davies (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

The QR code in the image will give you all of the slides (if it’s clear enough!)

Danny loves using texts in the classroom. He’s talking about learner-generated texts in the classroom today. These are co-created texts by learners with the support of the teacher during the lesson.

How do we generate a text in class

From an image: create dialogues based on the characters, take the perspectives.

From a piece of music.

From learner stories and experiences.

From tasks.

Replication tasks – students have read a text, then recreate the same genre.

Dictogloss / grammaring / information gaps – Danny won’t include those though, as the texts don’t come from the learners’ heads.

Text 1: Food disasters

Talk about how good the learners are at cooking. Do they have a speciality?

Show them the picture. What happened?

Imagine this is you. What were you making? Why were you making it? Who’s it for? What happened?

(Good A2, B1 learners will probably do this task)

Danny will then gather the ideas from the learners to create a single text.

[Danny said at the end that this is a lovely way to teach – you’re incredibly busy in the lesson, but have very little to do before it. This lesson is just a picture, and everything else happens during the lesson.]

Lesson procedure

Here’s an example a learner produced:

The text the learners produced was very similar to the length in the coursebook.

Exploring reasons in the text

Why are we using…

…the past continuous?

…the past simple?

…the past perfect?

Danny explores that with his learners.

The rules Danny’s group came up with:

These wouldn’t come up in a grammar book, but the learners did well.

Here’s another group’s response:

Past perfect was the rewind to how the problem was caused.

If they were using the coursebook, they wouldn’t be looking as deeply into the genre.

A genre-based approach

In a way this is a form of ‘move analysis’ as the learners identify structural and linguistic regularities within a genre by analysing texts representing that particular genre. (Tardy and Swales, 2014)

A replication task follows – learners make their own texts. They chose their own image and produced their own food disaster story.

How are these forms dealt with in the coursebook?

The rules are super complicated. They are separated into different units.

The rules the learners come up with are much more in line with the genre.

What emergent language is?

Based on learner questions [I missed the rest of the slide!]

Emergent language then becomes input language for the next day. This image always causes problems between slipped, spilt, fell/feel over, tripped, knocked over, dropped, smashed etc.

Text 2: The best job in the world

B1 group of students

This is the task:

Danny got them to create a pitch and give it, rather than make a video.

You can roughly predict the language that might come up. What would you include?

Lesson procedure:

Language that comes up: can, present simple, used to/would, present perfect.

Reasons for this language in an interview or pitch: we’re using ‘can’ for skills and abilities. Present simple: this is who I am, my personality, my character. My experience: present perfect, used to and would. Extended Danny’s understanding of ‘used to’ into experience.

Brad Barker decided to write a text based on what the students told him. He wrote the text at home, then they discussed it afterwards.

Mel Lamb got learners to record themselves talking about their future plans. They then listened to the recording and mapped the language they used onto the matrix.

Anne-Sophie Cocault presented at IATEFL 2022. She gave students an existing game without the rules. They create they own rules and create a poster of those rules.

Why exploit learner-generated texts?

By co-constructing the text publicly, the errors are dealt with at a text level, not at sentence level. (Norrington-Davies, 2016)

Learners are exploiring reasons form the perspective of the writer or speaker within the genre.

Models of language are personal and relevant for students.

Focus on form/meaning/message is a collective endeavour (both students and teacher).

Language input is provided at the point of need. You’re monitoring a lot!

Learners go beyond information they’ve been given and create knowledge that is new for them – so they are repairing or adding to mental models learners have of language in their heads (see Swain, 2010).

Learners have a record of the text and language focus – the language focus lives under the text in their notebooks. Their records are records of lessons, not separate parts.

Things to consider

Prepare for the grammar, look out for the lexis. The grammar is broadly predictable, but the lexis might be less predictable.

Reconstructing the text can take time, sometimes across a couple of lessons.

Eliciting students’ ideas rather than specific words or sentences. ‘What’s happening?’ ‘Who’s she cooking for?’, rather than ‘Give me your first sentence.’D

Draw on what you have heard as you monitor.

Prepare for negotiation and questions (Danny, can I use…? Why can’t I use…?)

Embrace the mess and uncertainty.

Danny’s books

‘Working with emergent language’ with Richard Chinn

‘From Rules to Reasons’

Both of those books can help you to understand these ideas. I’d definitely recommend them!

Adventures in WhatsApp: PRELIM 2 Guinea 2022 – Anna Young & Kristina Smith, Abdoulaye Konate (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

This talk is particularly interesting for me as I was doing a parallel project with Kristina creating WhatsApp materials for a similar low-resource context in Sylhet in Bangladesh at the same time as this Guinea project was happening.

Kristina was responsible for the overall design and did the liaison with all the stakeholders, wrote the questionnaires and did the research. Anna wrote most of the materials and delivered everything on the WhatsApp channel. Abdoulaye Konate is in charge of the teachers association in Guinea and coordinated it from that end. He’s not presenting but was very involved.

Some of the other influences were Prof Karin, Dr Abd Karim Alias. The video she watchied on teaching with WhatsApp and Telegram during COVID times. Colm Downs also talked about Emergency Remote Teaching using WhatsApp and Emojis. These are talks you can watch online.

PRELIM = Partnered Remote Language Improvement.

Bell in the UK was paired with GETC: Guinea English Teacher’s Club. There were 766 registered English teachers in Guinea, and 562 of them were GTEC members, and were already organised in WhatsApp groups.

The aim of the course was to improve their confidence using English in the classroom. It was fluency-oriented.

Kristina recommends http;// for this kind of map!

Challenges for English teachers in Guinea:

  • Large classes (80-130) – teachers there wanted more chairs and desks – people sit on the floor
  • Mixed age groups – different ages for starting school
  • French is the lingua Franca, language of education, so they get English later
  • Restricted access to books (only the teacher), visual aids, stationery items
  • Internet access – patchy and expensive

Teachers had smartphones, and the project was able to provide some money to buy data.

Opportunities for the course:

  • Highly motivated teachers
  • Organised ETA
  • GTEC already use WhatsApp groups
  • Teachers had smartphones

Across the week

They started every week with a culture topic. E.g. My garden, my local market, my house.

In the middle of every week, they looked at an area of classroom language. How could you do more in English in the classroom?

On Fridays there was a pronunciation focus. These were focussed on areas which are typical problems for French speakers of English.

After every two weeks, there should be one week break for people to catch up. That extra week stops teachers from dropping out.

Tips for materials writing for this online group

Write all of your materials before you start.

They had 6 WhatsApp groups:

  • 1 which was a training channel – where the materials were shared
  • 4 were class groups – where the materials were responded to
  • 1 was for the course assistants – 2 course assistants in each group. They read all of the materials and kept track of attendance.

WhatsApp materials

Culture Mondays:

  • Your house, garden and surroundings
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • etc.

All of the input was through voice notes and text., so they could both see and hear.

There was a always a model, then it was handed over to them. They could answer as a voice note or text. They then had an extra task to ensure learners would read / listen to each other’s messages.

Here’s an example of what they produced:

Tuesday-Thursday: English language for teachers/

Each week there was a tick list to help them see the list of topics. There was some information (input) with both voice and text, then there was a task for the teachers to do.

By practising with a partner on WhatsApp, they can build confidence to be able to do this in the classroom.

Here’s an example of what they produced.

This also naturally fed into classroom activities. It built classroom language, showed a model of what the student and the teacher might say, both as a voice recording and a text. Taking pictures from paper was useful, as this was what the teachers would do. There was nothing flashy with technology.

Friday was ‘emoji Friday’:

They delivered this live on WhatsApp and the stories would pop up there.

Encourage questions to build rapport.

These are some of the pronunciation areas they worked on:

The materials looked like this:/

Here was a pronunciation task:

Once they’d done something as a task themselves in the WhatsApp group, they then tried the same activity with their students in class and reflected on this. These are some example of what they produced:

The final piece each week was a reflection task:

There was also a weekly Zoom class even though they knew lots of people couldn’t necessarily attend. It gave those who could the chance to experience Zoom. They would preview some of the games and activities they would show during the week. They would demonstrate it in the main room, then try them out in breakout rooms. Teachers could then take them into class.

Benefits of WhatsApp for training

Teachers had choice. Some chose to do things in notebooks and take photos. Some decided to do it as pairwork in WhatsApp. Some decided to do it as videos, showing their class doing things. This showed an immediate impact.

Rapport can be a big concern. On WhatsApp, getting to know you activities are really important. Also responding to each other’s messages. You don’t have to do as much intervention as a tutor – others do the intervention, and you respond to the ones that have no response.

Resources – find out what they have, and use that as the basis for your materials.

Give instructions by doing things step by step.

Time management – give yourself a time limit with each group so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Be you! Start the lesson in the same way as you normally would. Be human.

Monitor the channels.

You’ll see an immediate impact!

An audience member from Cameroon talked about the WhatsApp group they run. They have an awards ceremony for the most active teachers in their PD WhatsApp groups.

Lean on me: Stories of coaching, mentoring and teacher resilience – Divya Madhavan (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 plenary summary)

These are my notes from this plenary. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Coaching and mentoring: metaphors for learning on those around us – this is Divya’s topic today. She tells us that ELT is different to other types of teaching. Many of us get qualified as we’re already teaching, and many of us pay our own way for professional development, unlike other types of teaching where people get qualified first then start teaching. ‘We are fuelled by a deep love of teaching and this infinite joy in discovering new dimensions to teaching and learning’ – I agree with Divya!

‘Many of the everyday choices we all make influence how the people around us grow.’

One of the things that Divya has noticed over the last few years is a levelling of the playing field when it comes to questions of diversity: different nationalities, different colours, and more. The conversation on diversity is just beginning, but it’s already got better. The journey is messy, change is messy, because human beings are messy. ‘Every human success is built on mess.’

Mess – there are many of them in ELT:

  • Severely low-resourced contexts
  • The problems of people having to work more than one job to make ends meet

In all this mess, we still show up for our students. Teachers showing up is what has kept education moving forward.

‘Teachers showing up deserves celebration, and showing up for each other deserves recognition’

‘English is now everyone’s language, infused with the diversity that makes it for everyone now.’

Clear communication has never been more essential to the advancement of society, and as teachers of language we help with this.

Coaching and mentoring are relevant to our context because they help us to envisage different roles teachers can take.

What is coaching?

Coaches zone in, they help people find their zone and flourish within it.

There is a specific area that needs to evolve, and the coach’s role is to guide their client / person / etc. within this area.

She’s disassociating from the professional qualifications here, as that’s a move in a different professional area. Instead, it’s about coaching as part of your other roles.

You don’t need to have subject knowledge, but rather the skills to encourage others.

This is perhaps the more natural relationship to have with our students.

What is mentoring?

Mentors zoom out and work across multiple zones, with multiple goals.

Having a mentor is like having your own special Yoda, who guides you through the ups and downs of life.

Subject knowledge is key. You need somebody who knows their stuff to guide the mentee.

This is perhaps the more natural relationship to have with other teachers.

Showing up for students

‘Going-the-extra-mile gestures are universal in the world of teaching.’

Examples: Divya says she loves her students, and therefore she often does things that go above and beyond. For example, providing cake for her debating team. Spending evenings and weekends on creating materials that are special for her students.

Who shows up for teachers?

Other teachers!

Divya will tell us about four people who changed her world as a teacher. She interviewed each of these four teachers as she prepared for this talk.

Four philosophies that are key to teacher resilience:

  • Trust
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Perseverance

Vicky Saumell: Story of Trust

Vicky said: Mentoring was needed to help teachers make the mindset shift for an effective implementation of project-based learning across her school. Rather than trying to push the change top-down, she went to her most experienced teacher, she asked them what they thought of the idea and how it might influence the school. Vicky says it’s about the trust you build as a leader. Once she’d got the most experienced teacher on board, it was easier to get the rest of the team on board.

We need to understand teachers’ workloads before we try to make changes. In Argentina, where Vicky works, many teachers work in 3 or 4 schools, each with their own requirements. You need to take that into account when you’re making changes.

A resilient teacher is open to change, to experimenting and trying new things.

A resilient community is one that supports their teachers in these struggles.

Divya learnt that change is implemented by getting new habits. This can only work with teachers if they are trusted to do it. Trust among teachers is cultivated, it’s demonstrated, it’s prolonged once it’s earned.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

James Clear

Barb Sakamoto: Story of Confidence

Barb is one of the forces behind iTDi, with ideas like community building.

Barb says: The most successful teachers and trainers create a community in their classroom. It’s a place where the members of the community feel safe, they can make mistakes without people making fun of them, and they feel like they belong. Sometimes it’s the only safe place.

You can’t be a teacher without learning. Any good teacher is always learning. But ultimately, the one thing that a teacher can do that other people cannot, is teach! If you bring a group of teachers together, they will teach each other – that becomes mentoring.

Community is wherever the teachers are. When iTDi had a clunky forum, teachers would still connect in other places. When they started, teachers might not have ever met anybody online who they hadn’t already met in person. They started to form their own communities.

If people believe in what you have to say, you start to have confidence. Once you have confidence, you start to talk to other people. You start to do webinars, go to conferences, etc. You can do this because you have a ‘cheering section’ – people who genuinely believe you are worth listening to.

Divya learnt: that we need to give people the space to develop and build their confidence. Where is confidence built? In the social environment of a classroom.

In many education management contexts, we need to be reminded of the lessons that critical pedagogy has for us.

Patricia Angoy, Eswatini: Story of Courage

She’s the first woman of colour to have headed the school she worked at.

Patricia says: A teacher who has been very resilient in one school may not be resilient in another because of the environment in the school. One of the roles of a leader in a school is to create an environment where teachers feel safe and can feel that they can be who they want to be. You can try things out, perhaps fail, and know that there is a whole body of people who will support you to be successful with your students.

When somebody joins Patricia’s school, she always asks them ‘Why are you here?’ She’s looking for answers to allow them to be a community, to find out what they have in common.

Coming together every day, making sure everybody was OK (even in a situation of social unrest), created a community. They knew they were there for each other. People began to step up in ways Patricia couldn’t have imagined otherwise. You begin to understand the different talents you have as an individual and as a professional. When people start to understand how much they have to give, that’s very rewarding for Patricia too. You do these things together – you’re not the expert.

Although we’re a multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic world, the way in which schooling is done hasn’t really changed over the last 100 years or so, and the power is still in the hands of very few. It’s important for us to open up education to what it really is: the people who are education. Representation isn’t enough. There needs to be a huge shift in decolonising education, in a way that is accepting of others.

Divya learnt: we all need courage when we show up. Having courage shapes our decisions: the battles we choose to fight, the ones we choose to lose, the ones we come back to later, and the ones we leave behind. Courage is speaking up and speaking out when necessary.

Divya has learnt a lot from reading Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paolo Freire. It helps her to recentre.

Each of our students should leave our classrooms a small step closer to being a change agent in the world.

The English language is powerful currency, and as English language teachers we shape its exchange rate. We need courage to make these decisions.

Maggie Doyne: Story of Perseverance

Maggie used her babysitting money to help her set up a charity. And is now a CEO of a major charity, and was 2015 CNN Champion of the year.

Maggie says: They work in midwestern Nepal helping in education and orphan care. They want to create a world where every child is educated and loved. They want to create a full-service environment where school is a centre for everything: food, wellness, health, literacy, the women in the community, a connection to nature. The school is a community space and a hub, not just a centre for education.

Teachers need respect on their pay checks.

One of the biggest challenges they have is retraining and recruiting teachers and professional teachers. They want to make sure teachers can see a future in the career, can see growth and fulfilment. She wants to make sure teachers are held in esteem.

They do a lot of work with young, fresh teachers. There’s a coaching / mentoring model where they’re using co-teaching, guiding, pairing up teachers with more senior teachers. Onboarding is strong culturally, so they know that the teachers and the organisation are a good fit for each other.

Teachers need intuition and to have a strong sense of self, standing confidently in who they are and believing and trusting. Resilience is about falling and failing, and getting back up and showing up again.

Divya learnt: perseverance is about dreaming big bold dreams to keep our world magical and give us the momentum to keep our world moving forward. People like Maggie remind us how much there is to do.


Our strength is about community, and what we do together.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re here, and us, and futures ‘us’es are irreplaceable. Let’s keep showing up.

Developing teacher cognitions: Maximising the impact of in-service CPD programmes – Ben Beaumont (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

In-service CPD: some perspectives

Learning to teach is now seen as a life-long activity. It continues throughout our professional career.

Anderson and Taner (2022) showed that one of the features of an expert teacher is somebody who continues learning. In-service CPD is central in developing expertise.

Borg et al (2022) in a study of 8,500 language teachers looked at issues with teacher education. It tends to be top-down, administrational, and rarely focuses on teachers’ pedagogic needs or learners’ development requirements.

Carabantes and Paran (2022) showed that more embedding of materials development is required in teacher education courses.

Exploring teacher cognition and its relevance in CPD

Teacher cognitions are the ‘unobservable cognitive dimension of teaching – what teachers know, believe, and think’ (Borg, 2003:81)

What teachers do in the classroom is strongly influenced by their beliefs, developed in a wide range of different ways.

There is a constant bi-directional influence between teachers and their environments (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990). Our beliefs both influence the environment and are influenced by the environment.

Studies into teacher cognitions

Non-probability samples = often small groups, convenience of sample, volunteers based on the groups you have available. There’s a focus on qualitative data and understanding individual stories.

Materials development and developing teacher cognitions

Materials and their influence on teachers

Akbari has written quite a lot in ELTJ about materials and teachers.

Textbooks now take care of all the details of classroom life, and most of them come with teacher guides that include achievement tests and even all the examples teachers need in their classes.

Akbari 2008: 647

Many of us learn how to teach from the materials we use. However, the materials don’t really give us room for manoeuvre- we take the role almost of an automaton, because we’re perhaps restricted by the materials.

Teachers often use materials in ways not intended by the designers, extending their use out of context.

Humphries 2014; Sefaraj 2014

Early career teachers can develop a dependency on published materials, giving a primacy to the coursebook rather than student need or their own pedagogical knowledge.

Carabantes and Paran, 2022

Materials as CPD

Materials can actually be really useful as CPD. They can help students and teachers question the world around them. Here are three quotes about this:

Conference events are great at sharing ideas, but not necessarily very practical in terms of influencing day-to-day teaching.

The Trinity CertPT-NILE impact study

CertPT is a level 6 study, falling between pre-service CELTA/CertTESOL (Level 5) and Delta/DipTESOL (Level 7).

It has 30 hours of input, with 100 hours of total qualification time. Materials development is used as a vehicle for pedagogical change and practice.

NILE offers an opt-in for CertPT support to go with their regular courses. Teachers submit four CertPT assessment tasks:

1. Materials evaluation

2. Materials adaptation

3. Materials creation

4. Materials use and reflection

The materials are related to the particular course the teacher has done e.g. teaching young learners, trainer development, etc.

The study aims:

  • Evaluate the impact of these CertPT assessment tasks on teachers’ resource use and development and teacher’s agency using resources to meet learners’ needs
  • Evaluate constructive alignment between NILE’s CPD course content, CertPT assessment, and application of course and assessment for teachers.

This is the method. They’re currently between steps 6 and 7:

Early findings on the impact of the course

Interview data so far (3-4 teachers) show that these assessment tasks have a strongly positive effect on teacher cognitions and critical pedagogy.

The last assessment piece in the CertPT requires the teacher to get feedback from the learner or another stakeholder on how the materials work. One teacher got feedback from refugees in a low-resource context in Greece, and it was incredibly rewarding and powerful as an experience for both the teacher and the learners.

The impact of the criteria is also positive. The criteria helps teachers consider areas of evaluation they might not have previously considered (e.g. the wider learning context, learners’ end-point requirements). It helps teachers make the link between principles and realities of day-to-day teaching. They encourage teachers to engage with literature. It helps build an understanding of core features of higher-level academic texts (e.g. referencing and organisation).

Here are some quotes from participants:

Specialise or Diversity? That is the question! An insight into freelancing in the world of ELT – Fabiana Crispim and Shilpa Pulapaka (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Fabiana is a freelance Business English tutor. She started working in corporate companies and owned her own business. She volunteered as a teacher on the side, then moved into teaching permanently 5 years ago.

Shilpa is a business lecturer, tester and freelance ELT tutor and study coach, and a content writer. She started in accounting, but retrained as an English teacher and also taught maths and business. She started teaching 15 years ago, across various subjects in various contexts. She’s done general English, academic English, taught refugee journalists, and now she teaches accounting and management and freelances as a tutor, among many many other things.

Here are a couple of quotes about what Fabiana and Shilpa do:

If you had all the freedom in the world, which would you choose?

The audience talked about it possibly being phases in our lives, and that you might shift between the two.

Disclaimer: they’re talking about their experiences, rather than making specific recommendations.


Fabiana’s reasons for specialising:

  • Need for focus
  • Develop expertise
  • Stability and consistency

Benefits of specialising:

  • Less time preparing lessons, more time to organise the other parts of her work (like finding students, and other aspects of freelancing)
  • More time for CPD – easier to focus too because of being able to focus on specific areas and material in her development
  • Focus on personalising lessons, and therefore it’s easier to sell her teaching and network

Challenges of specialising:

  • Covid: required her to remodel her classes and rethink her work
  • Finding work: constant need to be updated on social media platforms
  • It can be boring


Shilpa’s reasons for diversifying:

  • Multiple interests
  • Variety
  • Financial freedom

Benefits: of diversifying

  • There’s always something to do.
  • She can focus on personalising lessons across different areas, e.g. English for personal law, English for accounting.
  • CPD – developing a varied skill set, because you’re forced to learn across a range of areas
  • Multiple sources of income so you can pivot / fall back on other areas if you need to, and access to larger clientele groups

Challenges of diversifying:

  • It takes times and patience: you need to be a little bit mad to keep going 😉 It requires commitment too.
  • Learning: at times you need to learn on the job, and you need to stay constantly updated on subject matter content, sometimes just before you teach it.
  • Routine: setting routines can be difficult and can be stressful if you’re not prepared.

How they cope

CPD is a lifeline. Shilpa and Fabiana met at IATEFL last year, and now they’re speaking together! 🙂

  • Conferences and teacher development talks
  • Reading/studying
  • Certifications
  • Finding a mentor – you are not alone!

Fabiana dedicates Fridays to CPD. Find a mentor and ‘stick to them like gum’ says Shilpa! Both Fabiana and Shilpa have said they’ve hugely benefitted from having mentors. Find somebody who’s doing what you want to do.

Have a USP: Unique Selling Point. Know who you are and what your selling point is. Your students will come to you because you offer you something special.

Self-care: Fabiana separates time slots between her classes to have time to go for a walk, or have a chat to somebody, watch the birds outside.

Learn to say NO!

It doesn’t matter whether you specialise or diversify, all of these things are true.

Final thoughts

There’s no replacement for CPD. It’s the best way to grow in any career.

Networking. Freelancing can get lonely. Networking keeps you connected and informed.

Mental health. Self-awareness and self-care are the more sustainable approach to freelancing. You can do better for your students if you look after yourself. They feed off your energy, so you don’t have energy, you can’t give this to your students.

Important roles: regardless of the path you choose, you are making an impact in your field and on your students.

Never charge less! Do not undersell yourself! This is part of respecting yourself.

EdTech and ‘The CELTA Course’: what trainees need to know (IATEFL Harrogate 2023)

On Tuesday 18th April 2023, I presented this talk on behalf of Cambridge University Press. This is the blurb:

Recent years have seen a growth in both online teaching and technology use in language education, with an impact on the needs of trainee teachers. This talk will address what trainee teachers need to know, drawing on content from the new edition of The CELTA Course trainee and trainer books, which I have co-authored with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury.

I was talking about The CELTA Course Trainee Book and The CELTA Course Trainer’s Manual second editions which were released in February this year.

Here are the slides from the presentation:

In the talk I compared 2007, when the first edition was published, to 2023, when the second edition was released. I talked about changes in technology in the world, and how CELTA courses have changed in the interim – I did my own CELTA course in 2007-2007, and am now an experienced CELTA trainer myself.

I shared materials from two units in the books, which you can see on slides 14-23 in the embedded slidedeck above.

I concluded that trainees need to know these things about EdTech (educational technology):

  • How to move between online and face-to-face classrooms:
    • Adapting activities / Choosing new ones
    • Choosing appropriate teaching techniques
  • How to identify the knowledge and skills they need to use tech successfully
  • How to support learners with technology
  • How to adapt as it changes!

…and that all of these are facilitated to some extent by units in The CELTA Course Second Edition!

If you’d like to get your own copies of the books, they’re currently available from the Cambridge website. I’ll update this post as they are released in more places.

How to create learning materials for social media platforms – Claire Bowes (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

I was very happy to meet Claire in person as she’s one of my current Delta Module 1 trainees 🙂

Social media is one of the biggest places for people to learn English. Claire is focussing on Instagram and TikTok today. YouTube has adopted some of the features of both platforms in their short formats.

Claire has a BA in Business Marketing, and during the pandemic she has nearly 1 million followers on Instagram and TikTok.

Find your focus

You’re competing with a lot of things on social media: cute dogs, and lots more. You need to find your niche.

Choose the content your community will see from you.

You need to have a particular style, so they can see who you are as a creator. When people arrive on your page, that’s when they decide whether they want to continue their learning journey with you.


  • Exam prep
  • Idioms and phrases verbs
  • Pronunciation advice
  • General everyday English
  • Grammar (but caution: you don’t have a lot of time, and you might confuse the students!)

The focus today will be general everyday English., things which they won’t necessarily find in their coursebook.

Learners might need to know this, but not know they don’t know it.

Creating educational chunks

The question you always need to start with:

What can I teach someone in less than a minute?

That’s how long these platforms are for. Even with longer videos, people probably won’t spend that much time watching a video.

There is a formula.

1. Don’t overdo it

The more you intend to teach, the less you actually teach. Learners want quick, informative, digestible content.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing! ‘Learn 1 word’ is much better than ‘Learn 10 words’.

Things you can include:

  • Pronunciation
  • Definition
  • Metalanguage
  • CEFR level
  • Synonym
  • Contextual examples
  • Call to action/practice – giving them a chance to practice the language (this is marketing mixed with learning)

Claire showed us a 50-second video about the word ‘gobsmacked’.

2. Reduce TTT (teacher talking time)

You have time constraints, so no preamble – there’s no time. There’s a lot of online competition and people want you to get to the point. You’re not there to help the learner: they’re watching the video asynchronously. This allows people of all learners, all cultures to learn. This is an example of edutainment.

The thumbnail is the first thing they’ll see. That and the first sentence should tell them what they’ll learn.

3. You need to think like a digital native: people who have always had the internet and don’t like waiting.

How much time does somebody spend on a video before scrolling?

3 seconds! You have 3 seconds to grab somebody’s attention. How do get them to stop scrolling, but also stay true to the learning?

What works for Claire?

A. Peak their interest e.g. What’s this called in English?

B. Share your knowledge – tell them straight away, give them images and animations to keep it clear

C. Pose a question. Get the content engagement, as well as including a freer production task. This gets the learners thinking about the language you’ve just introduced.

Videos should have a similar structure. This helps learners to know what to expect, and feel like they can get to know.

What to use to get started


All you need is a phone to get started! You phone can record video and audio, you can edit there, and you can post from there. You can upscale by getting more complicated technology.

Claire started with an iPhone 8, then shifted to an iPad 12, then she moved to a DSLR and a studio. There was no difference in engagement between the earlier videos and the later ones. There’s no difference in the quality of the information between these videos.


Clare likes to use Premiere Pro, Capcut and Canva to edit her work. There are lots of other options.

Premiere Pro has a very steep learning curve, so don’t start here if you’ve never editing a video! It allows freedom to edit in any way you like. If you’re planning to produce longer-form content, it’s worth investing in.

CapCut is an app which is mostly free. It’s easy to navigate and includes most of the functions you might need. There’s not a big learning curve, and is fairly intuitive. Because it’s an app, there are limitations. It’s a good place to start.

Canva is easy to navigate. It has a paid premium service if you want it. It’s not just great for online content, it works well for creating classroom materials. There are some limitations: you might not find the image or design that you want.

They’re a great way to get started.

What to expect / How does it work really?


Slow growth.

It’s time consuming. You have to give people information very regularly, almost every day. It can take 2 hours to edit a 1-minute video.

Be prepared for criticism.


Connect with a wide community of learners.

A brilliant creative outlet.

Feel like you are making a difference.

Claire’s social media challenges

If you want to connect with Claire, she’s:

englii_insta on Instagram

englii_tiktok on TikTok

She’s now moved towards teaching her own students and moved away from a school.

Advancing Teacher Education Practices: Enabling Teacher Learning – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 talk summary)

These are my notes from this talk. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Gabriel’s talk was part of the TTEdSIG Special Interest Group day, as was my talk later in the day.

Why ‘advancing’? Gabriel thinks we’ve kind of hit a plateau and reiterated the same kinds of things for a few years as teacher trainers. Gabriel thinks every teacher is a learner of teaching throughout their careers.

‘Enabling’ – in Spanish, the word for teacher trainer is a ‘former of formers’. Gabriels thinks he doesn’t shape anybody. He can open up spaces and create the necessary conditions to create the learning we are trying to promote and let it emerge.

Teacher training / education today

Here are some issues Gabriel has trouble with today.

We know that as teachers of teachers, we should promote teacher learning. We instruct our trainees in whatever way we consider best, trying to relate them to the current best practices, and yet when they go into the classroom, what emerges is the way they were taught. Lortie’s ‘Apprenticeship of observation’. His responsibility is to the students the pre-service teachers will work with in the future.

Other ones from the audience: in-service teachers who think they know everything and don’t want to learn. ‘What is this young thing going to teach us that we don’t know already?’ Another: whatever we do in class is taken as a kind of axiom, and what we say turns into a learn – this is the way we do things, and there is no other way.

Teacher education has been too much concerned with what we need to teach the student teachers. It is curriculum-centric. Of all the spheres of human endeavour in education, the only one that has failed to develop a pedagogy of its own is teacher education. [I missed who that was quoting] Gabriel wants to present a version of that pedagogy. Curriculum-centric:

  • Focuses on concepts and skills
  • Tends to promote a linear, additive learning sequence (we all learn teaching in the same order): classroom management, then language, then skills, then assessment at the end. Assessment goes hand-in-hand with teaching – it’s not separate.
  • Allows mostly for ToT (teacher of teachers) mediation
  • It promotes standardisation – we are teaching towards standards and this means the voices of many practitioners cannot be heard
  • It is content-based – both the existing curriculum, and all of the things we leave out

Gabriel wants to move towards a pedagogy centric approach:

  • Brings together concepts, skills, dispositions – ethics and much more
  • Adopts a complex and situated learning sequence – accepting cycles of failure and success
  • Allows for multiple forms of mediation
  • Promotes student teacher’s self-authorship – the process of writing our own identities as teachers = a more context-sensitive type of teacher
  • Needs-based

The core of teacher training

Language teaching is different from any other kind of teaching – we need to show how to do it and help achieve mastery through practice.

When we communicate, we’re creating with language, not just repeating what we’ve memorised. We’re using a living thing. It has memorised chunks, but we say things that we have never said or heard before.

The things we say have an intention.

> Therefore we need to help teachers see differently how they view themselves as language learners, as language teachers, and how the target language is used as part of the classroom.

We need to help them to understand what good teachers actually do.


Learning to teach is a complex endeavour.

It requires questioning of our own assumptions. (Not just having fossilised assumptions, and we need to demonstrate this )

It has to be mediated – with learners, with friends, in the staffroom, not just with the trainer.

It has to involve interaction between old-timers and newcomers.

The purposes of that interaction is not indoctrination, but enabling adaptive expertise to surface. Both the old-timer and the newcomer are developing their view of the profession. An adaptive expert is one who can do things well in a variety of contexts, not just one context.

It’s all about discovering who you are as a professional – self-authorship.


  • Trainees reproduce traditional methods even when explicitly taught otherwise.
  • Trainees cannot account for their instructional choices even in light of explicit instructions.
  • Trainees concentrate either on the practical or the theoretical, not both.
  • Trainees teach their own interpretation of our instructions, resulting in a lack of student learning.
  • Trainees experience difficulty accounting for ‘what went well and went wrong’ in their teaching.
  • Trainees fail to engage with professional development once they qualify.

These are all about needs which are not being met in our training.

Trainees reproduce traditional methods of teaching even when explicitly taught otherwise

The need not being met is: trainees need to explore their own experience as (language) learners.

What can we do about it?

  • Stimulated recall
  • Simulations e.g. of foreign language lessons
  • Images from the classroom
  • Videos of teaching
  • Lesson transcripts – record parts of their lessons and use this to question practice
  • Journaling

One example Gabriel gave us of stimulated recall is a language learning autobiography. They do it at the beginning of the year, then as they go through the curriculum, they compare it to what they’ve learnt. Moving back and forth between their experience as learners and as teachers.

Trainees cannot account for their instructional choices even in light of explicit instruction

The need not being met is: trainees need to notice gaps in their knowledge of teaching – what they know conceptually and the embodied knowledge of being a teacher.

How can we do it?

  • Look at Classroom tasks and activities
  • Look at coursebooks
  • Look at lesson plans from others
  • Watch videos
  • Look at lesson transcripts
  • Look at other teaching artefacts

An example: Use a Visual Thinking Strategies protocol, to get the viewer to build their own interpretations of the artefact. 1 minute to look at an image, then ask:

What is going on in this picture? (no feedback, just rephrase the answers ‘So what you mean is…?)

What do you see that makes you say that?

And weave together the opinion of the different participants, then ask:

What more (not what else!) can we learn from this image?

Trainees concentrate either on the practical or the theoretical

The need not being met is: trainees need to deconstruct and reconstruct core knowledge, accessing what we do and why.

  • Videos
  • Lesson pans
  • Transcripts
  • Observation forms
  • Modelling
  • Demonstration
  • Professional literature sources
  • Demonstrations and (loop) input

Example: reading circle (or podcast, or video). Roles:

Followed by a fishbowl – the people sit and discuss it in public, then pose their questions to the group.

Trainees teach their own interpretation…

The need not being met is: trainees need to try out their emergening understanding in a safe environment.

What to do:

  • Student teacher materials
  • Micro teaching
  • Controlled experiments
  • Scripts and protocols
  • ollaborative planning
  • Peer coaching

Example: collaborative rubric construction, e.g. for a lesson observation. The competences all came from the teachers.

Trainees experience difficult accounting for what ‘went well and went wrong’ in their teaching

The need not being met is: trainees need to show their mastery and justify it.

  • Rubrics
  • Observation protocols
  • Checklists
  • Lesson plans
  • Learner assessment of teacher
  • elf-and peer-assessment

Example: looking for learning questions, getting feedback from learners. Each student teacher decides which questions to ask, and asks in the L1 if necessary. At the beginning students might be quite compliant, but they get more detailed later.

Teachers fail to engage with PD

An example: There is a Korthagen book which Gabriel recommends for different kinds of reflection. They like six pairs of glasses to help us reflect.

In summary: enable

All of these seek to enable teacher learning, not provide or any of the other verbs we might need.







This is a visual which Gabriel can send you. He calls this the ‘ENABLE’ model.

If you try it out, Gabriel would like to know how it works.

How to present at an international conference (IATEFL Harrogate 2023)

These are the slides from my IATEFL 2023 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on how to present at an international conference, whether that’s face-to-face or online. It’s an updated version of a presentation I’ve done at the last few IATEFL conferences. You can find all of the associated notes in this post from IATEFL Belfast 2022.

I'm presenting at #IATEFL2023

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – What can you learn from a lexicographer? – Julie Moore

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

Julie helped us to understand how a lexicographer creates dictionary entries, and showed us what materials writers can learn from that when creating materials with a lexical focus. Julie will take us through the process of how she puts together a dictionary entry, and will show us through that

A lexicographer is somebody who works on dictionaries and thesauruses.

EntryEditor is dictionary compilation software, which is what she uses to enter the information in the dictionary. The other piece of software she opens is a corpus. The corpus she uses is one that has been put together and is maintained by the publisher of the dictionary.

This is what EntryEditor looks like:

‘brief’ is the word we’ll look at today. Julie doesn’t have to deal with the pronunciation – a pronunciation specialist does that.

Part of speech

Which part of speech is “brief” in each example? Here are a couple of the sentences Julie shared:

Part of speech can be more challenging than you might expect. They can also be mislabelled in social media posts for example:

This is a noun, with a verb definition – the definition doesn’t match the part of speech.

If a definition is used on a social media post and doesn’t have examples after it, learners can’t follow it.

Insider hack 1

  • Be clear.
  • Be consistent. Maintain the same part of speech throughout.
  • Start with the typical. Start with the most common parts of speech.


These are important in the dictionary so the word comes up when you search it in the dictionary. Make sure you include irregular inflections when you teach new vocabulary. They might seem unimportant, but they can be really useful for learners.

Writing a definition

This should come from research, based on a corpus.

Julie tends to start with a collocation sketch to get an overview of how the word works. Here’s an example of a collocation search for ‘brief’ from Word Sketch:

Starting with the middle two columns, you can already see that there’s a lot connected to politicians. However, this corpus is an internet one and might include quite a lot of news media, which might skew the data.

The next step is to look at corpus lines and analyse them. Here are three examples of ‘brief’ as a verb which Julie has taken out of the corpus lines. Do they all have the same usage? Or are they different? If different, to what extent?

If that’s a challenge, you can start off by thinking about the context. The first one is from a work context, a project context. The second one is from politics and public life. The third one is legal. There are three different contexts.

If you brief someone, one person gives information to another. Is it different guides of information? The first one is instructions for a job. The second one is information or updates. The third one is formal instructions to act – it’s performative.

The question becomes: Is it one meaning or three meanings? We need to consider polysemy.

We can either split our definitions into all their different senses, or we can lump them together. The decision as to which one is chosen will depend on where the definition will appear and who the target reader is. Here are some examples with ‘brief’:

Longman’s is a traditional-style definition, which is quite formulaic. COBUILD introduced full-sentence definitions to learner dictionaries.

And the splitters, Oxford into 2 definitions and Cambridge into 3:

The more specific the audience you have, the more likely you are to split definitions, because they are likely to need finer grain distinctions, so the business English dictionary splits it more.

Merriam Webster isn’t a learner’s dictionary, and has no ‘defining vocabulary’ – this is the list of words which a lexicographer is allowed to use when writing definitions for a learner’s dictionary. They are also a ‘dictionary of record’, so might have more splitting:

When writing materials, you might want to include definitions as part of a glossary, or as part of matching activities.

A matching activity from an idioms book:

These aren’t really definitions – they’re more like paraphrases. This tailors them to the context – the learner doesn’t need a full dictionary definition. If you’re not writing a dictionary, you don’t have to use a dictionary definition, and in fact you probably shouldn’t use a dictionary definition. A dictionary definition has to cater for generalist situations, but if you’re writing a worksheet you know more about the target audience and know the context in which they’ve met the word, so you can tailor your definition.

You need permissions to use dictionary definitions – they’re subject to copyright, and you can’t just take them.

Insider hack #2: definitions

  • Polysemy: decide whether to lump or split
  • Use simple vocabulary
  • Tailor it to your context

Example sentences

Shifting from ‘brief’ to ‘gossip’ now:

Julie tends to spend the majority of her working day here, picking out good examples of sentences to show off the vocabulary. That’s true in materials writing too.

We might start off with the target vocabulary in context in a student’s book input text, then you need example sentences for the vocabulary activities in the unit, then you need more example sentences for the vocabulary review, then the workbook activities need yet more example sentences, and maybe more for online activities and test activities. It’s an important skill to be able to choose example sentences.

Here’s some practice. You have a reading text from a unit about social media. The reading text has the sentence in the top box. We’ve got the definition in the box in the top right. Which of the 8 corpus-based sentences would you use as your example sentences? Which are appropriate and why?

She’ll reject number 5 – it’s being used a noun modifier, she doesn’t want to confuse them. In 6, because it’s a verb. 7 is countable so it’s a bit tricky grammatically. For B1, it’s too confusing. 8 is the wrong meaning – it’s a person.

In 4, ‘scurrilous’ is challenging – it’s tempting to put it in, but it’s a much higher level than the word ‘gossip’. It’ll distract the learners.

In 3, there’s a challenge – what’s the difference between ‘gossip’ and ‘rumours’? This could be quite confusing for students. ‘Transfer’ might be confusing too.

Julie says that 2 is a useful example, and 1 is a good example but using a celebrity name is not a good idea.

We need to build our examples. You start with the text, then have a ‘vanilla’ example – one that’s quite similar to the original from the sample text, without the vocabulary being too different. It allows the learner to focus on the target item, though there’s a grammar difference: it’s in a question (which don’t appear often!) Grammatical differences can move you away from the context a little, for example in the second vanilla example.

In the workbook, you can start to build knowledge more, for example with collocations, or by varying the context: social media, football, office…but the meaning has stayed the same. Varying the grammatical patterns help, not just using it as the object, but as the subject.

Using a corpus can help you come up with different examples like this.

This is what you end up with:

Insider hack #3: examples

  • Stick to the same target usage
  • Start with vanilla examples
  • Add in variety after that
  • Use that to build knowledge for learners

Learner dictionaries to bookmark!

It’s really useful to see what dictionaries do to understand how they’ve tackled different words. You can’t take the definitions and examples directly, but they can give you ideas 🙂

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – Creating inclusive, accessible language learning materials – Sharon Hartle and Emanuela Tenca

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

Sharon and Emanuela were reflecting on research they did connected to inclusive materials.

They started off by asking about our learning design:

These were the results:

It’s important to focus on inclusion and equity. It’s the 4th goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, created before the pandemic, but made even more obvious during the pandemic. We focussed on tools a lot during the pandemic, and maybe learners went out of the window, but now we need to return to a learning- and learner-centred approach. Focus on content, teaching approach and learner agency.

GIAM is the name of their project in their department in Verona. The project involved two languages: a course for beginner’s in Russian, one for B1+ in English for Business English.

To help them design the course, they started with semi-structured inteviews with key stakeholders: interviewing language teachers who had experience of teaching learners with SEN, learners with SEN (dyslexia and low vision), and tutors (students who do internships at their university and assist peers with SEN). They analysed these interviews qualitatively. The areas that came out were:

  • Challenges met by students and teachers
  • Peer relationships
  • Strategies to meet students’ needs – both the strategies themselves, and perceptions of the strategies

They considered:

  • How teachers adapt existing materials
  • Learner input
  • Consolidating skills, particularly reading skills
  • Error correction in a way that’s sensitive to learners’ needs
  • Exam personalisation
  • Fostering critical thinking skills
  • Helping students plan their learning
  • Learning aids e.g. screen readers

Universal Design for Learning

This doesn’t mean one size fits all, it’s about providing choices and overcoming barriers. People can choose what they want to do. There are three macro areas:

  1. Engagement – motivating learners and making sure things are relevant to them
  2. Representation – making content accessible, particularly by providing choice in input formats
  3. Action and expression – putting it into practice, letting them do things in different ways, choice in output formats

From coursebook to digital content

They wanted to adapt some coursebook activities for their course. As part of it, they changed the order of the activities, they changed questions to better suit the learners, and they clarified instructions.

This is the first step of their adaptation. But is it accessible?


Blackboard Ally is an expensive tool which their university invested in. Read & Write is a plugin you can use. Blackboard Ally told them that the materials weren’t very accessible online. It provides a clickable button to give options for the learner, for example converting it to audio.

Using Styles, such as Heading styles, and avoiding tables can make things more accessible for screen readers. Alternatively you might need to train learners in how to access the tables themselves.

To help you, you need to:

  • Build up background knowledge
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Be flexible
  • Be creative

Use ‘alternative text’ to make visuals accessible to those with screen readers.


Inclusion and accessibility are two sides of the same coin. Adapting materials should be an interactive process between the teacher and the learners. Many of the options to make materials accessible are practical common sense solutions.

  • Word documents are the most accessible format for learners with screen readers.
  • It’s flexible too because it can be printed out and kept digitally.
  • You can use built-in headings, styles and fonts.
  • Sans serif fonts increase readability for everybody.
  • Avoid italics and underlines.
  • Use a high-contrast colour scheme (visuals and tables)
  • Add alternative text for images
  • Avoid / Adapt tables to make them accessible for screen readers

There’s a reminder that ‘every learner is disabled, because every learner has their own needs’ – we shouldn’t just be doing this for learners with SEN, but for everyone.

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – Behind the scenes: Creative materials for learner-generated digital media – Armanda Stroia

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

Armanda’s talk was based around materials her students had created, particularly videos they had made.

We need specific materials for each stage of the video-creation process to make it systematic, so you’re not going in blindfold.

Prosumers = Producers and Consumers. Alvin Toffler coined the term.

We want to help learners to become more responsible consumers, and by helping them to create their own media, this can help.

There might be one or two people in your class who are more confident with tech, but you can’t assume they understand how to use the tech. You need to keep the training stages in to make sure everyone knows what to do. You also need to teach learners about copyright and show them where to find copyright-free images.

Some areas to consider:

  • conceptual domain – how to write a storyboard
  • functional – what do they need to know to use the tools, e.g. to edit the video
  • audiovisual – do they know principles of how to produce effective digital media, e.g. ethical principles

Stages of video projects:

  1. Planning
  2. Production
  3. Post-production
  4. Reflection and feedback
  5. Distribition and sharing


  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Doing research
  • Storyboarding
  • Allocating roles in the team

Materials that might help them here:

Also suggested by the audience: analyse a genre by watching an example

Learners need to think about the purpose of their video, the target audience, and what their main message is that they want to convey. Armanda calls this a ‘Big ideas blueprint’.

Roles allocation chart: include a description of the roles. Learners can talk about why different people in the group would fit different roles.

You can create storyboard template. Here are some examples: Materials for the planning stage


  • Capturing footage
  • Recording audio
  • Directing actors
  • Coordinating the crew

Materials that can help:

  • Checklists for effective production
  • Planning timeline for rehearsing scripts
  • Guides on camera angles, lighting, sound recording, etc.


  • Editing
  • Adding sound effects
  • Adding titles
  • Selecting the best takes etc.

Materials that help:

  • Video-editing guidelines
  • Lists with user-friendly apps with links to tutorials
  • Banks with copyright-free images and music
  • Peer media expert collection of tips and tricks (they record their own videos)

Students can also teach you about some of this! For example, split screens, etc.

Possible tasks:

Reflection and feedback

Materials that might help here:

  • Video observation worksheet
  • Rubrics for self-assessment
  • Peer feedback forms

Here’s an example of a marking rubric, based on the three key areas (Conceptual, Functional, Audiovisual), and you could also add language parts to the rubric too:

Examples of a video observation worksheet:

Sharing / distribution

It’s time-consuming, but it’s important! We need to celebrate their hard work and effort.

Materials that might be useful here:

  • Parent’s informed consent (depending on learners’ age)
  • Short video festivals, for example inviting families to see the videos

You can found out more on Armanda’s website.

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – How to write materials for teacher training and development – John Hughes

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

John talked about creating materials for teacher training. He showed us that there are perhaps more similarities than you might expect between materials for language learning and materials for teacher training and development.

John talked to us about materials for input sessions, materials for helping teachers to reflect on their teaching (including for more experienced teachers), and materials for further reading (articles, teacher resources etc.)

Materials for input sessions

This can be based on materials you would write for students, and turning it into materials for teachers. Teachers can then benefit from understanding the process of the activities. For example a classic ‘Find someone who…’

…might look something like this for teachers:

Another activity might be ranking activities. You could ask teachers to rank ideas like spoken error correction techniques from most effective to least effective.

This is the idea of loop input, as created by Tessa Woodward. It’s about processing with content, so you’re experiencing the process, but it’s combined with the content. Here’s the start of a gapfill you could try which demonstrates how this works:

After a grammar point or vocabulary item has been 1__________, we often give students a controlled practice 2__________. One of the most common types of exercise is the 3__________ or fill-in-the-blank exercise. Typically, we give students sentences or a text and 4__________ certain key words…

You might need some kind of ‘decompression’ afterwards, where you need to unpack the stages of the activity afterwards as they might not be able to process both things at the same time.

Materials to help teachers reflect

This is about getting content from the teachers, rather than supplying it. Less is more, because you want them to provide the content. You have to get very good at writing questions. A useful framework:

  • Think – what do they think about it?
  • Feel – how do they feel about it?
  • Do – what will they do as a result?

You need to cover all of these areas to make your materials effective.

This part of your materials is often quite short.

Visuals can often work better than text. Graphs can help, e.g. length of the lesson v. increase/decrease in some area.

You might choose teacher talking time, error correction, student engagement, or anything…this then encourages teachers to reflect on what happened in the lesson.

Heads up / heads down is another possible graph you could use, for example for reflecting on materials you write:

We know visuals work from student materials, but we don’t seem to use them as much in teacher training. The same is true of images. For example, here’s one possible reflective activity. Create two or more sentences inspired by the pictures which start ‘Writing materials is like this because…’ Here’s one picture:

John would like to see more images in teacher training materials.

Materials for further reading

This would be writing articles, blogposts, and you’re trying to train and develop trainers by getting them to read an article. After a session, you can write an article to arrange your thoughts and to act as a summary of the session. Teacher’s books are another material for further reading – a lot of teachers get their training this way.

This is a list of phrases which John found in teacher training materials:

…are the links to find those more.

It’s useful to work out your writing style for teachers. Do you prefer something which is more of a paragraph, or more bullet pointed?

For me, the bullet points are clearer and take less time to read, but they don’t have the rationale so might not be as useful as training materials. You need to think about your audience as a materials writer – what do they prefer? The context is also something to keep in mind – is it a teacher’s book? Is it in a journal? Sometimes there’s a mix of the two styles.

John says the first one is maybe more developmental and allows reflection time. The second is more about survival. Penny Hands said that when editing, it’s not always clear who the subject of the sentence is, and might switch between the teacher as subject and the students as the subject.

John has changed his office set up now. He’s switched to video rather than blocks of text, and this is his set-up as a ‘content creator’ now:

Teachers have shifted to watching videos rather than reading resource books. The statistics for the two ways of sharing are very different.

John divides video content into four categories:

  • Record a lecture – more similar to classic input sessions
  • Interview experts – they do all the talking, not you! Lots of people watch because they’re experts
  • How to demonstrations – short video, lots of views, and way more than a blogpost!
  • Thought provokers – 1-minute / 2-minute ‘think about this’ e.g. the hamburger approach to feedback, what do you think about this? Is it the correct way to do it?

This is his theory of how teacher training materials are created online 🙂 The videos are used by trainers as warmers for input sessions. Video might be the future, rather than writing articles.

6 takeaways from John

  • Materials for input
    • Copy the process for student materials
    • Adjust the content
  • Materials for reflection
    • Think, feel, do
    • Less is more with visuals
  • Materials for further reading
    • Balance your writing style(s)
    • ‘Watching’, rather than ‘reading’ now

‘A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT’ by John Hughes

‘ETpedia Materials Writing’ by John Hughes

John Hughes and Katherine Bilsborough run courses to help teachers develop their ability to write effective ELT materials. Find out more on their website.

English for the workplace – looking for new answers – Evan Frendo (IATEFL Harrogate 2023 plenary summary)

These are my notes from this plenary. If you notice any problems, please let me know! They are one of a number of posts from this year’s IATEFL conference, all of which you can find by clicking here.

Evan’s opening plenary was inspired by Einstein. He set a test one year, and somebody pointed out to him that he had set the same test as the previous year. Einstein replied: Yes, it’s the same test, but the answers are different.

In 1914, there was an English school at the Henry Ford factories to cater for immigrant workers there. There was something called the ‘Melting pot’ – they entered it in their national costume, changed clothes in the melting pot, and left in American clothes waving and American flag.

What is English for the workplace?

Evan has been working in Maritime English for a quite a few years now, among other areas. Maritime English is a huge area – at any one time there are 50,000-60,000 ships at sea carrying cargo. There are not many people on the ships, but there’s also a huge industry behind the ships – building the ships, running them etc.

He’s been working in the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS), which is a bit like air traffic control but for ships. They built up a huge corpus of radio conversations to analyse and find miscommunications to be able to train people better in the future. Here’s an example:

When we heard the recording, it was quite challenging to understand. VTS people never know what accent will come at them. There’s a range of different levels of English. These are users of English, using it as lingua Franca to get the job done, not learners of English. It’s very context-specific and situation-specific. English in the Workplace is always context-specific – real people, real money, real stress, not like in the coursebooks!

Routine conversations with anchoring are below. Many of these are non-standard from an English teaching perspective. They work, and nobody worries about it, but it probably wouldn’t pass one of our exams! Once you get into the workplace, the criteria for success are very different: much more performance-based than we might want to / be able to test for.

Other jobs aboard a vessel: the crew might be from all over the world. Not everybody is university educated, not everybody has good English competence, but they still have to communicate and be able to do their job!

Here’s a great example of a research paper title, but based on a real quote:

Construction is an industry where mistakes with English can kill people. It’s very important.

‘Language brokering’ – for example, the children learn the language of a country, but the parents can’t speak it, so children come along to do the translation. On construction sites, you might design a team so that there is one ‘language broker’ can translate for the rest of the team.

When you work in ESP, you discover there’s a lot of specialist terminology.

‘Earnings calls’ are something you can listen to for financial English. Lots of them are available to listen to on the internet. Here’s an example from a corpus:

Sometimes you can see examples of how words take on specialist meanings in the workplace. Communities start using English in specific ways, for example ‘color’ in the image above.

Here’s an international meeting with examples of ‘non-standard’ English:

None of this stops communication, but it wouldn’t be successful in exams.

This compares to ‘native speaker’ English, people who think the meeting is in ‘their’ language. They use language at a different speed, and they also need training in how to speak international English:

Some problems people have in meetings:

– Native speakers always win. But implementation issue will be for non-native speakers.

  • I cannot understand the instructions.
  • I have become one crazy lady from Asia.

BELF: English as a business language Franca

‘Conformity with standard English is seen as a fairly irrelevant concept’

‘I don’t actually care whether something is correct or incorrect. As long as the meaning is not distorted’

‘BELF is perceived as an enabling resource to get the work done. Since it is highly context-bound and situation-specific, it is a moving target defying detailed linguistic description’ (p129, Kankaanranta, A., Louhiala-Salminen, L. And Karhunen, P.)

How have we traditionally approached teaching workplace English?

This is structured, top-down, and assumes the teacher is an expert. In a university class, the students expect the teacher to know what they’re going to do.

What do we mean by ‘proficiency’?

CEFR (2020) – ‘proficiency’ encompasses the ability to perform communicative language activities (‘can do…’)

But how much does this proficiency relate to actual job performance?

Here’s an example from the aviation industry:

It reminds us to ask ‘Are we actually focussing on the right things?

The ground-breaking Occupational English Test isn’t based on linguistic criteria alone. It has both linguistic criteria and clinical communication criteria, set up by people from within the industry. This sort of test is now attracting a lot of attention in the workplace.

Big standardised tests still have their place about talking about English levels, but they don’t tell us whether they have the English they need to do that specific job.

As teachers, we might be able to judge somebody’s English, but we might not be able to judge whether somebody can do their job in English.

In VTS commmunication, assessment is now carried out by a team:

  • English teacher
  • Experienced VTS operator – say whether they’ve done the right thing
  • Legal expert- all conversations are recorded, but they can have legal implications

This is one way to assess workplace English. How do we judge if somebody can do the job?

What is the perspective from outside ELT?

Modern learning mindset – learning and development / HR:(Dillon, 2022, The modern learning ecosystem: A new L&D mindset for the ever-changing workplace)

  • Make learning an essential part of the work(flow) – it’s not a separate thing
  • Take advantage of the full ecosystem – what’s available to them, not just hiring a trainer
  • Apply data to accelerate decision making – not based on intuition
  • Provide a personal experience at scale – trying to make things unique for everyone
  • Drive clear business impact – why would you invest otherwise?
  • Foster persistent organisational agility – how can we react to things which are changing so fast?

Duncan is a young project manager at a company based in Denmark, and partly manages the German team:

This is quite an extreme perspective of where we are with English – in this situation, they hire anyone they can and people will learn English.

Here’s another perspective from Kasia from Electrolux:

The World Economic forum in 2020 said ‘94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018’.

In BELF research, Ehrenreich (2010) says ‘Learning…seems to happen most effectively in business ‘communities of practice’ rather than in traditional English training’. M Takino (2019) looked at how people become users of English – Evan says this is a very useful article to look at.

Informal learning is what’s really happening:

  • Advertising
  • Film, songs
  • Social networks
  • Games
  • Travel
  • Coaching from peers
  • Micro learning
  • Learning on the job
  • Translation apps
  • Social media

The last 10 years have completely changed how technology can be used to learn languages, and you don’t necessarily need to pay a teacher for it.

‘Microlearning’ is a key feature of HR conferences now. 10 minutes of learning languages on the train, in a queue, etc. Bite-sized chunks, and it’s happening everywhere.

Gamification is another example. By playing a game, people learn surreptitiously, but also learn in a fun way.

‘Learning cluster’ – surround the learner with ‘meaningful learning assets’. It’s not just organising courses for people, it’s doing more.

Three learning touch points, like marketing where the customer touches the product.

For example, project interviews are where you interview a customer to work on a project with them. Useful phrases people can use in the business. Curating is the aim, rather than creating new materials. The social side is mock interview partners – L&D is responsible for this.

Nadzeya says:

Teachers and trainers need to work together with other people within the company. There is a huge system here, supported by different aspects of people in the company. ‘Almost all of our trainers are full-time employees. Our strengths are our well-developed learning ecosystem and corporate learning culture’ – people who are part of the company as in-house trainers.

Content is developed based on in-house case studies.

Seunghee Miriam Choi is an expert in Maritime English. She says that language training will become more specific, for example teaching English for VTS in Busan port. General English you can get online for example.

LCD = Learning clusters. To be truly applicable, they need L&D to really surround the learners with English. It’s a new area and not everybody is able to do it yet. This is where professional language training is changing.

Informal learning is changing: ‘Dressman, M. (2020). – Evan says it’ll change your ideas of language learning and teaching:

Formal and informal learning should be retired as a distinction. People are moving away from formal learning, and moving towards learner experience.

Learnship is an online language company:

There’s a shift to outcome indicators, and away from effort indicators.

Work is changing, communication is changing, and therefore training needs to be different.

This is where we are:

L&D = learning and development

LCMS = learning content management systems, curating assets

So what?

To remain relevant we need to learn a lot more about how people in the workplace learn languages. We should be researching it more, as this is what we’re training our learners to use. A need for research.

To remain relevant, we need to think about teacher training, education and development. ‘Marinating teachers’ – put them into a context and they will become an expert within that context.

To remain relevant we need to learn to use the new technologies. This will help with pull teaching, rather than push teaching.

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – Writer/Editor: conflict or complement? – Jill Hadfield

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

Jill’s talk look at the overlap between these two roles, writer and editor.

This are very reduced notes! Jill told us a lot more 🙂


Jill talked about the role of unconscious thinking in creativity. This was a quote she shared:

The bath (Archimedes), the bed (Descartes) and the bus (somebody who got an idea of a mathematical formula) – these are all places where people get inspiration.

Heim and Runco both say that will (conscious thought) can actually hamper inspiration and creativity. They create self-judgement and might hamper creativity.

There’s a difference between tree thinking (roots > branches > twigs > leaves = academic thinking), and rhizomes (underground spreading, bobbig up unexpectedly, springing up at odd points = creative thinking).

There have been two main studies about creativity in materials writing. Philip Prowse (2011) in Materials Development in Language Teaching and Keith Johnson (2003) in Designing Language Teaching Tasks.

In Prowse’s chapter, writers talk about drawing on their own intuition and waiting for inspiration to strike. Tomlinson commented on the chapter saying that writers are basing their ideas on intuition and ad hoc writing, rather than on principles.

Will + unconscious

Other writers have suggested that creativity involves both will (conscious ideas) and unconscious ideas. Wallas (1926):

  • Preparation / Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Verification – crafting your ideas

Campbell (1960) says that creativity comes from free association, and ideas strike when you least expect them.

Smith Ward and Finke (1995) talk about the Geneplore model: the generation of lots of ideas, then an editing stage of exploration.

Attridge (2004) says that creation is both an act and an event: something intentional through an act of will, and something without warning that happens to an alert consciousness.

Keith Johnson, in our profession, wrote about a study where people talked about will. The lightbulb moment comes, but it can be quite painful – it might take a long time to come, or you might realise the inspiration won’t work. Expert designers tend to spend a long time analysing tasks, coming up with several different possibilities, and they might then abandon it (easy abandonment). [Note to Sandy: relevant for your MA framework!]

Jill’s theory

Chaosmos = a term from James Joyce. The process of totally chaotic orders settling into order (chaos > cosmos), and order settling into chaos (cosmos > chaos).

  • Generating ideas
  • Dialoguing = talking to an imaginary reader
  • Imagining scenario = imagine how it might work in practice
  • Scopting materials = writing them out

This is an example of her creative process in action. The activity was about how to overcome distractions:

  • Jill started with a sudden idea out of nowhere to come up with a ‘distraction jingle’.
  • She then came up with a rationale for why it might work.
  • The dialoguing stage was pushing her to go further and realise that she needed another stage.
  • She then had another illumination: combine distractions and rewards. Choose your favourite distraction and use it as a reward.
  • Finally, imagine the scenario and how it could work in the classroom. e.g. contracts and a contract buddy.

Conclusions and caveats

Editing skills are valuable for writing. Writing skills are valuable for editing.

Editing shouldn’t start too early – otherwise you might inhibit creativity.

Editors should resist the temptation to add their own creativity to the writing – it’s the writer’s book, not the editor’s book!

MaWSIG PCE 2023 – Writing lessons for immersive language learning in virtual reality – Nergiz Kern

This talk was part of the 2023 Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) IATEFL Pre-Conference Event (PCE). The theme this year was ‘Materials creation: more than just the student’s book’.

Nergiz gave us guidelines for creating effective materials for VR lessons.

Social VR is when learners and teachers are in the same virtual space. It’s not like chatbots. You don’t need to have a VR headset, you can rent them for a day to try them out.

Here’s a video example of Immerse, though :

Because you’re in a specific context related to the context of your lesson, learning is active, social and emotional if done well. Learners can have experience, collaborate on hands-on projects, and it all feels more authentic, and therefore more motivational, fun and memorable. VR lowers foreign-language anxiety, as learners can hide behind the avatar.

Considerations when planning VR lessons

Conceptual framework – Design features for educational IVR Won et al. (2023)

You have to take into consideration both ideas related to digital materials design, and ideas related to a more physical space.

The yellow part shows four different types of immersion. The ideal would be to include all 4 of these ideas when creating learning experiences in VR. Sensory / Actional are technical and depend on the platform you use – you have to know what the platform offers / what it can do. Sensory would be ideas like getting audio and visual feedback, like hearing sounds, seeing things change. Actional is about making real changes, like cutting something. With a headset, you control the movement by moving your body – embodied learning helps us to learn more effectively.

Narrative – are they engaging with the tasks, are they engaged by the context.

Social – are they interacting with each other? With other learners? With the teacher?

Narrative and Social overlap with learning – things we often want to have in a classroom setting.

Features to consider

You also need to ensure that you have a suitable pedagocical approach. There’s still a lot of lectures, and that’s not he best way to do things. It’s better to do:

  • Situated learning
  • Task-based learning
  • Problem-based / project-based learning
  • Collaborative learning
  • TPR
  • Active learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Game-based learning

Anything where learners can interact and have agency.

Narrative immersion

If you’re doing things via a desktop, you can lean more into these two types of immersion. Don’t do this:

Do this:

Tell them a story, and get them interested and involved by setting the scene and context as you might do in a lesson.

You could also try storytelling with photos. Immerse has a camera feature, including being able to take selfies. It allows learners to take something from the VR classroom outside the classroom, and use the images in other ways. For example project work, or writing a story first then go into VR and take snapshots of what they do, then create a cartoon of what they did to review the lesson in an interesting way:


Here’s a possible incomplete checklist for the kind of things you can include:

Homework could be meeting each other outside class, and Nergiz’s students actually did this:

How to practise writing for VR

  • Sign up for free VR accounts.
  • Learn to use them.
  • See what features

Possible platforms

When creating immersive learning lessons, materials writers become immersive learning designers in the truest sense.

Nergiz Kern

You can find more information on Nergiz’s website, including examples of complete VR lesson plans.

IATEFL Harrogate 2023 – my talks and my blog

From Tuesday 18th – Friday 21st April, I’ll be at the IATEFL Harrogate 2023 conference [this link will take you to the latest conference, which may not be Harrogate if it’s later!]. There’ll also be two bonus days: Monday 17th April will be the Materials Writing SIG (MaWSIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE), and Saturday 22nd April will be the Hands Up Project conference.

I’ll be presenting twice during the conference, once in a How To session, and once during the main conference.

How to talk

How to give a presentation at an international conference

Giving a presentation can be a stressful experience. This session will give you ways of organising yourself before your presentation and conducting yourself during your presentation to reduce that stress. The aim of the session is to make your presentation a more satisfying experience for you and your participants.

When: Tuesday 18th April, 08:15-08:45 (before the plenary session)

Where: Queen’s Suite 8

Main talk

EdTech and The CELTA Course: what trainees need to know

Recent years have seen a growth in both online teaching and technology use in language education, with an impact on the needs of trainee teachers. This talk will address what trainee teachers need to know, drawing on content from the new edition of The CELTA Course trainee and trainer books, which I have co-authored with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury.

When: Tuesday 18th April, 14:05-14:35

Where: Queen’s Suite 3 (part of the Teacher Training and Education SIG – TTEdSIG Showcase Day)

Follow the conference

If you’re in Harrogate, I hope to see you there! If you missed the registration deadline, you’re still able to turn up and pay on the day at the conference vnue.

If not, keep following my blog to see posts from all of the talks I attend – this is advance warning that it should be a busy place for the next 8 days with quite a lot of posts hitting your inbox if you subscribe! All of my posts can be found under the IATEFL Harrogate 2023 category.

IATEFL and Special Interest Group (SIG) social media accounts will be very busy over the next 8 days or so, so look out for lots of coverage on those channels. You can find out more about IATEFL.

Check, check, check – A checklist to develop materials based on storybooks by Ana Clara Castilho Ramos

I’ve just attended a webinar by Ana Clara Castilho Ramos run for MaWSIG. I was especially interested in it as it seems relevant to my dissertation topic, thinking about how to approach materials writing systematically.

Why stories?

Ana’s father used to tell her stories when she was little, and her mum bought her lots of picture books. When she became a teacher, she wanted to use stories with her students but couldn’t always find picture books to use with her students. She was able to go to the UK and buy some.

Stories are motivating, challenging and enjoyable and can help develop positive attitudes towards the foreign language, culture and language learning.
Ellis and Brewster, 2014

When she started using them with her students she noticed how engaged and excited the students were. Learners remember the language because it’s more contextualised. They want to talk about the story when they go home.

She decided to write her own storybook to create a book that was specific to her context, about animals in Brazil, because she couldn’t find an existing one. She also created materials related to the book. This was all part of her work for her NILE MA Materials Development module.

How to create your own storybook

Choose your story

What linguistic devices does it have? Is the content relevant? Does it connect to students? Do the illustrations help children to understand the meaning?

Know your learners

Make it suitable to them.


This is the checklist Ana used to write materials based on her story book:

  1. Identify the main topic of the story.
  2. Identify the target language.
  3. Draw links from other content areas (see the slide below). This can give you ideas for activities you can do connected to the story.
  4. Design clear learning objectives.
  5. Provide support to achieve the tasks and appropriate level of challenge.
  6. Plan a variety of tasks and interaction patterns, including multisensory activities, providing choice, social-emotional development, quiet v. active, the 4C’s, etc.
  7. Recycle language throughout the unit.
  8. Plan activities that promote the use of learning strategies. For example, reflect on three different statements: I can do it with my teacher, I can do it with help, I can do it
  9. Explore cultural elements.
  10. Design assessment tools that match the teaching practice.

Other materials writing tips

  • Include scaffolding so learners can achieve the tasks.
  • Make sure you pilot the materials – they’re not always used how you expect them to be.
  • Don’t just think about international or English-speaking cultures, but about whether learners can talk about their own culture in the language they’re learning. Ana had a great example of including some words of Tupi-Guarani in her materials, not just English.
  • Use icons to foster independence.
  • Make sure illustrations cater to diversity, for example some of the animals had glasses, one child in the illustrations had Down’s syndrome, etc.
  • Have materials which are visually appealing – not cluttered and easy to navigate.


The webinar recording will show you the whole checklist in a lot more depth, with specific examples from Ana’s book – I’d definitely recommend watching the whole thing, not least to see her beautiful materials! If you’re a MaWSIG member, you can watch the recording in the IATEFL member’s area. (Join here)

MaWSIG events

You can find out about other MaWSIG events here. At the time of writing (March 2023), our first ever hybrid PCE is coming up soon, and you can still register.

What do successful readers do? (Everyone Academy)

On Friday 24th March 2023, I did a workshop for Everyone Academy. This was the blurb:

What do good readers do?

As teachers, we’re often guilty of testing our students’ reading abilities through comprehension questions, without actually supporting them to become better readers. But where should we start? How can you move beyond a comprehension focus and help students to become the best readers of English that they can be? What might be stopping them from developing? In this webinar, I’ll aim to answer all of these questions, by looking at what good readers do and demonstrating how to support students to build those skills for themselves.

As I was putting together the presentation itself, I decided that ‘good’ wasn’t a clear enough word and decided to change it to ‘successful’. In this blogpost I don’t focus specifically on reading skills for learners with Special Educational Needs, though many of the tips may help those learners to feel more confident.

These are the slides:

Note that most of these tips are also relevant to listening.

Successful readers understand the context

Outside the classroom

Outside the classroom, reading is always a contextualised act. If you’re reading something physical, you know what it is you’ve picked up: a book, a magazine, a food package, a report… If you’re reading something digital, you know what you clicked to take you to that text: you opened your email, you launched your ebook reader, you clicked on a link on social media…

As you prepare to read in that context your brain accesses and builds on the information it has about what to expect from that kind of reading. For example, when you open your work email, you probably expect to see mostly short messages, language relevant to your profession, perhaps the occasional longer attachment. Depending on the person who’s writing to you, you might expect particular types of information, or particular stylistic features in their language. Your brain is tapping into those memories and that knowledge you have related to previous emails you’ve read, and forming expectations about what might be in your email this time. This is what we mean when we talk about schemata, the mental map you have relating to a particular situation.

What can go wrong?

You think you’re reading one thing based on the context, and then are surprised to find you’re actually reading something quite different. For example, you open an email at work, and are surprised to see it contains a joke from somebody who’s never sent you a joke before. Or you expect a formal tone, and do a double-take when the email is surprisingly informal. This slows down your reading, as you might have to re-read the message.

In the classroom, context is often removed. Texts might be presented in the same way regardless of the context they appeared in originally. By removing these contextual clues, learners are deprived of the chance to build up wide-ranging schemata which might be useful outside the classroom. Instead, they are largely building up schemata related to ‘texts I’ll see in the classroom’ or ‘texts in my coursebook’.

Inside the classroom

When you start a reading lesson or activity, make sure the context of the text is clear. Tell learners the type of reading: is it a magazine article, a research report, a blog post…? Alternatively, encourage learners to guess the context based on the clues they have available. Where would they expect to encounter this text outside the classroom?

If you’re creating your own materials, provide visual clues regarding the context. For example, lay out a newspaper article [if you still work with them!] in columns, using a typical newspaper font. If you’re working with an email, include the To / CC / Subject line boxes at the top.

Once you’re nearing the end of the reading lesson, encourage learners to reflect on the genre features of the text they’ve read. Here are some questions they could consider:

  • What is the layout of the text?
  • What kind of grammar can they see? For example, are there lots of extended noun phrases? Are there any typical tenses?
  • What lexical fields (areas of vocabulary) are featured?
  • What register is used? Formal? Academic? Scientific? Chatty, more like spoken than written language?

Successful readers know why they’re reading

Outside the classroom

When we start reading, we always have an aim in mind, questions in our head which we would like the answer to. These depend on the context: they might be more explicit, especially when reading for information, or less explicit and perhaps even subconscious, especially when reading for pleasure. Here are a few examples:

  • Leaflet about a castle: Do I want to visit? What can I do there? When does it open? How much is it?
  • Food packaging: Is the ingredient I’m allergic to in here? What are the cooking instructions? Can I recycle this?
  • Book: What happens next? How will it end? Who else do I know who might enjoy this?
  • Email in reply to one you sent: Does this answer my questions? What information does the other person need from me?
  • Facebook post accompanying some photos: Where did they go? What did they do? Do I want to add a comment? How does this add to what I know about that person?
  • Sign: What does the sign say? Is it relevant to me? Do I need to change my behaviour because of it?

These questions give us a focus when reading. They determine what level of attention we dedicate to a text, for instance whether we skim it for the general idea, whether we scan to find specific bits of information, or whether we read and reread to check we’ve understood in detail. They also determine how long we spend reading, and to some extent they help us to decide what we do in response to the text.

What can go wrong?

Without having questions in mind, we are unlikely to have the motivation to start reading at all. We all know people who read a lot and people who read very little: one reason for wanting to read more could be about having the desire to read prompted by having questions which you know that your reading might answer.

In the classroom, learners largely read texts which have been given to them by the teacher, accompanied by tasks / questions which are also supplied by the teacher. Their curiosity is not piqued, and the motivation to read becomes reduced to doing it because the teacher told them to.

The same types of tasks often accompany texts, rather than being tasks which are relevant to how that genre might used outside the classroom. Think about the widespread use of true or false and multiple choice questions. While you might sometimes want to read to check if something is correct, or you might have a few possible answers to a question in your head which you’d like to narrow down to one answer as you read, this is not how or why you do the majority of your reading outside the classroom.

Inside the classroom

When setting reading in class, make sure learners have a clear task. This will tell them how much attention to pay, how much depth to read in, and how much time to spend on it. You can provide time limits to help with this, though check they are realistic. One way to help you remember is to always say ‘Read this text and…’, never just ‘Read this text.’

Learners can also set their own tasks. After helping learners to understand the context the text would appear in, you can then encourage them to come up with their own questions to answer. Banana. This is a skill learners can use in their own reading outside the classroom to help them decide how much attention to pay to texts, and to understand what kind of information different texts might be able to provide them with. By doing this, there is likely to be a wider variety of task types covered within your lessons.

Successful readers make predictions and test them

Outside the classroom

As we read, we have an approximate idea of what we are likely to read next. These are our predictions. The accuracy of these ideas will partly depend on our familiarity with the genre, and partly on our familiarity with the topic. In some situations they might also be influenced by our familiarity with the writer. The predictions help us to activate relevant schemata, tapping into our knowledge faster than if we come to a text completely ‘cold’. As we read we test these ideas, or predictions, against what we’re reading, and tap into different schemata. Orange. We then assess how accurate they were, and reform our ideas about the next part of the text, or how to approach that kind of reading the next time we encounter it.

We often make this prediction explicit when reading a picture book with a child. When we look at the cover, we might ask the child to suggest what will happen in the book. As we read, we ask questions like ‘What happens next?’ and ‘What do you think they’ll do now?’ to elicit predictions, and questions like ‘Did you think that would happen?’ to encourage the child to compare their predictions to what happened in the story. Apple. As we become confident readers, this process of making and testing predictions becomes largely subconscious.

What can go wrong?

Whenever we come up against something which we weren’t expecting to read, we do a double-take, and we might have to pause or reread to check why our predictions were wrong. Peach. At this point, we reassess and create a new set of predictions about what might happen next. For example, have you noticed the fruits in the previous four paragraphs? Each time you did, how did you respond? Did you stop? Did you reread the text at all? Did you respond in the same way the first time you saw one as you did the second, third, fourth time you saw one?

If a learner finds reading challenging, they may give up when they realise their predictions are wrong, especially if they feel that they are consistently wrong. It can reduce their confidence and make them feel like they are unsuccessful readers.

Inside the classroom

Rather than giving learners the whole text at once, give them a part of the text or something which accompanies it. This could be a headline, the first paragraph, a picture, or even a word cloud. Ask learners to make 3-5 predictions about what information they think will be included in the text.

Give them the first section of the text. How many of their predictions were correct? Do they want to add to, change or remove any of their predictions? Repeat the process with the next part of the text. Continue this process until the end of the text.

Once you’ve completed this process, ask learners to reflect on how they made their predictions. What clues did they use to help them? Remind them that this is a process they can use in their reading outside the classroom too.

By making the process of creating and checking predictions more explicit to learners, we can help them to understand how to use this strategy. By showing them that not everybody’s predictions are correct in class, and that it’s OK to make a mistake with a prediction, it can boost their confidence too.

For more information, see this page about reading strategies.

Successful readers understand sound-spelling relationships

Outside the classroom

The absolute basics of what it means to read are understand the relationship between the sounds we’re already familiar with in our language and the way that they are communicated on the page. When we learn to read in English, we might start with single letters with single sounds, for example ‘s’ /s/ or ‘t’ /t/. We use these to learn to spell simple CVC words like ‘cat’ or ‘pat’, where the sound and spelling have a clear relationship with each other. We also learn some common words by recognition, rather than by sounding them out, like ‘go’ or ‘the’. In UK schools, the order in which these sound-spelling relationships are introduced is mandated by the Department for Education’s Letters and Sounds programme. Spelling tests are a regular feature of life at primary schools – I remember being tested on 10 words every week throughout my primary education, and recently rediscovered my Year 3 spelling book in our attic at home. ‘bottom’ was a challenging word to spell when I was 8!

At first, we are encouraged to sound out words and corrected on these by our parents and other knowledgable others. Over time, we move to reading silently, though we might still sound out the occasional challenging word. Eventually we read entirely silently, and the relationship between the sounds and spellings of words becomes mostly unconscious.

What can go wrong?

Sometimes we have read a word, but we’ve never heard it pronounced. The first time we try to say it people listening to us realise that we’ve only ever read this word and don’t know the correct pronunciation. This isn’t a problem with reading per se, but it does highlight the importance of understanding sound-spelling relationships.

The other direction is much more common though, especially for readers with less experience of reading in English: they’ve heard a word many times but they’ve never seen it written down. Learners may know the word if they hear it, but not recognise it when they see it.

Inside the classroom

When learning to read in English, we can support learners in developing their early literacy by providing opportunities to read aloud. Ideally these will be in low-pressure environments, such as whole class reading, or pair reading working with a partner. However, it’s best to avoid situations where students take turns to read aloud to the whole class, especially if they haven’t had a chance to practice their reading beforehand; this kind of reading can be very demotivating and stressful for learners, and can lead to other students in the class switching off. Another technique to avoid is reading full texts aloud when learners have already developed the ability to read silently in the language – this is time which could be better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, supportive reading aloud where there is a clear focus for the reading can develop learners confidence in connecting sounds and spellings together. For example, learners can chorally read a series of short sentences while the teacher indicates the relevant sounds. The ultimate aim with this kind of reading aloud is to enable learners to be able to move towards silent reading themselves – it is a transition stage rather than an end in itself. For more information about reading aloud, see Jason Anderson’s summary.

As learners are developing their literacy in English, it’s useful to teach them common sound-spelling relationships. Young learner books commonly have a phonics syllabus, but this is a useful area to work on with all age groups until they have developed the ability to read fluently in English. While it might not be necessary to go through as many stages as for the phonics programme linked to above, you might still wish to introduce small sets of sounds and their associated spellings, or vice-versa. A useful tool here is the English File sound bank which lists examples of the most common spellings (left) and some common exceptions (right):

Chart from English File showing phonemic symbol /i/ in the word 'fish', with the usual spelling 'i' and the words bill, dish, fit, pitch, since, ticket, with a second column showing 'but also' words: pretty, decided, women, busy, village, physics
English File Intermediate Student’s Book (fourth edition), Latham-Koenig, Oxenden and Lambert, p166

I taught a one-to-one pre-intermediate Czech learner who tended to write English using a version of Czech spelling, following the conventions of Czech sound-spelling relationships. I showed her this chart and over the next three months she decided to systematically learn all of the different relationships. By the end of that period her English spelling had hugely improved, and she had also become a more confident reader as she could recognise words more consistently.

Another idea is to encourage learners to spot sound-spelling relationships in texts they’re reading. Once learners have finished reading a text for comprehension, they could underline all of the spellings with a particular sound, for example /i:/.

Successful readers know how to deal with unknown vocabulary

Outside the classroom

When we meet a word we don’t know as we’re reading in our own language, we generally have four options:

  1. Guess what it means from the context.
  2. Look it up.
  3. Ask somebody what it means.
  4. Ignore it.

The decision we make about which strategy to use will depend on the context we’re reading in, the amount of vocabulary we understand in the rest of the text, our desire (or not) to understand it, and the availability of reference materials / people around us.

What can go wrong?

If there are too many words we don’t understand, reading a text can feel somewhat like wading through mud – we keep pushing forwards but we never seem to get anywhere. When we try to figure out a word from context, we don’t have enough information to help us guess the meaning. We may end up giving up on the text if we think there are too many words we can’t read.

If we decide to look up a word, we might not be confident in our dictionary skills. We might not be aware of how to identify the relevant meaning of a word, or we might not understand the definition itself. The people we ask about the word might not be able to give clear, succinct, relevant definitions.

Ignoring the word can seem like a useful strategy, but we may realise that without that word it’s not possible to understand the wider text.

Inside the classroom

It’s important to teach students the difference between reading to read and reading to improve vocabulary. Both of these are valid ways of using a text, but in my opinion it’s generally better to focus on reading to read before you do any work on improving vocabulary. If you’re reading to read, the focus is on general comprehension and being able to get what you need from the text. This goes back to knowing why you’re reaidng – if you can answer the questions you have related to the text without understanding that vocabulary, then it’s not essential and you can probably ignore it. If you can’t answer your questions, then you need to decide which strategy to use to understand the word(s). This can help learners to make informed decisions about which vocabulary it’s worth spending time on. It’s also useful as it helps learners realise that it’s OK not to understand everything they read, like me reading Harry Potter in Polish.

In this era of easy-access translators, it’s still important to work on dictionary skills with learners, showing them what information they can find in a good learner dictionary. It’s also useful to help learners understand how to make the most of the translation software they’re using.

Successful readers know how they read best

Outside the classroom

You might read a book faster on paper or faster on an e-reader. You might prefer to have our computer or phone set to dark mode (I certainly do!). Perhaps you find it easier to read larger text or sans serif fonts. You may not have realised this as a child, but over time, you will have realised which formats you are more or less comfortable reading, and you might even have figured out strategies to make it easier to read when you are working with a format you don’t really like or don’t find easy to navigate.

Another difference in reading preferences might be the place where you read, for example wanting to sit in a comfortable chair to read a book, or to sit at a computer desk when reading on a laptop. You may be willing or able to read some types of text for longer than others, or you may need to spend longer processing certain types of text.

What can go wrong?

If we mostly read in one format, such as on a computer or phone screen, we might not feel comfortable reading in other formats, such as on a page. This is also true of different types of writing: if we mostly read printed text, it can be challenging to read handwriting, especially if it’s in an unfamiliar hand.

In the classroom, learners may be asked to read in formats which they are less familiar with, or in places or for time periods which they are not comfortable with. For example, learners might feel rushed and unable to spend as much time as they would like with a text.

Inside the classroom

Encourage learners to reflect on their reading habits outside the classroom. They can reflect on when, where and how they like to read, and how this might differ between genres and formats.

You can encourage learners to experiment with different text colours, fonts, and sizes. They could also try reading on different coloured paper, or reading on a screen. Some learners might prefer to take a photo of a text on paper and make it bigger using their phone, for example.

One technique that can help learners when they feel overwhelmed by the amount of text on a page is to mask part of the page with a piece of paper. They can put the paper above the text being read and gradually move it down the page as they read, hiding what they’ve already seen.

Learners could also have a piece of paper with a window in it which would reveal 3-4 lines at once, which they can move down the page as they read. In both cases, the idea is to allow them to still see upcoming text, but reduce the distraction of the text which isn’t their immediate focus.

On a computer this can be done by reducing the size of the window so that it only shows part of the text. Some assistive software can also highlight part of the screen as learners read to help guide their eyes.

Successful readers read more!

Outside the classroom

You probably know somebody who has a passion for reading: they devour the written word, and you might marvel at how much they are able to read. It might even be you!

Christine Nuttall describes a virtuous circle of reading. When you understand better what you are reading, you enjoy reading more. When you enjoy reading more, you read faster. When you read faster, you read more. And when you read more, you understand better.

Source: Teaching Reading Skills In a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall, p127

While we might think that this is only relevant to the reading of fiction, it’s true for reading across all genres and formats. The more you read that genre, the easier it becomes to understand, the more you are likely to enjoy, the faster you are likely to read it, and the more you are therefore able to read.

What can go wrong?

The opposite of this virtuous circle is a vicious circle: somebody who doesn’t understand what they read and therefore they read slowly. Because they read slowly, they might be more likely to not enjoy reading (though there’s nothing wrong with reading slowly!) If they don’t enjoy reading, they probably don’t read much, and therefore they are less likely to develop their ability to understand written texts when they read.

Source: Teaching Reading Skills In a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall, p127

For learners, this can lead to them believing that they ‘can’t read in English’, and perhaps even that this is a skill which will never be attainable for them. It can damage their confidence. For some learners this can be limiting as they might lack the level of literacy they need to be able to use English in the way they want or need to in their lives outside the classroom.

Inside the classroom

Supporting and encouraging learners with their reading is key. It can boost learners’ confidence if they can read even very short texts in English: they get the feeling that it is possible to read in English, and start on the virtuous circle.

As they progress with their reading, help learners to find out about opportunities to read in English in formats and about topics which would be interesting for them. This could be showing them websites like News in Levels or (my favourite!) ESL Bits, letting them know how to buy graded readers or graphic novels, or showing them popular science magazines. If you can, you could even set up an extensive reading programme.

Encourage learners to regularly talk about what they’re reading, whether they’re enjoying it, and whether they would recommend it to others. Please don’t force them to read particular things if possible, though do encourage them to try things outside their comfort zone if you think it would be interesting for them. If learners are enjoying it and reading more, then it’s good reading.

Find out more

Teaching Reading Skills In a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall is a very accessible guide to working on reading with your learners. Here are links to buy it on Amazon (affiliate) and Bookshop (affiliate).

Teaching and Developing Reading Skills by Peter Watkins is another useful guide to activities you can use to train learners in reading, not just test them. Here are links to buy it on Amazon (affiliate), Bookshop (affiliate) and BEBC.

Happy reading!

I hope you and your students find the ideas in this post useful. What ideas would you add?

City stories (guest post)

When Dave told me about this project, I thought it was an interesting way for learners to find out about other cultures. Over to Dave to tell you more…

What is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? How did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch?

The answers to all these questions and many more can be discovered in the stories of Barcelona, Brno and Split (in that order above!). Welcome to City Stories, where the history and culture of three iconic European cities meets digital technology, cognitive science and modern teaching methodology.

When you go to the ‘Stories’ page of the City Stories website you can scroll through stories from the three cities, or search according to level. Clicking on one that takes your fancy drops you right into the start of the story. But this is not just another reading text. Each story is a DER – a Digital Escape Room – where progress requires reading (or listening) to the text and then answering some questions. Once you have answered all questions in any one room correctly you can move onto the next room. You ‘escape’ when you clear the last room in the story.

A DER is an exciting, interesting and engaging way to collaborate and learn. Technology plays an important role in the creative engagement and motivation of students. Using the innovative concept of Digital Escape Rooms encourages students to participate in telling the story.

Engaging principles from cognitive science, our DERs utilise the ideas of scaffolding, dual coding and means students and teachers can manage the cognitive load; all leading to better learning outcomes. (For more on this topic, this is a great starting point Cognitive science approaches in the classroom: a review of the evidence)

Language teachers know that good stories are an amazing learning tool as they engage the audience and challenge them to think about and comprehend the information they are presented with. Furthermore, culture has always been an integral part of language education. Our project uses stories from different cities and countries, sending students on a unique cultural journey through our interactive digital platform.

Particularly when it comes to reading and listening texts, classes all too often move at the speed of the quickest students, leaving behind too many; or the slowest, leading to boredom and disinterest. DERs allow students to work at their own pace, get a real understanding of the text and be sure they have the correct answer before moving on.

This unique resource works on any mobile device, can be done individually, in small groups or projected for the whole class to see, giving the teacher genuine flexibility in using the stories.

Our project was a part of the Erasmus+ KA2 call for proposals themed around Creativity and Culture. DERs we produced during the project tell stories from three iconic regions of Europe, focusing on the main cities within each of these: Split represents Dalmatia and the beautiful Adriatic coast; Moravia is right in the heart of Europe with Brno as its cosmopolitan capital; Barcelona is the cultural centre of Catalunya. Discover hidden secrets about these cities and regions through 18 unique stories written by our teachers.

There is a strong demand in the language teaching industry for resources that are meaningful, motivational, modern and innovative. The City Stories project allowed us to develop resources that meet this demand.

Interested? There’s more!

We didn’t just create the City Stories, we have also designed and made a Story Builder for you. This means you and your students can write, design and create your own DERs! This could be a story from your local city, but it can be about anything, any topic, any language. There is a handbook to guide you through using the Story Builder, or you can just dive in and try it out.

We hope to see new stories from many different places, allowing language students to explore both language and culture, and improve their understanding of the world we share.

If you want to know what is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? Or how did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch? Just click on the links to try the story.

Have fun learning 🙂


Dave Cleary is a DELTA qualified English language teacher and teacher trainer living and working in Brno. He came to the Czech Republic in the summer of 2000 and has worked here ever since. Dave’s first teacher training experience was to his peers, and for more than a decade he has written and delivered teacher training sessions at both international conferences and on local training courses. He is now Director of Projects and Innovation at ILC International House Brno.  

Happy 5th birthday ELT Playbook 1!

On 14th February 2018, I launched my first completely self-published book, ELT Playbook 1, meaning that today is the book’s 5th birthday.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

Over the last 5 years, I estimate that I’ve sold over 400 copies, which is very exciting 🙂 Thank you if you’ve bought one of them!

If you haven’t got one yet, I’m offering a 10% discount on ebook versions available through Smashwords [affiliate link], using the code CC92X. The code will be valid until 14th March 2023. If you’d like a paper copy, find out how to buy one on the My books page.

I’m particularly grateful to everyone who’s told me how they’ve used ELT Playbook 1, as it’s great to know that it’s actually useful, not just a book which sits on a shelf never to be read. I’d love to know more about how you’ve used it, so if you have, please let me know in the comments.

Two small requests

One of my hopes when I launched the book was that teachers would be able to use it as a way of getting some structured but affordable development, and that a community would grow around the #ELTPlaybook hashtag on different platforms. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time! Jim Fuller has shared some of his responses to tasks in the book on his Sponge ELT blog, so you can see what an in-depth response to them might look like, but you could also share something as quick as a picture or a 30-second video. It could be a great way to share what you’re learning and join in with a community of other teachers doing the same tasks. So request 1 is: please share your responses to the tasks! Remember that if you share responses to all 5 books in a section, you’ll get a badge which you can add to your CV or social media pages:

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Request 2 is marketing-related: please review the book if you’ve bought / used it. I’d really like to build up the number of reviews for the book on different platforms, including GoodReads, Amazon and Smashwords [the latter two links are affiliate ones!]. Getting reviews is both useful feedback for me, and a way of encouraging the algorithms to recommend my book(s) to other people 🙂

What’s next?

I’ve already added ELT Playbook Teacher Training to what I hope will eventually be a much longer series. I’ve got half of one book and the contents page for another book written, but everything’s on hold until I’ve finished my dissertation in October this year. Here’s the (quite long!) story of how I wrote ELT Playbook 1, so it might be a little while until those two titles are done. Hopefully the next one will appear in 2024 though, so watch this space 🙂

Deciding what to charge as a freelancer

I found it really difficult deciding on a rate to start with, and I think I charged too little more than once. There are lots of factors involved, and it will be different for everyone. These are some of the things I did when I was working out how much to charge for workshops and consultancy and mentoring, as well as for my Delta Module 1 and Module 3 courses. Please note that this is just from my personal experience, and other people might do things quite differently.

(Update: the comments on this blogpost and this LinkedIn post share how a few other people have approached this, and reminded me that I included non-billable hours when I was thinking about hourly rates, but can’t remember how I did it!)

The way that didn’t work!

Step 1: How much do you want to earn?

I started from working out an annual salary which is reasonable for my country and which I think would pay me enough to do everything I want to do. This can be influenced by lots of factors:

  • Family commitments
    Do you have dependents, like children or parents, who you need to cover costs for?
  • Other income
    Are there other earners in your household?
    Is there other money coming in, for example from investment or benefits?
  • Outgoings
    Consider housing, bills, food, transport, but also leisure time.
    Search for ‘average outgoings [country name]’ to find some guides to help you if you’re not sure. Here’s an example for the UK.
  • Savings
    How much do you want to be able to save?
    How much will you put into investments or pensions?

Let’s take £25,000 as a starting point.

Step 2: How much do you want to / can you work?

I decided that I would like to have about 6 weeks, or 30 working days, off work a year, plus bank holidays. In the UK that gives me about 38 days off, or 7.5 working weeks.

That leaves 44.5 working weeks in the year.

I also decided I’d like to work 09:00-17:00, or about 7 hours a day with a 1-hour lunch break. I don’t want to work at weekends, so that’s Monday to Friday, or 5 days a week.

I don’t expect I’ll do this all the time, but this is what I’d like to work towards.

Adding that all up gives me:

44.5 weeks x 5 days x 7 hours = 1557.5 working hours in a year

Step 3: How much do you need to earn an hour to meet your target?

Now some simple maths:

Step 1 divided by Step 2 = Step 3

In this example, that’s:

£25,000 / 1557.5 = £16.05 / hour

There’s a problem here!

When I made those calculations, I realised that I was barely doubling UK minimum wage. I’ve definitely invested enough time and effort into building my experience and knowledge and money into getting qualifications to be earning far more than that.

I made a pretty table in Excel to show different possible scenarios:

(I have to have some 30 hour working weeks because of medical needs, so I included both in my calculations, and I made this table before I remembered about bank holidays.)

A much better way

I looked around at average hourly rates for other skilled professions in the UK. For example, the Society of Proofreaders and Editors posts suggested minimum rates.

These were generally higher than any of the numbers I’d come up with so far. I realised I could charge more than I was considering before. Having said that, I also knew that whatever figures I charged wouldn’t be what I earned every day, but that these would be the ideal days when I was earning the maximum possible.

I then went through these steps.

Step 1: How much do I think my time is worth a day?

I decided that £350 is worth giving up a day of my time for, bearing in mind that there would probably be preparation and more involved, meaning it’s likely to be about 2 days’ worth of earnings, not just one.

Step 2: How much is that an hour?

£350 / 7 working hours = £50 an hour

£350 / 6 working hours = just under £60 an hour, but let’s round that up

Step 3: What does that mean for different lengths of time?

At this point I’m starting to think about different fees for different types of work, and the extra work around each of those types of work.

For example, a 60-minute workshop also requires a lot of extra work around it. This includes setting the time and date, meeting the person who’s requested it to clarify what the workshop will include, and planning/preparing the workshop itself. That’s why there are separate fees for workshop preparation. On the other hand, consultancy requires much less extra work around it as a rule, so I can charge less for this time.

I also wanted to think about discounts if people pay for a block of more of my time, both as an incentive and because it requires a little less work for me each time.

Cue more Excel tables, playing around with amounts and calculating the price per minute to check how the discounts work:

In every case I’m charging around £50 an hour, the price I’d decided at step 2.

I also made similar calculations for Delta modules, based on the amount of work, the number of participants, and the number of hours of face-to-face sessions to help me calculate what would be financially viable for me to justify running the course.

Keeping track of hours and money earnt

I use as a time tracker for everything I do in my working day.

When I get money in, I record this on a spreadsheet with the hours I’ve worked on that project, the date and amount invoived, and the money I received. The spreadsheet then calculates my hourly rate:

As you can see, the hourly rate can be vastly different from one project to another. £128.00/hour for writing something, but only £25.11/hour for some contracted work.

I have another spreadsheet which can show me how much I earn on average from different parts of my freelancing so that if I have to make decisions about what work to keep and what to drop, this can be part of what informs it:

Here the differences in hourly rate are much starker, and you can see that £50/hour for all of my work is not unreasonable at all, as it pushes up my overall income.

Looking for help?

If you’re looking for help with freelancing in ELT, I’d recommend following Rachael Roberts and her EarnLearnThrive business on LinkedIn and looking around her blog. She runs courses for freelancers and has done a lot for the community – so many people have benefitted from her help!

The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer’s Manual, 2nd edition

Exciting times! The second edition of The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer Manual are now available. So happy to have worked on this with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury, as well as Jo Timerick at Cambridge. Can’t wait to hold it in my hand (this photo is borrowed!)

The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer's Manual 2nd edition, by Peter Watkins, Scott Thornbury and Sandy Millin

If you’d like to order a copy, here’s the link

If you read only one book about Australia, make it this one!

Finding the Heart of the Nation: The journey of the Uluu Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth by Thomas Mayor, is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

Here is a video of Thomas Mayor reading the Uluṟu Statement:

The Uluṟu Statement was issued on 26 May 2017 as an invitation from First Nations Peoples (Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders) to all Australians. It was the culmination of a series of twelve Dialogues across Australia, from which over 250 delegates were selected to attend the meeting in May 2017 to finalise the Statement.

You can find out much more about it on the dedicated website, including educational materials and translations into a huge range of different languages.

Finding the Heart of the Nation introduces and explains the Uluṟu Statement, and shares the voices of 21 different First Nations people, including Thomas, and through them the stories of many more. It shows the extent to which colonisation and subsequent government policies have impacted on the people, the land and their culture over time, not just in the distant past, but right now. This includes policies which are still in place as I write this in 2022, and ones which have been brought in as recently as since 2000. This demonstrates why a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution is so necessary, and is a tiny part of the truth-telling which the Statement demands: showing what has really happened.

I bought the book during my recent trip to Australia because I wanted to learn more about First Nations culture and people. Growing up, I had heard Dreamtime stories told by both indigenous and non-indegenous storytellers, and I now know that Dreamtime is not the best term, but rather Dreamings. I had done an art project at school where we had to produce a piece of art in ‘an Aborigine style’ which I understood to be made of dots. Through my trip and this book, I understand that First Nations culture is so much richer and deeper than this. Of course it is: it goes back over 60,000 years.

Dancing, storytelling, and visual arts are the way that history, law, ethics and knowledge about the landscape are passed on. Every element has a meaning, which can only be understand if culture is allowed to be shared and passed on without interference. There are trustees of particular stories and dances (Songlines) who are responsible for maintaining them and passing them onto the next generation. This rich and peaceful culture cannot be lost because of the way that First Nations people have been treated and mistreated: too much of it already has been.

If you’ve read this far, you might think that the book is depressing, but it’s not. It’s a story of hope, resilience, and human ingenuity. It tells stories of tireless campaigners, pushing back against what has been done to them, with the aiming of making life better for the generations to come. Often this has been done in isolation, with small communities fighting locally to get better conditions. There have been national movements in the past, such as towards the referendum in 1967 which changed the Constitution to count First Nations people as part of the Australian population. However, the Constitution still allows race-based discrimination (in 2022!), which is why changes still need to be made.

I chose the hardback copy of the book, which is full of beautiful photographs and illustrations, showing the diversity of people and Country affected by the Statement. If you have a choice, I would recommend this copy, as it brings everything to life.

The book changed my perceptions of what it means to be First Nations in Australia. It gave me an insight into both the struggles and the triumphs that these communities have experienced, and the importance of joining together to fight for progress. It made me reconsider how I feel about trade unions, and made me understand better how they can work and why they are important.

I would urge anybody with an interest in Australia to read this book, and anybody in Australia to support the Uluṟu Statement and the referendum that I hope will come one day. I would urge everybody to find out more about First Nations culture, and to consider what non-indigenous cultures can learn from indigenous cultures all over the world.

Find out more

AIATSIS is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Their website contains a wealth of information to explore, including about Country, songlines, stories, art and Aboriginal astronomy. One of their publications is the AIATSIS map of indigenous Australia, showing the diversity of languages, tribal and nation groups across the continent and in the Torres Strait Islands. I recommend visiting their site to see it.

Apart from the book I wrote about above, I bought two others in Australia, both of which were fascinating and which I would recommend:

Astronomy: Sky Country by Karlie Noon and Krystal de Napoli is part of the First Knowledges series which is currently being published by the Australian National Museum. It’s a short read that will introduce you to the depth of Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders knowledge about the sky, and the connections between the sky and the land. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in science, particularly astronomy, or anybody who wants to find out more about how people have successfully lived in Australia for so many thousands of years.

Making Australian History by Anna Clark gives an overview of various events in Australian history, but not in the typical chronological manner. Instead, each chapter is based around a theme, such as Gender, Country, or Emotion. The chapter starts with a particular ‘text’, which may or may not be a written text, and explores that theme, its connections to Australian history, and to the recording of History (capital ‘H’) itself. It made me rethink my understanding of what History is and how it influences people. It also holds questions for the future of History, including how the Western idea of History can be reconciled with the First Nations way of passing on History, or even whether it should be. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in History on any level, whether or not you’re interested in Australian History specifically.

Finally, I would strongly urge you to visit Darwin if you ever get the opportunity. If you’re in Asia, you’re most of the way there already! The four pictures above are the smallest taste of the amazing street art all over the city. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory showcases indigenous art and tells First Nation stories (and has amazing food too!) Darwin is completely different to any other part of Australia that I visited during my trip, and I could have spent much more time there. Highly recommended!

Why I’m a member of IATEFL

If you’ve never heard of it before, IATEFL is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. It was started in 1967, so at the time of writing it has existed for over 55 years. You can find out more about the history of IATEFL in the free publication by Shelagh Rixon and Richard Smith, available on IATEFL’s About page. I read it a few months ago and found it utterly fascinating!

My IATEFL story

In 2011, I became active on Twitter just before the IATEFL Brighton conference happened. The community I was part of suddenly went crazy, with tweets from the conference letting me know about the huge range of talks people were attending, and the meet-ups they were having. I learnt so much from reading those tweets, felt a huge amount of FOMO, and promised myself that in 2012 I would be there.

The next step was to work out how. As a third year teacher, I didn’t think I could afford the conference fee myself, so I investigated scholarships. I decided to apply for the IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, as part of which I had to write a conference proposal and abstract, neither of which I’d done before. Thanks to the help of Ceri Jones, for which I’m eternally grateful, I was able to submit a strong application, and was lucky enough to win that scholarship. That took me to Glasgow 2012.

Since then, I’ve been able to attend every IATEFL conference. Here’s a 2020 post sharing photos from the conferences, along with links to my summaries of talks I attended each year. These are the posts for the 2021 summary and 2022 summary. I’ve learnt so much from the conferences, and made so many friends there. It really is the highlight of my year every year!

Special Interest Groups

IATEFL’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) cover 16 different areas, and I think I’ve attended events run by most of them! I’ve been to both face-to-face and online talks, workshops, and pre-conference events, all of which have been great for my learning and for networking with others interested in that area.

Since 2021, I’ve been a member of the committee for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is probably the one I’ve learnt the most from. It’s really helped me to understand how language learning materials work, how they influence teachers and students, and how they can (and should!) be improved. The people I’ve worked with on the committee and met at the events are also a super-supportive bunch. Through being on the committee, I’ve met a whole range of new people, and learnt new skills, including designing the updated MaWSIG website using Divi, something I had no idea about when I started!

Before being on the MaWSIG committee, I spent a couple of years on the Membership and Marketing Committee, which offers advice to IATEFL on how to make the Association as relevant and interesting to current and potential members as possible.

Apart from the SIGs, IATEFL does many other things. This 4-minute video will show you some of them:

IATEFL Ambassador

In 2022, I was priviliged to be asked to become an IATEFL Ambassador. Along with Evan Frendo, Sarah Mercer and George Pickering (and hopefully others in the future), I’ll be working to let people know about IATEFL and how it can help them. To that end, please do ask questions in the comments below, and share what you’ve learnt from IATEFL if you’ve been a member or been to one of the conferences.

IATEFL Ambassador logo

Help needed! Please complete my MA dissertation survey by 5th January 2023!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m currently working on my MA in Professional Development in Language Education (MAPDLE) with the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE).

I’ve already completed modules on teacher training and materials writing, and am now working on my dissertation:

An investigation into the production of a competency framework for language learning materials writing

I’ll be writing a lot more about the dissertation itself down the line, and (hopefully!) sharing the competency framework I create, but in the meantime, I need your help.

Please complete my survey! It should take you about 20-30 minutes to complete, with the 2nd section the longest. If you’re reading this on a computer, the survey is embedded below. On a tablet or phone, you can click on the link to open it in a new tab.

The closing date for the survey is Thursday 5th January 2023, at 10:00 GMT.

Please also share the link with as many people involved in materials writing/creation/development as you can from around the world, regardless of whether they’re beginners new to language teaching, seasoned materials writers, or anywhere in between!

Thank you for your help!

101 low-prep ideas for exploiting coursebook activities (LanguagEd Day)

On Sunday 27th November 2022, I presented at the first LanguagEd Day, as part of this programme of speakers:

Here are the slides from the day:

This was a slightly different version of a talk I’ve done a couple of times before. Here is a full list of all of the activities from a May 2019 post, which you can also download them as a pdf or a .docx handout. You can also find slides from a similar webinar I did for IH Bucharest, plus a few extra links, in this post from June 2020.

The week it finally hit (October 2020)

I’ve set this up to publish in two year’s time in the hope that it will all be a distant memory by then.

It’s Sunday 25th October 2020. About 17 days ago I still lived in a green zone. Two Saturdays ago all of Poland became a yellow zone. 8 days ago all of the cities in Poland became red zones. Yesterday the rules became even stricter again and now the government’s recommending everybody stay at home as much as possible.

When we changed to a red zone all of the universities and high schools shifted online, so we changed our lessons from once a week in the classroom and once a week online to fully online for all adult and teen groups. Yesterday primary schools closed too. However, we have already shifted online due to events from last week.

On Sunday I got a phone call from a teacher saying they thought they had lost their sense of smell, one of the earliest signs of Coronavirus. Everybody he had been in contact with went into self-isolation. Obviously he did too and so did his flatmate, another teacher at our school, newly arrived in Poland. He had a test on Monday which came back positive on Tuesday, so we asked all of our teachers to start working from home. On Tuesday a teacher’s partner tested positive too so she also went into self isolation. At this point the count was 7 of 20 teachers in self isolation, plus another teacher off sick with something else. Thankfully we could continue teaching most of our lessons and the cases in school were mild.

On Wednesday and Thursday two more members of admin staff tested positive, although luckily I had not had contact with them for a few days before the first symptoms so I didn’t need to self isolate. I continued to work at school because it seemed easier to do that when I was the only person at school and could find things that the teachers needed and refer to a whole range of things in my office. Tomorrow I will be the only person at school, in what feels like a ghost town.

It’s been a real rollercoaster of a week, although I feel a lot better now I know that the teachers are all safer because they are working at home.

We’re lucky that it took so long for cases to arrive in the city and the school. As I write this numbers keep going up and up. I know that it will end at some point, hopefully before this post is published on the blog, but who knows? The important thing is to stay safe and wear masks, washing hands regularly to protect ourselves and others.

The world is already a very different place to this time last year, and who knows what it will be like in two years’ time. I hope this post finds you happy and healthy and lockdown and coronavirus are just a distant memory when you read this.

Here’s a nice picture of the forest where I’m sitting to write this and breathe a little before we see what next week throws at us…

Types of practice activity (terminology confusion!)

This is the first post in what I hope will be an occasional series, clearly up some areas of confusion with terminology. If anybody would like to correct what I’ve written, please do!

How do you classify different kinds of practice activity? Is it controlled practice? Semi-controlled-practice?Free(r) practice? What’s the difference?

Practice activities

First up, what exactly is a ‘practice activity’?

For the purposes of CELTA and Delta, a practice activity is one which gives learners the opportunity to use target language (grammar, vocabulary, pronuciation, or less commonly, discourse features) after they have been introduced in some way. They typically feature in a Present-Practice-Produce (PPP) model of teaching, though may appear in other models too.

Not every exercise is automatically a practice activity – there has to be some element of target language which is specifically being focussed on. It can also only practice something which has previously been introduced, so the initial ‘test’ activity in a lesson staged using Test-Teach-Test (TTT) is not a practice activity, because the target language hasn’t been introduced yet.

Practice activities are common features of coursebooks, and this is where Delta candidates need to know the difference: Paper 2 Task 2 asks you to analyse a set of materials, normally a coursebook spread, and you need to be able to identify what is and isn’t a practice activity, and what kind of practice activity it is.

Controlled practice

Controlled practice (a.k.a. restricted practice) only has one correct answer to each question / item. There are right and wrong answers, and these are unambiguous. There is a focus on accuracy.

Drills are examples of spoken controlled practice focussing on pronunciation, and sometimes form (in the case of a substitution drill).

Most grammar exercises which appear in the back of a coursebook, in a workbook, or in a book like Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, are written controlled practice. They might focus on form, meaning, use or a combination.

Complete the sentence with the past simple form of the verb in brackets ( ).

I ________ swimming yesterday. (go)

Written controlled practice with a focus on the form of the past simple

Underline the correct option.

1. I went / have been swimming yesterday.

2. I went / have been to the gym three times this week.

Written controlled practice with a focus on the use of the past simple and present perfect simple

Complete the sentences with the past simple or present perfect form of the verb in brackets ( ).

1. I ________ swimming yesterday. (go)

2. I ________ to the gym three times this week. (go)

Written controlled practice with a focus on the use and form of past simple and present perfect simple

Here are some other ideas for controlled practice, with pros and cons for each.

Semi-controlled practice

Semi-controlled practice has a limited range of correct answers to each question / item. There are right and wrong answers, but there might be more than one. There is a focus on accuracy.

Complete the sentences with can or can’t so they are true for you.

1. I ______ ride a horse.

2. I ______ play the piano.

3. I ______ swim 20 metres.

Written semi-controlled practice with a focus on the use of can / can’t

The same activity could also be spoken as a kind of drill, with students standing in a circle. The teacher gives the first sentence. In turn, each student says the sentence so it’s true for them. ‘Starter’ sentences could also be suggested by the students (the original sentence would be chosen freely, but the drill part of it is semi-controlled as there are only two possible responses for each student).

Student A: Say the sentence below. Choose which word to stress.

I don’t think he should get that job.

Student B: Decide what student A means:

  1. Somebody else thinks he should get the job.
  2. It’s not true that I think he should get the job.
  3. That’s not really what I mean. OR I’m not sure he’ll get that job.
  4. Somebody else should get that job.
  5. In my opinion it’s wrong that he’s going to get that job.
  6. He should have to earn (be worthy of, work hard for) that job.
  7. He should get another job.
  8. Maybe he should get something else instead.

[sentence taken from this website]

Spoken semi-controlled practice with a focus on pronunciation – stress for emphasis

Freer practice

Freer practice allows students to use whatever language they have at their disposal, though if the activity is designed well, it should encourage / enable them to use the target language. There are no correct answers. There is a focus on fluency, though the teacher may choose to do some error correction. This will most often be delayed error correction to maintain the flow of the practice activity.

Complete the sentences so they are true for you.

1. If my tooth was hurting…

2. I would visit my dentist more often…

3. If I ate less chocolate…

Written freer practice with a focus on the form of the second conditional

Write something for FIVE of the things in the list.

  • something you are planning to do in the summer
  • a country you’d like to visit in the future
  • somebody you wouldn’t like to go on holiday with
  • a job you’d love to do
  • a job you hate doing in the house
  • somebody you find very easy to talk to
  • something you’re afraid of doing
  • a sport, activity, or hobby you love doing
  • something you enjoy doing on Sunday mornings
  • something you must do or buy urgently
[Taken from English File Intermediate 4th edition, p77 Ex 3f]

Written freer practice with a focus on the use of gerunds and infinitives

Work in groups. Tell the others about what you have written and answer any questions they have.

[Taken from English File Intermediate 4th edition, p77 Ex 3g, following on from the exercise above]

Spoken freer practice with a focus on the use of gerunds and infinitives

What terminology would you like me to cover next?

Using TikTok to promote education (guest post)

One of the presentations I saw during the EVE / LACTESOL mentoring sessions was by Larissa Nuñez, talking about how she uses TikTok with her learners. I’m really interested in social media and how it can be leveraged for professional development and learning, but I’d never even joined TikTok, much less watched videos on it, until Larissa suggested it. I asked her to write a post to share more about how she uses it. Over to Larissa…

I’d like to tell you a story. Last year I had a tough time teaching English to a teenager. I thought I wasn’t born to teach teens. He used to joke around mispronouncing words on purpose. I wanted to teach him the importance of pronouncing  English words correctly, but I didn’t know how.  One day I posted this funny video on Tiktok to see his reaction. When he saw the video he opened his eyes and couldn´t believe that his teacher had made a funny and cool TikTok video. He suddenly realized I was not an old lady and I became his instant hero. After a few weeks, I remember he actually started repeating the words correctly. Ever since when he pronounces a new word he looks at me and smiles. That’s just one reason why I love to use social media as a way to promote education. 

What happened next?

This experience made me wonder, what if there is more? I started searching for information about using social media to promote education among teenagers and adults. To my surprise, there are more and more teachers making TikTok videos about their everyday lives, hacks, ideas, and tips and also giving online lessons in real time. 

As teachers, we promote learning, curiosity, perseverance, and effort, but that becomes obsolete when we aren’t as curious or innovative as we want our students to be. That is why I started posting interesting tips, ideas, grammar, and vocabulary exercises as a hobby to support my students, on Instagram at first, and then when I gained more confidence, on Tiktok @misslarinf.

There are a few activities you can do with your students using Tiktok as a tool. I divide these into  two categories: 

  • direct app interaction: your students actually making videos, duetting them, answering questions directly on Tiktok
  • indirect app interaction: doing research or just talking about the videos they saw. 

Direct app interaction

Let’s talk about the first one, students making videos. Students can create short videos on TikTok using the target language. For instance, teachers can model some language and students can duet the Teacher´s videos. Here’s an example duet I recorded.

Teachers can write dialogues, saying one part of them and asking students to duet (record themselves repeating) the other part. 

Teachers can also write some words down and ask students to read some words or phrases out loud.

It can also be used when recording the steps of a project and encouraging them to do the same. 

You could put math problems in a  video and ask them to comment on the answers. 

Indirect app interaction

First of all, TikTok can be used for research. Students can look for information about certain topics and write a paragraph describing what they have learned. We can all agree that using Tiktok and other social media nowadays is a life skill, and you are encouraging students and teaching them to filter all the information they receive. For instance, it is very good to teach critical thinking to our students. Teachers can collect many videos about a certain topic and use them for discussion or debate in the classroom. 

Another activity could be replacing the famous question ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘What did you do at the weekend? Instead, you can say, ’Tell me about a TikTok you saw that inspired you this weekend.’ or ‘Tell me about a TikTok that taught you something new.’ Or even better there could be a ‘TikTok moment’ every week for students to share what they learned that week. Examples: study techniques, new English expressions, or words you learned on TikTok. 

This platform has an algorithm, and if you tell students to look for certain videos that will teach them something, more of these types of videos will show on their TikTok, and their feed won’t be all about silly dances, but instead, useful suggestions will appear on their page. 

TikTok for professional development

Tiktok is not only for children and teens. During the pandemic, TikTok has emerged as a critical platform for teachers to connect and share their experiences. As teachers, we also have a huge community where we can learn new tips, ideas, resources, and ideas not only for students but for you as a professional. More and more teachers are now open to sharing their resources and useful tools that worked for them, and this is how I found Coach Jordan Cotten. Her resources were very useful. I recommend you look for her. The more I looked for teacher tips and ideas the more I liked the teacher community. 

I also reached out to some amazing teachers from Paraguay, Easyngles, Teacher Jhon, and English Pro, who also believe that TikTok is a wonderful tool that allows ANYONE to learn something new. They are constantly uploading valuable content that helps Paraguayan teens and adults to learn useful English idioms and phrases. 

Why use social media in education?

That is why now I would like to talk about the advantages of using social media in education. As Greenhow, C. mentions in Educational benefits of social networking sites students who use social media in their courses increase their communication skills, are more creative, and are more open to diverse ideas. They can also master the course content more efficiently. 

The biggest advantage of this social media, specifically TikTok, is that learners can exchange questions through videos. It’s a fun way to learn and collaborate. If a student is stuck with homework, they can always communicate with their friends or other students who went through the same problems and they can offer some ideas, tips, and resources as students to help each other. I am emphasizing the idea of sharing from student to student because sometimes we give the same tips to them but they don’t listen. They like listening to people of the same age. I often share TikTok videos of tips I find useful but which were created by others, and somehow THOSE seem to have more impact than me saying something to my students. 

Another great advantage of social media in education is distance learning opportunities. There are many disadvantaged students who are not able to acquire formal education by attending regular classes in an educational institution. With the help of TikTok, modern educators are able to attract students through distance learning programs. Soon, this will be an inseparable part of our modern education system. Today, hosting live lectures is the way forward to allowing students who live in remote areas of the world to access education. They can be sitting on the couch learning something new every day. 

What are you waiting for?

Tiktok is no longer just about sharing silly dances. It has spread its wings to various other fields and education is one of the new sectors where the concept of social media is making a great change. So, it’s up to students and scholars to decide how TikTok can be used in a brighter way; how to avoid being distracted and wandering aimlessly through it and instead, promote actual learning in the virtual world by setting real tasks that will benefit students and also teaching them how to filter all the information they receive. 

In conclusion, Tiktok doesn´t only work as a video editor, and we teachers have the power to influence and promote learning through it. Before I leave I would like to give special thanks to all the teachers of TikTok who take the time to educate people with their free live lessons. Thank you for your contribution to education. I have learned so much from you.


Larissa Nuñez has a BA in Education and Applied Linguistics and a CELTA certificate. She has been an EFL teacher for 12 years in both Paraguay and Russia. She teaches business English at a company in Asuncion and general English courses to students of different ages and proficiency levels. She is a Teacher Assistant at the Instituto Superior de Lenguas of the National University of Asunción. Apart from being a teacher, she is a volunteer at PARATESOL as head of the marketing department and coordinator of volunteers.

Questions about teaching Teens (aged 12-19) (useful links!)

(All links working as of 18/8/2022)

On the CELTA course I tutored on back in August 2021, I ran a session on teaching under 16s. As part of it, I asked the trainees to create a list of questions they wanted the answers to. I promised them a blogpost with answers, but it’s taken this long to get round to it!

It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:

The age brackets may seem a little arbitrary – I selected them as they reflected to some extent the age ranges at schools I’ve previously worked for. The posts themselves are mostly a selection of links to answer the questions, rather than my own answers. Please feel free to add extra links in the comments, and let me know if any of the links are broken.

How is it different from teaching adults?

Helen Chapman has a useful introductory post: What do teenagers need.

Henrique Zamboni talks about how the teenage brain affects the learning process.

Teaching Teens 101 is a beginner’s guide by Elly Setterfield.

How can they practice fluency if they usually answer all the questions “yes/no/I don’t know/maybe/I don’t remember/ etc.)?

If this happens regularly, I would suggest audio recording part of a lesson or asking somebody to observe you, and making a note of all of the questions asked during the lesson. Do the questions lend themselves to longer answers? If they do, have learners been given enough preparation before the task to be ready to answer the questions? For example, have they had any thinking time? There are ideas for activities to work on preparation time in Richer Speaking, my ebook (which costs less than $1!)

I do understand that at this age they are not very talkative in general (in every language) so is it better to focus on accuracy rather than on fluency?

I don’t have a clear answer for that, but I suspect that if you only focus on accuracy, students will become even less engaged in the lesson and switch off more. How would you feel if somebody made you do everything correctly without making a mistake? I think it’s important to let out learners be creative, and if they feel comfortable in the lessons, sharing their creativity will hopefully encourage them to speak more. It’s also important to ensure they feel comfortable in lessons (see links connected to atmosphere and classroom dynamics below).

How do I keep them engaged?

Whatever age group you teach, I recommend reading this:

Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms front cover

I think it’s fantastic (and I’ve been meaning to write a review of it ever since I finished it a few months ago…) I think I’ve referred to it in every workshop or training course I’ve done since I read it. Buy it from the independent bookshop BEBC or, if you’d like to give me a few pennies when you buy it, here are affiliate links for Amazon and (in the UK).

Sofia Leone has ideas for how to get teens on side online (20 minutes):

I know it’s a good idea to use their interests, but they either don’t want to share their ideas or just simply say that they don’t have any hobbies and they do nothing in their free time. What do I do?

One idea is to flip everything. Rather than asking them what they do in their free time, ask them to list all the things they don’t do. Ask them to list the hobbies they don’t have. Ask them to say three things they didn’t do at the weekend.

You could also play around with the questions you ask and the tasks you set in other ways. Here are some zero prep ideas from Monika Bigaj-Kisała.

How can I help them to be more open and less reserved?

Fiona Mauchline talks about the idea of The Twilight Zone:

a teen’s sensitive area; for example, asking students to describe their house or holidays exposes them to comparison, leaving them potentially vulnerable

She suggests ways of working on the atmosphere in the classroom.

When discussing personalising topics, Fiona suggests how you can do this, because as she says:

When would a teenager describe his/her house to friends? They may describe a new house – if it’s ‘amazing’, to the whole tribe; if it’s a dive compared to the previous one, to parents (criticism) or intimate friends (confidential complaint) – but do they ever sit around, describing where they’ve always lived? Do they even think about it? Is it even a place they want to think about? Is home-life all sweetness and light when you’re 14? 

I teach teenagers at a public school. A lesson lasts 45 min – how should I allocate time?

Without knowing more about the context it’s difficult for me to say. I’m also not sure if the problem is time management (which this might help with) or deciding what to include as routines in your lessons. I’d suggest setting up some kind of starting / ending routines with the groups to make the most of the time. For example, you could have a 5-minute revision routine at the beginning of every lesson. Apart from that, I’d suggest aiming for variety across the year. If you’re using a coursebook, you’re unlikely to be able to work with more than one page in 45 minutes, so look carefully at your book and the page and prioritise the things you think your learners most need to work on. Include as much pair and group work as you can to maximise opportunities for speaking – I tend to reduce open class work as much as I can, as this is often a recipe for a lot of teacher talk (compared to student talk) and/or one or two students dominating discussions. If anybody who has more experience with this than I do has useful ideas, please do share in the comments!

How do I make them use cameras when having online classes?

I don’t think it’s possible to ‘make’ anybody do anything. We can discuss the benefits of using cameras during online classes, making sure it’s an open discussion and you acknowledge the disadvantages of using cameras too, not just lecturing the students (something I’ve definitely been guilty of!) We can have a mix of camera on / camera off activities, so that students get some privacy during the lesson, but also benefit from cameras at other points. We can also do activities which only work with cameras on, for example show and tell or ‘spot the difference’ based on what’s around them in the room. You can read more about how we worked with Zoom at IH Bydgoszcz during pandemic restrictions – there are links at the bottom of this post.

Here are a five possible online tasks which should get students talking, though I can’t guarantee they’ll switch their cameras on!

How do I deal with mixed-level classes, where there’re some teens, who are almost beginners, and some of them are ready for CAE, taking into consideration that a group might be quite large including up to 18 students?

Laura Miccoli talks about multi-level classrooms in two posts: part one and part two.

Naomi Epstein shares a tip from Penny Ur’s book 100 Teaching Tips, from a section about teaching heterogenous classes. [If you’d like your own copy of the book, here are links: non-affiliate BEBC, affiliate Amazon and (UK)]

Pete Clements uses options on his materials to encourage learners to choose how much support / challenge they will get.

Here are some activities Hana Ticha has used with her groups to help her manage mixedabilities.

Mark Trevarton shares alternatives to fast finisher activities.

Penny Ur presents a 90-minute talk on teaching mixed-ability classes:

What do I do if they struggle to understand? What if they start crying because of it? Should I focus on productivity or empathy?

I’m sorry to hear that this might have happened in a lesson. Empathy is incredibly important, because if the students don’t feel you understand why they’re struggling, they will probably mentally ‘check out’ of your lessons, and productivity will never happen. Communicating aims and objectives clearly, helping students to understand why they’re learning, training them to become independent, and using some of the mixed ability techniques in the previous section should hopefully help too.

At the other end of the scale, here’s what you could do if your teenage students are better than you at English.

How do I work with multilingual groups of younger students?

I couldn’t find any specific resources about this (please add them to the comments if you know any!)

Here are some activities for making the most of all of the languages in your classroom.

How do I manage a classroom of teens?

Henrique Zamboni lists 5 things every teacher of teenagers must do to excel in classroom management.

Estelle Helouin talks about class contracts in this 12-minute video:

Hana Ticha describes a situation when a bee came into her classroom, and what she did about it that and other situations she couldn’t control. She also has a post called They are a pack of wolves, but you may well survive.

This is a three-part story of working with a ‘difficult’ teenager, shared by Edmilson Chagas: part one, part two, part three.

How can I motivate them and make them care?

Talk to them like they are humans and remember things they tell you about, be fair with discipline, create rules together with your students and make rules for the teacher too .

Ways to ungrumpify and motivate teenage learners by Rachel Hunter

Motivating teenagers by Jo Budden

Elena Peresada has tips for gamifying your English classroom and using project-based learning, including examples of activities she has done with her students.

Pete Clements describes a lesson he did to help his learners become more autonomous.

How do I work on group dynamics?

You could read this blog post and watch the video there for some ideas.

Anka Zapart has ideas to help you deal with teens joining a group mid-year.

Some of the teen activities on the free Cambridge Life Competencies cards could help learners to get better at working together.

Jade Blue recommends ways of helping teens to feel more socially connected to other learners. It was written during the peak of online teaching, but is relevant in any kind of teaching.

How do I encourage them do homework?

First, make sure you’re clear on why you’re giving them homework. Is it just a routine? A tick-box exercise? Or do you have clear purposes in mind? Do they know the purposes too? Anya Shaw’s slides encourage you to rethink your homework routines.

Hana Ticha asks ‘Homework or not?‘ – there’s an interesting discussion in the comments section too.

Klara talks about a whole class following a mini series together as homework, as a kind of alternative to a reading circle / book club.

Naomi Epstein asked her students to find words from their vocabulary list in the computer games they were playing.

This TEFL Training Institute interview with Penny Ur includes some homework activities, and also talks about why homework gets forgotten. There’s also a transcript if you prefer to read rather than listen.

One thing I’ve tried with young adults (16-18 years old) which could also work with younger teens is ‘5 minutes a day’, which you’ll find in this post. I tell learners I don’t mind what they do, as long as they do it every day, there’s some variety, and they’re pushing themselves (not just listening to the same music or watching the same series).

If you’d like learners to be in control, you could try the Homework Machine for Language Learners, by Svetlana Kandybovich. Along the same lines (and featuring some of the same tasks!) is the idea of a homework choice board.

If you have to use a coursebook / workbook for homework, try allocating a certain amount of ‘stars’ for the learners, rather than having them complete everything on the page. That encourages them to make choices for themselves. Many workbooks already have a star rating for each exercise. For example, on a page with 1 x *, 2 x ** and 1 x ***, I might ask learners to do 4 * worth of activities.

Checking homework – how do I make it effective and not boring?

Hopefully if homework feels more purposeful, homework checks will also be more engaging. If learners are sharing personal experiences or something creative, then they are more likely to want to check their homework.

If you’re checking exercises, try tips like:

  • Make one student the teacher. They have the answers for everybody else.
  • Ask one group to be responsible for the answers for each task. They write the answers on a piece of scrap paper, as big as they can to fill the page. Everybody else uses that key to check the answers.
  • Display the answers on the board. Ask students to find your mistakes (add challenge by not telling them how many are there).

If you have other tips or resources for this, please add them to the comments.

What blogs can I read?

I added this question 🙂 You’ll notice that a lot of the links come from a limited range of sources, because they’re the blogs I follow which deal with this age group. Please let me know about others!

  • Rose Bard’s Teaching Journal documents how she uses games and projects with her students, many of whom are young teens.
  • Fiona Mauchline doesn’t normally post any more, but her back catalogue is a mine of useful information, including about materials creation, and working with teens in Spain.
  • Hana Ticha also doesn’t post much any more, and also has an extensive back catalogue about working in a Czech secondary school.
  • Monika Bigaj-Kisała has loads of activities and ideas on her blog, That is Evil.
  • Helen Chapman has lots of ideas for teaching all ages of young learners.
  • The IATEFL YLT SIG (Young Learners and Teens Special Interest Group) blog has a very wide range of posts.

Cambridge Delta grade statistics

It makes me very sad that so many people who ‘only’ get a Pass grade are disappointed with their Delta results. Please don’t be! You worked very hard for that Pass, and you should be proud of it! As far as I know, all most employers care about is whether you have the Delta or not, rather than what grade you got for it.

I got a Pass in Module Two (including failing LSA1 and LSA3 lessons), a Merit in Module Three, and a Distinction in Module One (because I had plenty of time to focus on it, and it was the only thing I was preparing for at the time). I’m proud of all of my results, and learnt a lot from all of the modules.

Cambridge Grade statistics are freely available for 2004 to 2019. Below you can find my summaries of the statistics for each of the Delta modules from 2014 to 2019.

Module One

I was really shocked to see the fail rates for Module One. I suspect this is partly because a lot of people do the exam without any preparation, or with only very minimal preparation. There’s no obligation to do a course before you sit the exam, but as you can see, it’s probably a good idea!

Update [17/5/2023]


  • Fail: 31.7%
  • Pass: 43.6%
  • Pass with Merit: 13.5%
  • Pass with Distinction: 11.3%


  • Fail: 40.1%
  • Pass: 41.8%
  • Pass with Merit: 11.3%
  • Pass with Distinction: 6.8%

Module Two

This module has the lowest fail rates – I suspect this is because some people withdraw before they complete the course if they’re struggling (I don’t think withdrawals are counted in the statistics).

Module Three

Again, there’s no obligation to get tutor support during this module, though it can help you to get feedback on your writing so you know whether you’re meeting the Cambridge requirements. I definitely wasn’t in the first draft of some of my sections, and found it really useful to have that support.

A little advert

If you’d like to complete Delta Module One or Module Three with me, I run courses which last for a full academic year, meaning you can Take Your Time, and really apply what you’re learning to your own teaching / context. I don’t have any grade statistics from Module Three yet, as the course is still very new, but in Module One there have been 6 passes and 1 pass with distinction.

Read all about the courses, what participants thought of them and how to apply.

EVE-LAC TESOL Mentorship Program (final presentations)

Having participated in one EVE mentoring program, working with teachers from Africa, I was very happy when the opportunity came up to do it again. This time there are 8 teachers from across Latin America, presenting on a range of different topics. My mentee was first to present.

[I will add a link to the recordings when they become available]

#Memes: preparing EFL learners for intercultural communication on social media – Jessica Rivas (Venezuela)

Jessica started by reminding us that memes can be offensive and not for everybody. Not every meme we see is one we can identify with.

Do we prepare our studenst to face intercultural communication on social media? To understand that social media is a bridge between different cultures? It comes with risks, challenges and threats like those of memes above.

Here are some ideas you can use to help our students to understand this:

  • Discuss. What are the characteristics of memes? What is the process of their creation? What is their relationship with culture? What concepts are involved in the meme?
  • Reflect. What is the purpose of the meme? Who is the intended audience? Who created it?
  • Introduce. What memes are related to the learners’ culture? What stereotypes or prejudices might they be sharing?
  • Compare. How does this meme relate to memes from similar or other topics? How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to other people’s lives?

This could also be a starting point for research done by students about memes they have seen.

An English teacher in a Honduran town with limited resources – Luz Milda Bohorquez Paz (Honduras)

This map shows were Luz lives in Honduras.

As English teachers, Luz says that we need to be empathic, adaptable, creative and tolerant. Love and passion should also be part of our job.

She works in an incredibly challenging context, with 620 students in public school, with only 2 x 45-minute lessons with her students each week. There are limited resources, no books, no copies, and a lack of government support. There are high levels of poverty, and many learners work in agriculture and go to school as well. There is limited connectivity. Luz has a high workload, and there isn’t enough practice time for her students. She has to find resources on her own, and be creative to design engaging lessons. She aims to empower learners so they know English is useful, and sometimes uses her phone to provide an internet connection. Luz encourages her students to create project work and work on topics.

In the future, Luz would like to create an audiovisual lab for her students. She is hoping to apply for grants and/or work with her learners to bring technology closer to her learners, engaging them more, exposing them to innovation, and providing access to opportunities with learners in other parts of the country of the world.

Prioritising Mental Health in a University Context – Patricia Gomez (Paraguay)

This is a definition of mental health. Patricia believes this is vital for university students to have, particularly to stop them from quitting their courses. At the university where Patricia works, only 10% of students graduate. Only 1% of the health budget in Paraguay is dedicated to mental health.

Patricia studied at the same university and felt very supported by her professors and classmates, but she felt the need for institutional support too. When she started her research she discovered that a Bienestar Estudiantil (student wellbeing) department exists, for wellbeing, but the office is 6km away from their faculty, and it’s hard to get around! The service has existed since around 2009, offering support with academic and administrative processes, and helping disabled students with access.

She interviewed some of her students in the English language program to find out what they knew about it. More than half of the students didn’t know it existed, and 94% of the 18 students didn’t know how to access the department. These are some things students said in her survey:

This is what the students wanted from the department:

Most of these things are actually provided by the service, apart from mental health professionals, but there is only one person responsible for a whole department.

Patricia suggests:

  • Create a wellbeing hub. She recognises it might not be possible to build an office or hire more staff. The University of Oxford describes this as “an online gateway that makes it easier for all to find and access wellbeing and support services.”
  • Build peer support networks. Train students to volunteer to be good listeners and help those who are struggling, and how to redirect students if they need professional help.
  • Promote wellbeing activities. For example sports, exercise and recreation, as well as socialising.

These should have a positive impact on our students.

Intentional teaching: engaging students with ADHD – Anabell Rodriguez (El Salvador)

Classroom management is often a challenge, especially for new teachers, and many teachers have little or no training for working with students with special educational needs. This can be discouraging for both students and teachers.

Before we start, Anabell reminded us that all our students have superpowers. We should see them with eyes that see what they CAN do, not what they can’t. We also need to work with other people in our organisation, and in our networks to learner more about strategies to help us work with our students. We need to work from the heart, and remind students that we love them and we want the best for them.

What happens in our classrooms and why?

  • Obtain adult attention. Students want adults to talk to them or look at them. Criticism and yelling are also attention, though it’s for negative reasons. We need to provide them attention for things that are positive, for example praising them for opening their books and being prepared for the lesson. They get a boost for this, and we reinforce positive behaviours. Students will then tend to perform these positive behaviours more.
  • Obtain peer attention. Students want other students to talk to them or look at them. Laughing, touching and fighting are also kinds of attention. Ask the students to do things which play to their strengths. For example, if a student is great at drawing, ask them to draw flashcards for you, then tell the other students who did it. In Anabell’s experience, that meant that a student was then asked to draw things for other students, and became much more engaged in the whole classroom environment.
  • Avoid or escape. The student doesn’t want to do the work or be in the room. They may also not want to be with certain peers. Students don’t have intrinsic motivation, so we need to work with extrinsic motivations. Encourage them based on what you know they like. For example, tell them that they can listen to some of their favourite music at the end of the lesson if they’ve worked successfully. Or let students work alone rather than making them work with peers.

Functional Behavioural Assessment and Behaviour Support Plans:

  • A: Antecedent e.g. when Maria is asked to do work in a group…
  • B: Behaviour e.g. …she gets out of her seat and walks around the classroom…
  • C: Consequence e.g. …As a result, she does not work with the group.

The hypothetical function of her behaviour is avoiding group work. Here are some possible solutions people came up with for this situation:

  • Ask her how she prefers to work, for example individually.
  • Assign people roles within the groups, so they are all clear what to do. Make sure she understands that she is needed in the group too.
  • Let her monitor the class with a specific role during the activity.

It’s important for us to identify the antecedents and consequences, not just the behaviours, to help us come up with alternative solutions.

The highlights of my teaching experience with young learners at Escuala Vera Angelita in Nicaragua – Fernanda Polanco (Nicaragua)

Fernanda’s school is in a rural area, and is a sustainable school, the first in Nicaragua. They are aiming to integrate all of the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. It’s located within a farm, producing organic food, which is used to feed the students and teachers, some of whom live at the school. There are also donors from the USA who provide things for the school. All of the students are girls who live on campus, who receive everything they need at the school, including food, clothes and healthcare.

Fernanda works to create classroom routines, including using technology like QR codes regularly. She uses a lot of collaborative work to promote interdependence between students. She makes use of the space in the classroom and the outdoor areas of the school to vary lessons.

To help students adjust to the classroom, she uses a ‘sandwich’ of English / Spanish / English. Later she reduces the amount of Spanish she uses once she knows that students feel comfortable.

Own languages are used by learners, regardless of what teachers do or say and they can also be used productively when children / teenagers work together in pairs or groups.

Ellis, 2021

There have been other challenges. Some of her students are complete beginners in English, and some don’t have Spanish either as they come from indigenous groups.

Practical ideas for pure beginners:

  • Story telling
  • Role plays
  • Guessing games (like mime)
  • Recording – students like to listen to their recordings, and this serves as self-assessment
  • Interviews
  • Board games – online and in-person
  • Real-life speaking

These are some of the resources Fernanda uses:

The use of social media in education – Larissa Nunez (Paraguay)

Larissa started by reminding us of some potential disadvantages of social media:

  • Can facilitate cyber-bullying
  • Can promote laziness
  • Can distract learners

Larissa talked about using TikTok for education. She started creating TikTok videos when working with a teenager, and this improved their relationship. There are lots of people using social media for education, including giving live online lessons.

We need to be as curious and innovate as we want our students to be.

She started to promote interesting tips to support her students, first on Instagram, and then on TikTok.

Direct app interaction activities:

  • Making videos – creating short videos using the target language
  • Duetting teacher’s videos, dialogues
  • Recording steps of a project
  • Putting math problems on video and asking to comment on the answers
  • Answering questions via the app

Indirect app interaction activities:

  • Researching a topic and writing a paragraph
  • Critical thinking – using videos for discussion or debate after watching videos
  • Telling the teacher about a TikTok that was funny, interesting, inspiring, that taught you something new, etc. (rather than ‘How was your weekend?’ as an opening question!)
  • ‘TikTok moments’ in the classroom: students can share a TikTok video for other students to see, e.g. study techniques, words they’ve learnt, or something fun in English.

TikTok is also somewhere teachers can learn tips and ideas. Jordan Cotten was one person Larissa found it useful to follow. She also found other teachers from Paraguay, sharing tips relevant to her context.

Advantages of using social media:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Finding tips, ideas and resources created by other students – students are more likely to listen to each other than to their teacher!
  • Distance learning opportunities

On Instagram, Larissa is @misslarinf.

Teaching with magic – Krissia Diaz (El Salvador)

This was a very fun presentation, featuring puppets and magic tricks 🙂

Kris tries to make use of painting, singing, dancing and magic to motivate and engage her students. She was highlighted as an outstanding teching by the Ministerio de Educacion in 2021. Now she’s an instructor for Platzi, helping public school teachers.

Using magic tricks can help students to realise that it’s OK make mistakes. It fosters their imagination, boosts their self-confidence, and can help with content explanation. It encourages students to explain outcomes, going beyond surface explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman, Jody Greig, Miss Nan, and Xuxo Ruiz are all teachers you can find online who talk about teaching with magic. Xuxo Ruiz has written a book called Educando con Magia.

[It’s best to watch the video of this one, as that will make the tricks and ideas clearer!]

Webcomics: in the EFL classroom – Analys Milano (Venezuela)

A webcomic is the younger sibling of comics. There is a sequence of frames with narrative development, with a link between images and text, in both. But webcomics are mainly made to be viewed via apps or websites and consistently published.

Why webcomics?

  • Vocabulary is learnt in context.
  • They are visually attractive, including having distinctive styles according to the authors.
  • They can motivate and inspire through their stories.
  • Students can relate to the stories and talk about their own related stories.
  • They promote reading comprehension.
  • They provide meaningful input.

Webcomics require intensive and extensive reading skills. They require critical reading, and understanding the relationship between context and experience. They also promote critical thinking.

How can you integrate webcomics into your classroom?

  • Focus on grammar: Find a grammar point within the comic and explain it to your classmates – why was it used there?
  • Complete the story: Missing frames, missing lines. Who got the closest to the original story?
  • Fandub: Take a part of the story and ask students to voice the characters themselves. They have to understand the feelings too, not just the words.
  • Translations: [I missed this one]
  • Focus on comprehension: You can link comics to other media, like related videos.

On Webtoon, there’s a comic called ‘Let’s play’, which Analys uses to help students understand social media influence:

We need to take our students’ interests into account – there are many different genres of webcomics. We can create webcomics to create reading habits. Comics can also help with mental health and self-awareness, for example as distraction during the pandemic.

Here are some helpful websites:

[Here’s an extra resource: if this is an area you’re interested in.]

Erasmus+ projects for language teaching (guest post)

Last week I organised an ELT picnic in Reading, my first attempt at setting up networking for Reading English Professionals. One of the attendees was Gonzalo Galian-Lopez, Director of Studies at Eurospeak in Reading, and he told us about an event he was organising to share the results of Erasmus+ projects he’s been working on. I found the idea of these projects to be really interesting, and I hope you do too. Thanks for writing this Gonzalo!


I work for Eurospeak, an educational institution based in the UK and Ireland which is currently involved in over 40 EU-funded projects. The Erasmus+ programme makes it possible for language teaching professionals to participate in EU projects funded to develop innovative resources for teachers and learners. First, I’ll provide a brief introduction to the Erasmus+ programme and then presents an Erasmus+ project that has seen the development of resources for grammar teaching. Next, I’ll outline a few other projects that are currently working towards the creation of more tools for teachers and learners.

What is the Erasmus+ programme?

Erasmus+ is an EU programme that aims to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe. With a budget of over €26 billion, it provides opportunities for mobilitiy and cooperation in the contexts of school and adult education, vocational education and training, and more. Some of the programme’s goals relevant to language teachers include (1) promoting language learning and linguistic diversity, (2) improving the availability of high-quality learning resources, and (3) improving the competences of educators. The programme is open to any organisation established in an EU member state, including such organisations as language schools and higher education institutions.

What does an Erasmus+ project look like?

Erasmus+ projects typically involve several EU organisations working towards the development of resources and products. They last between 12 and 36 months and include four stages:

  • planning;
  • preparation;
  • implementation of activities;
  • follow-up.

In the context of language teaching, Erasmus+ projects are often carried out by consortiums comprised of institutions with expertise in language education and result in the development of innovative resources for language teachers and learners.

An example of an Erasmus+ project for language teaching

Second-language learners generally achieve a good understanding of grammar rules, but their ability to use these rules in fluent, spontaneous communication is often very limited. The Teaching Grammar for Spontaneous Communication project is an initiative to address this issue. More specifically, this project aims to help language teachers gain new insight into how to promote the development of grammatical knowledge that learners can use fluently and spontaneously in real-time communication. The project launched in November 2020 and is now approaching its end. Led by Eurospeak, a UK-based language school, the project has seen the development of three innovative tools for language teachers and teacher trainers:

  1. A handbook on teaching grammar for spontaneous communication [Note from Sandy – I particularly like the grid on p27 as a way of thinking about the demands of a communicative activity, with examples of how it could be used on the following pages]
  2. A teacher-training programme on the same subject (available soon)
  3. A handbook on how to design effective CPD sessions

These resources have been informed by cutting-edge research and are packed with sample grammar practice activities. They will soon be available in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Romanian, and